Since my late teens, I had been an active member of a religious tradition that emphasized salvation by works and eternal progression— a belief that through our obedience, we could reach divine perfection.
I was always striving to follow every rule. I kept recommitting myself to doing EVERYTHING, and doing it right.
I would dismiss any misgivings or doubts that arose in my mind, believing that I just needed to grit my teeth and work harder.
Yet a few years ago, after returning from Japan from a University of Missouri summer program, I started a journey toward despair.
I had gained a lot of weight over the year, and I thought, I have to get myself healthier physically, mentally and spiritually. My interest with health and fitness had to do with my concerns about mortality— the process, I was taught, of “putting off the bad” and “becoming increasingly good.” I was especially concerned because my wife had been diagnosed with cancer, so I committed myself to exercising and eating better in addition to doing all the right things I was supposed to do.
Part of my exercise regime involved playing racquetball with one of my Japanese language students, Nathan Salmon. We would play 5 or 6 days a week and usually we would have lunch.
I considered myself a Christian, and I knew Nathan was a Christian, but he spoke of Jesus in ways I didn’t and with an understanding I didn’t have.
As I talked with him, I realized that I was no further than where I started when I set out on this journey of attempted accomplishment. I started to consider ditching this whole religion thing— certainly I could be no worse off than if I continued.
I was thinking, mulling, and stewing. But I really didn’t consider the possibility that there was another way to do things, or that I could actually look elsewhere to see if salvation came through any other means.
Nathan was at Cru’s Christmas Conference in Denver, and I looked at what he had posted on Facebook. Nathan had been in a session about using social media to raise questions and start serious spiritual conversations.
After seeing his post, I decided I would look at Scripture. I began reading in John chapter 6 where the masses turned away from Jesus. He asked his disciples, “Are you going to turn away too?” And Peter said, “Where would we go, you have the words of eternal life?”
Even though I might somehow ditch church— the church that I’d been trying to be committed to— I could not ditch Jesus Christ. That’s when it finally hit me.
In all of these numberless rules and regulations and formulas, I couldn’t give up Jesus.
Although I had prayed many times before, I never prayed the way Christians talked about praying. I knelt down and said, “I give up. I surrender my diluted notions that I can save myself and that I can work my way into your grace.”
I got up off my knees after praying and thought that the world changed. But the world had not changed— I had changed.
I had a reason to live. I changed spiritually, mentally and physically. Before, if I was able I would sleep in until noon because I had nothing to look forward to. After I trusted in Christ, I now want to get up because there’s a whole day, and I want to live it.
Marty now connects with other University of Missouri professors involved with Cru’s Faculty Commons every Thursday over lunch.
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