How Christ Changed My Life
This is the story of my life before Christ and for a little time after He changed it forever. It is not presented as a great work of literature, nor even an authoritative guide to Christian conduct. There are no oracles from God, nor words received in saintly vision. What follow are, quite simply, the outpourings of a heart deeply in love with Christ.
My Life Before Life
I have not always been in love with our Lord. For most of my adult life, I was a bitter and outspoken enemy of Christ and Christianity. Advanced degrees in sociology and human relations re-enforced my natural inclination toward secular humanism and equipped me for active service in the armies of the anti-Christ.
Near the end of my military career, I managed to insinuate myself into a position where I could work for civil rights with all the power of the federal government behind me. In the twilight of my career, I served on the faculty of a government academy created to pump a steady flow of social activists into the federal mainstream. I thought I was doing the right thing, until Jesus came into my heart and taught me differently.
How it happened
It happened just one week before my 50th birthday. I was alone in my den, sitting on the floor, watching television. I did not care for the late movie, so I began flipping through the channels in search of something more interesting. A televangelist was working one of the religious channels. I paused to watch. He was talking about the terrible fate which awaits unredeemed sinners. I decided to listen to what he had to say.
The speaker was dynamic and skilful. I told myself I was watching because I hoped to learn some of his presentation techniques. Soon, however, I found myself hanging on his every utterance. He was excessively emotional, but his words held me prisoner.
The evangelist claimed only faith in Jesus Christ could deliver the sinner from eternal damnation. What he said made sense to me. I wanted to know more about God's program for sinners.
And then it happened!
There I was, sitting on the floor with my arms outstretched, reaching up for the Bread of Life. I emphasize emotion was not a factor in my sudden change of heart. On the contrary, I was calm and completely at ease. What followed was at once the strangest and the most marvelous experience of my life.
As I recall, the room seemed to change. Everything was as it had been, but somehow had been shifted to the background of my consciousness. I recall the flickering of the television screen, but I have no recollection of anything else the televangelist did or said. It was as though I had been insulated from the rest of the world.
Then the cold began. Slowly, starting with the tips of my outstretched fingers, a chill came upon me. It was as though a plug had been pulled and the warmth was draining from my body. I had undergone heart surgery the previous year, and it occurred to me that I was dying.
I continued to sit on the floor with arms upraised, waiting for whatever was to come. Warmth entered at my fingertips and washed over my entire body. I was filled with contentment such as I had never dreamed possible. Christ had been knocking at the door to my soul for half a century, and had finally let Himself in. The joy continues to this day. Now, I am an activist for Christ.
Getting to know my Lord
In the earliest days of my stumbling walk with Christ, I sought information from every available source. I spent a lot of time absorbing the output of radio and television religious broadcasters. My pastor graciously devoted one or two hours a day to providing private instruction concerning Christ and Christian living. I enrolled in Bible college, taking a full course load. I bought books on theology and Church history, and read them late into the night. What I did not do enough was read the source document for all Christians, the Holy Bible. Oh, I did open the Book, but more as an adjunct to my other activities than as a primary source of enlightenment.
As I sought to learn at the knees of a hundred teachers, I tried to incorporate the teachings of each one into my understanding. My confusion mounted and the more I studied, the less I learned.
So many theologies. So many theories. So many interpretations. How is one to choose what is right? Or are they all right? Are any right?
One teacher would tell me I must repent and be baptized before salvation is possible. Another might argue I must stand before true believers and confess Christ openly if my sins are to be forgiven. Still another would demand a `sinner's prayer', else Christ would not accept me.
"Salvation is by grace," I was told.
"Good works must precede conversion," said another.
"You must take the Sacraments," propounded the man in black.
"You can't come to Christ until you know the Scriptures."
"If you do not yield completely to Christ's sovereignty, you can not be saved."
"Salvation is conditional; you must earn it anew every day."
"Without good works, you will lose your salvation."
"Salvation is for eternity."
What was a guy to do? There are nearly as many theologies as there are persons to expound them. Which should I accept as my own? I had spent almost all my adult life in the Armed Forces, where there is only one correct answer to any question. In the Service, it was easy: If it moves, salute it. If it doesn't move, paint it." Now, however, I had to select a belief system for myself from what seemed a limitless universe of possibilities. At least, I thought I did.
I was exposed to the Catholic Church as a child, and I felt no urge to become involved with them again, or with any other of the mainline religions. I am not always comfortable with ritual and the liturgical form of worship. Worship is a personal thing with me, and I prefer to approach our Lord directly, rather than through an officiating priest.
I spent a little time with Pentecostals. Their direct involvement with our Lord struck a responsive chord in my heart. I was troubled that, in some assemblies, signs and wonders figured more prominently in worship than did God Almighty. Some of the services I attended seemed monuments to disorder and sensuality. People would shout, jump about and dance to incredibly loud music, interrupt the teaching, and speak what they termed 'prophecy' [but which often seemed expressions of the desires of their hearts]. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Pentecostals I visited, but I do not care for the wild exuberance of their worship.
