While still attending the church I grew up in and hanging out with my friends in youth group, I met a different kind of Christian in high school. Chip carried a Bible everywhere he went. He was very quiet unless someone asked him a question. One day I asked him why he carried a Bible. He explained that he was a Christian. I told him I was too. But something about his answer was different than my answer. Something that made me feel uncomfortable. Something that told me we weren’t really the same kind of Christian.
A few years later, off I went to college in the deep South. I met the guys on the hall. Charles was a Christian. He was always happy, smiling, saying “Good morning!” to everyone. Sometimes when I was having a bad day I would avoid Charles because a hearty “GM” was not what I was in the mood for.
Reggie and Jeff were also Christians. God saved Reggie as a young teen and called him to be a pastor. Jeff was more of a cowboy type. He chewed tobacco. Reggie and Jeff were God’s two witnesses to me. They answered every question I had. Their position never waivered. Salvation was all about Jesus saving me from my sin. I was a sinner. He is Lord. Salvation was a 100% commitment – all Jesus and no more me. I have tried in vain these last thirty years to find Reggie and Jeff. I almost think they were angels sent by God for they have simply disappeared. They’re probably off witnessing someplace else. Most of the other guys on the hall paid them no attention.
There were other Christians on the hall. Some of them were like me so they were the ones I hung out with. We did what everybody else did (like the world). There was one other brand of Christian in abundance. They were the stereotypical Bible-belt Christians. Christian in culture was their brand. They did everything that I and the world did. But they went to church on Sunday, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and Friday night para-church meetings like Campus Crusade for Christ or Baptist Student Union.
After God saved me I started going to all sorts of new meetings where every flavor of Christian showed up. Things became very confusing to me. I rarely saw Reggie and Jeff. I wanted to follow them because they seemed like the real deal. But instead I just found myself with a lot of Christians just like me, newborn and not very far removed from the world. I knew very little about Jesus and a whole lot about the world. It didn’t take long to get back in.
God gave me a holy whack on the side of the head at the end of four years of undergraduate college. I found out what repentance was. He led me to a church up the road from school. There were lots of Reggies and Jeffs there. It was a wonderful, growing, holy time of three years there while I attended graduate school. I found a new para-church group called Real Life and there I found a new group of friends. We did everything together and stayed close for years afterward. I often quote Randy whose hallmark farewell was, “Well, if I don’t see you later, then I’ll see you in a hundred years.” I loved that kind of confidence.
I don’t know if it was God’s plan to allow me to grow up this way. Maybe it was my flesh taking me where I willed, but God’s grace was greater, always taking me back to Himself eventually. I came back with a lot of scars, lessons learned, but full of His Spirit in the end. I wish I did not have the scars and tough lessons. I wish it could have been an easier road. There was nothing godly in my deviations. But God used it for good in the end. He got the glory. I think the glory is not because He got me back, not because He made me a new creation, and not because He had to do it a few times. I think the glory is because He Is. I AM that I AM. Like Reggie and Jeff told me long ago, it’s 100% about Jesus and nothing for me.