October 4, 2020
I had very few encounters with religion during my childhood and early teens. Sadly, they were all pretty awkward.
When I was four, my family had dinner with another family. I started eating as soon as the plate was set in front of me but was sternly told to wait until they said grace, whatever that meant.
When I was six, some neighbors invited my family to their church. I went to a children’s Sunday school class, but all I can remember was an elderly lady making a big deal about who got to hold a picture of Jesus. I didn’t really understand who he was. Why would I want to hold his picture?
When I was twelve, a friend invited me on a youth group trip to Disneyland. Some of the kids in the group were bullies that I tried to avoid at school. So, I was already on edge when we met up with other groups to spend the night at a church near the park. There was a youth rally, but all I remember about it were silly songs and a comedian who juggled chainsaws. Is that Christianity?
When I was fifteen, I attended a different friend’s birthday party. Everyone there was from his church except for me. We were all playing volleyball, and I swore after missing the ball. So, one of the boys told me, “You shouldn’t say that.” Why not?
One month later my grandfather died. At the funeral, I noticed that the officiant had a personalized license plate that said, “PREACHER.” It struck me as odd, because I had only heard that word used in a negative sense. His deportment during the ceremony confirmed the stereotype. Nevertheless, as we walked past the casket at the end of the service, my grandmother said something about seeing my grandfather again someday. How could that be?
Two months later, the friend who invited me to his birthday party asked if I would come to his church youth group on a Wednesday night. I was not sure what to expect, but it was the middle of summer and I was bored, so I went. Like my previous youth group experience, there was still some craziness that struck me as weird, but not to the same extreme. The youth pastor spoke about a joy that rises above life’s circumstances. I knew that I did not have that, but I wanted it.
I continued to attend through the fall, picking up bits and pieces about Christianity. Finally, one message about the crucifixion opened my eyes. I came to accept that we all deserve eternal punishment from God for our sins, and that Jesus bore the punishment in our place on the cross. I believed and I began to follow him. How could I not? That was 31 years ago today.
I am grateful that God saved me in his perfect timing. It seems all the more amazing in light of my awkward experiences beforehand. But I wonder if we, as Christians, might be doing similar things that obscure the gospel or even push people away from it. One of the goals of “Finding Your Way in the Religious Maze” is to identify what really matters. That first step is hard enough for people. Let’s not make it any harder.
– Bryan Craddock