Saturday, March 17, 2012

From death to life (Patrick's Story)

I grew up in a fairly strict and traditional family in Denver, Colorado. Along with my three sisters and two brothers and numerous cousins; I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition. We attended Mass on a weekly basis and Parochial schools from 1st through 8th grade and then I attended a Jesuit High School until graduation in 1975. It was a fairly typical upbringing for a kid of the baby boom generation born the late 1950s. Our lifestyle was not lavish but comfortable. I don’t remember much of the religious instruction that came from my parents, though no doubt they tried to give it. My understanding was that Jesus died to give us a second chance to earn His favor by our good deeds. Though this does not exactly reflect official Roman Catholic teaching it was the idea that stuck in my mind. In my High School years there were few if any of my peers who took their religious upbringing very seriously. Most were much more interested in parties, sports, and girls. Upon graduation Denver was left behind to attend CSU in Fort Collins. I remember saying our goodbyes after my parents drove me to the campus and got me settled in my dorm room. For the most part it felt good to be free and on my own for the first time. Continuing to attend church was never seriously considered. Even so, the idea that there must be some kind of God somewhere floated around in my thoughts. Eastern meditation seemed attractive for awhile but whatever was there seemed to remain just out of reach. A couple of different girlfriends were part of the picture in the early years of college, which was unfortunately not a good thing for them or me. A sense of emptiness was always beneath the relentless pursuit of happiness. Despite having much of what imagination had told me would bring contentment, the reality was much less satisfying. The thought of being a basically good person had always been something of a comfort to me regardless of all the bad things done in my life. It was never too hard to find someone who was actually worst than me, at least in my mind. Still, sometimes the undeniable sense of guilt would make me wonder. Unbeknownst to me a radical change was coming.
Working at a nursing home in the summer of 1976 was not the best employment, but it was something and afforded more opportunity to be near my girlfriend who had found me the job. One day the thought came clearly as we were taking our break at work, “there must be a better way”. It was a different kind of reflection, almost as though it was not my own.
A couple of my fellow employees had come to notice in the first few weeks of work. One of them was a hard partying kind of guy who liked to boast about his exploits the night before. The other was a few years older and seemed different somehow. It remained a mystery until one day the two of them were talking within earshot. Evidently the party guy had been invited over to the others place for dinner and something had happened. It was not quite clear as to what, but it seemed that he was giving up his partying ways. Now that was strange. A curious eye was kept on the two of them for the next couple of months. At the end of the summer the job had to be given up to return to school. The last day of work we were saying our goodbyes and the unusual pair was in the hall. The former party guy gave me an illustration. “Have you ever stuck your finger in a candle?” he asked. And then he added, “Imagine that for all eternity”. Such a comment was a bit stunning coming out of the blue, but then, the other guy, whose name was Don, said simply, “Jesus is the way”. There is no more of the conversation that comes to mind than those few lines. They are etched in the memory because of what happened not long after. That phrase about Jesus being “the way” just would not leave my mind. It seemed to be following everywhere, haunting me. My girlfriend asked, not long after, in a somewhat irritated tone, “What is wrong with you?” The question was a surprise. Was it that obvious? Without thinking the astonishing words tumbled out. “I think I need the Lord”. It was a moment like none before or since in a life that had seemed to be spiraling downward in far too many ways. It was not so much a decision as an admission of helplessness. The great divide was crossed; the way of life irrevocably changed. That singular event set a different course, first to find out what had happened and then to follow and proclaim the truth about the One who had effected this momentous change.
What took place and why it took place has come into greater clarity as the years have passed. In a nutshell it is encapsulated in the words penned by the Apostle Paul in the first century about 30 years after Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead. He wrote that, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost”. Sinners in this context are not people who are just imperfect, but people who are in active rebellion against their Maker. We have lied and therefore are liars. We have stolen and therefore are thieves. Used God’s name in a profane way and therefore are blasphemers. Looked with lustful intent and therefore are adulterers at heart. In fact, we have broken all of God’s commands in word and thought if not in deed. For me, worst of all perhaps was the arrogant way I viewed my rebellion. It was not really my fault. After all God had made me the way I was. I was a perfect candidate for judgment of the strictest variety. The remarkable thing is that what was deserved did not come. Amazing grace is the only way to describe what happened that day in my girlfriend’s apartment. It happened because of what Christ came into the world to do for people like me. God could have been content to give us the justice that we deserved. But instead He sent His Son into the world to live a perfectly righteous life and die the death of a spotless lamb on our behalf. He took our punishment and purchased us for Himself. And then He rose from the dead proving that all that the Law and the Prophets and He himself had spoken will come to pass. It is my earnest prayer that God will do the same miraculous work in your life if you remain a skeptical unbeliever. Please seriously consider your need to turn away from everything that has been more important to you than the one true God. Turn to Him and call out to Him to have mercy on you. One thing that you can not deny is your knowledge of yourself. Your conscience should compel you to run from the judgment that is to come. It is my prayer that you will not delay.