(This post is Part 1 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, Part 4 – Seeing Jesus, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)
In the introduction to this series, I noted that we come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.
Therefore, experiencing the life of Jesus Christ opens the Bible to us.
In today’s post, I want to share with you my first experiences with the life of Jesus that, quite literally, opened the Bible to me.
I grew up in a non-religious, non-spiritual home. I vaguely remember attending a Sunday school class one time. However, I can’t recall a single conversation from my childhood that had anything to do with God, religion, faith, or spirituality.
So it might surprise you that I chose to attend a Catholic high school. But, I didn’t choose the school because it was Catholic. In fact, I chose the school in spite of it being Catholic. My reason for picking the school was that it had the best golf team in the city, and I wanted to be a professional golfer. It didn’t hurt that it was an academically challenging school as well.
Attending this Catholic high school was my first confrontation with the world of religion. I had to take religion class all four years of high school. I remember feeling picked on by the teacher in my freshman religion class – not because he was being mean to me but because he seemingly would call on me to answer every question.
We also had to attend mass several times throughout the year. I found the mass to be incredibly boring and pointless. So, I tried to get my mom to let me stay home on those days.
I remember telling classmates that all this religion stuff was not for me. I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in God. I believe in logic, facts, science, math, rational thinking. I don’t think I was ever antagonistic about it. I told my classmates I had no problem with them being religious, but it just wasn’t for me.
My mom’s parents were churchgoers, which is probably why I have that vague Sunday school memory. I remember my grandmother more than once giving me a Bible during my high school years.
One of the Bibles was from the PTL Club and Jim Baker (amazing the things that stick in our minds). That Bible sat on my shelf for years. I never once touched it. I never once opened it. I remember thinking to myself, “My grandmother is crazy. Why does she give me Bibles? Doesn’t she know that I am never going to read this thing?”
Choosing the Catholic high school for its excellent golf team paid off. I ended up going to college on a golf scholarship. A guy on the team a year ahead of me became my best friend. Both us had no problem with silence and did not need a lot of people around us. My best friend and I hung out together quite a bit. But, in my junior year, he got a girlfriend. We stopped hanging out together as much. I started to feel pretty lonely.
One December night I was lying in bed feeling particularly lonely. I wanted someone to hang out with. But, as close as I was to my teammate, I didn’t want another guy friend. I wanted a woman to be close to. However, I was introverted and shy and not comfortable striking up a conversation with anyone, especially a woman I was interested in.
So, I did something I had never done before.
I talked with God.
Well, I didn’t really talk with God. It was more like I threw him a challenge.
“God, if you exist, then I want to meet my wife for my birthday.”
That was the extent of my talk with God.
Come on God. Prove to me that you are real. Do something for me. Otherwise, I will be perfectly free to keep denying your existence.
Shortly thereafter I put a personal ad in the local paper. (Like I said, I was really uncomfortable with the idea of striking up a conversation with a woman I was interested in.) Several women answered the ad. One of the women I went on a couple of dates with. But, there was no spark, no connection.
Then, a couple of weeks before my birthday in late February, I got one last response to my ad. Her name was Dawn. We agreed to meet at the Friday’s for dinner about a block from campus.
I can still picture the table I was sitting at when Dawn walked into the restaurant. As soon as I saw Dawn walk in and I knew she was my blind date, I remember telling myself, “I am going to marry her.”
We stayed at the restaurant for hours talking. Eventually, they had to ask us to leave so they could close.
I left a message for Dawn the very next day, telling her what a great time I had and that I would like to go out again. When we finally got to talk to each other, I remember telling Dawn about that lonely night back in December when I asked God to prove that he existed by giving me my wife for my birthday. (Yes, I did that after one date. No, I have no idea what the dating rules are or how to follow them.)
Dawn responded that she was a Christian and she did not believe in coincidences. Things happened for a reason. I thought to myself that this was the end of the relationship. I want to date her. But, I am not a Christian. So, why would she want to date me?
We went out a second time pretty close to my birthday. We kept talking to each other on the phone. Dawn invited me to come to church with her. I told her that I would do that.
While I was home for spring break, I called Dawn and told her that I wanted to come to church with her that Sunday when I drove back to school. Dawn said that wasn’t a good Sunday. I told her that I really wanted to come that Sunday. She reiterated that it wasn’t a good day to come. Maybe I could come the following Sunday. I finally wore her down. I was going to church with her that Sunday.
Remember, I had basically never been to church in my life. I was from Ohio (the north) but going to school in Tennessee (the south). Dawn was African-American. She went to a Baptist church. So, here was this young white kid from the north going to church for the first time at an all black Baptist church in the south.
As we walked into the church, I noticed people were carrying tambourines with them. I remember thinking that was sort of weird. “What have I gotten myself into?”
