Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to Dan Rather speak on his views of America. He shared a story about his friend Walter Cronkite who had become quite hard of hearing in his advanced years. At one time in a crowd, someone pushed up to him asked him if he knew someone, to which he replied, “I don’t know him, but I’ve met him, and he seems likes a nice guy.” Outside, his wife tugged on his arm and said, “Walter, we have to do something about your hearing. That man asked you if you knew Jesus Christ.”
A chuckle went across the audience and I don’t doubt that a smile came to your face when you heard the story. I’ve since told it a few times and got a similar response.
As I’ve thought about this for a time, I could not help but think how terribly sad the truth of that statement is for many people. It may be that they really do not know Christ. They think that they have met him but, even if they haven’t, they’ve heard that he was a nice guy. At least they think he was a nice guy, it seems like that was how they understood him… You know, baby in the manger, angels singing, answered to his mother as a boy and did as he was told; and crowds of people followed him, watching him do miracles and taking care of the sick, so he was a nice guy; right?
What would it take in the 21st century, so very long after Christ walked the earth and in a totally different culture than the one in which He lived, to really know Christ? Is it even possible? Our senior pastor, Dr. Ryan Johnston uses the phrase, pressing in to Christ. I’ve heard him use it several times and it brings to me a mental picture; pictures, actually, plural.
One of those pictures is that of a small child that runs to a parent or grandparent and within the hugging embrace can almost become one with their loved one. It can be a time of explosive joy or shattering hurt; but the bond that happens is a holy one. Another picture is the mirror opposite. When my child or my grandchildren come running into me, I want to hold in every ounce of love and every second of the time until that moment becomes a part of who I am. Another is the picture I see in my mind’s eye when I have come, broken to my last ounce of being, unable to take the next step. Christ has wrapped His arms around me in such a way, I knew I didn’t have to move at all. I knew He would carry me every step of the way until my strength returned and even then, He would keep me by the hand.
There’s one more picture and its one I’m still working on it because it seems to be multiple pictures that are part of a whole, like complete puzzle pieces that could stand alone but, in a completed context, they make a much grander, a fuller image than one I could ever make on my own. At times its me in the very sparse and barely adequately equipped, prophets chamber at seminary after a long day of challenging classes and quiet thoughts take me in to a prayerful examination of the Christ I love. Other times it is in my study, the lights down, except for the reading lamp over my shoulder, re-reading a Bible passage for the nth number of times and the truth of it seems to wrap me in my favorite sweater until the warmth of it has touched my joints and warmed my bones. Mostly, though, it comes when I am with someone that I may not even know; but, for whatever purpose, the Spirit has me with them at a time of their deepest grief. I do not have words. Scripture itself at that moment is not able to be touched; as if it is a time not meant for words. All I can do is to hold them, maybe just the lightest touch of a hand, and we share tears and a quietness that seems to last in a time frozen warp of space.
Those are the moments when it feels most like how I imagine pressing in to Christ must be. I have found, in almost forty years of marriage, and much of that time I have not been very good at what I am about to describe; is, I believe the secret of love, the secret of romance even; but certainly it is a requirement for pressing in. That ingredient, that piece that is most critical for love and romance and becoming truly one with the person you love, is knowing. The more that I learn every nuance, every dream, every fear, every joy and each dark space of the person to whom I am married, the more I know her. It is not something that happens in an instant or like a microwave dinner prepared from the oven to the table in five minutes or less. It is a slow roasting, deep cooking with all the flavors and each of the ingredients that life has poured into both our lives, marinating slowly. Then the taste and aroma come together and are so much greater than any of the individual pieces. It’s gently tracing the face of my loved one with my fingertip, with my eyes closed so that even if I lost sight, I would recognize, I would know by simple touch every smile line, every curve of the cheek, every wisp of hair. Knowing my love so that I can, without effort, know what they would choose in an instant or prefer as an option. One last ingredient which is absolutely vital. Just enough, a touch of mystery. Mystery left to still be surprised at something new I did not know.
That is pressing in to Christ. To know His heart; to know His choices and His desires; to trace with my hand the thorn marked brow, the nail pierced hands while also touching the laugh lines and, more than anything, looking deep into His eyes and embracing the depth of that love.
Then I have pressed in to Him and I can honestly say, “I know Him. I’ve met Him. I love Him.