Since I was a boy I have been told by an endless string of preachers, camp-meeting speakers, radio and tele-evangelists how to get to heaven.
"Fall on the Rock," they say.
"Lean on Jesus," says another.
"Confess your sins and give your life to the Lord."
"Submit yourself unto the Almighty."
"Take up your cross and follow Him."
The problem with all of those exhortations to salvation is that I could never get a satisfactory explanation as to what any of those things meant.
"Preacher," I asked. "What does it mean to fall on the Rock?"
"It means to take up your cross and follow Him."
"What does that mean?"
"It means to submit yourself to the Almighty."
"How do you do that?""Well you confess your sins and give your life to the Lord."
"And how does that work?"
"Well, you lean on Jesus!"
"I don't know how to do that."
"Well, it's easy. You take up your cross and follow Him."
"I don't have a cross!"
"It isn't a literal cross. What you do is, you see is, uh, you fall on the Rock."
And round and round they went. When finally I came to the Lord, I came as a skeptic. Some may find that a dubious way to start your discipleship, but then, my name is Thomas and Jesus has a history with skeptics named Thomas, so I was baptized, took up my cross and went stumbling after Him looking for answers.
I bought a tiny Bible that fit in my pocket. Not a New Testament, but the whole thing. I wanted the full treatment. I read it cover to cover as I walked back and forth to school, in spare moments when I was working at camp and in my dorm room the next year when I worked my way through Christian boarding academy.
In my reading I found three things that God asks me to do publicly:
- Be baptized - I'd already done that.
- Worship Him in fellowship with fellow Christians on the Sabbath (at a minimum). That's easy to figure out how to do.
- Participate in communion services - I did that even in the summer when I worked at camp. My churchs practices the footwashing ordinance as part of communion and because I ran barefoot all the time at camp, the ground-in dirt on my feet used to turn the foot-washing water black. Awkward at times, certainly a test of humility, but simple to do all the same.
I also found in all my study of the Bible, that there were three other things that God asks me to do personally that I actually knew how to do. I was a bit foggy on how to trust God, have faith in Him, lean on Him and all the rest of those things the pastors exhorted me to do. In my reading I found out where they got all those exhortations by the way - they're all in there in some form or other. So, as I studied, I wrote down only the things God asked me to do that I actually know how to do. They are:
- Study: Jesus said to know God was eternal life. How do you know God except by studying his Word and the world that he has made and the way he deals with mankind? Being a rabid and curious reader and habitual student of everything, that wasn't too tough to do.
- Pray. A somewhat mechanical process at first, but as you gain experience and become comfortable talking to God, you soon find yourself praying constantly; sharing little things with God on the spot instead of waiting to kneel beside your bed. That was pretty easy too.
- Share what you learned from praying and studying. There I hit a snag. My first experience with this requirement was "witnessing", an exercise in tenacity that my church conducted weekly, where you went around to the homes of people you didn't know and asked them to take "literature" from you. It was a painful exercise for shy people like me and really put me off the sharing bit. But as I continued with praying and studying, the Lord placed me in situations and places where I found opportunity to share what I was discovering about God's character as I prayed and studied. So, he not only gave me a way to communicate with Him, I found that He also took care of setting up all the appointments for sharing my experience with others.
The great thing is that God requires very little of us other than to place ourselves in His presence through the three activities above. Do them consistently and you will be changed. You cannot help but become a new man or woman if you do. The golden rule will be written upon your heart as surely as a child will grow up if you feed it regularly.
But what's really cool is that you will become, not a carbon copy of every other Christian, but the absolutely unique and special individual that God made you to be. Satan's idea for establishing order in the world calls for all men to be all alike except for a few privileged folk like himself who run things. God's idea for the new world order on the other hand, calls for all men to be truly themselves, each contributing his or her own special talents and ideas to the mix. We give ourselves to Him 1,2,3 and He gives us back ourselves better than He found us. Satan wants cookie cutter slaves to serve their masters. God wants free individuals, sons and daughters, who run things for themselves and to whom He can give gifts in abundance.
Not only that, but God makes His children free by doing for them what they cannot do themselves - giving them the power to make choices for themselves, unencumbered by a crummy childhood, environmental factors, genetic predisposition or cultural influence. Freed from the power of heredity and environment, we may then choose to do what we really, really want to do and not what some unsupected subconscious influence pushes us into doing against our wishes.Talk about an Extreme Makeover. How unbelievably cool is that?