Monday, December 16, 2013

Getting Saved ... Again.

Sitting in the pew, I knew that I that if hell existed, I didn’t want to go there. So, in response to a question from the chapel speaker, I raised my hand indicating that I did not, in fact, want to go to hell if I died that day as a kindergartener. I was peeking, because like every other kid in that room, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t alone. School aged children apparently do not want to go to hell, because the room was filled with peeking children with their hands in the air. My best friend, sitting beside me, raised his hand, too. The next question was a little trickier for a burgeoning skeptic, for the speaker asked us if we wanted to pray a prayer that would ensure that we wouldn’t go to hell. Raising my hand to indicate that I did not want to burn in fire for all eternity was one thing; saying words that seemed to smack of magic (I knew magic wasn't real. Even the adults knew that.) was another thing altogether. I didn’t raise my hand. My best friend did, though. The speaker directed those who had raised their hands to get up and meet a teacher in the back of the auditorium. My best friend grabbed me as he exited the pew and  we were escorted by a smiling teacher to a classroom where we both repeated a prayer. I got saved, for the first time.

Before my mom passed away, she told me that she had never felt comfortable with the push to get kids to make decisions (get saved) that was often emphasized within the Christian school movement. She refused to do so, and, I found out later, suffered flak from her principles and administrators for failing to have large amounts of her students get “saved.” I have a feeling that my mom's discernment explains why I wasn’t baptized after my kindergarten decision.

Four years after that, during a summer break, my dad approached me while I was playing in the carport. As a fourth grader, I was intimidated by my dad, and whenever he asked me questions I felt the need to give him the answer that I thought he wanted. This time, he said, I now realize jokingly in an attempt to ease the tension, “Welp, it’s time to get your soul taken care of.” For some reason, that made me cry.

My dad gently asked me question about who Jesus was, what he had done, and what it meant to get “saved.” Being competitive, I was always the kid who won the Bible trivia games and the sword drills in Sunday School, VBS, and Children’s Church, and so I had no problem answering the questions to my dad’s satisfaction. We concluded the conversation with me assuring my dad that I was indeed “saved,” and my dad asking me if I wanted to get baptized.

I don’t remember much about my baptism. I remember that the new painting by the evangelist who believed in aliens[1] was hanging above the baptismal pool. If this were a movie, as the preacher’s eldest son, my baptism would have been the first one in front of that new painting. The screenwriter would give my dad a nice, heartfelt speech connecting the long, at-times discouraging fundraising efforts for the painting with the long, at-times discouraging efforts to get his future preacher kid baptized. I don’t know. Maybe my baptism was the first one and maybe my dad gave a tearful and moving speech and my example inspired many of the congregants watching to come forward and re-dedicate their lives to God. I don’t know, though, because as a ten year old boy who was afraid of water, the only thing that I can remember is looking down at that water and thinking, “Yeah, I don’t know if this is worth it.”

Over the next eight years, my salvation was assumed, I think, by those around me – my teachers, my friends, and my family. I found an equilibrium that appeared to work for everyone involved, myself included. I learned how to conceal my tracks while doing what I wanted, but without appearing to be too committed to Christianity. I was never the president of my youth group[2], in other words, but was also never in any danger of being sent to juvie.

I unwillingly left for my freshman year of Bob Jones University; I wasn’t unwilling because the prospect of BJU was unappealing. It was the life I was used to, and I had learned how to navigate that life, or so I thought. No, my girlfriend’s parents were on staff at Pensacola Christian College, and leaving the “love of my life” was unbearable for me as an eighteen year old existentialist. Going to PCC was not an option in my family, and so I arrived on campus and promptly taped pictures of my girlfriend on the wall beside my bed and swore my undying love for her in long letters. It took me all of three weeks to break up with her.

After that, the wheels fell off. I began racking up demerits and my grades were abysmal. Going into Christmas break, I blamed my angst and sleepless nights on my betrayal of my one true love. In reality, my struggles were a result of that hypocritical equilibrium beginning to disintegrate. But blaming my woes on a failed romance was much more appealing to me than facing my questions, so as soon as I got home that December, I contacted the “love of my life.”

