BECOMING A NEW CHRISTIAN
By Dan King
I didn't see the source of the problem, but I knew it was making him mad. His eyes turned red, his skin turned green, and he began to grow taller. His muscles began to bulge, and as he flexed his biceps, his shirt was ripped to pieces. Growling, he clinched his fists then grabbed the shredded garb around his shoulders and cast it to the ground. He looked entirely different from how he had appeared only moments ago. Bill Bixby's anger had transformed him into something incredible, something superhuman, something horrible. He had become the incredible Hulk, as he did every Sunday night at 8:00 P.M. I stared at the television set and began to cry.
Immediately, my mother's attention shifted from the program and settled onto me. "Why are you crying?" she asked. "Are you afraid?"
I wasn't crying because I was afraid. I was fourteen years old and well past being frightened by things on television. I couldn't believe my mother had suggested such a reason.
"Why are you crying?" she repeated. "Are you upset about the show?"
I wasn't crying because I was upset about what was happening in the story. I had seen this episode before, and I knew how the plot would resolve itself. I really hadn't been paying attention to the television at all.
"What is the matter?" My mother continued to search for the reason behind my sudden release of tears. "Is something bothering you?"
I wasn't crying because the show had triggered a painful memory. Although I had had many unpleasant childhood experiences, the incredible Hulk was not invoking any traumatic mental images. I didn't know why I was crying. At least, I couldn't put it into words for my mom. But inside my spirit, I did know why: my heart was breaking.
Pinning down exactly when my heart started to break would be a difficult job. However, for three weeks preceding the experience that I have been describing, the events in my life had been leading toward a climax. Some events were bizarre, and others were probably just a part of growing up.
As I have mentioned earlier, my childhood was not always happy. In the fourteen years since my birth, my mother had been married three times. My biological father, now deceased, was an alcoholic. My first step-father brought home his mistress one day to meet my mother, and that dissolved the second marriage. My second and current step-father is also an alcoholic. I have only been physically abused twice, but emotional abuse has contributed to feelings of despair and loneliness.
Also during those fourteen years, we had moved at least eight or nine times. I was afraid to make friends, and I never seemed to fit in with other children my own age. Being overweight, I was usually the brunt of many cruel jokes and teasings. I was always the last person chosen when dividing up for teams, and then only because I was necessary to make the teams even in number.
The result of these factors was that I often felt isolated and unwanted. And although my feelings were less than ideal, they were not uncommon for a child from a dysfunctional family. However, for me these feelings had intensified, and I was considering suicide as an alternative to living with horrible memories and disabling emotions.
In the midst of this gloomy outlook on life, I had discovered a book on witchcraft in my mother's closet. I perused the book from cover to cover, considering that a possible solution to my problem might lie in the spiritual realm. I began to learn incantations. I performed a simple prosperity spell that claimed to bring money to those who cast it. I needed the money to purchase candles, silks, cards, and other tools to work the craft. I decided that I would put off my thoughts of suicide until after I had explored the potentials of sorcery and bewitchment.
Throughout this entire time, while I was considering the new options before me, I was also attending a Baptist church, which was only half a block down and across the street. I went every time the doors were opened, not because I especially liked church, but because it was an excuse to get out of the house. I decided I would rather listen to the preacher carry on for over an hour about religious stuff than sit at home and listen to my parents carry on for over an hour in a quarrel.
On Sundays, there were both morning and evening services at the church. I had already been to the morning service and had been rescued from two hours of home life. At 6:00 P.M. I headed back to the church for another two hours of escape. Afterwards, I planned to rush home and watch The Incredible Hulk, my Sunday evening ritual. And when the service ended at 8:00 P.M., I would have hurried home as usual, but something peculiar happened.
I think there is a rule somewhere that Baptist preachers must shake everyone's hand before they leave or else suffer punishment. At least, that is the impression I've received from every Baptist church I've been to. This practice is usually accomplished by the preacher first choosing an older man in the congregation to pray. While every head is bowed and every eye is closed the preacher strides down the aisle to the rear of the church. From this single exit, the preacher can personally greet members as they leave and they can tell him what a good sermon they heard.
