For three years, sleep had been a nightmare. It was the time I was most aware of the seemingly inevitable and unstoppable deterioration of my mind and soul and strength. But the Lord had intervened. He removed the concrete of anxiety from my chest and replaced it with peace overflowing, that surpasses understanding. He gives to His beloved sleep and what a sweet sleep it is! If only I could have stayed in bed forever. The rub was this… Not only had God saved me from the doorstep of Hell and not only had He sent high relief straight from Heaven… He had also changed my heart and it didn’t take long for me to realize that a new heart necessitates a new life. I went to bed with the assurance and comfort of the Lord’s saving presence and woke up a new person, with an increasing awareness that I was about to have to come out of the closet as a Christian.
It would actually be more accurate to say that the Lord pushed me out of the closet when I was still getting dressed, for all the world to see. Or at least for a portion of my peer group to see, which felt like the whole wide world. The day that I woke from my heavenly slumber was a Monday (Aside: This means that the Lord saved me on a Sunday – the Sabbath day of rest – which is thrilling to think about even now). We had fraternity meetings on Mondays, which meant I was going to have to be in front of the fraternity. This was nothing new, of course. I had been the Rush Chairman for 3 years, a position that involves being in front of the fraternity quite a bit. And at this particular meeting I wouldn’t have to be at the front of the room (I wouldn’t even have to speak), so maybe I could make it through with no one noticing that anything (everything) was different. Or maybe not.
I walked into the fraternity house that Monday night like I had done so many times before. Everything was the same, yet nothing was the same. The same conversations that I had been a part of for years were all of a sudden repulsive to me. Not that the guys were repulsive to me… if anything I had a greater concern for them as friends. But I had new eyes to see and new ears to hear, the new as different from the old as darkness is different to light. For a couple years my conscience had been trying to get going, like a lawnmower that won’t start but seems like its close. The night before that Monday at the house my conscience had been pressure washed by God, allowing for both clarity and heightened sensitivity. The Lord had changed me, plain and simple. This was my first real introduction to the new me out in public, and despite my plans a few others were about to meet me as well.
Before we get there, it is worth parking here a minute to talk a bit about the beginnings of the Christian life. It is safe to say that not every Christian has the same experience I had. I would venture to say most don’t. But it is still true, as Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, that every person must be born again to both see (v3) and enter (v5) the kingdom of God. Becoming a Christian is not merely a change of habit, or a resolve to do differently. While it involves those things, at the roots becoming a Christian is being born again (what the Bible also calls regeneration), passing from spiritual death to spiritual life. Every person is born into this world as a sinner, in a state of spiritual death, separated from God in their sin. The great need for all people is to be brought to spiritual life, to be reconciled to God, and to flesh out that spiritual life in repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. Not everyone knows the moment that they pass from spiritual death to spiritual life. Again, I would venture to say most don’t. But at some point – even if you were so young when you were brought to new life that you don’t remember life before Christ at all – at some point all true Christians become aware that God has done a work to bring me to life. The gospel is no longer just what I have grown up around but there is an increasing awareness that this is for me. Jesus is no longer the One I know some things about – no longer simply THE Lord and Savior, but He is MY Lord and Savior. Living in the Bible Belt, the majority of people call themselves Christians. I would have called myself a Christian up until this point as well. But the sobering reality is that many who call themselves Christians have never actually come to new life in Christ. Now back to the meeting…
That night I pretty much kept to myself, probably worrying that everyone else was as aware of the new me as I was. The only bit of the meeting that registered significantly was the brother who stood up to invite the rest of the guys to a Bible study that, as always, would meet afterward in the main lobby of the house. I had heard this announcement who knows how many times, but this time it seemed the announcement was for me – like I instinctively knew that these were my people – but my internal response was something like “No chance. Too soon.” These few guys had faithfully been meeting together for Bible study for some time, and each week had faithfully been inviting the rest of the fraternity to join them. After the meeting I resolved to head out and head home, but when I got to the parking lot there might as well have been a brick wall standing between me and my truck. Much to my dismay, I knew that I had to go back in.
Bible study had commenced when I slowly entered like a scared pup. Remember, I had been the Rush Chairman for these guys, which meant I was pretty well known to them. It was pretty well known, among other things, that I had not been attending any Bible studies. My presence was odd enough that there was an awkward silence, so I felt compelled to speak (or try to speak), but as soon as my mouth opened I began weeping. Like a baby. In front of other dudes. All I could get out was this… “He is real. Keep doing what you are doing.”
No idea what the rest of the study was about. I probably stared off into space. I was out of the closet and was still trying to get dressed.
The following year was glorious and terrible. Terrible in the sense that everywhere I turned I was trying to figure out how to live out in the open as a Christian, and frankly was not doing very well. There will be more about this in a future post, but for now here’s a hint: Have you ever seen a baby learn to walk? Doesn’t all come at once does it? It was terrible in that there were an awful lot of hard falls for quite a while. It was glorious in that the Lord was constant in His grace and mercy, and that He continued to assure me and overwhelm me with his steadfast love and faithfulness. He did this in many ways, but none more so than in connecting me to the church and giving me a bunch of great Christian mentors and friends.
17 If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.2 Corinthians 5:17
Jesus answered (Nicodemus), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”John 3:3
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…Ephesians 2:1-5