I've always wondered what happens to secular authors-turned-Christians - those who put out trashy romances or gory horror novels - or on the nonfiction side, those who write acclaimed attacks on creationism and unabashed celebration of atheism. Bestsellers. Charismatic people, for the most part. People with a following and a voice to lead it. One day they're peddling their anti-God philosophies and the next God has got such a hold on their heart that they cannot but submit to Jesus Christ as Lord.
What happens to their books - their legacy of a previous man? They're still in circulation, perhaps still on the bestsellers list, endorsed by Oprah, praised by avid readership.
It's an interesting situation. Were I as famous as all that to warrant drastic intervention, I'd probably cancel my publishing contract, buy out all the bookstores and hold a book burning. Censorship at its best. That would turn off the praise real fast.
That idea of being so adamantly one thing at a point in one's life and so adamantly another thing - that's God at His best. I've been thinking about the fact that God calls sinners to salvation - not the righteous. He gathers in the lost sheep - not the ones snuggling together in the fold. The ones He bled and died for aren't immediately Christian-y - they're justified, yes, but sanctification isn't an overnight process. It'd be ridiculous for the sheep in the fold to criticize the lost sheep newly saved just as he's fresh from the field, all briared and brambled. He hasn't had time to grow yet.
Yet we do it. We jump on the externals first, going for the Christian look, reading them off the lists, pointing out the tiniest faults in their misperformance lest they cause another Christian to stumble. "So make sure you're wearing skirts only - down to the ankle, of course - and don't listen to rock music and don't watch R rated movies and throw away those secular novels and make sure you attend Wednesday prayer service and did I miss anything? Oh - here's the twelve-page, ten-point-font essay on the essential doctrines of faith. Let me know if you need convincing."
But, we argue, those are good things - very appropriate things, not to be made fun of. And well they are. But we forget in our zeal that we too were new to these ideas, that we also were newborns in the faith, that we, like the worst of them, didn't have it all together the day of our salvation. It was a process. It was a journey.
Those things that we ascribe to now - like those still-in-circulation books - may not be what we subscribe to the next day. We need, need, need to remember that the test is not today - that is to come. Right now we study and learn and listen. We make mistakes. We take wrong turns. We fail and we learn from it. And we go on.
Just because someone doesn't immediately accept your belief does not give warrant to censor, look down upon or shun. You may be wrong, in the first place. And secondly, no one learns anything unless they're consistently taught.
We need to be gentle with one another. We must not nag those who believe differently from us - especially on such minor issues as we love to tussle over. If we're going to squabble and whine at each other, let it be over something substantial, like the nature of God's sovereignty and free will, instead of if nylons have a place in the kingdom of God.
We must remember that we are not the instigators of change. God is. It's okay if you submit your ideas to a sibling in Christ and those ideas are not immediately snapped up. His life is not in danger of hellfire because he did not convert to conviction under you. God is the one who works. We plant seeds - we pray - we love - but God brings the increase.
Think back on when you were younger in Christ. Remember your journey to where you are now. Perhaps you were perfect and had no faults and believed all the right things - I am no such person. I waffled between periods of harsh legalism and clandestine rebellion throughout my childhood. I am still imperfect - but don't disqualify me from grace merely because I am that. That's the best we all are - imperfect. Unfinished. One day we shall be like Christ, but until then, we are still in the making. We are still growing. Still journeying on.
Who was it who helped us on to Christ? The one who shoved his beliefs in our face? Openly disapproved of everything that went contrary to his opinion? Judged us because were different? Offered a warm hand only when we were exactly like him? No. (Such winsomeness normally isn't appealing. In my humble opinion.) It was the one who extended mercy and grace though we were radically different from them. It was the one who believed in us and prayed for us and loved us, imperfect though we were. It was the one who always made sure "gentle" went before confrontation, the one who listened to our heart and studied our motives and situations before passing judgment. It was the one who recognized our worth as Christ's children and her own imperfection before a holy God.
Our beliefs and convictions change with the ebb and flow of growth and God's Spirit. What does not change is Christ Himself, who has saved and will keep saved those who are His own. We must not forget that every single Christian, regardless of how she cuts her hair or defines decent music or schools her children, will end up in heaven. If that's the case, we might as well walk together to that end.