By Brad Lindemann
Spring time on a major college campus is pretty special. With new life blooming all around and the end of a long school year approaching, there’s euphoria in the air. It’s palpable. At least for most of the students. Not so much for me during the spring of 1975 on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. Academic pressures, fraternity pledgeship and my relationship with my girlfriend found me exhausted and gasping for air by early April. Something wasn’t right in my spirit, but I had no idea what it was until I met Tom.
Tom showed up at my frat house during dinner one evening with an Olympic champion wrestler in tow. I can’t remember what he said that caused me to join them in the living room after dinner. But, I’ll never forget what he said once he got my attention. He told of a time during his college days when some of his friends started behaving rather strangely. Claiming to have found God, they stopped doing many of the things that college kids are wont to do and started acting all religious. When they started pressuring Tom to join in, he had to get away.
When school was out in the spring, Tom jumped on his motorcycle, kissed his mother goodbye and set out for Colorado, hoping to clear his head. Something wasn’t right in his spirit and he had a growing sense that his friends may have found what it was. He hadn’t gone looking for God, but rather God seemed to be looking for him. So, on a mountaintop in the Colorado Rockies, Tom looked up at the starlit sky and said words to this effect, “God, if you’re real and if you want me to know you the way my friends do, then I’m all ears. If not, then please go away and leave me alone.”
With that, Tom’s life changed so radically that upon graduation a few years later he joined a campus ministry organization called Campus Crusade for Christ. Fortunately for me and many other students at the time, his first assignment was on the campus of Indiana University. After sharing his Rocky Mountain High story, Tom asked if anyone would like to meet one-on-one the following week. I was quick to accept his invitation. Maybe he would have some insight into my disquieted spirit? Maybe he could help me understand why I felt so empty while living a life that seemed so full?
Tom was blessed with Bill Clinton charisma and wisdom well beyond his years. He’s was one of those rare people who could make you feel like you’re the only one in a crowded room. The moment he entered my room number 18 at the Phi Kappa Psi house on North Jordan Avenue, I felt at ease and drawn to his dynamic personality. He quickly sized me up, and then eased into a conversation about spiritual things using a small booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws as a guide. As he explained things in a way I’d never heard them before, I started to realize that I knew about God, but I didn’t really know Him.
The booklet starts out by saying, “Just as there are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God.” After Tom read that line, he looked out the window and pointed to the bell tower just behind our frat house.
“It’s like this, Brad. Say you climbed to the top of that bell tower and stood teetering on the edge, shaking your fist at the sky and shouting, “Gravity I defy you. You cannot have an impact upon my life. And, then proceeded to jump. What do you think would happen?”
“I’d go splat,” I said. Looking back, that was the splat heard round the world for me.
“Indeed you would, my friend” said Tom. “Because the law of gravity doesn’t change based upon whether or not you choose to believe in it. And so it is with the laws of God. Make sense?”
It was starting to. He went on to explain all four of the spiritual laws:
Tom went on to explain that Jesus was the only one who could bridge that sin gap. But, just knowing that truth wasn’t enough. Law Four states that you have to act upon that knowledge by individually receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
And then he asked me the most important question that I’ve ever been asked, “Brad, would you like to ask Christ into your life right now?” He then showed me the following prayer on page 10:
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
I prayed the above prayer on April 13, 1975. Lightning didn’t flash and thunder didn’t boom, but my life was radically transformed in that moment. Over 41 years later, I’ve doubted just about everything else at one time or another, but since that fateful spring day of my freshman year in college, I have never doubted the powerful presence of the living God in my life.
As my mother-in-law frequently reminded me, God didn’t promise us a smooth ride, just a safe landing. We’ve had our share of difficult challenges, bitter losses and deep disappointments. Many of which are chronicled in this book. Becoming a Christian doesn’t exempt you from life’s trials and tribulations. In fact, the Bible builds a pretty strong case in the opposite direction. It even goes so far as to suggest that we should receive such trials joyfully (James 1:2-4). What’s up with that?
The old adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not a direct quote from the Bible, but the underlying principle is replete throughout. One of the most thought provoking passages I’ve found along these lines is found in the book of Romans:
“… but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3,4).
In essence, this suggests that the Christian life is the ultimate character-building experience. And, like the athlete who punishes his body to perform at his optimal level, the Christian is trained to be all that God wants him to be through suffering. Suffering that leads to hope. True hope that does not disappoint. Hope in the One who came to save us and who has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2).
So what’s the point of all this Christian character-building? The athlete trains diligently to obtain the winner’s trophy. What is the end game for the suffering Christian? I believe the character we gain through suffering is the transcendent key to seeing God’s will be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
In other words, the more Christ-like our character becomes here on Earth, the more Heaven-like Earth can become.