Coming to Christ: Early Arrival or Fashionably Late?

Hi, my name is Dustin, and I am a Christian. (this is where you all say “welcome Dustin”) I said that as if I were attending a twelve step help group just for the affect. Really, I am a Christian, I believe Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross, just like the bible says. I believe He is my lord, savior, redeemer, and friend, and that I am absolutely undeserving of that (even if sometimes I don’t act like it). I love my church family. I never knew such a wonderful, totally diverse group of people existed, or that they would let me in their door. I gave this blog the heading, ‘Early Arrival or Fashionably Late’ in reference to the time in a Christian’s life when they became Christian. Some were born into the church. Basically, their parents went to church before they were born, and they have been going ever since. They had an early arrival. Another group came to Christ later in life. They were fashionably late. That’s me. I might even just say I was late as I am often reminded of my lack in a fashion sense.

My church has many from each group. We share a passion for trying to follow the bible and do what Christ commands, and we all struggle with it. We are all sinners. We are all in the same group now regardless of how we got there. Our church family is great. Our church leaders are great, and as a relatively new guy to the church, it is very welcoming and inviting to new people. My wife and I are friends with a particular couple who we get along very well with. We love getting together as often as we can, and we always have great talks. Our kids play together and it is always a great time. This couple has been involved with church all their lives. One occasion, we got together, and my friend and I were talking about our backgrounds and how we ended up at our church. We had completely different stories to tell. It was a very enlightening and enjoyable conversation. It was the conversation that inspired me to write this post.

I wasn’t baptized until I was 27. I’m 29. I’ve got a past that I’m not proud of. I had to make a lot of changes in my life when I finally decided how I wanted to live, and who I had to be thankful to for it. I have a lot of friends that don’t understand that. I had to walk away from some relationships because some people simply wouldn’t accept it. Some of the friends I have kept like to remind me of how I use to be. It isn’t easy to go from that lifestyle to being a Christian. As Christians we all get a lot of criticism and other static from people who think we are wasting our time, but as someone who converted, I get it straight from those I love and have known for years. However difficult it is, it’s a sacrifice I make willingly.

I have only ever really gone to my present church. I went to a few others as a child when my mom tried to get me to go, but I didn’t learn anything there (it wasn’t for a lack of trying on my mother’s part). So basically, I don’t know anything about differences in doctrine, traditions, or denominations other than what I have learned in past year or so, and it is all second hand. I never experienced any of it. My more experienced friend pointed out differences in church practice that I never would have picked up on. In short, there is a bit of guilt I feel there, because of how wild I was once.

When I first started going to Cedar Creek it was mostly because I knew my wife wanted me to. She had been going for a while, so I gave it a shot. I didn’t want to at first. Folks in church always tell new comers to “come as you are” and they really try to make you feel as if your past doesn’t matter, and in my experience it is genuine of them, but it did little to change how I felt. I couldn’t help but to feel like I was just dirtier than everyone else. If these people knew anything I’ve done they wouldn’t let me in, they’d cringe at me. It was a low feeling.

It seems the early arrivers got all this out of the way a long time ago. They went through the awkwardness of being new probably as a child. It all seems to come naturally to them now. For those of us who spent time being without Christ, out in “that world,” this can all be hard to get a handle on. I’d like to describe my experiences when I first started going to church, and how I got to be where I am now.

I remember walking down hallways, dodging glances from people because I just didn’t know how to speak to them. I know lots of cuss words. We aren’t supposed to use them here are we? As long as I’m smiling I don’t really have to say anything right? Smile, nod, praise God. Why is this guy so jolly and happy? Do I have to act like that? Okay, everyone else is shaking hands. I gotta find someone to shake hands with. I had terrible social skills before I was in a foreign environment feeling like an outsider, paranoid everyone was looking at me. All I wanted to do was get out of there.

Once we got into the great room (great room is not the real word for it. I can’t remember what it’s really called because my memory is that terrible, so it’s the great room for all intended purposes) and sat down the focus was off me. Then I could relax a bit. I didn’t mind singing. I will say though, they didn’t teach us how to sing and clap at the same time where I went to school, so I can’t do both.

I had a friend whose dad was a preacher when I was very young and he gave me the willies like you wouldn’t believe. So, I had a hard time trusting preachers from about 7 years old and on. This guy coming on stage now was starting off in the hole as far as I was concerned. But you know, I trusted him, almost right away. I know now that this was God’s working, because that was the make or break point for me. If I had a moment of doubt that this guy was not genuine I probably wouldn’t have come back.  I was able to let my guard down, just a bit, and I found myself really paying attention to what he was saying. I may have been skeptical still, but my mind was open. I felt comfortable, and we kept going back. Months went by.

