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