Mike C.

Mike C.

from MO
Story #694
“My dad is a sinner?” The very thought that this question which I whispered to myself could even possibly be true rattled my nine-year-old image of my father as he walked down the aisle while my grandmother simultaneously shocked me with a shouted “Praise God” from the far end of our pew. Great-Uncle John, my mother’s family patriarch from Kentucky, was preaching the biannual revival meeting in our home church, and for the first time in my life, I was beginning to confront and process the fact that I was a sinner, destined for an eternity in Hell and that Jesus had literally died on a cross to save me and to claim me for His own for eternity. However, for the moment, my own spiritual awakening was abruptly aborted as I watched my dad walk to the front of our church and kneel in prayer beside our pastor. If my father needed Jesus, I quickly concluded, then I certainly did.

I literally cannot recall a time when my mother did not have me and my younger brother in church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening along with required attendance at Sunbeams, Vacation Bible School, Royal Ambassadors, complemented by a recurring motif of gospel singings, ice cream socials, fish fries and potluck suppers. My childhood was as fully embedded in our local Baptist church as naturally as riding bikes, catching fire-flies and taking extra-long baths on Saturday nights. I was a good boy, primarily, because I didn’t have a choice. If so, then, how could I possibly be a sinner? I stood frozen in time as Dad walked down that church aisle and fell to his knees in prayer.

Weeks later, on the last day of Vacation Bible School, it was my turn to walk down that same aisle and take our pastor’s hand. Later that very June afternoon, Pastor invited me to have a bottle of Pepsi with him on the front steps of the parsonage as he calmly, yet forthrightly, explained that Dad and I were both sinners from the day we were born and in need of repenting of our sins and asking Jesus to forgive us and save us for eternity. Soon thereafter, just like my dad, I was baptized in celebration of my profession of faith in Jesus Christ and welcomed into full fellowship of our church.
The transformation I experienced the moment I professed my faith in Jesus at the altar of our church on that summer Saturday morning is as real to me today-now almost fifty years later-as it was the moment I realized, that like Dad, I, too, was a sinner and wanted to believe in Christ Jesus. Since that day, all I have done and all I have become in my life have been of secondary importance to having invited Jesus Christ to transform my life for eternity.

Passing through the natural lows and highs of junior and senior high school; caring deeply and yet failing repeatedly at six years of basketball; dating, discovering and moving beyond first love; welcoming with a modicum of trepidation leaving home for college; discovering and moving beyond, again, second and third loves; confronting myself and explaining to others, repeatedly, God had really not called me to a vocation in pastoral ministry; persevering through a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a PhD; reading voraciously the classic human conflicts in life through the works of Salinger, Ellison, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Socrates and Plato, complemented by the authoritative message of the Gospel through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with good measures of Moses and the great preacher of Ecclesiastes for historical context; acknowledging the vestiges of hypocrisy, patriarchal domination, systemic racism, xenophobia and social injustice of the white evangelical church while witnessing and absorbing the unrelenting love, forgiveness, mercy and peace of God repeatedly and authentically practiced by individual believers, teachers and pastors in that very same church; teaching high school English, directing theatre, coaching speech and debate, becoming a high school principal for forty years replete with recurring days of joyful success intermingled with days of miserable failure; witnessing the inevitable aging and death of my revered grandparents and my beloved parents; coming to accept the aloneness and embracing the independence of life as a single man; serving as a pallbearer and being the last to leave the graveside after the rainy morning automobile accident that abruptly ended the life of my oldest boyhood friend; watching my younger brother-my one sibling-bravely face his diagnosis of terminal cancer and suffer through the pain of multiple surgeries and the indignities of repeated doses of chemo and radiation; trying, and yet so often failing, to support my sister-in-law, niece and two nephews through the loss and absence of their husband and dad; collapsing in a nearby chair after the phone call informing me my long-time mentor as an adult had hung himself in his basement very early one very dark Sunday morning; discovering God’s general revelation in His creation while walking the gravel roads and working the farmlands of Southeast Missouri and realizing the iconic special revelation of a resurrected Jesus while walking the fourteen stations of the cross in the Old City of Jerusalem; and through it all, that decision I made to accept Jesus that Saturday morning all those years ago has empowered me to understand that I, like all other human beings in God’s creation, am a broken man passing through a broken world, unworthily saved by an infinitely forgiving Savior. Through it all, I have been humbled and blessed by moment upon moment of freedom from sin and abundant joy in Christ Jesus.

I realize my story is not worthy of distinction beyond that of any other broken man; in fact, so many others I know personally have faced and survived far greater challenges than have I. I simply, and thankfully, rest in the confident joy I know in Jesus Christ yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

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