My Story, Installment 4

*At our elder meetings the last year, they’ve been taking 15 minutes per person to talk about their journey of walking with Christ. They’ve done it in, more or less, a time-line fashion. It’s been highly enjoyable, especially since I’ve known most of these folks for a decade or more and spent a great deal of time with them…but, yet, in this forum, we’re discovering so much that’s encouraging in our own walk. While I’ve given snippets of this in various ways here at The Diner, I thought I’d give it a shot the way the elders have been doing it and get it all in one spot, even if it’s scattered throughout previous entries. Scroll down and get caught up!

I went off to college in the fall of 1984…with my declared major as “pre-engineering.” You’d think I’d have gotten better advice from folks around me considering the reality that my ACT results placed me in the bottom 3% in the country in math. Oh, yeah. And I didn’t have the fancy calculator that my roommates had. No worries. I changed majors within my first three weeks at college.

To business.

No worries. I changed majors, once I got into the college of liberal arts my third quarter, five more times before I was finished. I mixed-and-matched a lot of subjects that interested me. There are worse motivations to choose a major.

Anyway, my spiritual growth was actually a lot more consistent at university. Within my first week of going to class I’d done two things that would affect my life profoundly: First, I joined a fraternity. Second, most of the guys from my high school small group had gone to the same school (different fraternities) and they’d called to let me know that they’d found a guy to lead our study and we were on for Monday nights.

Now, about the fraternity: It seemed like a good way to meet people and get connected quickly. I mean, I’m hardly the button-down khaki type. There were fraternities full of those types of people if that’s what you were looking for. I was looking for one that had as much diversity as a homogenous fraternity system can produce, and I’d gotten word from a high school friend that I’d actually fit in with the one he’d pledged a year earlier. Turns out he was correct. Guys were from all over America and had a very laid back approach to actually being a fraternity. They were outsiders looking in, which, fit me perfectly.

Now, about the Bible study small group. A guy named Charles had a job where he got paid to lead small group Bible studies on a college campus. He was behind some table the first week of school and my friend Scotty signed us all up. We had our four guys from high school, and Charles brought in two more from the day he worked at the table. We made covers for our Bibles on the first night that said “Chuck’s B.S.” on them. I think he realized at that moment he would be in for a long four years.

How the two intertwined was like “point/counter-point.” I’d go to Bible study each week and talk about eternal things. I’d come back to the fraternity house and watch temporary things. But what I got to do in that time of life was make my faith my very own.

Not what my family taught me.
Not what my early church experiences taught me.
Not what my functional moral code taught me.
Not what my Bible church taught me.
Not what my small group leader taught me.

But what was it that I believed?

Sure, early on at college during my pledge quarter, I’d done the legalism/moral code thing. I had my list of what Christians didn’t do and adhered to that pretty regularly. It was easy to “be good.” All you had to do was pick a church, don’t drink, designate drive, don’t cuss, and make it known that you weren’t having sex and you were pretty good. But that wasn’t belief. That was behavior.

So, Charles took us through Romans.

And I began to be taught about grace. Romans does that, in case you didn’t know.

True to form, this made me angry. I mean, if the Bible is so clear on this stuff, then why didn’t my “grounded Bible church” let me know about this? How come my small group leader didn’t clue us in? How could people who were supposed to be leading me spiritually talk about grace but really point me to checklists which told me what I should do and what I shouldn’t do?

See…all legalism did was make me a better liar.

“How’s the quiet time?” Good. Really good.
“How’s your prayer life?” Good. Really good.
“How’s your time in the Word?” Good. Really good.
“How’s your tithing coming along?” Good. Really good.

You get the idea.

Anyway, this time, without the governor of making my mom cry some more to stop me, well…

…let’s just say that this time the anger did manifest itself in some rebellious behavioral patterns.

Comparatively, to those around me, I was “pretty good.” Girls thought I was “wise.”

Scripturally, well, let’s just say that I wasn’t measuring up to God’s standards. I took a very Solomonesque approach. This basically means that I’d taken grace and run to license with it. Now, the behavioral standards were off! So, I got in the pool for a bit. I didn’t dive in, mind you. A very slow approach going in on the steps and letting myself adjust.

The problem is that we would eventually study Romans 6, 7 & 8. If you read ’em, let’s just say that the pendulum that runs between extreme legalism and extreme license will swing back to center based on what’s found in there. Now, all of a sudden, I was doing many of the same things I was doing before, like praying, reading the Word, going to church, serving with and through my small group, giving, etc. Now, for all the right reasons. And I got back to avoiding those “rebellious behavioral patterns” for all the right reasons, too.

What took you about a minute to read was a two-year process or so.

See, I changed majors to World Religion. In class, I was studying the tenants of every major world religion. Reading their texts. Observing their rituals. Seeing their outward manifestations. It was kind of cool See, I couldn’t worry about marketability of a college degree. I had stuff to figure out.

Then, I had Charles. He kept me accountable during my “Solomonesque approach.” His patience was immeasurable. Again, I was the kid in the study that things didn’t come quite so easy to. Mondays at McDonald’s were my confessional. Charles was my priest. He encouraged. He rebuked with great patience and instruction. He prayed. He loaded me down with stuff to read that was way better than homework, like C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer (Charles was Presbyterian so I think he mandated Schaeffer in our Bible study). He taught me to think.

And I learned why I believed what I believed. Comparison/contrast. Trial/error. It wasn’t always neat & clean and sometimes it was downright awful and dark. But when the dust settled, I wasn’t that far removed from what my Bible church had taught me. Also, I was able to get over myself and my anger because, even though they had allowed some behavior stuff to override their doctrine, those folks cared about me and wanted me to grow in Christ. They meant well.

But my faith became my very own. Even if the journey ended pretty close to where it started, it was my journey. One that was honed by iron sharpening iron. One that answered the “why” questions.

And the process hasn’t stopped…lest you think that might be a possibility for me. I’ve got a few questions for Dr. Schaeffer when we meet again. Mr. Lewis, too. And, Dr. Walvoord, for that matter.

Since I had a degree with no market value, it seemed like not only a good career move but also a “following God” move to start telling other folks about how this journey had transformed my life. I discovered that there were jobs out there that allowed you to do that very thing…

…and I started in 1988.