A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how the justice of God had a large hand in my conversion to Christianity. That was the first of several posts I would like to make recounting this journey I’ve been on with the Lord in learning about His justice. I plan on posting every other Monday until the story catches up to present day.
A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break…
Last time, I explained how my World History teacher in high school inadvertently put me on the path to meeting Jesus when he taught a unit about world religions and wet my appetite for spiritual things. From that point on, I was what churchy people would call a seeker. I devoured books on Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, but oftentimes people don’t experience real life change without relationships with other people. And that was a problem…
I was a lonely kid. You probably remember that awkward dude in your highschool. The chubby one who still had the little boy haircut despite being 14 years old. Who was really into Star Wars, who’s friends went to another school, who wore Greenday shirts everyday. (In my defense, this was before the whole “I walk down a lonely road, blah blah blah” garbage.) You get the picture. As so many of us often do in those melancholy years, I felt like the marginalized outcast. To make matters worse, I deserved it. I had a bad habit of making really sick, offensive jokes. Like, depraved jokes. It came from watching my older brother and his cool friends hang out in his room and make crude jokes. Then whenever I came remotely close to having a genuine friendship I would make an attempt at crude humor in my feverish desire to be liked. But of course in my awkwardness I had none of my brother’s poise and social graces, (still don’t!) and my edgy joke was somehow disfigured into the utterance of a depraved sycophant.
I soon experienced what I bet a lot of people who go to church at my age did. I met a group of students at my school who loved Jesus. They were kind to me. When nobody else would sit with me, they invited me to do so and endured my weirdness. They hung out with me when it was uncool to do so. They invited me to their Bible study, which I refused many times before I finally went. Then they invited me to their retreat. Then their youth pastor shared the gospel, and I could feel (what I now know as) the Holy Spirit shooting through my veins like lightning. Then that youth pastor made an alter call. I didn’t want to just up and “drink the kool-aid” so-to-speak, but what can I say? When there’s lightning in your veins you do what the lightning wants.
That began a season of growth for me. Now a committed member of the Church I rushed headlong into my new home. I had wonderful, genuine friends. Friends that were headed by Sterle and Wayne Coker; two adults who had the audacity to open their home to a bunch of awkward and weird teenagers who said they wanted to learn more about Jesus. I was welcome at their house any time they were home, at any hour of the night. I knew Wayne would be ready with an encouraging word, and Sterle with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. But I also knew they would hold me accountable. Sterle was like a mama hen who loves you, but you still don’t want to cross! My gross habits evaporated under the heat of their love and I became the model student ministry leader.
It went downhill again after that. Leading in our student ministry was too much for my weak ego and it didn’t take long for me to morph from student leader into pharisee-in-training. I was still passionate about justice, but in all the wrong ways. I memorized facts and statistics and hurled them at other kids in my youth group like grenades. “How can you call yourself a Christian if you don’t know about the 1.29 billion people living in extreme poverty? Do you even care?” I cringe to type that as I remember the girl I said that to. The deer-in-the-headlights look in her freckled sophomore face. She just loved Jesus a lot and was enjoying getting to know him. She was also, I might add, actively leading other kids to Jesus and discipling them. I wasn’t.
And isn’t this a common scenario? People who are in the “good fight” for justice so often try to shame others into their causes. You see it on PSA’s and promo videos: The sullen looking kid and the screaming woman who are on every organization’s webpage. From what I know about kids, it actually takes a lot of skill to capture them looking sad, no matter how impoverished. The worst is when they use statistics to do it. As if numbers could ever engage the heart. But Isaiah says this of the Christ:
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint of discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.” Isaiah 42:3-4
The Savior has come into the world to abolish evil by his peace. That’s why I prefer to give to organizations who picture kids looking like kids. Like this:
Sure there are times for zeal and passion and fighting. Jesus made a whip and attacked the money-changers in the temple. But the majority of His works are done through His kindness. It’s His kindness that draws us to repentance. And in His kindness He broke me.
The leaders of the youth group met to discuss asking me and a few of my friends to leave the youth group. In our ignorance and pride, we thought we knew more than the youth pastor because we had read a few C.S. Lewis books (not the Bible!), and we had begun to actively draw people away from the church. We were causing dissension and we were hurting people. If we wouldn’t stop we would always be welcome at the Cokers, but we’d be asked to find another church. Then my girlfriend who I was convinced I was going to marry broke up with me. It’s not so bad in hindsight… I’m happily married to the woman of my dreams, and I’m sure my highschool ex would say the same thing about her fiance. But back then it really hurt. Anyway, I changed my heart and my attitude, enjoyed a good last summer with my friends, all of us reconciled and thankful. I went off to college and made myself a promise that I wouldn’t think about justice for a while. I was just going to focus on growing closer in relationship with Jesus in college and that’s just what happened.
PS- On a side note, a funny thing has happened since that last year of highschool. I have watched many of my old friends drift further and further from Jesus. Today, most of them would not consider themselves a Christian. I have always wondered what they would say is their reason for doing this. I imagine (because this is what I have felt) that they were so displeased with themselves as youth group leaders thinking they were all-that-and-a-bag-of-Judean-chips, that they wanted to distance themselves from this form of legalistic religion. Maybe the distance grew into resentment of Church and the resentment grew into disdain for Christianity. In the years following what happened in highschool, I felt that same process growing inside me, and I imagine I would be in the same place many of them are in now if not for the consistency of the Cokers (who my wife and I still visit when I go to Houston) and the sincerity of the people at the church in Waco in which I became involved. Jesus has appeared to me in the form of many, many people over the years and every time He does, I remember the feeling of that lightning in my veins.