It was a warm, late-spring afternoon when I sat by the C&O Canal and met Christ. I was exploring one of the many locks that raised and lowered barges along their 184-mile journey between Washington, DC, and Cumberland, Maryland.
I imagined the long, narrow, mule-pulled conveyances slipping into the stone enclosure. Thick, wooden gates would close behind it. Then, with a swish and a roar, the captured water would be drained from the low end of the lock. The barge with its contents would slowly sink to the level of the next canal before continuing its journey east toward Georgetown.
My reverie was interrupted when another cyclist stopped near where I was sitting. He smiled through his long, slightly reddish beard and asked how I was doing. He said his name was Adam, and we exchanged pleasantries. I noticed that, unlike my bicycle, which boasted only a water bottle as baggage, his was covered with traveling gear. “Where did you start your ride?” I asked.
“Key West, Florida,” he responded with a grin.
“Wow. And where are you headed?”
“Canada,” came the quick reply. “I’m a Christian, and I’m riding through 48 states to bring awareness concerning addiction, counseling, and recovery. I want people to learn what’s available through rescue missions, Celebrate Recovery, and churches nationwide.” His well-rehearsed response came from his heart. “Also,” he added, “each day I ride for someone whose loved one has passed away from their addiction.”
“That’s beautiful,” I said. “A Christian, huh? Let me ask you something. What was the one thing that finally convinced you that God was real?”
He answered without hesitation. “Galatians 2:20. I discovered that Christ was in me.”
We spoke more about his journey, both his bike ride and trek with God. His story was all too common in this world—a story filled with bad choices and self-destroying habits. But he’d now chosen new destinations for both expeditions—Canada and heaven. I admired his determination and deep faith.
When he rode away with a smile and a wave, I felt confident that he’d succeed. He’d certainly reach his objectives fueled by love for the human race and appreciation for God’s unfailing grace.
So, what exactly does Galatians 2:20 say? I looked it up the moment I got home: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
I’m sure the man I saw that afternoon at the lock wasn’t the same man he used to be. He’d been changed from the inside out the moment he discovered he wasn’t alone in his struggles. Living for himself had carried him to dark and lonely places filled with substance abuse and the shadows of death. But living for Christ in him opened up his world to new possibilities, new goals, new destinations.
It’s a journey we’re all on in one form or another.
the God we worship
The last few years have provided an incredible revelation concerning Christians: we don’t all seem to have the same Christ in us. One camp, like my bike-riding friend, espouses a divine Being of love and acceptance, an understanding Friend filled with compassion for others and an empathy born from shared experiences. However, another group called by His name demonstrates quite the opposite. Their religion is based on exclusion, judgment, and the need to label those unlike themselves as “the other,” all while attempting to legislate morality and their particular dogma. This fact has ripped families, organizations, and entire church congregations apart.
A 2020 Gallup Poll revealed that “Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade [record of the] trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.”
Unity, once a motto among faiths, has all but disappeared, leaving behind destructive social, cultural, and political riffs. Collateral damage has been extensive.
This divide isn’t new. When Christ showed up on the scene over two thousand years ago, no one recognized Him. He wasn’t what they were expecting, and many simply couldn’t get past the fact that He was from Nazareth, from where, apparently, nothing good ever emerged (John 1:46). His sweet disposition and nonpolitical stance on things spiritual only got Him deeper into trouble with the religious powers of His day.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like for Him now if He was, say, born in New Orleans and was trying to reach out to help the poor, the disenfranchised, the gender-confused, the gay, the abortion-seeking women, or the unchurched. He’d be busy having lunch with crooked tax collectors, enjoying heart-to-heart conversations with hated foreigners, and telling those immersed in sin, “I don’t condemn you. Just stop doing what you’re doing. Your life will be so much better if you do!”
The human, false reconstruction of Jesus’ character attempts to put a divine stamp of approval on revenge and legislating dogma. The medieval Crusades and Dark Ages primed this pump. But our job today is to reveal God as the Author of love and compassion, a divine Being who provides a remedy for past mistakes and a present sinful condition. The stranger within our gates should be treated with the same respect we ask for ourselves.
If we had that kind of Christ within us—if we revealed that Christ to the world—our churches would be overflowing with thankful souls. Our places of worship would be harbors of peace instead of arenas of confusion and political storm. The wayward would find acceptance in our midst, not judgment and condemnation. They’d discover what they needed most: love. We’d help them receive the presence of Christ into their hearts and show how, with His help, they could bring about the changes they needed.
But before we can do that, we have to do a little personal housekeeping. We need to sweep away the traditional boundaries that imprison so many of the truths God wants us to know. We need to discover Christ for ourselves, not just the one preached about from pulpits or heralded on someone’s YouTube channel. We need to get up close and personal with God so that He can reveal who He really is and what He really wants to accomplish in and through us.
Bottom line? It’s time for us to have lunch with Jesus. He invited us to do that “Here I am!” He said. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).
Then we can hop onto our bikes, get into airplanes, drive our cars, or fling open the front doors of our homes or churches and tell the world about the Christ who lives in us.
Charles Mills is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®. He and his wife, Dorinda, live in West Virginia.