I prayed. I read the Bible. I began attending church. After a few Sundays, someone suggested that my wife and I join a small group Bible study. This sounded reasonable. We were directed to a classroom with other couples our age.
Before going on with this narrative, please allow me to explain our situation at that time. We had recently relocated to Lexington from Louisville. Geographically, the move was less than eighty miles, but this may as well have been eight hundred miles—we knew no one and, frankly, I was homesick. As for my wife, she was okay with the move, but I felt terribly out of place. To compound matters, the promising career opportunity that had brought us to Lexington was not proving to be as promising as I had hoped. My arrival was hallmarked by an icy office reception. Because I had been out of work for some time, our savings had been diminished. Money was tight. From the start, I understood that my situation with the Lexington team was precarious. My coworkers did not want me there. I did not want to be there, either.
On the plus side, these difficult circumstances were the vehicle that drove me into the open arms of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because I had been raised in a church, I reasoned that God might have answers to all of the woes that were plaguing me. In desperation, I cried, “I am tired of living life my way! Let’s try living life your way for a change!” Hardly an eloquent prayer, I must admit, but God honored that prayer. I was born-again.
As mentioned, I had had some earlier brushes with Christ Jesus, but this had been a genuine conversion experience. I was hungry to learn about my new faith. And so I prayed, studied the Bible, and joined a church. It is only by God’s grace that I survived church.
As I recall, there were about a half dozen couples in this small group Bible fellowship. As we settled into our seats, the group leader half-apologized as he explained that each couple had filled out a questionnaire that had been passed about the Sunday before. The class would be playing a game, Who Am I?, which went something like this: as the group leader read from the unsigned questionnaires, it would be up to the other couples to determine the responder’s hidden identity. When he noted my puzzlement, the class leader explained that this was intended as an ice breaker, so to speak, and a fun way of getting to know one another. As we had not been in class the previous week, we had not completed a questionnaire, but he welcomed us to join in on the fun.
He began something like this: “Recently, I was promoted at LexMark. Thanks to the handsome increase in salary, we can finally afford the bigger house we’ve always dreamed of owning. To cap off our good fortune, we are heading to Disneyworld. God has blessed our socks off! Who am I?” I was in the company of a sharp crowd, for in almost no time at all, someone had properly guessed the identity of this rising star.
We were ready for the second round of Who Am I? “God is good! We just bought his and her BMWs. They look great parked in the garage of our brand new house.” Not to be outdone by the other family’s trip to Disneyworld, this secret responder added, “This fall, my husband and I are going to Paris. We’ve always dreamed of a romantic European vacation. Isn’t God good? Who am I?”
Before the commencing of the third round, I slipped out the door. My wife, not wishing to draw attention, remained in class. Later, when she quizzed me as to why I had suddenly left, I told her that the participants’ grandstanding had been more than my sensibilities could tolerate. Maybe Who Am I? would have been good fun had I not been on the cusp of unemployment and financial ruin, but in our current situation, I did not have the proper bragging rights. “I am lonely. I am having difficulties making friends in Lexington. I am struggling to pay rent on our small apartment. My aging vehicle has bald tires. All this talk about job promotions and vacations and matching BMWs makes me feel like an utter failure. Who am I?”
A short time later, I overheard a young, well-to-do couple from this same church discussing the return of Jesus Christ. “I hope he doesn’t come back,” the man wistfully explained, “until our children have completed their college studies and have had an opportunity to settle into a career.” I am not making this up. If Jesus returned too soon, they reasoned, their children would never experience what really matters in life.
Perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder, but I have no trouble understanding why people such as Joel Olsteen are so highly regarded in the evangelical community.
Let’s play one final round of Who Am I? “You say I am neither cold nor hot. Maybe I am lukewarm, but I am rich. Yes, I have become wealthy. I have need of nothing, though You have charged me as being wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. You have even threatened to vomit me from Your mouth. Ah, but You have misjudged me. Furthermore, I do not need Your white garments. I do not need Your eye salve. I do not need your discipline. As I said, I am in need of nothing. You can knock until the skin is worn from Your knuckles, but I am too busy enjoying my playthings to open the door. Who am I?”