Friday, January 15, 2010

Too Far From God

When I was a young man, I turned away from God with the common, “there are too many hypocrites in the church” slogan. It seemed to me, in all my vast knowledge of things, that I didn’t know anyone who acted or even tried to live the Christian life. At least, not in the way I understood it to be presented in the Bible. Of course, looking back, I did know plenty of godly Christians, but because I assumed everyone was a hypocrite, I called those who actually lived their faith, “Jesus Freaks.”

A young man, I had recently met, invited me to come to church with him. When I told him I’d rather not, he asked me why? I told him that there were too many hypocrites in the church. I told him that everyone I knew, who claimed to be a Christian, was either faking it or not even trying very hard. I was fed up with church and tired of hypocrites.

As he was heading out the door, he threw over his shoulder, “You know what? If there is a hypocrite between you and God, you’re too far from God.” This same conversation happened several times in the next six months or so.  As I watched this fellow and the small band of others he slowly collected around him, I could see that he and they were somehow different from what I was expecting in Jesus freaks. Some of these guys were clearly struggling with their understanding and application of the Bible, they were hypocrites and Jesus freaks at the same time, but they consistently loved me and slowly drew me in.

At first, I began attending Bible studies. Bible studies are not church after all, and sometimes they served food. Oh, and there were young women there, pretty ones. These young women were also hypocrites and Jesus freak, but somehow this was beginning to matter less and less. My reason for not going to church, because of all the hypocrites, was slowly being eaten away by the love and concern shown by these new friends.

One day some things happened in my life that made me aware of my real distance from God and ultimately my own hypocrisy. Of course I was sinning all the time, but this one time was the kind of sin that I could not deny. I had done it all by myself. There was no one I could blame, no where to turn to show that I had been duped, fooled, or forced to sin. The weight of what I had done crushed me and laid me out before God and anyone else who happened to be in the area. As a result, I fell to my knees and cried out to him to have mercy on me and not to kill me right there. I begged him to forgive me and to clean all this up somehow. It was a horrible experience. The strange thing was not so much that I was coming face to face with God, but that I was, for the first time, coming face to face with myself. I wasn’t what I thought I had been at all. I was the biggest hypocrite I knew and the reality that that was the way it had always been destroyed me. I was lost.

I realized at that moment that I needed to be closer to God than those people I had counted as hypocrites. I couldn’t allow their sin to keep me from walking with God. Nothing mattered more than being cleansed and in a close relationship with the one who had died and made it possible for me to be forgiven for this horrible situation in which I found myself. The wonderful thing is that God came to me, through my prayer, and lifted me up and washed me off. Peace flooded my soul and though I had to make restitution for what I had done, incredible joy was present in my life. I suddenly loved the Christians I knew and wanted to be with them all the time. Going to church wasn’t a problem anymore. That’s where God was and I wanted to be as close to him as I could. And that’s where his people were.

The Bible tells us to count the cost before we forsake all and follow him, but for me at that moment, nothing mattered. I was in deep trouble and I knew it full well. There was nothing that could keep me from running after God until I found him. I would allow nothing to get in the way, I was militant in my commitment to being, and thinking, and doing all that God asked me to do.

That was 36 years ago. I’m older now. I hope I’m wiser. But more, I hope I have the same zeal to serve the living God as I had in those days. Jesus means more to me today than he did then. I understand what happened better now than I did then. Then, I thought of it all in terms of what I needed. Now I know that what he did for me then was really for his own glory and kingdom. The thrill is that he’s included me in what he’s doing in the world. The thrill is that I can see his hand in everything that happens around me. The thrill is that even if things go south, he’s in that too, and that makes the adventure of life all the more wonderful. God is truly good. And I’m blessed that he’s given me all that I have. Praise God.

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