I REALLY didn't know any better.
I remember sitting in church occasionally as a child. Back then most of my family attended Catholic churches, and most of the "mass" was in Latin. I remember being self-conscious and worrying about being in sync with the rest of the crowd - standing when they were standing, sitting when they were sitting, kneeling when they were kneeling. I remember trying to figure out where we were in the little paperback liturgy booklet and chiming " ... and also with you" in the appropriate gaps of the priest's two-note melody. I remember lots of "Hail Mary"s and an occasional Lord's prayer. But most of all, I remember gazing at the beautiful stained glass and the dozens of candles and trying to figure out what the statue of a bloodied, dieing man bound and nailed to a cross had to do with all this.
By the time I had reached school age, my grandparents and parents had had a falling out with the church - seems we weren't giving as much money to the church as the pastor felt was appropriate. So my churchgoing days were pretty well limited to when my other grandmother took me - not often, but already too often for my tastes. I had never really gotten the hang of things and always had a kind of spooky, eerie feeling.
It was some time later that I first opened up a Bible - and even then for completely the wrong reasons. You see, a bunch of my friends used to get together to play the home game "Jeopardy" and for the most part, I was the undisputed champion - unless the game had a "religion" or "Bible" category. Then, I'd fall so far behind in that one subject that I'd never catch up. I studied up on Genesis, Exodus and Matthew enough to regain my title as neighborhood champ. I thought for the most part they were pretty good stories, although not quite as interesting as the Greek, Roman or Norse mythology I had taken a liking to.
Of course, I had never made any sort of mental connection between any of this and my salvation. For starters, I was never really all too sure there even WAS a God. I was very fond of science, and it sure seemed that every day another "miracle" of God was being explained away as some sort of random act of nature. The sun wasn't placed in the heavens to give us light and warmth - it was flung there by chance in some all-encompassing "Big Bang". And life wasn't "created" - it just sprung up with the right mixture of chemicals and electricity. And of course man was nothing special - just the latest stage of an endless line of mutations from those first simple life forms.
Even if there was a God, how could I be left out of His Kingdom? I was a pretty clean kid - never stole, rarely "swore", certainly never murdered or raped. I could point to dozens of people who were far "worse" than I was - besides, one of the few things I was ready to believe about God was that he was all-forgiving! How could He forgive those gigantic sins of everybody else and have a problem with my tiny transgressions?
And finally, even if my misunderstanding should somehow displease God and I would spend the rest of eternity in Hell, I didn't care! I could handle it! ( I have no idea how that ultra-macho idea got into my brain, but boy, does it sound stupid, now.)
Well, my slightly-inflated self image took a beating pretty soon thereafter. It seems like in very short time I became a college dropout, a divorced father of two, and an alcoholic. Even this didn't particularly phase me, but it was at this time that I started to recognize that there was something missing in my life. I married again shortly after, and finally began to see the light. My wife Lory was not yet truly a believer, but she did know much more about the Lord and His promises than I did. Some of our best discussions (and worst arguments) were about religion. I took a very negative stance at first, but God slowly softened my heart and allowed me to accept the truth. An old friend of hers recommended a Bible and we began to study God's word together.
Soon we discovered some Christian music that we liked - mostly Keith Green and later Don Francisco and the Talbot brothers. It was through their testimony in song that I first got a glimpse of what it FEELS like to trust in Jesus. We had been talking for some time about looking for a place to worship God and learn more, but didn't know where to start. Even our meager studies of the Bible at home had convinced us that we could not be comfortable in the denominations we were familiar with, so we were really looking for something new. God led us to a small congregation not far from our home, where the Bible is studied, spoken and practiced.
After a few visits to this church, Richard, the pastor, came to visit us. He took the time to explain to us that, if left to ourselves, we are all lost. Even the single tiniest sin separates us from God, and the only way to be forgiven is through God's grace as offered through Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. After Richard left, I felt convicted immediately, as if all my shortcomings of the previous 30 years had finally caught up with me. Lory felt the same way, and after more study and prayer, we both came to trust in Jesus as our Saviour.
The Lord has blessed us greatly in the years since, and I thank Him for each blessing - but no earthly blessing can possibly compare with how he opened my eyes to His truth, and died so that I might yet live.
This article originated on The Salvation Online Network