We hung out several times over the next few weeks. A couple of nights before I was scheduled to return to BJU, my high school was having its alumni night. It was a night when the alumni[3] got to relive their glory days by playing a basketball game. I had decided that that night would be the perfect time to confess my love and ask to get back together with her. The night went perfectly. I impressed in the alumni basketball game, she hung all over me, and afterwards a group of us went to a bowling alley. As we walked in, I grabbed my ex’s arm and told her that I wanted to talk to her. I told her that I loved her, that it had been a mistake to break up with her, and that I thought that we should get back together. She took that moment to inform me that she was dating someone else. The next ten minutes or so are a low point[4] in my life. In no particular order – I cried, I begged, I pawed, I dropped to my knees, I wailed, I made a fool and jackass out of myself, all in the parking lot of bowling alley with people watching[5].

My Theatre of the Oppressed display concluded with hyperbolic statements of how my life was ruined and that there was no reason to go back to college. I no longer had any reason to make anything out of my life. May as well be a bum. My ex asked me if I would do something for her. I pledged my undying devotion to her unstated request, only to be disappointed when she asked me to go home and read the Bible, because, in her words, “God is going to tell you something tonight.”

Later that night, after a couple of tries to get it out of the Minor Prophets, my Bible fell open to the book of Psalms. I began skimming until I read “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Well, at that moment, the desire of my heart was a certain ex-girlfriend. After years of deceiving people, I guess I thought that I was good enough at it to deceive God if he did indeed exist. I knew that suddenly delighting myself in God would look suspicious, so I returned to Bob Jones University with Psalm 37:4 in my back pocket as the “ace” to re-win the love of my ex.

I waited a full month and a half before I pulled that “ace” out of my back pocket. Right before I played that card, I had almost acquired enough demerits to get socialed (getting socialed meant not being allowed to socially speak with girls). I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to decide if the fact that I was almost socialed is what reminded me that I had even stuffed Psalm 37:4 in my back pocket or not. Regardless, I walked to the dorm room of my society’s chaplain and told him that I wanted to get saved.

He fumbled around quite a bit, but, to be fair, it’s not every day that one of the rebels in the rebel society announces that he wants to get saved. Outside of a witness and someone else to help spread the news[6], I didn’t really need help getting saved, though. I knew the Romans Road to Salvation and I knew what words to say. Writing this, I actually feel bad and am hoping that he doesn’t read this, because he was genuinely excited after I got up off my knees. Treating people like minor characters in your personal play is a douchebag move.

When I returned to my room, I was gratified to find my future-hall leader friend waiting. My roommates were also in the room, and so I had an audience as I tore my Aerosmith “Living On the Edge” poster off the wall and threw away the remains of my hidden rock tapes that I dramatically destroyed in front of them [7]. My friend cried and amen’d quietly as I pulled apart Dookie by Green Day. My roommates sat uncomfortably, probably wishing that I had given them the tapes instead of destroying them.

My “salvation” made quite a splash, and the dorm supervisor asked me to share my testimony during a dorm meeting. Another audience, another command performance. My intended audience, however, didn't respond the way I assumed. She responded to my heartfelt letter of apology, testimony, and re-confession of my love with a cold "Dear, John" letter letting me know that while she was happy for me, she was happy with her new boyfriend and would appreciate me not contacting her again. And, by the way, she also wrote that she had dropped at my parent's house my letter jacket, class ring, and gifts that I had bought her.

Her response was a low blow and almost sunk my "good" phase before it even got going, but what I didn’t foresee was that my  actions set up perfectly the move I made when I overheard “Susan” tell a coworker in The Campus Store that she would only date missions majors. The desires of my heart changed from one girl to another, and getting saved again served another purpose.

Disclaimer - please, please do not take this post as a disparagement of any and all childhood salvation decisions. I think, I hope, that in this post my theology is peeking through, but that doesn't mean that I discount the possibility of the Holy Spirit working in and through small children. I am a Reformed Baptist, after all. But, this post isn't about your salvation when you were five, nor is it about your kid's salvation. This post is my perspective about my life.   

[1] Sorry, but that’s all you’re getting about that in this post. Anymore, and this post would be hijacked, and I’d have to rewrite the opening paragraphs.
[2] My youth group didn’t have presidents, but I wouldn’t have been elected anyway.
[3] At least the male alumni. I don’t know how the female alumni got to relive their glory. Maybe there was a volleyball match that I didn’t care about.
[4] Among many.
[5] I come by my stage presence honestly.
[6] Maybe I thought that more voices would help God pay attention.
[7] I've had to re-purchase many records in my life.


  1. In a failed attempt to keep BJU from shipping me, I destroyed all the cd's they found under my bed (damn you, Axl Rose). Had to buy them all back once I got back to Ohio. I feel your pain, brother! -Victor Gray