Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Call to Respond

(This is an edited version of a talk I gave at an Emmaus Event.)

I’ve always been a Christian, but I have not always lived the Christian life. Do you know what I mean?

See I was raised to believe that Christ was the Son of God, my personal savior, and that he died on a cross that was mine and bore all the sins of my life, so that I might have eternal life. I’ve always believed that, but I have not always lived it.

As a young teenager I was a devoted Christian. I loved Church and attended whenever the doors were open. I hung on every word of the Charismatic preacher and knew I wanted to dedicate my life to serving the Lord. So what happened? What went wrong? Where did I go wrong?

One day, the preacher’s wife was teaching my Sunday school class and she asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At that time I thought it would be great to protect and serve the public. I wanted to be a policeman and I told her so.

She answered, “Oh Eddie, if you become a policeman you might have to kill someone and you will go to Hell!”

I was shocked. I was stunned. That answer did not jive with the stories of the Bible I had read, such as King David wiping out entire tribes of people and still being God’s Beloved.

I was a kid, but these few words, said by another human being whom I had respected, turned my heart to stone.

I stopped going to Church. In high school I was fairly popular, had lots of friends, went to lots of parties, and did the usual teenage things such as drinking and worst of all became sexually active with several partners. But through it all, I never lost my belief in Christ, but I did abandon my relationship with him.

However, He never abandoned me! Amen!

It took me a while to recognize God’s Grace. In 1992 I married my wonderful wife, Tracey, and we attended a church in Albuquerque for a short time. We enjoyed this church as it was very large, we could be lost in the crowd and never had to commit. We could be faceless and nameless. I did love the preacher though. He was an ex-surfer, who sat on a stool up on the stage, and read the Bible from front to back, using historical references and huge maps. My kind of Bible study. Unfortunately, we soon moved back to Houston and again I stopped going to Church.

Then in 1995 my oldest son, David, was born. Like many young parents we decided our children should be raised in a Church. I remember thinking, "I didn’t need it, but they did."

We joined a church in Katy, Texas, but again never felt a part of them. Many of them made much more money than we did, had huge beautiful houses, and honestly we felt inferior, and never felt at home there. After a few months we stopped attending. Six months later we received a card in the mail asking for our tithes. Not a “Where have you been, we missed you,” but “We need the money you promised us.” This made me very angry, self-righteous, and …well, dumb! I began to believe that I could be a Christian without going to any Church. I viewed all Christians as hypocrites and treated those I met from that perspective. I swore I’d never join a Church again. I would not be a hypocrite. My heart had become a stone and I did not walk with Christ, but he never abandoned me.

In 2000 we moved from Katy to Caldwell, Texas and had our second son, Kevin. Our lives in Caldwell were not easy. Tracey had trouble finding a job after having the baby. I took a huge paycut to leave Alief Independent School District to work for the Bryan Independent School as a teacher. My wife and I had trouble making all our bills for a while, and we argued for the first time in our marriage and grew to resent each other.

The worst part of this time was the slow creeping feeling of dread as I came to know something was wrong with our baby. He never liked being hugged, he couldn’t be consoled, and despite walking very early, he was very slow to develop speech. At three and half years old, he could say “mom, dad, and coke,” and that was about it. I remember yelling at him, begging him to speak to me, to say I love you, to acknowledge he could hear me, to just be with us!

Turns out he is a high, functioning autistic. Part of me wanted to be angry at God. Why me? Why my family? See I also have a profoundly retarded older sister, I had a Downs Syndrome cousin, and now I had an autistic child. Honestly this sort of thing can break a marriage. I’ve heard my mother say of raising my sister, that it either makes your marriage stronger, or ends it. I have to give my wife credit. Despite all our troubles, she never seemed to consider leaving me. I probably would have! God protected us. He blessed us, but again, we didn’t realize it at the time.

Finally she said, “I’m taking our kids to Church. You don’t have to go, but I’m going.” I figured this was only a passing phase and if I went along with it, she would get tired of it and I could go back to devoting my Sundays to Football.

We attended a couple of churches and finally went to the First United Methodist church of Caldwell. The second Sunday we attended the Open Doors Sunday School class and met many wonderful friends there. They immediately made us feel accepted and they were reading the Purpose Driven Life, and the chapter that Sunday was “Why you need a Church Home.” Yeah, God was talking and this time I was listening.

We joined the Church. I rededicated my life to Christ’s service. Then Pat Baker, who had become not only a good friend, but a mentor and someone I greatly admire, asked me to go on the Walk to Emmaus.

The Walk to Emmaus is a religious retreat where you spend 72 hours listening to, and responding to, a series of talks about your personal relationship with Christ.

I went, but hesitantly. I spent the first night wondering if I was in some sort of cult, but I had a wonderful time, and realized that I had denied myself a personal relationship with Christ. Man my walk was awesome. If you are a Christian, consider the Walk to Emmaus. There is nothing I can recommend more.

On the Walk I learned what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ, how to work to strengthen the Christian Community (notice I didn't say a particular denomination), to develop skills to become a better disciple of Christ,

I learned that as a member of the Body of Christ we have a mission! We must go forth and share the Good News that Christ died and has risen so that we may have eternal life with him. We are reminded in Romans 15:16 that we have a “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God.” We are to serve others, and we are to live the Christian life. Our mission is to bring others into a relationship with Christ.

Remember that Life in grace is a journey, not a destination and not a lifestyle to be achieved. It is a pilgrimage of love that never ends in this life. We all have had events that have shaped our lives and led us to becoming who we are, but those events are only steps in the process of life. God grabbed Moses’ attention with a burning bush, but that event only served to begin his life’s mission of working for the Lord. Jonah’s time with the whale was an event, but it was what he did later in Ninevah that is the true message.

We are called to bear witness to Christ through the quality of our walk, not just the quantity of our talk. It must become every Christian's purpose to seek ways to serve Christ in Church and to employ our energies and gifts for love of others. We should be joyful. Live a Christian life.

Finally I learned that we are to have a clear concept of our priorities. We must attempt to keep our focus on Christ and to have a clear concept of our mission as Christians. The world needs change, and it can happen when we put forth the effort to change it.

Some folks do not like the Emmaus movement, some do not like aggressive Christians, some do not like Christians at all. We cannot force change on people, but we can love them as they are and present an authentic witness to them through our actions. When you are disappointed or downtrodden remember it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convince and change. You keep the authentic witness and God does the rest. Jesus promises to be with us always. In John 8:12 he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

When my walk was over I stayed high on the mountain for months. I now volunteer in my church and do all I can to share God’s love with everyone I encounter. I strive to be a better husband, father, friend, and teacher. Despite all this I have bad days too. I stray at times (too many to count, but now I know who I serve. For much of my life I abandoned God. But He never abandoned me.

As for my son, Kevin, he’s doing very well and will be staring the third grade. He is reading on level with his “normal” classmates, loves to be hugged, and is a great blessing. He is a light and God works through him. Just as he will work through you.

Be Joyful and Stand.

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