This Sunday evening was different. Instead of choosing an older man in the congregation, the preacher said, "Brother King, will you please close us in prayer?" and before waiting for a reply he started toward the door. At first, I panicked. Then I decided that I could do this. After all, I had heard the other men pray. Certainly I could too. I would just throw together a prayer that contained all of the things I had heard.
"Dear Heavenly Father, we thankest thee that thou hast blessed us this evening with Thy beatitudinous mercies and glory streaming from Thy radiance and Holy majestic reverent glorious being of which we have received. We thank Thee for Thy servant who has given us Thy word and Thy multitudinous insight into Thy wonder and revelation Thee and Thou and therefore." And then, as I had heard the others pray before, I added, "And O God, If there be a soul here tonight that knoweth not Thee, we pray Thou wouldest draw that soul unto Thyself this night. In the name of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, we pray, Amen."
With that "Amen," my heart broke. I knew that I was in trouble. I ran to the back of the church, quickly shook the preacher's hand as he complimented my prayer, and darted across the street. My eyes became fountains as I realized that Jesus Christ had died for me, but still I was unyielding. I refused to embrace the reality that Jesus wanted me, that he loved me.
As I looked up into the night sky, I was surprised to see Jesus, on a cross. He was suffering for my sake. (Please understand that Jesus did not literally appear to me, but in my thoughts he was real.) I asked him why he allowed Himself to be crucified. "Because I love you," was His reply. I wanted to know what to do about my parents if I chose to believe. "I will take care of your fears," was His response. "Well, what about my friends?" I questioned next. "I will take care of those fears as well," was His gentle but certain reply.
Our conversation continued for twenty minutes. I would raise an objection; he would provide a solution. Yet, I would not give in. There was still too much to risk. I would wait until next Sunday, maybe. By then I would have more time to have thought it over. Yes, this solution would appease my heart until later.
I dried my tears, patted my cheeks to get the blood circulating again, and went inside my house. Once inside, I went to the kitchen for a glass of ice water, before joining my parents who were watching The Incredible Hulk. I exchanged pleasantries with them and found a seat on the couch.
Just then, the frail patch I had used to bind up my heart broke. Once again, I began to cry uncontrollably. After failing to discover the reason behind my tears, my mom decided to go to the church and get the preacher. He was just locking up and was glad that Mom had caught him.
After having a short conversation with me at home, he decided we should go back to the church. As we walked, I told him of the struggle in my heart. I wanted to believe in Jesus. I wanted to trust in Him. I wanted to receive His love. But I didn't know how.
We went to the altar and the preacher opened his Bible to Romans 3. He explained to me that the problem was sin, quoting verse 23, " . . . for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." I realized that I was a sinner and had fallen short. Then, he turned to Romans 6:23 and read, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus." I realized that I deserved death, unless I received the gift of eternal life. "Would you like to know how to receive the gift?" he asked. "Yes, I do!" I replied earnestly.
With that, he turned to Romans 10:9 and read, " ... if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." And with that, he helped me to pray a prayer to Jesus, confessing him as Lord.
My life has never been the same since. As He had promised, Jesus worked out with me each of the fears that had held me back initially. Then, we began to tackle other fears together: my fear of rejection, of being alone, of being unwanted, of being hurt. One by one, each one was conquered. He has also healed painful memories. I still remember them, but they don't hurt anymore. And although life has not always treated me kindly since that Sunday evening when I was fourteen, I have had a friend who sticks by me closer than a brother. As each day passes, I become more like Him.
I am convinced that God should be a friend to every individual. For many, the introduction starts similar to my experience. In John 12:32, Jesus states, "And I, if I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all peoples unto myself." "Lifted up" refers to His death on the cross. If we can see Him lifted up on that cross, suffering in our place, paying the penalty for our sin, then He can draw us to Himself. That is where the relationship begins. The transformation that follows is not from a man into a huge, green, incredible Hulk, but from a sinner into a friend of God.
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