Becoming Christian a journey

More than once, I’ve had someone ask me, “When did you become a Christian?”

I talk about it being a journey, about losing my father to a stroke, about all the emotional pain, financial drain and physical strain of being in charge of his care.

I talk about how my wife and I decided to start going to the same church in the summer of 1997 because we knew something “was missing,” as cliched as that may sound. Then there were long discussions with the pastor and his wife about faith, the Bible and life.

I talk about having to face some real problems in my life and my marriage, and needing to confess them.

But I don’t have one day when I can say, “This was it.”

For some people, that’s not enough.

Knute Larson remembers the day he picked up his 10-year-old daughter at a Christian camp, and she was in tears.

“It was because the speaker said if you couldn’t give the date and the hour that you committed yourself to Christ, then you weren’t a Christian,” said Larson, pastor at The Chapel in Akron.

“That’s ridiculous. My daughter was always close to Christ. That really hurt her. And I grew up in a home where people showed me the Scriptures, expressed God’s love to me. I can’t give you a date and a time, either.”

It’s great if people can list a date and time when they knelt down in the middle of the night, or when they came to the altar at church, or they broke down into tears while driving and had to pull to the side of the road to pray.

Larson said that they have altar calls at The Chapel when people “publicly” profess their faith. At other churches, a public baptism is a sign of faith.

But those are just outward signs; the real story is inside.

At the huge Willow Creek Church in Chicago several years ago, they asked thousands of people what they meant when they came forward during an altar call. Rather than it being a life-altering decision, most indicated they just wanted to learn more about Christianity. They were still seeking.

In some Christian circles, they demand that you have a “testimony.” It’s the story of how you found God, ending with the day that you “gave your heart to Christ.”

Some religious TV shows are fueled by guys who used to be killers, or whatever, and now they found Jesus and they have a new life. Or by women who did every drug, slept with every guy, and now they have come into a new life.

But that’s not everyone’s story. It’s not the story of most people.

“There are times when an earthquake changes our life,” Larson said. “But, more often, it’s a process. It’s not so much about what I’m doing, as what God is doing through me.”

My friend Casey Coleman talked about hitting bottom with his drinking before he looked up to God and returned with a new passion to his Christian and Catholic roots. It began when he attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Coleman has since died of cancer, but the former sportscaster said his faith grew over time.

He also said, “My bottom was not as low as some others’ bottom, and I thank God for that. Others had to go through so much worse.”

For some people, just getting wet and having a toe touch bottom was enough to call out to God and jump out of that stormy sea.

Dr. Diana Swoope, of Akron’s Arlington Church of God, mentioned in a recent sermon that a “testimony” is a product of “testing and moaning.”

There’s much to be said for having a life based on good, godly decisions, rather than having to end up passed out on the floor of a crack house. It saves a lot of pain for you and those you love.

But everyone goes through periods of testing and moaning. The story might not sound like much when you’re telling it to someone else, but those long nights at a parent’s hospital bedside will put the faith of most people to a test.

As Larson said, “It’s really between you and God, and no one else can tell you what your road to faith should be like.”


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