Dec 15, 2011

Where will God be this Christmas?

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the
believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
   1 Timothy 4:12

It was a new book with crisp pages and a red hard paper binding. I was around age ten when I first stumbled upon it. Back then, I picked the book up often.

Unlike many of the older books in our home, none of the pages of this book were dog-eared. Nor was there writing along the side columns. So, I was certain that I was the first to read it. Through the years, I often wondered how this little book found its way into our home. Still, what kept me most fascinated was the title of this particular book. It simply read, "HOLY BIBLE."

Even though our family attended church regularly, I had never seen a bible before. Our church didn't require that we bring one and no one I knew ever carried one with them. Nevertheless, one day I decided to first pick the little red cover bible up and try to read it. With all my might, I struggled to understand what I was reading. However, the foreign names of people and far off places along with historical references were simply too difficult for me to comprehend. As a result, I placed the bible back down on the counter as quickly as I had picked it up. I repeated this pattern for years, hoping that one day I would begin to feel close to God.

Unable to connect with God through reading the bible, I decided to search for Him in a church.  I was especially attracted to the church building during Christmastime when it had a warm and welcoming sense about it. Our family attended the last service on Sunday night, when it was already dark outside. Perhaps that is why the glowing lights from the large Christmas tree and flickering advent candles, always seemed to shine a little brighter.

I was a small child whose little frame was easily lost among the countless rows of pews. As a result, I often sat close to the front of the church. In the still of the night, I rested my chin on the back seat of the pew directly in front of me. I often watched the alter boys light the weekly advent candle. I love to gaze at the porcelain Nativity scene that only appeared at that time of year. I can still recall today the fragrance of incense floating among the gentle breeze that wafted through the church on those colder winter nights. Sitting in that peaceful church, listening to the bells that reminded me to throw my cares away, I couldn't help but feel closer to God.

But, somehow through the years, the ability to feel God's presence in that church, dissipated. Perhaps it was because my heart had become hardened from years of pain and faithlessness. For years, I had desperately needed someone of good character, morality and and faith to walk my heart back to the Lord. When that didn't happen, I shut down feelings of love and understanding and filled my hardened heart with judgment and anger. As a consequence,  my heart only allowed me to see the human mistakes of other churchgoers. After awhile, I became disenchanted with my beloved church, even at Christmastime.

Ironically, at first, I tried to win the approval of other Christians by involving myself in church activities. But I soon exhausted others with my arrogance. Next, I tried church hopping. The first few times in a new church, felt warm and welcoming. However, it didn't take long before I again noticed that hypocrisy I had focused all my attention on before. After that, I stopped going to church for awhile. Instead, I tried watching church on the television. But, even in the comfort of my own home I still felt out of place. 

Later, in 2006, our family moved to a new town.  I tried several new churches. Each time I couldn't capture that old feeling of closeness to God. I made the excuse that our entire family needed to fit in and then stopped attending the church. 

Then one day in late October 2008, I prayed for God to send me on a mission trip. Perhaps God was with those missionaries I saw on the television who had devoted their hearts and lives to serving Him. Four days later, I was taken to the most unlikely place, a jail holding cell.

Confused and desperate, I cried out to the Lord. "Please God, if You really do exist, draw near to me!" God immediately appeared! Amazed, I realized, that all along, God had been patiently waiting right by my side to enter my heart. And finally, I welcomed Him in.

My Childhood bible
I plan to attend church this Christmas. Yet, I won't be going alone. I will be bringing God with me, in my heart and tucked under my arm in the form of a little red bible over 30 years old.  

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