The chance to respond.
What if it was never given?
What if the question was never asked?
“Do you want to accept Jesus into your heart as your Savior?”
And I said,
palms sweating against the back of the wooden pew in front of me,
knees shaking and legs like jelly,
pushing past my cousins lined up beside me,
And Billy Joe Bridwell met me at the front of the church,
his hands reaching out to take mine,
leaning down to whisper
now forgotten words
and sitting me down on that front row pew.
Surprisingly others joined me there…
my cousin Jill, my cousin Barry
and that Sunday night we walked down the metal steps into the floodlight blue water
of the Baptismal
at Rock Hill Baptist Church,
once again to take
Preacher Bridwell’s hands…
This time to be lowered down,
white dress floating out in the water,
and brought back up again,
I am teaching the book of Acts this year. I have the privilege, the honor, the opportunity to spend hours each week contemplating this incredible book about Peter and those first believers, and it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough time for the meaning of what I am reading to seep into this dull heart and duller brain of mine. It is too easy to let the words slide by with an easy familiarity of something that is not familiar at all.
I have never seen crucifixion. I grew up hearing about it, of course, since from the time I was a toddler I was told the sweet story of Jesus. But now, wandering around the depths of the internet, I realize it isn’t a sweet story at all. It is a horrific, sick in the pit of your stomach story. Tears well in my eyes, I rock back and forth to soothe myself and all I can respond with is “No, no, no.”
We wear necklaces of simple silver crosses. We have elaborately carved wooden ones hanging in our churches and decorative folk-art ones painted pastel and placed by the kitchen window. I read once that the cross did not become a symbol of Christianity until everyone who had ever witnessed crucifixion was long dead and gone. Because death on a cross is so very soul-shattering that no one would willingly embrace that imagery.
In his book, The Insanity of God, by Nik Ripken, the scabs are ripped off the long-closed wound of suffering and sorrow that comes with this cross and the name of Jesus. Mr. Ripken’s powerful, disturbing words forced me to look at the stories of the martyrs – not of thousands of years ago – but the martyrs of last year and last week and today. And that is where I stumbled across crucifixion. And my eyes cannot forget what they have seen.
There they were; humans, naked, long black hair hanging over their faces, heads resting on their chests, arms stretched out on crosses. A row of Christians, crucified. And I saw the caption below them crediting ISIS - and I could not close that image down fast enough.
This is not the Christianity of my southern, safe and sound experience. My God came to me in water and light and worn-smooth wooden pews. A wooden cross and blood and torture are not for me. Not when pain is involved. Not when you have a choice to say, “Never mind, I don’t need to say this name of Jesus if it comes with suffering and death.”
What am I to do? Honestly, I just don’t know what to do with my candy-coated Christianity that comes too easily and slips on too comfortably. But it is too much a part of me – He is too much a part of me – to walk away now. I think of the words of that fisherman Peter when confronted by Jesus’s point-blank question: “Does this offend you? Do you want to leave me too?” (John 6:61,67 My paraphrase.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:68-69
There it is. I have heard the words of eternal life, and there is nowhere else to go. Just like I cannot un-see what I have seen, I cannot unhear what I have heard. And I have heard the words of the invitation. And my spirit responded to the Spirit of God, and said, “Yes”.
Question:Do you ever think about the cost of following Jesus? Do you pray for the ones who are being tortured and killed today because they said ‘yes’?
1. When I survey the wond'rous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory dy'd,
My richest Gain I count but Loss,
And pour Contempt on all my Pride.
2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the Death of Christ my God:
All the vain Things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his Blood.
3. See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such Love and Sorrow meet?
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?
4. His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o'er his Body on the Tree;
Then am I dead to all the Globe,
And all the Globe is dead to me.
5. Were the whole Realm of Nature mine,
That were a Present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.
By Isaac Watts, published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.