Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How A Lesbian Professor & Malcolm X Helped Lead Me To Christ

Photo Credit: Vectorportal
I have a lesbian political science professor and a black Muslim minister to thank (at least partially) for the circumstances that led me to become a follower of Jesus. It seems that God often chooses to work in ways that seem peculiar to us but, thankfully, He does his thing just the same.

Although I grew up going to church each Sunday and was raised by two Christian parents, my faith was not on a solid foundation when I entered college in the fall of 1991. If you asked me back then, I would have said I believed that I was a Christian and that I believed in God. But it was soon revealed that the beliefs I had been exposed to as a child had never fully been internalized.

Based on the things I saw as a college freshmen going on around me in the residence halls and what I was being taught in the classroom, Christianity was not something that anyone seemed to be taking all that seriously. I experienced a growing dissatisfaction as I dealt with the tension of seeking to be a good and moral person but not fully understanding the reasons behind why I would want to live a good and moral life.

I enrolled in an Introduction to Political Science the second semester of my freshmen year that challenged my belief system in ways that I had never previously encountered. Midway through the semester, my professor had the whole class engage in a learning exercise dealing with rights for the gay and lesbian community. Half the class was assigned to a group that was to advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians and the other half of the class was assigned to a group that would argue against these same rights. I was placed in the pro gay rights group.

This exercise forced me to defend things that I didn't agree with and, frankly, made me quite uncomfortable. I was frustrated and found myself getting defensive as my professor attacked traditional views on God and sexuality. But as the assignment carried on, I found myself questioning my beliefs about religion and morality in ways that I never had before. By the end of the class, I came to a striking realization. I genuinely felt that my parents were sincere in their beliefs about Jesus but I was no longer sure I felt the same way.

As the summer months gave way to the fall and the beginning of another school year, I was seriously questioning what I believed about God, the Bible and the Church. As someone that had been interested since childhood in the black community and the Civil Rights movement, I borrowed a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X from a roommate. I devoured the 500 page book in a handful of days.

As I read about the discrimination that Malcolm faced throughout his life, my strong sense of justice was aroused. Putting myself in his shoes, I realized that I probably wouldn't think too highly of white people either if I had experienced the same things he had gone through. Furthermore, my pre-9/11 self silently wondered if Islam might be more accepting of people of all races in ways that I hadn't seen lived out among some of the Christians that I had experienced.

I was at a crossroads and unsure of what to do. Though I rarely prayed, I prayed this prayer one evening,
"God, I need you to show me if Christianity is true. Because, if you don't, I'm just going to do what everyone else is doing and do my own thing."
Fortunately for me, our God is a gracious and patient God...and He quickly answered my prayer. My youth pastor from high school, Gary, wrote to me periodically. Several weeks before I had requested some resources as a result of a weird conversation about angels and demons I had with a drunk girl on my dorm floor late one Saturday night. The books arrived shortly after my "ultimatum" prayer.

One of the books was too theological in nature and over my head. But the other book, Under Siege by Josh McDowell and Chuck Klein, was what God used to bring me to Himself. I related to the protagonist in the story and Christianity was presented in a way I had never previously understood it to be -- a personal relationship with God through Christ.

The book contained this explanation of the Gospel and I was awakened to the fact that I was a sinner in need of a savior and I placed my faith in Christ and committed to live for Him the best I knew how at that moment.

There was a contact form in the back of the book that said to call a phone number if the reader wanted to get connected to Christians on their campus. I called the number, gave them my information and within a couple of weeks, a couple of guys from Campus Crusade for Christ showed up at my door and sat down to talk with me. The rest, they say, is history.

I learned long ago that God can use the most unexpected people and the most unexpected things to bring people to Christ. Even people that might seem opposed to the Gospel still operate under the sovereignty of God. For me, I'm eternally grateful that God brought me into the classroom of that Poly Sci prof and that the story of Malcolm X found it's way into my hands.

As I look back on that time of my life, I find I have an incredible amount of respect for both my professor and Malcolm for boldly living out their beliefs. It encouraged me to do the same. Contrary to what one might normally assume, those encounters didn't lead me away from Christ but actually brought me closer to Him. And thank God they did.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

How Idolatry Leads To Spiritual Slavery

Photo Credit: Leslee Mitchell
I'm currently reading Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. Keller does a brilliant job of unpacking how often the good things in our lives can subtly turn into ultimate things in our hearts, usurping God's rightful place in our lives.

In the second chapter entitled "Love is Not All You Need", Keller shares the story of a beautiful woman he met while he was a young pastor and makes the correlation between idolatry and slavery:

"In the early days of my pastoral ministry, I met a woman named Sally, who'd had the misfortune of being born beautiful. Even in childhood she saw the power that she could wield with her physical attractiveness. At first she used her beauty to manipulate others, but eventually others used it to manipulate her. She came to feel that she was powerless and invisible unless some man was in love wither her. She could not bear to be alone. As a result, she was willing to remain in relationships with men who were abusive. 
Why did she endure such treatment? She had come to look to men for the kind of deep affirmation and acceptance that only God can provide. As a result, she became a slave to love. Nowadays we may hear someone say, "Oh, my boss is a slave master," but that is only a loose metaphor. Some bosses can make things hard on you, but real slave masters know no boundaries. They can literally do anything they want to you - beat you, rape you, or even kill you. In the same way, we know a good thing has become a counterfeit god when its demands on you exceed proper boundaries
Making an idol out of work may mean that you work until you ruin your health, or you break the laws in order to get ahead. Making an idol out of love may mean allowing the lover to exploit and abuse you, or it may cause terrible blindness to the pathologies in the relationship. An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold onto it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave."

Anything in our life can become an idol when it gets elevated from just being a good thing into an ultimate thing. Whether its a relationship, work, money, food, comfort or any other host of things, idols are those things that take God's place in our lives. And once something becomes an idol in our heart, we then become a slave to that idol.