TITLE: First Contact
By dee smith
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Daniel was just a young boy when his friend John invited him to church. The church was one of many mega-churches in the area. Daniel entered and was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the building. So many people, all bustling about going somewhere, although he wasn’t sure where. The choir entered singing a beautiful song. They had a full orchestra as well. The music was so overwhelming. Daniel had gone to concerts previously, but nothing like this. In addition to the choir and orchestra, there were colored lights dancing off the walls. It was a spectacular show. Daniel didn’t know what to think.
After the music, came the drama. Actors filed on and off stage. Daniel didn’t understand what they were talking about but the costumes were great. Daniel thought to himself how much fun it would be to wear them.
Then came the sermon; again Daniel didn’t really understand what was being said. All he got out of the words were Jesus loved him. He wasn’t sure who this Jesus was, but it would be nice to meet someone who loved him.
Daniel and John left church.
“So what did you think?”
“Well, I really enjoyed the performance. I liked the part about Jesus loving me”.
“Yeah, kinda awesome to know you’re saved isn’t it?”
“Yes”, replied Daniel even though he had no idea what John meant.
John didn’t invite Daniel to church again. Daniel never knew why. He thought about asking John if he could go, but he didn’t want to be a bother.
Daniel did wonder who this Jesus was and why did he love him? How could he love him if they didn’t even know each other? This was all very confusing.
Years later in high school, his girl friend Jill asked him to go to church. He was so excited. He could hardly wait for Sunday. He expected the same kind of show he’d seen so many years ago. Much to his disappointment the service was rather dull by comparison. A band instead of an orchestra, a small group of people singing rather than a large choir, no actors, but there was a preacher who talked about this Jesus guy. It seems Jesus loved everyone. So Daniel was less impressed. He was hoping that someone, anyone thought that he was special enough to be loved. But if you loved everyone then no one was special. This was a shattering experience. He was still curious about meeting this Jesus who loved everyone, but there didn’t seem to be the same sense of urgency.
“So did you enjoy our service?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t like I remembered church being.”
“In what way?”
“Well, there was no large choir, no orchestra, no lights that danced, no players only the preacher was the same.”
“What kind of church did you go to?”
“I don’t know. I thought they were all the same”.
“Oh no, there are lots of different kinds of churches”.
“Well, we all have different ways we want to worship and we don’t all agree on all doctrines, so we have lots of choices. You just find one you like and stick with it.”
“Seems pretty random to me.”
“Well, I guess it is”. That pretty much ended the conversation.
Daniel walked away so confused. If Jesus loved everyone, then why couldn’t they agree? Why so many different churches? How could anyone know which church was right? How could they all be right? Daniel decided he would try other churches.
So, Sunday morning he got up and went to the church down the street from him. It was a large building, but certainly not a mega church. As he walked up the walkway, he was greeted by the deacons.
“Can we help you son?”
“Yes. I’d like to attend your service”.
The deacons weren’t sure what to do. He was not dressed properly for a church service. Why he was actually wearing jeans to church! They had a small discussion amongst themselves. “Okay, you can come in this time, but next time you will have to dress appropriately”.
Daniel wondered what that meant. He had put on clean jeans and a nice shirt. His shoes were a little dirty….surely that’s not a big deal with God.
Daniel slipped in and sat on the back row. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Too late. People were staring at him and whispering. The older people were just glaring at him—he had no respect for God. Who raised this boy anyway, they wondered to themselves. The music began and everyone turned to face the front. Daniel was glad the service had begun. It was a very formal service. He liked all kinds of music, so he enjoyed that part of the service. The preacher spoke of loving one another and helping the community. The words were very eloquent and the people kept nodding their heads in agreement. Daniel was confused. If they wanted to help and love others then why did they glare at him? As soon as the service was over, he slipped out—even before the preacher got to the door to shake hands.
The next Sunday Daniel decided to try a different church. This one was beautifully landscaped. The building itself seemed modest and the people were friendly.
This is much better, thought Daniel. They act like they like me. Maybe Jesus is here. Daniel walked in and again sat on the back row. The music was livelier than the other church and Daniel enjoyed it. The preacher spoke about the need to help the homeless. He never mentioned Jesus or God. This seemed strange to Daniel. He thought about asking why, but decided it really didn’t matter—Jesus wasn’t to be found there.
Once again Sunday came around and Daniel tried a different church. This one was across town. He walked in and people seemed tense. He arrived just prior to the start time for the service. No music this time, just the pastor standing in front of the people. He began with prayer and then opened the discussion. It seems this church was having a business meeting on Sunday morning. Daniel was about to leave when the topic of which foot should be washed first in the foot washing ceremony came up. Daniel was surprised by the topic—what difference could it possibly make which foot was washed first. He listened intently to the arguments on both sides. By the time of the vote, he still didn’t understand what difference it made which foot was washed first. But it seemed to matter to everyone else. The “right” footers lost the vote by 5 votes. They were so angry they got up and walked out. The “left” footers were elated they had won. The preacher ended the meeting and everyone left.
