In some ways, every day is like the day before. The sun rises, and the sun sets. The wind blows, or leaves hang motionless from the branches. Rain falls, or dust fills the air. Yes, in some ways every day is the same, and then, there are the days that are different. Yes, the sun rises, and the sun sets on those days. Yes, the wind blows, or the stillness seems foreboding. Then, something happens, and that day is different.
One of those different days for me was a Sunday when I was eleven. I cannot forget the day, or rather I choose not to forget the day. It was the day worldly life began pushing me away from my church, my faith, and my God.
We stayed home that day, unlike most Sundays. Most Sundays we arose and went to church. We drove the dusty lane from home to a two-lane twisting farm road leading past the little white church by the lake. Along with a handful of others, we crammed into the place for Sunday School and then Brother Max’s message for the week. Be it the message of salvation, the call to sacrifice, or the encouragement to love your neighbor, we grew closer to each other and our Lord.
We left the little church filled with the Spirit. We left looking forward to Wednesday evening when we returned for prayer meeting and youth groups. We left knowing Jesus loved us, and God looked out for us. We left feeling the world was a great place to love and be loved. Even on dark days, on days when the rain came down in sheets, we left feeling the light that led us. For me, that light began to fade, the Sunday we stayed home.
Don’t misunderstand. We had missed church before, for one reason or another. Sickness, travel, dad having to work on a Sunday for some reason, or other reasons kept us away a few times. This Sunday was different. There was no reason not to go. We just didn’t. Instead, we slept in, ate a late breakfast, and acted as if it were a Saturday. That lasted until Brother Max drove up a little after lunch.
The pastor was no stranger to our place. He joined us for lunch after church regularly, but he was not there for lunch on that day. Not only that, it appeared he was not welcome, as dad was out the door and in his face almost before his car stopped. Mom kept my brother and me inside. We could not hear what they were saying, but it was clear they were no longer friends. After a few red-faced minutes, the pastor jumped in his car and drove off.
I would not see or speak to the pastor again for more than a decade. When I did, the discussion would be more civil. The tension, though, would be roughly the same. Max’s presence was not welcome. His unannounced visit was understandable. In some ways, it showed he was a good man at heart, as he seemed to mean well. Still, he was the wrong preacher at the wrong time in my mind.
Max’s unannounced visit was in March 1969. To be fair, he came hat in hand to express his sympathy and condolences over the death of my brother in Vietnam. The problem was not with him, it was with me.
Two years before the Sunday in the front yard of our little farmhouse near Azle, Texas, Brother Max baptized me. I accepted Jesus as my savior, and I was filled with His light. When the two men who led me to Jesus the Christ, ended up in a verbal brawl in the front yard of my home on the Sabbath, that light dimmed.
By the time the pastor showed up on our doorstep in 1969, my anger, life in general, and my father deserting us a few years before destroyed any tolerance I had for anyone claiming to be a Christian, especially a pastor. In my opinion, I wanted nothing to do with a God who would allow people like Brother Max, my father, and a few others I had known to represent Him on this earth.
As it turned out, the incident in 1969 marked the end of the first leg of a journey through the wilderness that was triggered by the brawl in the yard. For the next two-plus decades, I did everything I could to distance myself from the foolish child who climbed down into the cold baptistry of that little white church. Not to mention, the men who led him to that frigid water, and all the people who tried to “save” him over the years.
Since you are reading this, you know somewhere along the way I grew up. I realized men were imperfect, even fathers and pastors, and they were not the reason I should believe. Men, even the best of them will disappoint somewhere along the way, and a believer cannot let their weaknesses define his or her faith.
Thankfully, God did not abandon that twenty-two-year-old who told Brother Max to take a hike on that day in March. Instead, He continued to work on me. Twenty-four years later, I ended up on my knees asking Him for another chance.
The story of the walk from angry young man to grateful believer is not pretty. At the same time, it is magnificent, as it teaches how patient and forgiving God is. I shared part of that story in Tortured Path, maybe I’ll share more of that story as time goes on.
Blessings to you and yours.
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