Here’s how I found my answer… The church I went to had a rack of tracts… a tract-rack, I guess. It had row after row of little compartments and they were filled with little spiritual tracts. Being as shy and reticent about asking questions as I was, I wanted to avoid drawing attention to myself, so I took my desire to the tract-rack. The tract-rack taught me that people who are serous about their faith know how to defend their faith against the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Mormons. They know the Four Spiritual Laws and why true baptism is by immersion. The tract-rack taught me that negros were the cursed sons of Ham in the Old Testament. I learned that Christians know that the Bible is God’s perfectly complete, holy and inerrant Word. The tract-rack taught me that speaking in tongues is of the devil and that when the Bible was completed, God stopped communicating in any other way. In other words, God shut up. Oh yeah and when Christians die, they can know they are going to heaven.
The tract-rack didn’t tell me Jack about how to develop a walk with Jesus. It didn’t teach me anything about the two greatest commandments; love God and love your neighbor. It told me that if I read my Bible and prayed every day, I would be doing all God requires. The tract-rack presented itself as complete and full of answers. What it gave me was not life, but death. It offered a life of following a set of rules and regulations that sucked the life out of me.
I am pretty sharp mentally and I have a fairly high emotional intelligence. I know how to get by and most people like me. That sounds arrogant and I don’t mean it to. (I invite my friends and family to challenge anything I write here that isn’t true). The reason I write those words is not to brag, but because my ability to rely on myself sometimes keeps me from the truth. The truth is, my value comes from God. It does not come from my abilities. Sometimes I think that would have been easier for me to learn if I had been a bit more obtuse about life.
I followed the rules and when I broke them, I hid it. I pretended that I had it all together. Again, the origins of that way of thinking goes way back to the tract-rack church I grew up in. In this church, I was taught that my good behavior was of paramount importance. I was the only Jesus many people would ever see. So, I needed to watch my behavior so I would not give Jesus a bad name. I took this message to heart. I pretended to have it all together and I defended the faith. The leaders of the church would have been proud. I was so spiritual. The people around me thought I was something else (they were right). The problem was I was living a lie. My intentions were good, but I was not the perfect person I pretended to be. In the absence of a guide to model how to truly follow God, I followed the tract-rack, and the tract-rack was a hard task master.
I learned that Good Christians were supposed to witness to people. In my mind, witnessing meant accosting people and saying in a real-fast-bible-thumping voice, “If you were to die tonight, do you know whether you would go to heaven? Unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you will go to hell.” No way I could do that. I was way too shy. My way of meeting the qualifications without having to use my voice was to leave tracts. So I raided the tract-rack and left tracts wherever I went. Who knew how many people might be saved by reading one of the tracts I left in a restaurant or gas station. I thought of myself as the next Billy Graham leading hundreds and thousands of souls to Jesus through my tract ministry. Jimmy-tract-rack! Truly, I cannot limit God. He may well have used one that someone picked up at just the right time, but I don’t believe they are all that effective. In any case, you can search me right now… I don’t have any tracts on me.
One time, my family was on vacation and we stopped for gas. I made a trip to the bathroom to take care of some business. While in there, I thought I’d leave a tract or two or three or ten. So when I was done with my business, I pulled out a few feet of toilet paper from the roll. I then carefully rolled it back up and stuffed tracts in the roll as I did. (I am laughing out loud as I remember this). I was proud of that little idea thinking, “Let’s see them ignore that!” I went back to the car and got settled in. A few minutes later, my dad came back to the car and let me know what he thought of my little stunt with the tracts. I honestly cannot remember what he said, but I don’t think I reached my target audience.
As I grew in my knowledge of the world and of God, my faith morphed from Jimmy-tract-rack to Jimmy-know-it-all. I had all the answers and was ready to give them to anyone who wanted to listen. I thought my job was to know God’s Word and to be able to answer all questions. I believed in the Bible and everything depended on my interpretation being the correct one. I must have been pretty obnoxious. I don’t think I would like Jimmy-know-it-all now.
So where am I today? My heart is still all about following God, but I realize that I cannot do it. I am going to mess up… but that is the point. If I could do it, I wouldn’t need God. I am learning that following God is not a solo act. I need mentors in my life and I need to be a mentor to others. The game is not learning all about God by sitting in a room reading the Bible. Reading the Bible and learning about the God we serve is important, but it isn’t everything. The part I missed was the “we”. I cannot do it alone. I need friends to help me. I need friends who can show me where I need to improve, friends to encourage me when I am down, friends to laugh with me, friends to put their arm around me and cry with me, friends who will be Jesus. And I need to be that sort of friend too.
Thanks be to God that He has led me out of the wilderness of the tract-rack and the know-it-all life. He has put friends in my life that help me see more of God and what it means to follow Him and serve Him.