When I was in high school, I made a hobby out of sitting in the studio audiences of late-night talk shows. I regularly visited the sound stages of The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Tickets were free; the only real cost was standing in line for a few hours.
Since both shows are taped in the afternoon, but not aired until the late evening, my friends and I would go home after a taping and eagerly wait to see “our performances.” During the taping, we would try to cheer just a little longer than everyone else or raise our arms just a little higher than expected during a standing ovation. Really, anything would do, as long as we could proudly show people later that night: “There’s my arm… Right there. No, not that one. The one next to it. I’m pretty sure anyway…” or “Did you hear me? The guy cheering… That was me. No, I know it’s me. I remember cheering just like that. Trust me.”
On one occasion, at a taping of Letterman, my friend J.P. and I had the good fortune to be seated in the second row, right on the aisle. About twenty minutes into the show, David Letterman stepped out into the audience for some question-and-answer. After the bit, he headed back toward the stage, right by us. Seeing my opportunity, I extended my arm out into the aisle as far as possible. Either he’d have to stop and shake my hand or I’d smack him in the crotch – either way, a good story.
Letterman saw my hand, stopped and held his hand out to shake. Unfortunately, J.P., who was sitting next to me, hadn’t noticed my hand in the aisle, and so we both grabbed the talk show host’s hand at the same moment and shook it violently for about a minute. It was kind of awkward, I’ll admit, but I could still say I “met” David Letterman. In fact, for weeks after, I would look for any way to work that story into a conversation. “Go see a movie? Sure. You know who’s probably not in the movie? David Letterman. You know he and I are friends, right?”
Looking back, it’s certainly silly. However, it wasn’t David Letterman as a person that I thought would impress people. Everyone knows Letterman, but for me, he was no longer just a face on TV; I had met him and he had met me. His story and mine had bumped into each other, even if only for a brief moment.
For a lot of people, being a Christian means holding certain beliefs and doing certain things, while avoiding others. But I think being a Christian, in some ways, is more like my experience with David Letterman.
Everyone knows about God. We are told He’s the One who created everything that exists. He’s also the One we’re supposed to thank when we get a good grade, have a child, or win the Superbowl. The Bible tells us about God, but it does so much more than that. In large part, the Bible is a collection of the memories of people whose stories had bumped into God’s, whether for a brief moment or for a lifetime. These were regular people – farmers, fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, slaves and shepherds – but they were confronted with God Himself and their lives were changed forever.
In the Old Testament, when the nation of Israel crossed through the Jordan river into the Promised Land, God told them to place twelve stones at the site as a memorial (Joshua 4:1-7). He wanted them to remember what He had done for them and to tell their children. Their stories had bumped into God’s, and the pile of stones would serve as a way to bring it up in conversation: “Those stones? Yeah, those are from when God delivered our people. I was there you know.”
The stories of people meeting God don’t end with the close of the Bible either. History is full of people who had an encounter with Jesus and whose lives were never the same. I realize that the accounts in Scripture are unique, primarily because they were inspired by God Himself, but the stories of people meeting God continue to this day nevertheless. Every person who has met Jesus and had their life changed by Him has one.
Followers of Jesus don’t have everything figured out. Sometimes they have doubts and questions. Sometimes they sin. They don’t always know why bad things happen to good people and they can’t give you eight simple steps to a happy, prosperous life. Christians are just people whose stories, at some point, bumped into God’s story and the two plot-lines became one.