Guest Post: Experiencing Jesus
When I was little, my Mom used to teach me and my big sister Bible stories on a "flannel-graph" board. We got to take turns choosing the stories. Janet always wanted something sweet, where her heart has always been, like Jesus carrying the lost lamb on his shoulders, or making the blind man see. I invariably chose John the Baptist's head being carried in on a platter, mostly because Janet didn't like that one. I chose Christianity like I chose the Dallas Cowboys: Here I am. Here's what we believe. My parents are good folks, that's what they believe, so so do I.
Then I left the nest, went to college, and my beliefs were challenged in what Plato calls the "grand marketplace of ideas." I wondered if a bazillion Chinese, Indians, Moslems, and the Grand Unafilliated could be wrong and me right, and what a pompous arse I am to think I have all the answers anyhow.
So I redid my beliefs from the basement up. I started with epistemology (how we know, how we learn, & co.) Thence to philosophy (from Ancient Greece through at least Sartre, which--if you're prone to depression as I am never, EVER end on Sartre; stick with a light comedy, preferably featuring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, and some microwaved popcorn). Then to the hard sciences of (most interestingly / relevant) microbiology, astrophysics, genetics, biochemistry. Then a long trudge through the "holy books" of all world religions [please don't try the Mahabharata at home; if you drop the entire volume onto, say, a three-year-old kid, you will need a forklift and a spatula to clean up afterwards]. Then I read "The Golden Bough," about the "dying god"--which evidently made an impact on the great C.S. Lewis as well. And this figure, Jesus, came into my mind. And I couldn't shake him off.
With Jesus on my mind, I went through the three "quests for the historical Jesus" from Albert Schweitzer forward, through the Marcus Borgs and John Dominic Crossans, etc. Thousands of pages in, I realized: “Nobody can shake this guy off. These authors, for all their erudition and copious footnotes, have no idea how to trump this one. He’s a unique individual—shut the mouths of all the muckety-mucks in his day and ours, and to good purpose: love. He was an actual, historical person. He was crucified on a cross. He was buried in a tomb. Some say he rose again; some say he didn’t. But from those who say he didn’t, I haven’t heard or read a plausible theory to this date, 07.16.13, of why all of his MANY detractors couldn’t produce a corpse. To tweak the immortal words of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Just roll his old bones out here and I’ll give you a pass from study hall.” . . . and crickets chirp unheeded in the background, because it ain’t happenin’.
I got dragged out into the deep waters of the evolution vs. creation debate, young- vs. old-earth theories, the meaning of “yom” in Hebrew [cf. my “Systematic Theology”], but his face still faces me, and says: “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” I actually tried to see other world-views and religions from the perspectives of their own proponents. Some of them left me cold. Others left me bored. None of them moved me. I tried atheism, but there’s too much beauty in a butterfly, and cloudscapes with roaring thunder, and the gecko hanging with his pink fingers on my window just now, and chaos theory shows so much intelligent design that I can’t get around it. I couldn’t do Islam, because the Koran was too angry for me—too much roasting and being spitted from gob to bung-hole (lightly seasoned with oregano and a hint of ground thyme) of the infidels, too little grace. I couldn’t do Hinduism because it’s too high a climb to the Brahmins and too sorry a lot for the “untouchables” at sea-level—the guys who wear clothes that don’t match and drive old cars—the friends in low places that are my favorites. I looked into Taoism, and Confucianism, but they’re more a way of peaceful life than a coherent world-view / belief system. And still, in my sleep, this question: “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Then I read the core text that hit me between the eyes like a bullet, about which the soul revolves, Matthew 16:13-17. I will let it speak for itself:
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you? he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven.”
I’ve been lower than low, bounced off the tarmac of bad choices, landed on my feet, then slipped and fell sunny-side up, in a parking-lot in Wills Point, Texas, looked up at the Milky Way and asked for answers. Yelled for answers, with expletives I only save for such contingencies. Once I stopped screaming at the universe, which didn’t seem to adjust it in any measurable respect, I screamed again just because it was all I had left. Then I bawled like a baby. Then I thought I might go crazy. Then I took a deep breath, calmed my heart, and listened. Here’s what I heard:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28.
Jesus grabbed me by the shirt-collars, or maybe the ragged and stained T-shirt I was wearing—hugged me to himself and asked: Who do you say that I am?
My answer echoes Pete’s: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The secret of eternity, revealed in the New Testament: CHRIST IN YOU; THE HOPE OF GLORY!
Oh, friend. Please meet my best friend, Jesus. He loves you, and died for you, and now lives in heaven. My heart hurts for so many of my fellow humans—alcoholics, addicts, down-and-outers—who see no way out of their predicaments. If you would like to be reborn, have your dirt wiped away and replaced by the whitest snow imaginable, here’s all you have to do.
Say: “Jesus, I have sinned [a Latin word from archery, meaning “missed the mark of perfection”], and fallen short. Only you can save me. Please come into my life, and into my heart. I know you died on a cross for me, and took all my sins on yourself. You took my sins, and gave me your righteousness instead. Thank you for making me a new creation today. Amen.”
The coolest thing about accepting JESUS is that it’s so easy. Just ask. Just be open. I was going to say he’s dying to meet you, but I could more properly say he died to meet you.