Updated: Mar 23, 2019
by Carter Cox
One of the very first things I remember being asked as a child was: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The other phrase I remember hearing most consistently from my parents, grandparents, and sunday school teachers was: “Jesus loves me!”
What scares me is, even as a child, how the combination of these two sentences began forming the direction of my sinful affections and pursuits. Though I may not have been able to articulate this as a 6 year old boy, my words spoke volumes about my wicked worldview.
“That’s not fair!”
In short, “Jesus loves me, so life is all about me being who I want to be and getting what I want when I want it.” And if any circumstance infringed upon my self-centered reality, it was wrong; it was blasphemy!
So what was the strategy to get me, and those like me, to repent? Preach eternal hell-fire and brimstone. The fear this struck into my heart as a child lead to many long pew gripping invitations and sprints down to the alter. However, my motive was not a brokenness over my sin, and longing to surrender to a risen King Jesus. My motive was “Jesus love me, and I don’t want to go to Hell after I grow up...so I better go down there to secure myeternity in Heaven.”
As childhood gave way to boyhood and boyhood to the hormone driven teen years, my baptisms and re-dedications had little affect on my affections and pursuits. I was still just as disobedient to my parents. I was still just as self-centered in my relationships. I was still king of my own life. And yes, I still believed Jesus loved me - this I know, for the bible tells me so - though I couldn’t have shown you where in the Bible it said that.
But I was okay, right? I mean if “every good tree bears good fruit,” I had a lot: Church membership upon conception; weekly church attendance with my parents Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday night; participation in my youth group, retreats, and camps; evangelism explosion training and tuesday night visitation; an occasional dollar drop in the passing plate ($10 if tithing was the preaching topic); two water baptisms; and a relationship with my granddad who was my pastor, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and later the International Mission Board. But something was missing, right? Though the song repeated over and over, It is well, it is well, with my soul, with my soul. I did not feel well in my soul, I felt sick.
This sickness bled into high school and college. My slum-ish mud pie idols were many; habitual lies, pornography, athletics, work, girlfriends and more girlfriends. My first year in college introduced me to the normalcy of house parties and club life. Vodka numbed my body, marijuana numbed my mind, and ecstasy made me forget I was sick altogether. The lights, fog, loud music, and bass thuds were emotionally comforting; an atmosphere with flashbacks to similar high emotion events I experienced at youth group retreats and camps in Fall’s Creek, OK. Yet, the sickness remained.
I never really knew how to answer the question as a child: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But I could clearly see the outcome my 20 years was not what I had in mind. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be secure. I was not. And the times I had experienced these feeling were temporal; they left as fast as they came resulting in many broken hearts and hangovers. I never missed a Sunday morning service, even if it meant dragging in late in the same clothes from the night before. Jesus never seemed to stop loving me, as the preacher preached. But, if loving Him meant empty legalistic religion, it felt to be a Sunday to Sunday sham. So one day I tried to end it all, this purposeless existence.
I couldn’t get the master lock of my father’s revolver, so I resulted to asphyxiating myself in my car. I still remember picking out the proper sized hose at Lowes, which would fit over my exhaust pipe and extend 12 feet into my window. I still remember writing my last letter, sending my last few texts, turning my phone off, and closing my eyes. Exhaust poured into the car, and into my lungs. This was it. I didn’t have to answer the question, because I refused to grow up another day. And if Jesus loved me, then surely my double baptisms and ritualistic religion would suffice as the answer to God’s imminent question, which the preacher told me would be asked at the pearly gates: “Why should I let you into my heaven?”
After two hours in my four wheeled coffin, and coming in and out of consciousness, I reached out for the radio. “God if you want me alive,” I cried out, “then you are going to have to show me why.” A song rang out of through the speakers “...greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done...you are the light in my darkness, you are the hope to the hopeless, you are the peace to the restless...greater things have yet to come, greater things…” With that I opened the door to my car and fell out.
Over the next two hours my parents had found me outside my vehicle in a field in the county, and had taken me to the hospital. “Once the amount of carbon monoxide entering your bloodstream reaches 60% you pass out and die,” the doctor said, “it’s a miracle you’re alive because right now you are at 90%.” After pumping me full of oxygen and fluids, I was taken to a holding facility for the next few days. Shame and failure overwhelmed me, but I knew “greater things were yet to come.”
Up Next: Greater Things
Sentergy: When Jesus, People, Practice and Theology Collide
Chapter 1: The Glory of God
Chapter 2: The Glory of God in Jesus
Chapter 3: The Glory of God in the Gospel
Chapter 4: The Glory of God in Disciple Making
Chapter 5: If You Love Me You Will Obey What I Command
Chapter 6: Monday Morning Disciple Making
Chapter 7: Monday Morning Disciple Making Part 2
Interlude: The Father's Heart
Conclusion: The Lump In Your Throat