Background: Coming to Jesus

Ski to live; live to ski.  That was my motto in 1985.  I'm the guy on the top left.

Ski to live; live to ski. That was my motto in 1985. I’m the guy on the top left.

While these and similar thoughts and questions were going on, my brother started going to a Bible study before school on Wednesday mornings.  “If you want a ride to school,” he announced, “you’ll have to come early with me.”

“That’s cool,” I said.

I’d gotten my driver’s license during the previous summer.  But the vehicle I had been delegated was a 1968 Dodge Sportsman van, the same one we’d travelled Mexico in more than a decade before in fact (see “Background: Idyllic Childhood”), and for some reason she was presently out of commission.  So we carpooled for the time being in Brother’s vehicle of delegation, a 1972 Ford Pinto.

But was it really cool?  What was a Bible study anyway?  I had a hard enough time studying the topics thrown at me in school every week.  Why would I want to read or study something else, leaving me less time to spend outside?  Still, those questions that none of my friends wanted to deal with and that school didn’t seem to address, could there be a place for them here?  It’d be worth a shot.  Besides, the guy leading it was in a band—33AD or something like that—so he at least was probably cool.  And there’d be free food.

So I went.  And it seemed okay.

So I went again the next week.  And I heard some passionate words written by some guy whose name had been Saul but was now Paul.  He was somehow convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other created thing could separate him from God’s love in Jesus Christ.  And I caught myself longing for something similar—oh, that kind of love, to be sure, if such love were possible; but even more so that conviction!  I wanted to believe in something that passionately.  But family, friends, things, places?  I could get excited about a few activities, like snow skiing and motorcycling.  But to put a sort of faith in these?  That seemed senseless to me.  As for everything else—family and friends: people, really—I felt apathetic at best, perhaps even indifferent towards some (no love, no hatred, no feeling whatever).

As for what this guy Paul wrote of: love—and as for whom: God—it all seemed more far out to me than any of my questions.  I mean, really, could there be a supreme being that created all things?  And if there were such a being, how could he (or she, or it) have some sort of personal dealings with this guy Paul?  How could God love a person?  Wouldn’t that be like me loving an ant?  And even if that were true, that God had some sort of personal interaction with Paul, he was an important person in the history of the world, a person whose writings ended up comprising a good chunk of the New Testament.  But who was I in comparison, a high school junior in some bedroom community in southern California in the 1980s?  At best I blended in, was just a social security number on a sheet of fifteen hundred others; at worst I might have to visit the Principal’s office, singled out because of a fight with another SSN over a stolen matchbox.  What would God want to do with me personally?

Nevertheless, the Bible study leader worked for an organization called Youth for Christ; and on this particular year Youth for Christ, which happened also to host Bible studies for high school students at several locations across Ventura County, was planning a ski trip to Park City, Utah, a premiere ski vacation destination for a fifteen year-old who’d never skied outside of California, let alone anyone else.

So, what now?  New friends?  Adventure?  I became a Bible study regular, whether (now that the van was running again) my brother went or not.

Week after week I attended then, enjoying breakfast tacos and orange juice, hearing the Good News about Jesus (he saved me, you know) and the bad news about myself (I needed saving from my inherent inescapable sinfulness, you know), but most of all not wanting to miss any announcement, fundraising opportunity, or other Park City Ski Trip detail.

I even worked for three months at Taco Bell in order to save enough money for the trip.  The sad part is I had to quit this my first job in order to go on the trip—no accrued vacation time to speak of by the end of three months—and for whatever reason I didn’t get hired back on upon my return.  That’s okay though, because the local bowling alley hired me.

At last the trip came, Spring Break, 1985.  By day I was a complete fool, drunk with the moment—this was my own bought-and-paid-for adventure after all—using no sunscreen whatever and attempting the biggest air I could find, convinced I could do what those stunters could in the latest Warren Miller flick.  I rarely pulled off a landing, by the way, but I’m not convinced the Warren Miller stunters did it often either.  But by night I was sober, sore from the day’s intense sun and activities but also riveted by the so-called Four Spiritual Laws, a simplistic four-part breakdown of Jesus’s person and purpose.

At the end of the week I answered an Altar Call, repeating a prayer to “accept Jesus into my heart.”  Then I wrote my name and phone number down on a blue index card and watched as an adult leader filed it into a black plastic box made just to hold index cards, whatever the color.  Then, “Join us for the party!” someone said.  And another, an adult, said, “The angels party in heaven over one soul saved, so we’re gonna party here too.”

I don’t know what that earthly party consisted of (nor the heavenly one, come to think of it).  Perhaps there was pizza and sparkling apple juice.  This was a high school youth trip, after all.  But I don’t know because I said no thanks and went outside for a walk.  Could I really have such a love-focused relationship with Almighty God, as so many people all around me were now telling me?  If so, Christianity couldn’t really be this easy, this clearly defined, this black and white, could it?  Why was everyone being so glib?

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2 Responses to “Background: Coming to Jesus”

  1. I was offered the Youth Guidance Director job (YFC) in Ventura in the summer of 1980. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts (good or bad) on this experience and how it affected where you are today.

    John

    • John, thanks for the comment. I had no idea! We probably know some of the same people from those days. Crazy how our paths have almost crossed before now.

      I plan to continue posting background info until the “Why Episcopal?” pieces come together. Keep reading. YFC was very influential between the years 1985-89. In that sense it was very foundational for my understanding of the Christian faith. The organization did a great job at reaching youth, don’t get me wrong. The skepticism you perhaps sense was (and still is) largely internal. I saw much of YFC’s message as too simplistic, like the Four Spiritual Laws. But that didn’t mean to me that the Gospel was simplistic. I just desired something deeper.

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