Neo-fundamentalist churches were not the answer. In my experience, the leaders and members of these bodies tend to be the Pharisees of this century. I had a sense many hard-liners hold to an "Us against the world" theology; either accept and keep to their legalistic interpretation of Scripture or be required to stand outside the pale. To me, some of these groups project the antithesis of Christ's admonition to love our neighbor as ourselves. Among the neo-fundamentalists, I found little indication that Christ's yoke is easy (Matt 11:28-30).
Please understand it is not my place to judge the eternal state of any person, whatever his religious affiliation [Romans 14:4]. That authority is reserved to our Savior. I provided the above information to help the reader understand where I am coming from.
For a time, I sought to discover and join the perfect church. I did not find it; nor will I ever. Religious institutions are products of human ingenuity; they never can be perfect. We will never know perfection until it pleases our perfect Lord to make us so.
I looked for churches where pastor and congregation love the Lord and seek to serve Him. I would be most at ease in a church where our God reigns and His love radiates through the membership. In such a body, one has limitless opportunities to learn and to serve.
I also looked for churches where love of God seems to have taken a second seat; where things of this world are given great prominence in both worship and service. In such a body, one has limitless opportunities to learn and to serve, as he helps brethren return to the Way [James 5:19,20].
I have come to understand that churches are not temples where believers and seekers must gather in order to worship God or do things some believe are pleasing to Him. Churches are nothing more than buildings in which people gather to worship God. Not everyone who joins with others in churches on Sundays or other days of the week truly knows our Lord. Some appear to be more concerned with conforming to the teachings of the pastor or the rules of a particular religion than with truly worshipping the Lord God. Some are more interested in appearing to be religious than in being in submission to the Lord. Some look upon church services as social gatherings.
Some seem to believe that God may only be worshipped in a church or with a congregation of religionists. Not so. Scripture teaches that God is ever present (Psalm 139:7-12) and all-knowing (1 John 3:20). One might worship our Lord while sitting in his living room or on the sand at a beach – or anywhere else and at any time. I am not aware that our Creator has established a schedule when worship is required or permitted. Those who truly believe in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are never separated from God. We know that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16)
I would rather sit at His knee and listen to Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God rather than have some Faith Movement guru explain how I can control the Almighty with my formatted prayers. I would rather hear Paul expound on my freedom in Christ than attend to a man who demands strict conformity to a ritualized program of worship. I would like to share a cup of sweet wine with Peter as he recounts the marvelous things he witnessed at the Master's side.
I want to hear the kind of teaching done by Jesus and the Apostles; straight from the shoulder with no sugar coating. I am troubled by recent enhancements to the Gospel, such as altar calls, sinners' prayers, and the like. If anyone can show me, in the Bible, where Jesus, Peter, Paul or anybody else held altar calls or required seekers after salvation to pray a sinners' prayer being joined to the Body of Christ, I should be very surprised.
How might I do these things? By opening the Scriptures and reading what God has revealed to us
What am I?
Folks ask about my religious orientation and church affiliation. I avoid locking myself into any neatly labelled religious box. For me, a better course is to seek the truth in God's Word without attempting to mold it into some denominational scheme. That way, I remain more open to that "still small voice" as I try to live a Christian life. There is a very real danger, I fear, that claiming membership in a particular theological camp could lead me to reject illumination or guidance which does not conform to the rules of my chosen religious scheme.
I suppose I am one of those fundamentalists who cause so much trouble for orthodox religion. For me, the Bible is a complete guide for living. It tells me what I must do, as well as what I must avoid. Scripture furnishes examples to emulate or eschew. There is comfort when I hurt, admonishment when I am lax, direction when I am lost and encouragement when I am down. To tap this bottomless well of inspiration and guidance, I need only open my heart and mind to the words God caused to be written.
A few closing thoughts
Study God's Word
Every believer should undertake a study of Scripture, to better understand how to live for Christ. We should not permit study and dissection of the Word to become the most important project in our lives. We must not become like those folks Paul denounces in 2 Timothy 3:7, who are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
It is necessary we gain a clear understanding of Scripture. Our Lord admonishes us, in 2 Timothy 2:15, to become journeymen in the application of the written Word. However, I do not believe He desires we convert the living Word into a sterile accumulation of theories and ordinances to be mechanically applied in our lives. In Matthew Chapter 23, the student may read Jesus' scathing denounciation of religiousity. Jehovah's impatience with empty ritual is clearly expressed in the first chapter of Isaiah. Paul addresses the subject in Colossians 2:20-24.
Draw near to Christ
I believe we must approach Christ as He explained to us. Rather than load our minds with the technology and tools of the theologian, I believe we are to receive the Kingdom of God as a child [Mark 10:15] - with open minds and hearts. We will learn of God through His revealed Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Leave the labels and technical terminology at the door of your prayer closet and follow the example of Paul:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.--I Corinthians 2:1-2
Forget about labels and end-times club affiliations. Just serve the Lord to the best of your ability. Let your life be a lighthouse in a world struggling in darkness. Trust me. If one person reaches out to Christ because of your example, that single event will give more meaning to your life than any label you could possibly place upon your personal belief system.
In determining the direction of your walk with our Lord, take counsel from your brethren, but be guided always by Almighty God.
Who am I?
A follower of Christ. Nothing more and nothing less. A forgiven sinner who continues to miss the mark. But I know one day, I will gaze upon the face of my Lord.
(C) 1994-2008 Ron Loeffler
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