When I arrived at the boarding gate, only two other people were waiting to board the late-night flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Charlotte, North Carolina. One was a gentleman I estimated to be two hundred years old. The other was a mysterious, brooding young woman in her early twenties with deep brown eyes. I was young and single, so I prayed about where to sit and felt “clearly led” to sit next to the girl.
She was from Chile, and her name was Berta. She had a strong accent and rolled her r’s whenever she said her name, so it came out Berrrrrrrrrta. She was returning to Boston, Massachusetts, where she lived on campus at Harvard University. I’d just graduated from Campbell University—“the Harvard of the South”—so immediately I felt we had a bond.
Conversation turned toward what we were doing with our lives, and I told her God had called me into ministry. I explained how I had come to faith in Christ, how he had changed my life, and how I now wanted to spend the rest of my life telling other people about him.
The whole time I talked, she stared at me with those deep, brooding eyes. She said, “You know, at Harvard I am around some of the most driven, intelligent men in the world. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone speak about life with such conviction and purpose.”
I thought, “This is awesome! I’m going to lead this girl to Christ, and then we’re going to get married. This will make a great story for the times I introduce her at Christian conferences and book signings.”
We talked about Jesus for nearly the entire flight. As we began our descent into Charlotte, I thought I better close the deal (um, for Jesus). So I said, “Berrrrta, would you like to trust Jesus as your Savior?”
Without giving it much thought, she said, “No . . . you know, that kind of stuff has just never worked for me. I am so happy that you have found your peace in Jesus, but I relate to my God in a different way.”
“But Berrrrta,” I said. “Jesus said in John 14:6 that he was the only way to come to God. He provided a salvation for us that we could not provide for ourselves. He’s not just my way, Berta; he’s the only way.”
She said, “Surely you are not saying that your way is the only way to God.”
I said, “Berrrta, I don’t think you understand. It’s not my way, it’s his way. And I am not saying that; Jesus said that.”
“You’re trying to tell me that if I don’t accept Jesus the way that you have, I won’t go to heaven?”
“That has to be the most arrogant, closed-minded thing I’ve ever heard someone say. I can’t believe anyone today would be so bigoted as to think that there is only one way to God. What kind of God is that? That’s not a God I want to know.”
At that point, I suspected the wedding was off.
I sat there in my seat, a little shell-shocked, unsure of what to say next. As the pilot announced our final descent into Charlotte, I said: “Berrrrta, I sure am glad the pilot of this airplane doesn’t look at the airport the way you look at truth.”1
“What do you mean?”
“Say he announces, ‘You know, I am sick of that arrogant little “control tower” always saying I’ve got to land this 737 on a narrow little strip of cement they call a “runway.” That’s their way, not mine. I am an open-minded pilot, so today I am going to land on the interstate. Or try to balance this aircraft nose first on the tip of the Bank of America building downtown.’ Personally, I’m glad that our pilot chooses to enter the airport along that narrow little way the control tower lays out for him.”
She said, “That’s not a fair comparison.”
I said, “Yes, it is. And that’s Campbell University, 1; Harvard, 0, if you’re keeping score.”
I probably should have been more gracious. But even amidst my wounded ego and the crushed dreams of a Chilean wedding, I stand by that comparison.
YOUR OWN PERSONAL JESUS?
Like Berta, very few people object when I say that Jesus Christ is my Savior. Some even find it “attractive.” It’s when I go on to say the rest of what Jesus says—that he is the only way to God and the authority on all matters in life and death—that they cry foul. Our culture’s problem is not with Jesus as a good man, a prophet, a teacher, or even as a deity. It’s with Jesus’s primary claim, that he is Lord.
Sometimes I hear people talk about “my God” or “my Jesus” as if he were their possession. Once, I was listening to two people on a talk show debate the Christian perspective on some moral issue. One, to her credit, was trying to explain what the Bible said. The other, who was a bit more “free-thinking,” kept saying indignantly, “Well, my Jesus would never say that.” The individual referred to “his Jesus” so many times that I finally yelled at the television, “You don’t get your own personal Jesus!” I’m aware that he couldn’t hear me. But it still felt right at the time.
God is not “ours.” He is his own. He’s not a salad bar where we take the items we have an appetite for and leave the others. He’s not the Burger King God, where you “have him your way,” or a Build-A-Bear God, where you assemble the deity you like best.
When God appeared to Moses, he declared, “I am who I am.” “I am who I am” is not “I am whoever you want me to be.”
Greear, J. D., and David Jeremiah. 2018. Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
We have just released a new Bible Study based on J.D. Greear’s newest book, Not God Enough. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.