As Daniel was walking down the street he saw an open bar. I sure could use a drink after that service, he thought to himself. He walked in sat at the bar and ordered a beer. As he drank it, he wondered to himself if Jesus would be the kind of person who would have a beer and hang out with the guys or if he would be a wine-sipping philosopher in a corner. He thought about it and decided if everything he had been told about Jesus was true, Jesus would definitely be a beer drinking kind of guy. Daniel paid for his beer and left for home.
The next Sunday Daniel woke up and thought long and hard about whether or not he would try church again. So far his adventures hadn’t led him to Jesus. Maybe Jesus didn’t go to church. He wondered where he might find him if he didn’t go to church.
Daniel decided to look for Jesus at the university. After all, educated people knew many people and had influence; maybe one of them could introduce him to Jesus.
Daniel had decided to major in philosophy. He found all the various ideas so stimulating. It seems everyone had an idea about the meaning of life. Once again this Jesus character came up, but his professor pretty much dismissed him as a myth Christians used as a crutch to get through life. His professor didn’t think too much of other religions either. They all had so many rules and so much hypocrisy. No one could ever live up to all those rules. No, his professor decided that man was the end all and be all. Mankind, if it really wanted to and could just agree, could solve any problem in the universe. When he asked his professor if he thought they were alone in the universe, his professor just laughed at him. That really wasn’t an answer, but he was sufficiently embarrassed so he never asked again.
Daniel went on to graduate school again majoring in philosophy. He decided he would write his dissertation on “The Meaning of Life”. Why his committee even considered letting him do this was beyond him. Here he was a graduate student and he was going to solve the question of life. They must have all had a great laugh at his expense. Once again, he felt he was alone with no one even thinking about being on his side.
He spent hours in the library reading various books. Some were religious, some were not. All were written by prominent philosophers. He read about Jesus and got even more confused. Some said he was a good teacher, but rather impractical and not all the stories about him could be believed. A few actually believed the stories and said Jesus was the meaning in life. Exactly how this worked Daniel wasn’t sure. Others touted various religious systems; some said we were alone as God had died. Man had to find his own meaning—there was no universal answer. That appealed to Daniel. It was a cop-out but his dissertation committee decided to allow his conclusion—at least he hadn’t tried to push some religion down their throats.
After graduate school, Daniel tried to find a teaching job. No luck. So he travelled the world looking for meaning. He studied various cultures to see if he could find some love somewhere. He so desperately wanted to fit in somewhere, to have someone care about him. Oh, he had had girlfriends, but none stuck with him. His friends seemed to come and go as they got on with their own lives. So once again, he was all alone.
The more he travelled, the more depressed he got. He saw how different cultures tried to have a peaceful society. Forced conformity seemed to produce peace, but only on the surface. Deep down the people resented the oppression—although no one was willing to speak his dissention aloud.
Daniel returned home after spending 7 years travelling the world. He added up all the years he had spent looking for this Jesus who loved him and brought peace to people. He had spoken to lots of Christians and all attested to the fact that Jesus gave them peace. When he asked where to find him, they would tell him to pray and ask Jesus into his heart. How could praying do any good. And what was this nonsense about asking Jesus into his heart. Why did Jesus want to enter his muscle? It was confusing.
Daniel’s parents had been killed in a car accident while he was in Africa. He found out after he returned. He went to visit the graves. He stood there looking at their graves and the others in the cemetery. It all seemed so useless, so meaningless. We live and then we die—then what? That was the question. Unfortunately, everyone who knew the answer to that question was dead.
As he walked out of the cemetery still thinking about life and death he found himself by the lake. It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, not too hot or too cold. He sat down to just enjoy the moment. He had concluded this was all he had, but he kept thinking there had to be more.
In frustration, he suddenly stood up and yelled “Jesus where are you”?
To his amazement he heard a voice behind him say, “Right behind you where I’ve always been.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been with you for years. I’ve been all over the world trying to reach out to you, but you just kept running—so I ran with you. I knew someday you would stop and let me introduce myself to you”.
“How? Why? What?” sputtered Daniel with no understanding at all.
“You have been so confused for so long, you couldn’t see me. Today is the first time you’ve slowed down enough for me to speak to you”.
“You mean we can talk with each other?”
“Yes. What would you like to talk about?”
“This love thing. They say you love everyone. If that is true then what difference does it make? No one is special; we are all one lump you love.”
I do love all people, but I love YOU as well. I made each individual an individual. I love people; from their start I was involved in choosing their genes and sorting out the DNA. I created them in the womb to be who I wanted them to be. You are special because I made you to know me.”
“Okay, so you made me to know you. Is that the meaning of life?
“Come with me and find out”.
This reply was so unexpected. Could he really walk with this Jesus? Dare he follow him? Just how much did he really want to know the meaning of life? Daniel took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He kept staring into Jesus’ eyes. He felt something he’d never known before. He was at peace. He felt loved—truly loved for the first time ever. Sure the feelings were great, but could he trust this Jesus? He didn’t say anything for a long time; he just kept staring into Jesus’ eyes. They were so deep and seemed to inviting. He just knew he could trust him—it was knowledge beyond his intellect. This was crazy. How could he just up and leave everything to follow Jesus. Yet, how could he not? One more deep breathe.
“Okay, lead the way”.
Jesus turned and Daniel followed him. Thus, the adventure began.
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