It’s fun to hear about a friend’s vacation, to see photos, to listen to stories about amazing adventures. And to some extent, we can experience our friend’s excitement and joy. But our sense will be somewhat one-dimensional. We can imagine what it would be like to travel; we can feel our friend’s enthusiasm and wonder. But our thrill will never measure up to experiencing the trip firsthand, for ourselves.
It’s the same with our relationship with God. It’s encouraging to hear about others’ walks with the Lord, to share our experiences with Him with one another. But that cannot be the basis for our relationship with God. We have to encounter God directly. We cannot rely on others to give us information about God. We must make the effort to engage Him for ourselves.
In Secondhand Jesus: Trading Rumors of God for a Firsthand Faith, author and New Life Church worship pastor Glenn Packiam challenges readers to embark on a quest to experience Christ and His power for themselves. “God wants us to know Him deeply and personally,” Packiam says. “But there are no shortcuts to God. The Bible tells us that ‘the way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention'” (Matt. 7:14, The Message).
Packiam shares with us his journey to engage God for himself and exchange preconceived ideas about God for the truth.”It’s time to hear the magnificent, Divine Invitation,” Packiam says. “It’s time to take God up on His offer and embrace the mystery and majesty of knowing Him for ourselves.”
The following is an excerpt from Secondhand Jesus. (Click here to purchase this book.)
Life couldn’t have been any better. We had been in our new house for just over a year, and it was almost time to start decorating for the holidays. Winter’s frost was just blowing in over the Rocky Mountains. These were days of sipping hot chocolate and looking back over a year of steady church growth, rapidly expanding influence, and a company of close friends to enjoy it with. On top of all that, my wife, Holly, and I were expecting our second child, another girl. Life was good and there was no end in sight.
And then it was Thursday.
Everyone was distracted at work. There were meetings going on, first upstairs and then off campus, and later on campus in an impromptu staff meeting. Internet clips kept us glued to the screen as we tried desperately to decipher truth, accuracy and some reason to believe the best. But as Thursday soldiered on, doubt was sitting lower and more heavily inside me.
I remember the feeling when I got home. My heart was kicking against my chest with frantic irregularity as I ran up the stairs to our room. The sinking, tightening knot in my stomach seemed to sink with each step. I opened our bedroom door, and with breathless shock sputtered, “Babe, some of it’s true.”
I had just returned from an elders’ meeting where I learned that the seemingly absurd accusations leveled against our beloved pastor had enough truth in them to warrant his removal from office. On Friday, we learned that he would never be allowed back. By Sunday, we were sitting in church with hot tears racing down our faces, listening to letters that told us words we never thought we would hear. Our pastor had been a prominent national figure because of his role as president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He had been featured on Barbara Walters’s program and other major news shows, had been called the most influential pastor in America. It was the biggest religious debacle in my lifetime. And it happened at my church. My church.
Thursday came and everything changed; my unshakeable “good life” became a nightmare of uncertainty. Would the church implode? Would everyone leave? Would I have a job next week? Could I ever get hired in ministry again? The songs, the influence, the success, the notoriety—it all became foolishly irrelevant.
Slowly, I replayed the past. The preceding years had been heady times. Our pastor’s meteoric rise to the evangelical papacy paralleled the growing muscle of a conservative Christian movement now beginning to flex in the public square. The young men who had helped build our church, myself included, now found themselves swimming in much bigger circles of influence. We were talking to the press, traveling to Washington, D.C, and dropping more names than Old Testament genealogy.
We had become powerful by association. And it was intoxicating. We were like the eager young men in Old School, Tobias Wolff’s fictitious memoir of an elite prep school on the Eastern Seaboard, full of idealism and world-changing dreams: “It was a good dream and we tried to live it out, even while knowing that we were actors in a play, and that outside the theater was a world we would have to reckon with when the curtain closed and the doors were flung open.“