Twenty years ago, if someone had told me that I would one day be hosting a blog for born-again followers of Jesus, I would have laughed in his or her face. Then I would have let loose with a few choice curse words, and then a few more, and a few more, until the trickle turned into a stream and the stream into a flood and the flood into a tidal wave of hate. I hated anything that had to do with God, and even just hearing his or Jesus’ name would set me off into the emotional equivalent of a grand mal seizure. This extreme response was, of course, due to the legion of demons who’d taken up residence in and around me. On the day I was born again, I read the New Testament for the first time, and when I got to the verse: “And seven devils were driven out of Mary Magdalene”, God said to me: That’s what happened to you, only there were a lot more than seven.
God has a great sense of humor, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that he created both our sense of humor and our ability to appreciate it. Here I was, just newly born-again and brought weeping back to the fold, and there God was, cracking jokes to make me feel more at ease, more at home. This quality of God’s is what I remember most from my first few days as a newborn-again. God wasn’t “up there” or “out there somewhere”, pointing his finger at me and calling me evil, he was right here with me, cuddling me in the crook of his arm and telling me jokes.
I mention this because we (and by “we”, I really mean “I”) – we have a tendency sometimes to look at people who’ve done horrible deeds and curse them for the evil that obviously is working through them. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there it is. Some might argue that it’s a natural “human” response to shun and recoil from people who do horrible things, but such a response can and should be overcome in us born-agains. Jesus talks about the servant who couldn’t repay his debts, so his master forgave him those debts, only to have the servant turn around and start beating on his own servant and demand he immediately repay him. As the noted atheist writer Samuel Clemens (alias Mark Twain) once commented: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts that I do understand.” If you’re genuinely born again, God forgave you a lot to get you to that amazing state of grace that you’re in. The least we (I!) can do is to treat other people as God treated us.
I read in the news today that a captured soldier was burned alive. The same political contingent that burned the soldier to death also beheaded a journalist a few days ago. These are without doubt horrendous acts of savagery. Regardless of who is actually behind them, the acts themselves are condemnable. What we need to be careful of, when condemning these acts, is not also to condemn their doers or to consider them beyond God’s help and mercy.
My personal pre-born-again history would likely make your toes curl, and not in a good way. I’m not going to recount my deeds of woe and horror because they’re over and done with. Suffice to say I was pretty bad, and again, not in a “good bad” way. Although I (thank God) stopped short of burning someone to death or hacking their head off, I might have, had I continued along the road I was on.
And yet here I am, hosting a blog page for born-agains.
If I can turn, anyone can turn.
Paul, as a Pharisee, viciously persecuted and even executed early followers of Jesus. And yet that same Paul, once he’d turned, became a powerful witness to Jesus as the Messiah. I look around at the people I know and the people I read about (including whoever burned that poor guy alive today), and I think: Who’s the Paul among them? Who’s going to turn some day and become a powerful witness?
That potential to turn and to witness for Jesus is in everyone. And strangely, it’s those who we think are least likely to turn that actually end up turning into the biggest “Jesus freaks”. If there’d been a category in my high school yearbook for “the girl least likely to become a born-again follower of Jesus”, I would have won that award hands down.
As bad as I was, I still wasn’t beyond God’s help and mercy, and neither was Paul, and neither is that person who lit the match under that human bonfire today. We need to remember this.
I need to remember this.