*This is a true story but due to the nature of the accounts in this story I’ve changed names.
I can tell you the exact moment when my love affair with Jesus started.
It didn’t, strangely enough, start when I got saved at 12. I will admit that there was something in Jesus that I knew I needed and wanted but I don’t think salvation really took. I often ask myself the question as to whether or not I was really saved, I don’t know the answer to that question. I know my heart was in the right place and I know that I wanted nothing more than to be a Christian but I also know that I struggled with a lot of things in High School and well yeah my 20′s were spent in a fog of doubt, fear and anger. So I cannot honestly tell you whether I was ‘saved’ or not or even what being ‘saved’ really means.
The time I knew I needed Jesus happened not long after I decided to give faith another try. My friend and boss Beth gave me a book called Blue Like Jazz, it was a book I had heard of many times but it wasn’t something I was interested in reading when I first heard the title. That changed after some conversations with my wife and a few church visits. It’s weird because I don’t remember Beth ever bringing up the book I had actually been the one who asked about it and she just happened to have a copy of it. That’s how God works, through coincidences that are so convenient you slowly realize that there is no such thing as coincidence.
There is a ton of great stuff in that book but the thing that impacted me the most was the story he shared about a soldier. I don’t remember the specifics, what war it was or where, but a soldier broke into a prison where captives were being held and he came into a room and freed the prisoners there, he told them they were all free to go. Except that they didn’t. See these poor people were so terrified, so ravaged by the horrors they’ve experienced that they didn’t even get up off of the ground where they had been cowering in absolute fear. The soldier came back and again told them they were free but still they didn’t budge.
He could’ve left them right? I mean he had done his part, it was now their choice with what to do next, isn’t that how so many Christians treat salvation, once the gospel is presented the ball is in their court. If they choose to stay in the pit of their sin there is nothing more that can or should be done, God has already provided the way out and it’s up to us to take it.
What a lowly, sad, incomplete and downright disgusting view of grace.
That’s not what the soldier in the story did though. He comes back into the cell and he puts his guns down and then he gets down on the ground among these people. He kneels there with them in solidarity. He reaches his arms out and touches them gently and just kneels there with them until they can see that he is no enemy he is truly there to save them.
One of the most popular topics that people seem to ask me about, whether they are Christian or not, is my views on hell. It’s a topic that I admittedly have a hard time sharing my views, because they are not clear cut and they are not black and white. They are views which have been formed by my understanding of theology, and my own life experiences as someone who has rebelled and who has been woo’d back by a loving Christ.
I think there is some sort of hell, I think there are people there. I think there will be people there after this life. I don’t know where this hell is or who exactly will be there or how long the duration of that stay will be but I believe in it and I hope that no one experience it because it’s a terrible place.
Having said that I think that Jesus takes people out of hell all the time. I think that there are some aspects of hell that we experience in THIS life in much the same way that everyone regardless of their affiliation experiences what is called common grace. Common grace are the good things we experience in life, food, shelter, family, good times. But we also experience the ramifications of the fall. All of our bodies are perishing, the aches and pains we experience as we get older, our failing eyesight, colds and flus, make no mistake we are all slowly but surely dying. Some of us experience this in profound frighting ways.
I have a couple friends who I had a dialogue with this week. One is Rick and his father used to work for a church organization in the state they lived in. The other is Joseph and he is guy I knew in HS.
Rick’s dad was accused of horrible things, things he simply did not do. The accusations are so heinous that even though I’ve changed names I won’t repeat them. Because of the backlash of this Rick left the church and has lost his faith though he doesn’t really know how to label himself anymore.
Joseph grew up Mormon but he also grew up confused. He feels as if he is a woman trapped in a mans body and this has been absolute torture for him. To look in the mirror and not see who he believes that he is. Because of this he hates God because God has not fixed him either way and he has become a WIccan.
I guess this is where I differ from some Christians, I have no doubts of either Rick’s or Mitch’s place in the kingdom. Jesus isn’t standing outside of their prison cell with his exasperated hands in the air saying “Well I’ve set them free but they have decided to remain in prison, I can do no more”. No, like the soldier in the story he has come into the cell. He is sitting, kneeling, crying and suffering with my friends. When they are pissed at him he listens to their curses, he allows them to hit him if they feel the need, and when they are ready, and only when they are ready. He’ll take their hands and they will storm out of hell together.
How do I know this?
That’s exactly what he did with me, he allowed me to sit in my anger, my doubt and my fear for 10 years. Then when I was ready he led me into the sunshine of a life so abundant I could never imagine it, not even when I first got ‘saved’ when I was 12.
That’s why I want to be a pastor.
So I can be there to watch Jesus go into prisons. Prison of hate, of addiction, of anger, of grief and of ruin. See him get down on the level of these people that some would label as enemies. See him sit there in the midst of them and then watch them link hands and storm the gates of hell together.
I believe in Hell I just don’t believe it has a very good security system.
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