This is a very religious nation of ours, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Not always.
Because of our freedom to choose to believe in something or nothing, which was the God-inspired genius of those men who framed our little governing document called the Constitution, religion has flourished in our democracy. Actually, only one religion has flourished. All the others have had the chance, but none has found the privileged place that Christianity has. Setting all debates aside concerning whether or not we ever were a Christian nation, no one with a lick of common sense would argue that all the other religious groups, sects or cults combined could rival the numbers or the influence of the religion of Christianity. This brings me to my question…
Have most professing American Christians been EXPOSED to the RELIGION of CHRISTIANITY or have they EXPERIENCED the REALITY of CHRIST? The difference between these two is staggering.
Exposure to the religion of Christianity is something that we all have in common. Exposure comes in all flavors and forms. Vacation Bible School as a kid. A sleepless night tuned into a TV preacher on a local cable access channel. A CNN special on The Evangelicals and politics. Seeing Billy Graham address the nation at the National Cathedral after September 11. A Switchfoot song played over the speakers during a meal at Chic-Fil-A. All of these things expose the individual to elements of the Christian religion, and in a nation such as ours, we can expect this type of exposure to continue.
But when someone confuses Exposure with Experience, the results are not just devastating. They are deadly. Eternally.
Experiencing the reality of Christ brings more than feelings of religious liberty or even a sense of goodness. One can be Exposed to facts about abortion, stories about how long Noah’s ark was, testimonials of deliverance from addiction or voting habits of Baptists in Tennessee, and never once personally Experience the breath-taking grace of God.
It’s like this. My entire life I wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. It became an obsession. My Exposure to the Grand Canyon began in books I read in elementary school. The pictures mesmerized me. Then later I watched specials on PBS where they actually showed videos of it; covered in snow, during thunderstorms, people hiking to the bottom. I had taken everyone else’s word on how magnificent it was. But until I Experienced it for myself, it was just a shadow and a rumor.
In 1994, I drove to Arizona with two good friends, and when I got my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon from our moving vehicle, I nearly hyper-ventilated. When I stood atop the edge of the North Rim and let the breeze hit me in the face off the Colorado river, I was ruined. 24 hours and 15 miles later, I had my sore, blistered feet submerged in those icy cold waters. Every day for the next two years, that giant hole in the ground called me back until the summer of 1996 when I rafted the upper half of the Grand Canyon. It still was not enough. I returned in 2000 with my new wife. We hiked the South Rim and rafted the lower half. And I have been back 5 times since 2000. The Experience surpassed the Exposure.
Exposure to something great is not the same as Experiencing it for yourself. Hearing the stories of Jesus does not mean you believe them to be true. You will never know how good Jesus is until you quit looking at pictures of Him, watching movies about Him, and listening to others talk about Him. Until you Experience His grace, He is nothing more than a shadow and a rumor. No matter how much Exposure you’ve had in this religion-saturated culture we live in.
Don’t take my word for it. Experience Him for yourself. Taste Him and see that He is good. The real Jesus is even better than the stories and the pictures.