I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of me...Philippians 3:12
I have one tattoo and that is enough. Sometimes people look at this and wonder if I am a quack or religious nut. People who are religious, complain that the tattoo seems negative, that we are followers of Christ by choice, not by duress.
This is not how I see it, with the risk of sounding unkind. My tattoo originates from two of Paul’s epistles. Ephesians chapter three, and the book of Philemon. In both, Paul (who was imprisoned in Rome at the time) refers to himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ, but he is not complaining. He is making an observation about something he has sized up and had a long time to think about.
Few people could compete with Paul in regards to his conversion story. Tracked down on the road to Damascus where he was en route to persecuting the early Christian Church, he was confronted by a light from heaven which knocked him to the ground. He heard the voice of Jesus Christ speaking to him loudly and directly. What came after is indisputable. His life was turned around and he became a formidable force for good instead of evil. I wonder how much thought he gave to his conversion? Seems he didn’t have much of a choice.
And so it is, that as I grow older and the call to faith bounces around in my brain for another year, I contemplate how it is that I identify myself as a Christian. We are entering times it seems where such pronouncements are not welcome in open society. We think of religious convictions as something people should keep to themselves, lest they be accused of prostelytizing. This is a maddening turn of events when you have found something to be true, but culture discourages you from expressing it.
I was moved during the recent persecutions of Christians in the Middle East under ISIS, that Coptic Christians were easily identifiable because they would tattoo a cross on their wrists. It made me wonder, if there was such a persecution in society, how one might be identified as a Christian, and if you were, would you want to dodge the claim? I concluded to myself, that some things are incontrovertible. You come to a final word that is not your own. As Job stated when pressed, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord”. Let the chips fall where they may. Some things are simply right or wrong, and once recognized, are past argument. In that light, my tattoo is a guard against hubris, lest I lightly dismiss my own debt to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if pressed.
My personal road to Damascus has been a somewhat windy one. Like Walker Percy, if you asked me what kind of a Christian I am, I would have to say, “A bad one”. Getting older has left me a bit irascible because I see things more clearly than when I was younger, and I get more excited about preventable disasters because I know what can go wrong. Growing older has also left me blunt to a fault. All of this makes me all the more aware of the power of the Gospel, and the need of the Gospel to knock off those rough edges. I look forward to that day of final redemption where I know as I am known, and where all debts are cancelled by the blood of the One who has power to do so.
I would also have to admit that I have often been an unwilling recipient of divine grace. And yet, the deep compassion of God has appeared on my life time and again, shining its light into the deepest darkness. These repeated rebuttals to my attempts to go it alone, make me lean toward the Calvinistic idea of predestination – that however this faith thing works, I feel inexorably called by a God who will not let go of me. At least I hope not.
Until then, I remain, happily a prisoner of Jesus Christ.