"I'm Not Really Sure if That Was the Voice of God or Not"...
For a couple of decades I was too embarrassed to tell people this story. It still makes me a little uncomfortable to admit what happened, but yeah, it's probably a good segue into a section of Luke I reread today. So, here it goes. (Flush.)
In 1994 I attended a national conference for an evangelical campus ministry organization. Nancy Leigh DeMoss spoke to all the staff members, and during that talk, she explained the difference between broken people and proud people.
Her delivery was extraordinary. However, the response of the crowd shocked me into paralysis.
Staff members from all over the country started pouring up to the front to confess their sins in front of everybody. Dozens of people, then hundreds, then maybe thousands. This went on for days.
I'd never been to one of those conferences before, so I didn't know what was normal. Staff members who had attended these things for years started calling it a "revival," and they said it was different from anything that had ever taken place. They were ecstatic.
But I had no desire to confess sins of my own. I was just trying to figure out what in the world was going on. I wondered what sort of group I had joined. I was cynical. I was wigged out. I kind of wanted to get out of there.
For years after this event, staff members talked about that unique outpouring of the Spirit. "Do you remember when..." they would ask one another. Yet I had to say that I was smack in the middle of a major revival with my arms crossed. Doubtful.
I was the Apostle Thomas quietly asking, "How do I know this is legit?"
I was hesitant because I didn't want to be a fool. I thought it was safer to doubt than to yield to the mighty surge of energy in the room and then find out that energy had been nothing but human emotion.
Jesus said his disciples would know his voice, but this time I apparently didn't. That bothered me for a long time.
I wondered if something was wrong with me or my beliefs. I even questioned my salvation, because I wondered what sort of believer could watch a major revival without being overwhelmed by it.
A lot of time has passed since then. I've had time to look at doubt and childlike faith from lots of different angles, and I'm hoping to explore some of those angles in the next few days on this blog. However, I'm going to start today with only a quick introduction to a couple of characters in the book of Luke.
Zachariah, an old, faithful soul who had grown so used to disappointment, he was hesitant to believe that God might show up and do him a unique good. Haven't a lot of us hit this point in faith? We've tried to believe, obey, follow, wait. But God seems to be quiet so long, we aren't sure we even have a line in to be heard.
Meanwhile, a few paragraphs later, the young, compliant soul of Mary responded matter-of-factly to the life-shattering news that she (a virgin!) was going to have a baby.
"I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.." almost effortlessly.
How does belief come so reflexively in certain types of souls? Did she just ace the Myers-Briggs? Or is it like a leap by a trained dancer, a move that looks weightless because every muscle has been toned for that exact moment?
I don't know. But Mary's response parallels an attitude I see later in her Son in the garden of Gethsemane. In His darkest and loneliest night, Jesus is being asked to bear not one child, but to bear all the children of God through His intensely painful labor. He would spill water and blood, though not womb water and uterine blood. His delivery of the children of God would come through His own death, and instead of an infant's wail at a first breath, He would be the one to cry out in a last breath.
That choice didn't seem as simple as Mary's did. He agonized. He struggled till he sweated blood. Still, he says, "Not my will but Thine," allowing his individual story to fold into a larger narrative.
In the next few days I'm hoping to unpack some of this into two more posts:
1. DOUBT and HESITANCY: What do people like us, who live in the era of cynicism, do with this stuff? Is it okay to wrestle like Philip Yancey or Thomas, or should we be innocent and trusting like Lucy in Narnia?
2. IDENTITY. Where do we find it? What about our critics? What about our self-criticism? In an unsafe world, is cynicism an important part of our identity that we shouldn't abandon?
For tonight, I'm leaving you with these two drawings. I put them on opposite sides of these two pages because they are such interesting characters to study together. And also I'm kind of hoping the images will inspire you to read through this first part of Luke with me. If you do, I'd love to hear what you notice.