“Maybe I’m not a Christian anymore...”
That’s what I said to Jeff on May 19th. I remember the date because it was the same day that Tim Keller died. My Instagram feed was full of beautiful tributes, which reminded me of the hundreds of times I walked around the K-State campus with Dr. Keller’s familiar voice preaching in my headphones.
That’s sad and ironic, I remember thinking, when I made the connection. That the day I announced my dying faith was the same day my favorite preacher died of cancer.
Jeff’s reaction to my declaration was a mix of surprise and sadness. And skepticism.
“You’re a Christian, Carmen. I think you’re just in the middle of a storm. God is testing how deep your faith really goes.”
The events leading up to that conversation and what followed afterward would require an entire essay of its own, but today, on Christmas, as snow gently falls outside my window, I’m allowing myself to reflect on just one simple idea.
I didn’t know this until recently, but Charles Wesley wrote “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” my favorite Christmas hymn, shortly after a very dark time of doubt. I learned this factoid from Dr. Keller, who always included song lyrics and poems near the end of his sermons.
In a surprising plot twist, his death and the subsequent media coverage on that day in May inspired me to start listening to him again. I wasn’t terribly optimistic it would change much at that point, but listening to one sermon led to another. And then another.
And then I was remembering why I listened so faithfully in graduate school—because every Tim Keller sermon is an intellectual and artistic exercise that unlocks the whole Bible, piece by piece, story by story. I’d never heard anything so compelling anywhere—not in any church, and not in the secular, literary world I was living in at the time.
A decade later, that still remains true.
I’ve finally figured out what makes Tim Keller’s sermons so different. When he preaches, you can’t just log his words away as “rules to follow” or good advice. You also can’t just sit comfortably in a haze of postmodern relativism where you make up the rules as you go.
If you really listen, you realize you have to make choices. Big choices and small choices and every kind of choice in between. And those choices will change everything.
A half-hearted prayer in May. A couple of brutally honest conversations in June. Long, quiet walks in the cemetery in August and September, with a familiar voice speaking through my AirPods.
All choices. All changes.
It was a dark and heavy year, but as I write this, knowing the children will soon be awake and running for their presents, and that Jeff will kiss me good morning and happily put together their new gadgets and games, I feel as light as new snow.
Because I know that I am a Christian. And I also know, more deeply than I ever have, that God is pleased to dwell with sinners.
He is the only Friend who knows who we really are, and who we’re meant to be.
“For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." Colossians 1:19–20
P.S. I was listening to this song by Ruston Kelly while I wrote this. I think Tim Keller would’ve loved it :)