On June 12th of 2011 (I had that date stamped into my bracelet so that I wouldn’t forget) I was sitting in the chair listening to our preacher. I was sweating and almost shaking I couldn’t look up from the floor. I didn’t see Jesus’ face in the tile, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I did. I wasn’t even listening to the preacher anymore I just felt conviction. I felt the sting of every sin I ever committed, and I felt like they were all sitting on my back. Now that I look back, maybe that’s why I was so hunched over and couldn’t look up. At the end or the sermon, they started singing and the preacher walked down onto the floor. I looked at my wife and said “stand me up. My legs won’t work.” So she did, and we walked up front. That preacher baptized us that day.

All that awkwardness I felt went away shortly after that. I know some people may be thinking “well sure it went away, you are a member of their group now,” but that’s really not it. I saw how much they really cared about me. People where crying when my wife and I got baptized (well besides us. We were blubbering babies) people that I didn’t even know. They welcomed us and it was amazing. The best part is you get to be yourself. You aren’t a drone that dresses acts and talks like everyone else. They take all sorts. Actually, it’s strange now to think back on how I was afraid of rejection for being strange.  I’ve made many friends there since then, and I could go on forever about how awesome those folks are but I won’t.

Being an early arriver is great. But you know, I’m satisfied with how my story has unfolded so far. I spent a lot of time in the dark, now I know the true value of a flashlight. I think there is a great responsibility that the fashionable late group has been given. We know how bad we need Jesus. We know what life is like with and without Him. We HAVE to be the light of the world because we know the dark firsthand.  And thank God that the amount of sin we carried before doesn’t matter after we are saved.  We are dirty sheets, and he is bleach, the best bleach you could ever get. Better than oxy clean. It doesn’t matter how dirty the sheet is, it is perfectly white again after being bleached. Isaiah 44:22 says about Israel, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist.” That’s a lot of bleach.

No matter your past or how you came to be a Christian, we are all in the same boat now, and we all need forgiveness, and if you are in Christ you have it and you can take that to the bank (that’s a run on sentence but I’m not changing it). That’s a good check right there. They don’t even need your driver’s license.

I’m thankful for all my “early arrival” friends, and I hope they are thankful for me too. As late bloomers, we can learn a lot from our dark days. More importantly, we can share it. I know not everyone will listen. If any of my old friends read this they will think I’m a raving lunatic. I’m sure they’d have plenty of criticism for me. They’d be laughing at me. I’m alright with that. If I can cast a light into someone else’s darkness because of the darkness I endured, than I thank God for it. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

how to avoid divorce

How to avoid divorce.

A “how to” about avoiding divorce may seem like a bold heading for someone with no psychology background, no social science degree, and having only been married for a short five years, but hear me out. I notice things that go on around me. One thing I have noticed more and more is people discussing divorce. Whether it be getting divorced, that they have been divorced for some time, whether they feel sad about it or indifferent, it’s all around me. People who I have known for some time, who were once happily married, now getting divorced. I was at some of their weddings. Now they are split up. It just gets messy when kids are involved too.

So I’m writing this simple guide to staying married. It is geared toward men, probably men who have been married 10 years or less, since it is all knowledge gained from experience, and I am a man obviously, and have been married a relatively short time. Most of the concepts however, are universal. I would not dare, try to explain to women how to stay married. That would be counter productive, and furthermore, full out self-sabotage. Ya know what? That’s going to be the first freebie. Don’t try to explain things to your wife that you couldn’t possibly understand.

Who am I to write such a guide? I must have a lot of audacity right? I must think my life is just perfect right!? Absolutely not. There are a lot of things I am absolutely terrible at. I have a happy marriage, but it’s not without it’s problems. And believe me, my marriage has come a long way! There were times in my marriage that I was certain it would not last. But I picked up on a few key concepts that I realized, if I applied them, I could stay married, and be completely satisfied and fulfilled. It did require changing some things about myself.

Here is something important that you should know before you continue reading. All of these concepts, in fact maintaining a marriage at all, requires effort. Yes, effort. You will have to work for this. It will cost you time and energy. You will have to commit and sacrifice. You will have much invested in this. If you cannot readily and full-heartedly say that you will indeed put forth effort into staying married… well isn’t it obvious? “On to the point!” you say. Fine, here I go. (in as proper an order as I could muster.)

Concept #1: It is shocking what you will hear if you listen.

This is good advice for both parties, but someone has to start first and it might as well be you. I have learned that, in general, women will tell you how they feel. They aren’t like us in that, we can feel a certain way, and just hold on to it until it is gone. If your wife is unhappy about something, or feels that there is something that needs addressed in your marriage, she will say so. Do you get into the kind of arguments where it seems as if the two of you are just trying to see who can yell louder? Yea? I’ve been there. 3 in the morning in the front yard kinda screaming? I’ve been there. She’s probably yelling it at you because she is getting tired of saying it. Before you can address an issue you have to know what the issues are. Listen. She will tell you how she feels.

