I recently accepted a call to serve as pastor at FCC in Bethany, IL. Yesterday was my first day in the office, but I haven’t moved yet. I will be commuting until later this month.
The drive isn’t long. It is just over an hour. I pass 6 grain elevators, meandering past thousands of farms, and drive through more than a dozen communities.
The path I take is the longest way according to my GPS. Time wise, my GPS thinks it is longest. Some of the roads don’t have posted speed limits, so the GPS can’t accurately estimate the drive time. Distance wise it is shortest. The country roads I travel may not have posted speed limits, but I never leave the blacktop.
The scenary is flat. Miles and miles of corn and soy bean fields. Signs directing drivers to the nearest church or advertising the implements used by the farm owner color the path. The distance between old farm houses is often more than a mile. The main streets of towns break up the drive. Otherwise, it is flat mile after flat mile of farmland.
Staring across the black and brown horizon, I miss Ohio. Yes, Ohio has farms. As a child, I lived in the country and my brother worked summers on a nearby farm. But, the Ohio landscape is different than Illinois. Northeast Ohio, where I grew up, has rolling hills, mountains, and lots of green space. The Illinois timber has nothing on the Ohio woods.
I began my journey in Ohio, that is my journey of faith. I was 27 years old when I first recognized God at work in my life and allowed Christ to lead me. Just 8 short years ago, I made the great confession of faith that Jesus is Christ. I have spent the majority of that time in seminary and serving in vocational ministry.
Someone recently asked me what that experience of conversion was like. The experience can be best described as any other person’s faith. It is an intense longing for God. I had this profound epiphany then I began running after a God that seemed to allude me.
More than those Christians have come to faith having been raised in the church, converts often immerse themselves in anything and everything Christian, as had I. I read as much as I could about how to be a Christian and how to pray and how to read the Bible. I read the Bible. I prayed. I searched out a church – which sometimes meant attending 2 different churches on one Sunday. I listened only to Christian music on the radio. I only watched TV shows on the Christian channels which meant I spent Sunday evenings watching Bishop Long, Bishop Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen. I often met one friend in the Christianity section at Barnes and Noble to have coffee…I was overdosing on Christianity.
I so wanted my life to be different now that I had met Christ, but the only immediate changes were ones I was making by surrounding myself with everything Zondervan. My friends changed, only because I was at church 3 or 4 nights a week plus Sundays. The most significant change was that I was now chasing Christ rather than happiness. Problem was I was still running.
In seminary, I was finally able to reflect upon those first few years of my Christian faith and consider my present beliefs. I realized that I was going to be seeking Christ for the rest of my life. That isthe only immediate change necessary for one who converts to Christianity. It is what put me on the path toward Christ with all other Christians.
And, I finally accepted that I was not going to one day wake up free from all my past mistakes, dysfunctional relationships, and bad habits. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make one’s life free from heartache and trouble. Being a Christian makes a difference along the journey. I know that I can walk and that I do not walk alone.