I remember walking toward the open door that led to the downstairs, pausing before I descended. I had just finished dinner with some new acquaintances, people my dad had invited all the way from Florida. They were young, but certainly older than I, being myself only 17 at the time. Yet that was where our similarities ended. Honestly, they were not the kind of people I expected to ever meet. For one thing they loved Jesus with a passion I had rarely (possibly never) seen in my peers, which to me made them strange. Yes, I had grown up with the whole church thing, but for the most part it was a mediocre social club, a place to have pizza, games, and fun. Jesus on the other hand…what did I have to do with Him?
I had gone to the Ukraine on a mission trip once when I was 16, but during those weeks I was much too preoccupied flirting with the cute girls and brooding over life in general to do anything “missional.” Even still, God began to pull at my heart. I could sense His drawing, there became a growing desire in me to learn more about Him. One night I sat on top of one orphanage looking at the stars, dwelling upon Him. I hadn’t a clue then who He was, and yet I knew I was grasping at something infinite, a wonderful mystery that many ignore or never seem to touch (Acts 17:27). In those days, my eyes were being reopened to someone greater than myself, someone I had known before that time through my dad, and even a bit in my own heart during the innocence of my youth. He had answered my prayers a few nights before as I lay sick, unable to keep anything down. He had listened to me and healed me. As I sat there with the heavenly lights staring down at me, I wrote a little poem. In it I spoke of the many beauties I had seen as I traveled the country-side of the Ukraine. It began with these words,
God gave me sight
and this is what I saw
And it ended with,
and I knew there was a
God, and that he was
Weeks later, beside the riverbanks of the town of Alexandria, I was standing up in a tree with my back leaning against its trunk, deep in thought. It was my birthday and I felt as lost as ever. As I watched the passing river I suddenly felt a warm wind rush over me, and I made out a single faint thought, “God is in the wind.” It was a revelation that I didn’t know what to make of, yet it stuck with me. As I climbed down the tree something made me pause, so I stopped. Looking down I saw a snake at the base in a coil, as if waiting to attack. I stayed still until the snake slithered away.
There is a time when the truth may be presented to us, when we are being drawn by God to His Son Jesus. It is at this point the snake is poised ready to end any hope before it begins. He wishes to kill you, if he cannot kill then he will try to rob you by blinding your mind; and if he fails at that as well then he will will tempt you into addiction, making you a slave of your sin, wasting and ruining your life. In some way he wishes to poison you so that you may stay bound in your own pride, sin, and death. That is what that snake is after, he is the enemy of everything true and the father of every lie.
My sights were being lit during those days in the Ukraine, nonetheless it didn’t take much for me once I returned home to forget and turn my back on this “great God.” I continued living in my sins, doing the things that pleased me, until I came to a place where I nearly wrote off God as a figment of my imagination and a clever tale told by those who wanted to control others. I started to buy strongly into humanism; finding worth only in my humanity, taking pleasure in showing a God-less spirituality. I was searching for the answer, and I believed that if I just imagined enough, thought deeply enough, that what I was going to write would change the world.
I did not get to follow that path as far as I thought I would. The Jesus-followers interrupted me. I knew a few of them the first night they came, they were old friends I had known when our family lived in Florida. The rest were very new to me. The first night they were in Asheville they met at my old home; the youth from my church also came and so worship began on my front porch. Most were touched, I mocked. I wouldn’t even let them pray for me. However, one of the people I knew, Joel Coker, came up halfway through the night and gave me this word, “You are seeking for the truth, you’ve been reading books on other religions, you will only find what you are looking for in Jesus Christ.” I remarked to my mom, “Why did you tell him?” To which she replied, “I didn’t”, “Well did dad?”, “Not that I’m aware of, no.” This whole thing took me off guard, but it didn’t make me believe nor did it even begin to convince me (though now I marvel at how stubborn the darkened mind really is).
The next night my dad and I went over to their temporary place for dinner. Sarah Coker (who is Joel’s sister) got me helping in the kitchen. As we cut some vegetables she started talking to me about Christ, telling me that Jesus was everything to them, that they would even die for Him. I was taken off guard by their radicalness and I thought to myself, “Either they are insane or they’ve found the answer to all of life.” The words were so serious, it left no room for a third option. This is where I began my story, after dinner, before walking down those stairs.
There is an interesting verse in the book of Ephesians, in it Paul writes of the believer’s salvation, but he says something most do not expect. He tells us that those who are saved were chosen before the foundation of the world, meaning before time and space God chose who would be in Christ. That night I could have been busy with friends and refused dinner, or maybe my dad could have not pressed me to stay for 30 minutes of worship just to be polite, I possibly could have stayed upstairs and relaxed while I surfed the internet. What if they had never come from Florida? All of these things could theoretically have happened, but they didn’t. I went to dinner, my dad insisted we stay, and I went downstairs for “30 minutes of worship.” We were there for four hours. The person who ascended those stairs was not the same one who went down them.
In that carpeted basement there was one couch. All the young adults were on their knees in worship and prayer while I sat awkwardly on the couch alone. Suddenly as the music played, as the guitars and voices sang, peace filled my entire being. I didn’t know how to explain it, it was so new and so needed. What had appeared normal suddenly became dark, and what I had despised as boring and even naive I saw as crystal-clear light. I ran upstairs and grabbed a pen and pieces of paper. So I began to write, trying to form words around the revelation that was filling me, the light shining so brightly on my weary and labored soul. Grace, so irresistible, so perfect and loving. I could hear the Spirit whisper, “I am real, and I have cared for you, but tonight you have a choice, you either can keep going the way you have, your own way, or you can follow me.”
In an instant the choice was made, it was not even a choice, how could I now refuse perfection? “Of course I will follow you, how could I not? I have seen who you are.” I saw infinite riches, unsearchable, untraceable, in the Christ I had not known until that night. It was May 23rd, 2009. Since that night nothing has been the same. The first words from my mouth, out loud to my dad on the way home were, “He’s real! Jesus Christ is real! And He is so so good.”
This is my dilemma, because though I can tell you my story, I cannot take you into it. I am unable to fill you with the glory and grace I felt from Christ’s presence. Oh, but may these words be used by Him, may this book be His instrument to set aflame a love in people’s hearts toward the Savior, toward the Son, toward Christ the holy one! In hearts that have known Him but have left first love; in hearts that think they know Him but really have never seen God in such a way; in hearts that know they are without peace and hope, that they are without Jesus in this world. He is your peace, He is your hope, He is your everything and more! May you see Him through these simple words, may you know Him as He is, may you glorify Him as He deserves. What have I to do with Jesus? Everything, because everything is about Him. Everything is about Jesus!