Concept #2: Women respond well if you do little, seemingly insignificant things that require you going out of your way.

 

This one is incredibly easy but difficult at the same time. It requires so little from you, but you have to think outside the box. I don’t care what condition your marriage is in. Doing this can help. For example, I found that if got my wife something to drink, or a snack when I was out running errands or just bopping around, her attitude toward me was friendlier than before. This doesn’t mean that you can buy your wife stuff to make her happy. She saw that I thought about her when I didn’t necessarily have to. There was no negative consequence for coming home without something for her. I did this simply because I wanted to. Many things could qualify for being “that little something extra.” Folding some laundry when she’s not around. Running an errand for her that she didn’t ask you to. Anything that lets her know you were thinking about her. Women love being on your mind. It shows you care. Do it. It’s so easy and it goes a long way. You may feel that I’m making the claim that everything that is wrong with your marriage is YOUR fault, not hers. I’m saying shut your mouth and listen, I’m saying do extra stuff for her. Its not that its your fault, its just that you are the best candidate to repair what is broken. The attitude “why do I gotta fix it? It’s her fault!” isn’t going get you anywhere.

Concept #3: Bottom line, viewing pornography will have negative effects on your marriage.

 

Are you still reading? I’m sure I’ve lost some of you by now. Allow me to explain. Let’s pretend for a moment that the ONLY reason why pornography is not good is because of what it does to a marriage (although I could write a book on this). We live in a society that has basically made pornography okay for a couple very ridiculous reasons. The first is that pornography is so so so easy to view. It is so readily available that we just sort of accept it. It certainly isn’t going away. Just deal with it right? No. The second one is that it seems to be okay if you are viewing pornography if it keeps you from going outside of your marriage with another woman. As if in some way, pornography is the acceptable lesser of two evils. Consider this. Jesus said in the Bible that looking with lust upon another woman is the same as adultery. I just lost some more of you. To put it psychologically, after viewing pornography regularly over a period of time, you wife will no longer be good enough for you. She’s not the same as those girls on the Internet, and you will wish she was. Pornography is a social epidemic on society, and you are not alone if you struggle with it. Lust is a very powerful tool of the devil and it’s grip is strong. But trust me, you are better off without it, and so is your marriage.

Concept #4: You may need to rearrange your priorities a bit.

 

This one may seem unfair as well, but if you take inventory of yourself, you may find there are some things that don’t belong. This was difficult for me. It could apply to a lot of things. There could be something that you really enjoy that is doing harm to your relationship. It may require making tough decisions. For me it was alcohol. My wife and I went back and forth for the first couple years of our marriage about alcohol. Actually, at first it was never a problem, but here’s the thing. We outgrow some things, folks. Sometimes we don’t realize it, or want to admit it. I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t miss alcohol at all, in fact I have found life to be far more pleasant without it. But after a while there was just no room left in my marriage for it. Here’s what I did. With a very clear, rational, and sober mind frame, I put alcohol in one hand, and my marriage in the other. I examined them both very closely and I had to decide which one was more important. My wife and I never agreed on much about alcohol, and I thought I had a pretty sound argument, but I knew I couldn’t have both. My marriage was more important (but you already guessed that didn’t you?)

Concept #5: No spouse should control the other in a marriage.

 

Even if you are good at it, controlling your wife only produces a toxic relationship. Your wife is an adult and is capable of making her own decisions. Hopefully, if you apply the first three concepts, you are on your way to a healthy relationship in which your wife makes decisions that are healthy and respectful of you, all on her own. You see? It seems like a lot of work, and it is, but the effort you put forth into your relationship pays off. You can have a mutually enjoyable, loving relationship with your wife. If you follow along, applying this concept should actually require less work. Relax a bit. Watch the fruits of your labor unfold before you.

Concept #6: There is always more.

If you want to keep your wife smiling, which by this point she ought to be, then you have to keep putting forth the effort. You will never reach a point where you have done all you need to do, and you can just stop now. You will never have done enough. But friend, you keep impressing your wife because you get to. Not because you have to (although you do). After all, she is worth it. Stephen Covey wrote a book many years ago called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In it, he describes an experience in which a man approached him and asked what to do in a marriage when love just isn’t there anymore. Stephen Covey responded, “love her.” The man said “you just don’t get it, there is no love anymore.” Again he responded, “love her.” People, love is verb. To love requires sacrifice, and willingness to listen, and to cherish. Stephen Covey describes the act of loving as having its roots in timeless principles. Love the feeling has its roots in emotion which is brittle and cannot stand on its own. It needs a strong foundation. Love the emotion is a by product of love the action. Love her.