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Will Metzger’s Story

Author
Category Articles
Date February 19, 2003

I don’t know the day that it happened. I do know that the power of the immunization of cultural Christianity was broken. I was now infected with the love of God in Christ.

by Will Metzger

[The third edition of Will Metzger’s book on evangelism, ‘Tell the Truth’ has just been published pervasively rewritten (IVP, USA: see Book Review section on website) with two additional chapters. The book has sold 50,000 copies and is justly appreciated. How did Will himself come to a knowledge of God? This is his story.]

Sometimes I meet someone and afterward I have regrets that we didn’t get to know one another better. I feel it’s important to make a positive contribution to people’s lives wherever I am. Because often my life is so busy, time is short, or I don’t want to be vulnerable, I neglect talking about the really important things of life. When I realized this I decided to overcome my reluctance by putting into print my spiritual autobiography in hope that it might be of help to someone. Although the printed page can be impersonal, I’m hopeful that since we have at least met one another, what you read will be received as genuine.

MY IMMUNIZATION…

“Every good American should go to church.” That’s the sort of cultural attitude in which I was raised as a young boy in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. My family was not anti-religious, for that would be un-American. They seemed to have a form of religion, but without power or personal meaning. Mom when to church regularly and Dad went on Easter. He respected God along with hard work, honesty, the American Flag – and he liked apple pie. We were all-American.

Through my Mom’s influence, and because others expected it, I attended church. When I became twelve, it was the routine for me to go to the church membership class. On the Sunday I was to officially join the church I answered some pretty serious questions – but in a perfunctory fashion. Although there was no understanding of “Do you trust Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord?” I said “Yes” anyway. After all, I wasn’t an atheist. I was a clean-cut (I never smoked or drank) well-meaning kid who got good grades at school. I tried to be good-because it usually was rewarded and resulted in less of a hassle in my relationships. I thought I was a Christian.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that I had confused good intentions, surface morality, and being nice to others with true Christianity. The discouraging thing was that my church didn’t help me see the difference. They “believed” in Christ merely as an example that we all should emulate. The only question asked that Sunday morning which caused me a twinge of conscience as I answered in the affirmative was, “Will you uphold this church by your faithful attendance and regular giving?” Now that was getting specific and would require a change of heart. Yet, I glibly agreed and so was received into church membership as routinely as the offering was received that day.

I was on my way to join the ranks of millions of baptized church members in America who were still pagans. I had now received a small injection of cultural Christianity, and it almost proved an effective immunization against real Christianity. Nominal Christianity or “churchianity” was all that I knew up to this point.

MY RESISTANCE CRUMBLES…

When I was fourteen I overheard some older high school students talking about the fun they would have going to a “club meeting” at someone’s house that Tuesday night. Being younger I was not invited. That didn’t stop me. I was looking for fun. I’d go on my own. So I rode my bike and hid it in some bushes near the house. I was embarrassed to ask for a ride. It was fun-but it was also a Christian meeting. I was surprised.

Over the next year I went to a number of weekly meetings and some weekend conferences. It slowly dawned on me that the Christianity these high schoolers were into was different from what I had experienced so far. To them it was not a religion, but a relationship. They used many of the same Bible words that I had heard at church, but they seemed to be meaningful to them. Jesus Christ was a real person – disarming, genuine, attractive. I was intrigued. They had a direction and a joy about which. I knew nothing. They didn’t need to wear masks – trying to be someone they weren’t. I began to realize they had caught the “disease”- become infected with the infectious love of God in Jesus Christ. My immunization started to wear off. My resistance was breaking down.

I progressed in high school, and found myself living for the weekends like everyone else. Again and again loneliness and dissatisfaction would creep into my spirit when the parties were over and I was alone. On these nights I would wonder, “Is this all there is to life? Why can’t I be happy? Who will love me? Where can I get the power to live a good life? How do I get rid of guilt?” Could it be that I’d never really caught genuine Christianity but only had a small dose which caused me to be self-deceived into thinking I was a Christian? I found it difficult to admit that was wrong. I wasn’t a Christian after all. At first I tried to defend and justify myself on the basis of my attempts to live a moral life. I thought I was well, and didn’t need a deep healing.

INFECTED WITH LOVE . . .

It was hard to admit that although I was a church member, I did not personally trust in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord. Therefore I was still an unforgiven sinner. The difference between what I had grown up in (nominal or cultural Christianity) and what I had now encountered (genuine or Biblical Christianity) became apparent as I learned more about the Bible. I now read the textbook of Christianity for myself. Mistakenly I started in Genesis and got bogged down. Later I switched to the four biographies of Jesus. In these gospel accounts written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, God came into focus. It was like turning the knob on my binoculars. God became sharp and distinct. He had always been a blurry concept before. God was focused in Jesus – so real, personal, understandable – and yet awesome.

I found myself irresistibly drawn to this God/Man Jesus. His sharp words and gentle love spoke to my conscience. Strange; as I began to read the New Testament, it began to “read” me. It was like a search light shining into my soul. It exposed my darkness and helplessness. My natural bent was to sin, and this was behind my lack of purpose, guilt and inability to live right. I had thought I was such an upright teenager, but Jesus knew the thoughts of my mind and the motives behind my actions. Shame was a new feeling. My guilt was real. I was restless because I was playing with toys instead of giving myself to God’s purpose for my life. But I didn’t want to give up my toys. Popularity, a car, a girlfriend had become my toy gods.

