Surprises 6: Coming Out Christian
I gave my life to Christ early in the summer before my freshman year of high school, but for the rest of that calendar year I kept my commitment a secret. Most of the other members of my family were heavily involved in our church, but I did not at first think that my commitment to Christ had to find expression through church activities. I have already told you about a number of surprises I experienced after becoming a Christian, and they were all along the same theme: I was surprised by the many ways in which my relationship with Christ found expression in my secular daily life. This was an idea so foreign to me, and so different from what I saw and heard at church, that I kept it to myself for several months, fearing that I might lose what I had found – that my life would be redirected by others in my family and at church when they found out that I was now a Christian.
Today I want to tell you about how I came out publicly as a Christian. And since this is part of a series of things that surprised me when I became a Christian, I’ll tell you what surprised me most about it.
I left off last time telling you that, during my first few months as a high school freshman, I experienced a drastic change in circumstances, having spent the previous year laying low and now becoming a member of the Varsity Club and first chair clarinet (and therefore Concert Master) of the high school concert band. At about this same time (December 1971), I became filled with the desire to tell others about the things I had been experiencing. Over Christmas Break, I decided I would go back to school in January with a message.
Good and bad motives were all wrapped up so tightly together that it’s hard for me to sort them out now. But that’s when I came out as a Christian, not only at church but also at school. I started wearing a cross and carrying a Bible to all my classes. I wrote a series of articles for the school newspaper, trying to prove the existence of God, and when the teacher in charge of the paper politely declined to print them, I was deeply disappointed; but I didn’t let it stop me. I believed that I was called to preach, and since I belonged to a church that was made up of mostly lay preachers, that was not an unrealistic expectation.
I listened to sermons and Christian radio broadcasts at every opportunity and kept sermon ideas on 3 x 5 note cards. It wasn’t long before I had a box filled with cards. Meanwhile, I stood up and gave a testimony (a mini-sermon, actually) at every Wednesday night prayer service and at our Monday night District Youth Fellowship meetings. A very kind woman in our congregation asked me to co-teach a Sunday School class with her for Primary age children (young elementary), and I was invited to be on our congregation’s Worship Committee and Education Committee. Other congregations in the Grand Rapids area invited me to speak.
Here’s what was so surprising: Almost overnight, I went from having a very private, deeply personal, and profoundly secular relationship with Jesus Christ to being a very public, very showy, exclusively religious church person. At the point that I am at now in my life, it’s hard for me to have sympathy for the guy that I became. I suppose I’m probably too hard on myself. There was a lot of good in what I was doing: for example, I studied the Bible hungrily, using a concordance and pursuing themes and key words, and I told everyone who would listen that Jesus Christ was real, that He was accessible, and that He cared about everyday life. But I had forgotten everything He had taught me in those first few months. I was no longer interested in anything secular. School became nothing more than my mission field. I no longer cared about history, literature, science, or anything else but the Bible. I didn’t like school anymore. Where I really wanted to be was at church.
This was the surprise: that I could start out so excited about the goodness of God in my secular life that my enthusiasm could then make me completely forget about experiencing God in secular life. Don’t get me wrong: I do believe that it is important for Christ’s followers to step forward and declare themselves publicly. I just regret the fact that, when I finally did it, I ended up in the opposite direction from the one that He had been guiding me in the months leading up to my public profession of faith. This, then, was perhaps the biggest surprise about becoming a Christian: that there is a frighteningly thin line between being an authentic follower of Jesus and being merely a religious person. It is all too easy for followers of Christ to be seduced by religion, and especially by positions of prominence within the church. This is something Jesus warned us about repeatedly, and with good reason. It is precisely because of how amazing He is that we want to read the Bible and tell the world about what He has taught us… but Bible reading and telling others can become ends in themselves and can tempt us away from the very God who inspired us to go in that direction in the first place.
The good news is that Jesus Christ is perfectly capable of wooing us back. And that leads me to the next big surprise…