Dawn decided that we were going to sit in the front row. The service started, and the choir paraded into the church singing. The music was loud, but really good. All of them women started dancing. Next thing I knew, women were falling to the ground. I sat there stiff as a board. Later, Dawn told me she could see the blood draining from the top of my head down my face as I turned whiter and whiter. And, she didn’t want me to come that Sunday because many of the women were coming back from a T.D. Jakes Woman Thou Art Loosed conference. Dawn knew what was going to happen and was afraid it would scare me away.
The music finally stopped. The pastor started preaching. I don’t remember a single thing he said. But, I can remember saying to myself, “How does he know that about me?” It was like everything he said was directed right at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was starting to experience the life of Jesus Christ.
I kept going to church every Sunday with Dawn. A few months later at the end of the school year, I wanted to join the church. But, I didn’t want to do it and then not show up for the next three months while I was back home on summer break. So, I told myself I would join the church that fall when I came back to school.
Before I left school for the summer, Dawn and I had already talked of getting married. We continued to talk about getting married after I went home for the summer. When I visited for her birthday in July, she had a pretty good idea I was bringing an engagement ring with me. I proposed and she accepted on Friday.
That Sunday we went to church. It was my first time at church since I went home for the summer. At the end of the service, the pastor did an altar call. As he normally did during the altar call, he wandered around the church singing, inviting people to have a relationship with Jesus.
Now, the pastor and I had never spoke before. So, he knew nothing about me. But, this Sunday, as he walked around the church singing, he stopped and stood right next to me. The pastor was pretty tall, and I felt him towering over me.
I had wanted to join the church several months ago, but I didn’t feel it was the right time. I was determined not to give the my life to Jesus that Sunday morning. It wasn’t the right time. I wanted to wait until fall. So, I turned in my seat so I would not have to look at the pastor.
The pastor just continued to stand there. The whole time he stood there he just kept singing the line, “Is there a better time than now?” I started crying.
He sang that line over and over again.
“Is there a better time than now?”
“Is there a better time than now?”
The more he sang that line, the more I cried.
At last, I felt my shirt lift off of my chest. To this day, I can see a hand grabbing my shirt right in the middle of my chest and pulling me out of my seat. I was determined not to get up, but this hand just lifted me right out of my seat.
I got up and gave my life to Jesus the same weekend that I got engaged to Dawn, the woman that I met just two weeks for before my birthday.
God was answering my challenge – “God, if you exist, then I want to meet my wife for my birthday.”
Dawn and I were married that December, just nine months after we met and about one year after I challenged God.
But, let’s go back to that Sunday morning I was pulled out of me seat. At the time, I did not have the language to express what happened. But, I knew beyond a doubt God had moved in my life.
I had felt the hand of God.
I had experienced God.
I felt God’s hand lift me out of my seat. I felt God’s hand pull me toward him. This was a crucial experience with God for me. Remember, I based everything on logic, facts, science, math, rational thinking. But, I could not explain this experience. Experiencing God’s hand lift me out of my seat…I could not explain away this supernatural thing that I knew had happened to me.
Prior to this experience, I had a presupposition that God was not real. He did not exist. I dared God to prove my presupposition about him wrong. And, God most certainly revealed to me that he existed. He was real. I felt his hand. I experienced him.
After this experience with the life of Jesus Christ, I had a desire to read the Bible.
That same book that my grandmother had given me all those years ago that I swore I would never open.
That same book that sat closed on my shelf for years.
But, I started read the book (sporadically at best). Experiencing the life of Jesus Christ opened the Bible for me. Literally.
I would never have chosen to open the Bible on my own. God did not exist. Therefore, there was no need to read a book about him.
But, my experience with the life of Jesus Christ, changed my presupposition about God. He did exist. He was real. My presupposition about God had changed, and now I went to the Bible to confirm and understand my experience that God did indeed exist. My experience with Jesus opened the Bible to me.
Over time, as I read the Bible, I developed language for my experience with the hand of God that Sunday morning.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6.44-45)
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life…This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6.63, 65)
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)
As I read the Bible, my experience with the life of Jesus Christ was confirmed. The Bible bore witness to my experience with Jesus.
From the moment I challenged God to the moment I was lifted out of my seat by his hand, Jesus was being lifted up in my heart and he was drawing me to himself. The Father who sent Jesus was drawing me. He was teaching me. I was hearing and learning from the Father in my spirit even though I was not aware of it in the flesh, in my mind. I was hearing words of spirit and life. And, it is God’s Spirit that gives life.
That Sunday morning, it was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, drawing me out of my seat to come to the Father. His drawing me out of my seat was the culmination of what I had been hearing and learning from the Father in my spirit.
All without ever having opened the Bible.
But, experiencing the life of Jesus Christ through the drawing of the Holy Spirit changed my presuppositions about God. And, that experience with the life of Jesus Christ opened the Bible for me.