Truth had a way of coming back and regularly hitting me-just like Monday mornings. I couldn’t keep avoiding it. God made me and therefore he owned me. I was responsible to Him for the life He gave me. He had expectations for me as His child. Precisely at this point my previous immunization almost worked. I had been taught that God was only another name for Love. Tolerance was the supreme virtue of God. But this was contrary to the Biblical God. The shallow Love God of my cultural Christianity was different from the Biblical God who was also Holy. His expectation of integrity (moral purity) humbled me and I saw that my self-generated integrity was shallow and inadequate to meet His perfect standards. I was in the midst of success; but something was lacking. These words of Jesus astounded me:

“Do you love God with everything that is in you, and more than anyone or anything else?”

“Do you love all people in the same way you love yourself, and always serve and do what is best for them?”

My conscience shrank before God’s test for all humanity. I visualized myself as a runner trying to clear a high jump. Previously I had assumed the pole for God’s high jump test was only a couple of feet off the ground, and that He looked the other way if you stumbled. Now I understood that God’s standard was ten miles high. There was no way I could pass that test.

Over a period of two years I struggled with my need for a Saviour-a substitute test-taker. I read, I prayed, asked questions and got close to some of these Christians. I became aware that I had been looking for some of the right things (purpose, love, forgiveness, etc.), but in the wrong places. I realized that it was not a lack of evidence for the truthfulness of Christ that hindered my believing, but an inner resistance to Admitting my guilt and an unwillingness to turn from a self-centered lifestyle. There was a cost involved in “coming home” to my Father-God. I would have to hand over control of my life. I was unsure and afraid.

Yet someone drew me on in my pursuit. It was God Himself. As I read the biographies of Jesus I noticed that He never spurned a truly needy person-if they admitted their hopelessness. I put myself in the place of each person that Jesus met. I visualized meeting Jesus as they did. As I learned more about Jesus it became easier to trust Him. I found Him initiating the bridging of the gap which sin had made between me and my Maker. The things he required of me (to turn from my sins and trust in His perfect character and death on the cross as my sin-bearer) He gave as a gift to me. I asked for the gift of the new birth. Wonderfully He provided a new heart which began to respond by turning and trusting. I cried out “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” As I kept praying with that attitude and prompted by His Spirit, God answered. I don’t know the day that it happened. I do know that the power of the immunization of cultural Christianity was broken. I was now infected with the love of God in Christ. It was just before my senior year in high school.

A SPREADING INFECTION . . .

The big question was, “Would it last?” I, and many others, were suspicious. What would happen when I met the demanding responsibilities of college, jobs, marriage, and the adult world? Was I just naive?

It’s now many years since I’ve finished both a Bachelors and a Masters Degree. I was married in 1966 and we have two sons. Since 1965 I’ve been a campus minister at the University of Delaware (and other secular schools) with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a worldwide interdenominational student movement. I’ve helped adults in church classes and small groups. I’ve found a church which is genuinely Christian. I’ve run smack up against some very tough questions and personal problems in my life and the lives of others. Now I appreciate Jesus Christ even more. I have not been insulated from hurt, suffering, grief. His presence during these times has sustained me – knowing that I’m loved and there is meaning to all that happens. As I’ve been confronted with the disappointments of life I’ve become more self-aware. Moral failures which continue in my life have caused me to reflect on my past and come to a more realistic assessment of myself. I’ve been shaped by my “lacks” (losses) as well as my “gifts” (abilities). Let me tell you about them.

I was raised in a house that never became a home. With my father I had an employee/employer relationship, and my mother neglected me due to her many activities. I was an orphan and emotionally deprived. These lacks contributed to an intense craving for love. A desire for intimacy, friendship, and happiness became all consuming in my relationships. Loneliness was my companion. This vacuum of hollowness at the core of my being has resulted in many sins of selfishness. My family has suffered most, for I’ve often failed as a husband and father. Nevertheless, my spiritual journey continues, and these dry, empty holes in my life have become places which God fills with His love. When I became thirsty, then I drank most deeply from God’s love. My daily cry is “When my heart is overwhelmed within me, lead me to yourself. God, be my shelter, my home. God loves me!” I desperately cling to the promise of God’s love to quench my thirst. Jesus Christ has become a well at which I drink and find strength, love and reasons to go on even when neither I nor my circumstances change. It isn’t easy, but peace comes. As a maturing Christian, I live one day at a time. I believe God is able to keep me from falling and to restore me when I do – faultless and forgiven, to His presence. Being “disabled” has not ;incapacitated me, for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

My abilities are also shaping me-for God “enables” me. My gifts in helping University students have touched thousands, both here and overseas. I’m amazed. Students have become best friends – in spite of the age difference (now I’m “Uncle Will”). I’m a real fan of theirs. My motto is, “Students are people too!” I’ve even seen some faculty changed. But even in the successful use of God’s gifts I’m dependent on God’s love to really satisfy. God is good, even though He’s not safe.

I’m so glad that God made it clear to me many years ago that there was a response that I had to make; something to be believed and SOMEONE to be received. Yes, I’m still clinging to Jesus Christ after all these years. The reason is that there is no one else who’s always there to turn to. Also, in reality, it is Jesus who has stuck with me and won’t let me go. What a thrill it is to be caught up in God’s plan. What a sense of destiny. What a hope. It’s an infection of which I never want to be cured.

WILL METZGER willm@udel.edu

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