As a kid, I thought Jesus had abandoned me. Left me to my poverty and to my insecurities and to my unrequited desires.
We were less than “Christmas-Easter” Christians; the faith of my elders — in our home — was more of the “Shut up while your Grandpa says Grace!” type.
Because we’d never really been introduced, we were strangers, Jesus and I. But I had an innate yearning to find Him and know Him.
I was on my paper route under overcast skies one day; I might have been 10. I stopped dragging my paper-laden wagon and looked to Heaven.
“God, if you’re real, send down a bolt of lightning over there!” I directed. I waited. Of course I waited. I’m not the boss of God, and as much as I believe that He, too, wanted to know me, it would never be on my terms like that.
Being a good person, I decided to give Him another chance. I wrote Him a letter. I took it to the backyard and buried it. I waited. Nothing happened. Again.
Of course nothing happened. I can’t remember what I wrote or what was supposed to happen. I don’t know why I thought that the wretched dirt of our urban garden was a supernatural post office (we didn’t know about owls back then). Kids have funny ideas anyway, but I had no basis of faith to compare my ideas to.
Fast forward a few years — to high school — to find a kid who was too open-minded for God, too good for God, too rotten for God and too smart for God. I did what, to a 16-year-old, felt like an “in-depth and thorough critical inquiry,” into the faith of my nation. But really, it was just superficial rock throwing at the edifice of Christianity:
“How can god be if he’d let the world be so rotten? Why do god’s people rape and pillage and kill in his name? And why is the bible any more legit than any other religious or scientific answer to who and what and why?” I supplied the questions, with a cynical sneer, and then I applied a 16-year-old’s answers. With the process done to my own satisfaction, I made up my mind: there would be no more proof tests, no more letters, no more questioning. I decided, and I got on with living.
Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch.
Though I gave up on Him, Jesus never gave up on me. Eventually, I got another chance to meet Him. Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch. A friend or acquaintance gets sucked in and gets excited, and she wants to build her network — at your expense. That’s kinda how it was with Tina, my college girlfriend, and I:
“Hey Jeff, get over here!” I want you to meet a great guy. His name’s Jesus! I’m in this great program with Him, and He wants you to get in on it, too!” You approach warily, afraid that by the end of the evening, you’ll have a new water softener, $1,500 less in your account, and a commitment to sell additional units to at least five other suckers in your circle of friends and family.
I remained skeptical, even after she introduced us. But I was into her, so I asked her questions. We went to movies and dinners, and I went with her to church. We debated our different takes on ancient history and interpretations of her faith experiences. But the more time that we spent time together — the three of us — the more I kinda liked having The Guy around.
As things between us — the two of us now — got more serious, they got a little eerie, too. In a good way, of course. As we got to know one another better, we discovered odd coincidences. Or signs. You decide:
– We each came from large families of similar make-up. She has four sisters and two brothers. I have four brothers and a sister
– My siblings and I have identical initials: JMB. Same with (Chris)Tina and her sisters: CLS
– Both our fathers were in the Korean War. And had no other service
There were other eerie commonalities not worth sharing, but beyond a dozen or so supernatural coinkydinks, there was plenty more to our deepening relationship to convince me that Tina and I were meant to be together. They didn’t convince me about Him, though. Not then, anyway.
In respect to the spark that started this fire, I never had that flash-bang-bolt-of-lightning, blinding-flash-of-the-obvious conversion. That Damascus Road experience. That 180-degree U-turn in life. That Holy Spirit fire.
Nope. I simply just found myself more open to faith and truth and history and reality every day. So unlike other testifying Christians, I don’t really know at what point I “became” a Christian; I have no birth certificate for the specific day that I was born again. All that I know is that when I dropped out of college early to head off to Air Force Basic Training, the new dog tags dangling around my neck were stamped:
Jeffrey M. Bishop
In turn and in time, Tina and I were married, and we’ve grown our family, our love, and our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day since.
Today, I’m proud to witness as a fearfully and wonderfully made Random Handyman, simply striving to follow after the Master Carpenter and to build well in His name with the tools and time that I’ve been given.
The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.