August 19, 2014
Until a couple years ago, I had a sturdy belief in Jesus as my savior, because I hadn’t been given a reason not to. During freshman year history class, we were studying the big religions of the world, and I learned that the major difference between Judaism and Christianity was that the Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. Processing this information, I thought: “Oh, I guess the Jews don’t think of us very highly, because in their perspective, they think that we’re following a pagan idol that isn’t true.” Then these thoughts brought doubt into my own beliefs: “But wait… what if they’re right? What if Jesus really isn’t the Son of God? What if we’re all following some awful scam that someone thought up two thousand years ago?”
These questions infested my mind like a sickness. I tried to shake off the frightening thoughts and think positively, “But if it was a lie, why would so many millions of people be following it?” And then a counter thought would come back, dragging me down into a depression of doubts. I never told anyone about these doubts because I didn’t know how they would react, so I kept them to myself, unknowingly allowing a hard crust to form over my heart.
All this took place around Easter season. I liked Easter Vigil, but because of the depressing nature of the some of the other services, I didn’t want to attend all of them. However, since my grandma was in town for the occasion, I was forced to go.
At the Good Friday service, Steve Williamson sang the song he wrote—The Passion Song. As he sang I found that tears were brimming my eyes. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t sad enough to be welling up with tears; the emotions didn’t feel like mine at all. Christian, do you love me, do you love me more than these? Will you walk beside me on the road to Calvary? O Lord, I’ll walk with you. As Steve sang this verse I suddenly had a very vivid image of seeing Jesus walking through a crowd with his cross on his back. I was in the crowd with some other women that were crying as he walked past us. He looked exhausted, bedraggled, and in terrible agony as the people booed and shouted at him. Christian, do you love me, do you love me more than these? Will you stand beside me as I die upon this tree? O Lord, I’ll stand with you. At this verse I had another vivid image of looking up at Jesus on the cross. I was looking up at him from the left along with another woman and a man. This was when I realized that the emotions I was feeling were actually the emotions of the women who had watched Jesus die on the cross.
While this was happening, our big, wooden cross was laid down on the stage, and the congregation was invited to put a hand on the cross to pray. My mother tapped my shoulder and asked me if I wanted to participate. I wanted to say, “No thank you,” but to my surprise I found myself nodding and walking up with my parents to the cross.
As soon as I touched that cross, I broke down. I was crying harder than I ever had. One continual phrase streamed through my thoughts, “He Died, He Died, He Died.”
At home, afterwards, my mind still found doubts, and I hated it. I wanted to bang my head against a wall to tell it to shut up! After such fantastic visions, how could my mind continue to doubt Jesus?
The next day, I invited some of my friends to join my family at Easter Vigil. The music, the art, everything was amazing. As the night was coming to an end, Randy York began to sing He’s Alive and Father Stewart shouted at the top of his lungs, “HE IS RISEN!!!!!” and a gigantic 40-foot banner of Jesus wrapped in robes of light, with holes in his hands and feet, flew up to the ceiling, and the congregation exploded, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!!!”
As the banner rose to the ceiling, it was like the hard crust of doubt that had been around my heart was torn off, and my mind was filled with a new phrase, “HE ROSE, HE ROSE, HE REALLY REALLY ROSE!!!!!!!” Then the children, clergy, and adults started to run down the aisles to the beat of the music, rejoicing and singing about the risen Christ. My friends and I ran for what seemed like hours, and even when it ended, it didn’t seem long enough.
As the service ended, I realized something amazing, I wasn’t having an asthma attack! I am known for my easily induced asthma, but after running, singing, and jumping to the beat of worship songs for hours, I was breathing perfectly fine.
August 11, 2014
God has recently given me several opportunities to share my faith in Christ. Many of you may have noticed that I’ve gotten flamboyant in my old age—with my shaved head and white hat. But I’ve also gotten bolder in talking about Jesus.
Some months ago, our children’s pastor, Amy Patton, gave me a Jerusalem cross to thank me for being the host in the 9:00 am nursery. Recently, I decided—during a retreat day—to wear that cross visibly to my workplace at McDonald’s. The Jerusalem cross is an ancient Christian symbol, and the black tiles surrounding our font in the sanctuary are in the form of a Jerusalem cross. But because it has an intricate design, it isn’t immediately recognizable as a cross. actually invites questions. I’ve had several people ask me, “Dan, what is that medallion you are wearing?” This has given me the opportunity for conversations about Jesus. I start by saying, “This is a Jerusalem cross. I wear it to remember that Jesus took away my bad stuff when he died on the cross, and gives me a new kind of life through his resurrection.” One day as I was stepping off the elevator at work, a person remaining on the elevator asked about it. I only had five seconds, but during that time I was able to say, “This is a Jerusalem cross. I wear it to remember what Jesus does for me.”
I’m praying and planning about how to expand those conversation openers into deeper conversations. This fall coworkers and I started a “spiritual discussion group” during our lunch hour. Once a week we discuss one person’s question based on this opening question: “If you could ask God anything you wanted, and you knew God would give you a personal answer, what would you ask?” In the past, when I’ve led discussion groups like this, I’ve had atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Jews, secular people, and even some Christians engage in interesting discussions about “How can a good God permit evil?” “What is heaven like?” or “Is there more than one way to heaven?” Most of the people who come to this discussion group might not come to a Bible study, even though they might have a Christian background. Some of my Christian friends say their faith has been deepened by the discussion group. I’ve also had friends from a non-religious background, or a background other than Christianity, grow in their openness to Jesus. I recently discovered that one person turned from atheism to faith in Christ, partly through the influence of this group, and her life has been radically transformed. I’m praying that I can see many other people come to a full faith in Christ, and thankful that my church equips me to see these conversations through.