36 years ago today, I abandoned the Christian faith.
It was right after we got home from Dad's funeral. (Dad died of a heart attack as a young 47-year-old)
I snuck out into the back yard, and literally shook my fist at the sky. I said "God, if this is what you're about, I quit! Leave me alone!"
And wandered in a spiritual desert for the next 10 years or so. I'll not elaborate on the details; suffice it to say that I truly lived up to (or down to?) my sin nature.
I was deeply hurt, terribly confused, and quite bitter about Dad's death, and I buried myself in arrogant, selfish immaturity, both spiritually and generally.
I stayed angry at God & at life. How in the world anyone would hang out w/ me back then, I don't know. And how in the round world this beautiful Alabama coed would go out with me multiple times and then accept a marriage proposal from me in the midst of that darkness...grace notes that threaten to overwhelm the entire score!
And yet...right there in the midst of my pouting funk, God kept on dropping grace notes into my life. People...circumstances...and little by little, He drew me back on course. (Yeah...there's quite a long story there...)
When I moved to Tuscaloosa, I would occasionally go to church with Aunt Daisy & Uncle George. Mostly, I went because she'd feed me some great home cooking after...but I went. She told me years later, "Mike, you were so angry that you wouldn't even sing the hymns!" It pains me to see an image of that dear, sweet lady holding a hymnal up so both of us could read it, and then watching me just stare at the words. (I am so very thankful that Aunt Daisy later saw me sing the hymns...and even co-lead the family worship at the reunion!)
Have you ever tried to hug a 3-year-old who didn't want to be hugged? For about 10 years, I was that 3-year-old, rejecting the loving embraces of my heavenly Father.
Basically, I slowly & surely realized a few things: 1) I was a whiny-baby, moping around in the midst of great folks & circumstances. 2) I was receiving grace beyond measure (see, beautiful Alabama coed, for starters). 3) I was like Simba in the Lion King; I was "Mufasa's boy" but had forgotten who I was. 4) The arguments I was making against Christianity were becoming more frantic, as I realized how hollow they were (are!). 5) As Petra once sang, "you can walk 10,000 steps away, but it's always only 1 step back..." 6) I had some work to do, first on Mike Madaris, and then for the King of the Universe. 7) The grace of God demonstrated in Christ's atonement--for me!--is such that words fail, and I have to just exclaim with Paul, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33)
Paul wrote my life story many years ago. Please read this next part slowly.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
(2 of the most significant words in all of Scripture to me personally: "But God...")
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:10, 13
I am so thankful for these truths, and for so many more. Just two more here:
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
(Quite the prayer there, huh? I am so thankful that He chooses to not remember my sins, but to remember ME. Amazing grace!)
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
(Long a precious passage to me, as I spent some years trying to jump from His hand...so very thankful now that He didn't let me...)
So on this day, I remember the self-inflicted darkness that began 12/16/74. And I absolutely rejoice & celebrate that the end of that darkness did indeed come.
...a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light...
1 Peter 2:9b
As the old gospel song says, "I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now!"
Celebrating the season of the Light that shines in the darkness, (John 1:5)