Things I’ve Learned Along the Way: Reflections on Spiritual Things from an Old Time Evangelist
We’re excited to have Tony Campolo as one of our NYWC speakers. This blog post is a great start to the conversations he’ll be navigating in his seminar: When Your Kid Walks Away from the Faith. Check out more information HERE.
I was recently asked what I have learned about staying alive spiritually in my old age. In reality I have to say that I am not some kind of sage who has figured out the answer to that question. I’m still struggling to become a mature Christian. If there is any passage of scripture that defines my existential situation it is what Saint Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14 where he tells me that even in the later part of his ministry he had not yet apprehended the high calling of God and, that like a sprinter in a 100 meter dash, he is still pressing toward the goal, which is to become Christ like.
One of the surprising things I’ve learned is that as the years have transpired I have come to realize that there are fewer and fewer things that I once held as theological certainties that I don’t pay much attention to the anymore; but what I do hold on to, I hold on to with a tenacity that verges on desperation! Doctrines I once believed were life and death issues don’t seem so important anymore, while, on the other hand, I am more aware and more committed to a simple affirmation that Jesus Chris is Lord, Savior and God.
As the end of life draws nearer and nearer I grow ever more aware that my destiny is in no way dependent on anything that I might have thought had earned me credit with God and that everything is dependent on what Jesus did for me on Calvary’s tree, and what the resurrected Christ is now doing to me and in me.
Every day I take time to allow Him to reach out across time and space, connect with my heart, mind and soul, and absorb out of me those dark dimensions of who and what I’ve been. Every day I set aside time to let Him cleanse me. I know I have been forgiven but I sense that the “cleansing” is an ongoing process. My prayers are often times of surrendering in quietude to the one who has begun a good work in me and is still doing that work in me as a ongoing manner.
The second thing that comes to mind as I try to answer the question is that the sense of God’s presence is most evident for me when I am sharing Jesus with others. The more I talk about Him the more real He is to me. I feel Him working through me when I am sharing my faith with others. Witnessing for Christ is not something I do out of obligation but out of spiritual necessity. An energy of God flows through me as I do all that I can to pour myself into giving Christ to another person or persons. This impacts me more than anyone else can imagine. I will go on witnessing, preaching and teaching Christ as long as I can because I need that assurance of His indwelling presence that becomes vibrantly real when I am sharing the Jesus story of salvation.
The third thing that comes to mind when I think about what keeps me alive spiritually is what happens to me when I read the Bible. I am not much of a scholar when it comes to scripture, instead, I am more of a mystic. When I read scripture I do it slowly and after just two or three verses I stop, close my eyes, and wait for God’s spirit to say something to me through the verses I had just read. God says different things to me at different times through the very same verses. On one occasion a passage can lift me out of the doldrums and give me the encouragement I need to do what I believe God wants me to do. At other times those same verses might address some heavy problem that had been bothering me. Still other times that same passage can inspire me to attempt new things for causes of God’s Kingdom.
Finally, church proves for me to be of vital importance. Singing old hymns along with other Christians reinforces what I believe. Reciting the Apostle’s Creed echoes in my mind in a subliminal process, the faith I must always hold on to as I pass through various stages in life’s progression. Surrounded by people who sing and say what is the essence of Christian faith reinforces my capacity to stand over and against the ethos of the dominant secular materialistic culture that threatens to swallow me up.
I know the reader is looking for more profound insights, but the older I get the less profound I seem to become, and it is just such simple things, as I have just stated, that keeps me keeping on in the faith. I’ll try to say more profound things in my Youth Specialties seminar, but I thought these simple things are a good place to start.
Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, and organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.
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