Gather. Scatter. Repeat.

When did you become a Christian?

“I, Stephen Frank Brown, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

It was with no small amount of trepidation that I spoke those words the morning of Feb. 29, 1968, in El Paso, Texas. Alongside me were 40 other young men whose voices were no doubt shaking, too. At that moment, we were U.S. Army soldiers.

We didn’t have a clue about what those “regulations” might be, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice had an ominous ring to it. But we took the oath.

We didn’t look like soldiers, and we didn’t know how to act like soldiers. I, for one, certainly  didn’t feel like a soldier.

We got the haircuts and we put on the uniforms. Then they taught us how to stand, how to march, how to stand in line, how to salute — all the military things. I still didn’t know if I felt like a soldier, but I started to act like one.

They taught us how to polish boots and how to clean latrines. They taught us hand-to-hand combat, and they taught us to fire our rifles and use our bayonets and throw our grenades. They taught us how to crawl under live machine-gun fire.

And — most importantly — they taught us how to look out for each other. We had started out as strangers; we had become a unit.

Somewhere during those first nine weeks of Army life, we were transformed from young men into soldiers. But in reality, we were soldiers from that moment when we spoke the oath of enlistment back in El Paso.

It’s more difficult for me to point to a particular moment when I became a Christian. You may know exactly when you started your walk with Jesus, but there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all experience for entering the Kingdom.

You may have repeated some version of The Sinner’s Prayer along with a preacher or an evangelist. You may have felt God’s healing touch where no one had reached before. You may have fallen to your knees before His unmistakable power. You may have just laid down your burden and stepped peacefully into His presence.

Whatever you did, I suspect you didn’t start feeling like a Christian right away. Did your language glorify God? Did your thoughts and actions suddenly become holy?

Did it happen when you were baptized? Some of us even felt we probably needed to be baptized again years later after we had wandered off the road, because we no longer felt like Christians. Did it happen then?

But as we were taught from the Scriptures, and as we learned to pray and to serve, we began to get more familiar with this Christ, and we grew to love Him.

Somewhere along the line, then, did we grow into the title of “Christian” and actually become Christian?

No, I think we became Christians when we became Christ’s. He chose us, remember? (John 15:16) We didn’t invite Him into our lives; He invited us into His.

We don’t know the when of that event — how long it took for us to first hear Him — but we know the Who, and that’s all that matters. We know the Who, and we know we want to become like Him.

I think we are most like Christ when we are no longer individuals, when we have become a unit. Looking out for each other. Considering each other more important than our own selves.

I think that’s why Pastor Cole often changes up the lyrics of praise and worship songs from first-person singular to first-person plural: “You are the air we breathe” … “We will call upon Your name, and keep our eyes above the waves” … “God is our victory and He is here!”

Father, we are so grateful You have invited us into Your presence, and You have changed us in ways we’ve only begun to discover. Please let our service to You and to each other reflect the heart of our King and our Savior, our Jesus.

— Steve Brown