Monthly Archives: March 2011
“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.”
— N.T. Wright
God is good. If anyone tells you differently, please ignore them. That is not what I’m talking about today. What I want to explain is that God is not a good idea. To put it another way, God is not the manifestation of concepts, ideas, or virtues. God is real and alive. He is many things, but they are merely pieces of a character too incredible and immense to comprehend.
The Bible tells us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Does this mean that all things we call love are representations of God? Or, does it mean that love is God? When two teeny-boppers are making out in the back of a movie theater, is that God?
We have all of these “good” concepts like truth and honesty and faithfulness and peace and justice and grace. Did people recognize these things over the centuries and then develop the character of God? Did they take the best parts of humanity and construct the Almighty?
If you see God as a mere symbol for what’s good about humanity, you had better stop praying to Him. You’re wasting your time and fooling yourself. If God isn’t real, or alive, or a person (as seen in Jesus Christ), He only exists in your mind. He is only as big as your head.
God is not a good idea, or even many good ideas. God simply IS. He refers to Himself as I AM. (Exodus 3:14) Jesus refers to himself as I AM. (John 8:15) God is not our creation. We are His. Anything we know of His character, He has revealed to us. Anything that is truly good in this world comes from Him.
God is a person, and not a concept.
This should humble you, creature.
How does one get to heaven? You know, in today’s world (at least the part I live in) people don’t usually ask this question straight away because it makes everything sound fluffy and imaginary. If people start talking about heaven with pearly gates and white clouds, I don’t know about you, but I start to feel uneasy. Most of the time, when people are talking about heaven they are talking about the place that “decent” people go when they die. And I think that’s the problem. That heaven is lame. A heaven made up of people who were good enough, or at least not too bad may as well be hazy and full of harps. It’s the heaven of a fake religion. Unfortunately, it’s a religion that many many people halfheartedly believe.
The religion I’m talking about says that as long as you’re basically a good person, God will let you in. It’s a religion that shuns the murderers and the rapists and the Hitlers and the Stalins, but if you’re just a regular person paying your taxes and going to work and trying your best, you’re good enough to make the cut. It’s a religion that puts the focus on you, and the things that you do and have done. It is a self-centered religion that asks very little of you. Just don’t hurt anyone. If your idea of Christianity is anything like what I just described, you are way off. You are so far off the mark that it would be like stabbing yourself in the face in a game a darts. The crazy thing is, many people think they’re right on the bullseye.
Here is the problem with this wishy-washy half-hearted religion of morality; it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. The whole point of Jesus coming to earth and dying on a cross wasn’t so that people could have a place to go on Sunday morning. And it certainly wasn’t so people could feel good about how good they were. He sacrificed his life so that you could have life. And how do you acquire this life? You get it by believing in him, and by allowing God to shape you into his image. It’s a process full of pain and joy and questions and answers and faith and doubt and love and death and every other aspect of life that makes it incredible and real. But the whole point of it all is God. It’s not about you. And the paradox is that you really start to live when you give up your life for his sake.
When it stops being about heaven, and it starts being about how much you love Jesus Christ for who he is and what he did, you’ll find that this kingdom of heaven is already upon you. You’re not trying to get to some place in the clouds, you are walking hand in hand with God.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14: 1-7)
The Christian understands that no one could ever be good enough to deserve heaven. The Christian understands that Jesus Christ is more precious than any vision of heaven, and he is the only reason that anyone could enter in. Jesus asks much of us, and he promises hardships and suffering. But he also promises never to forsake us. It’s a difficult path, this walk with Christ, but it is a good path and a true path and the only way to heaven. This is a heaven worth hoping for. It’s a heaven full of sinners and wretches who found forgiveness and grace and love.
It’s a heaven where Jesus Christ abides.
What is the gospel? What is this good news that Christians are bringing up all of the time? You know, in my short time here in this life I have come to a conclusion regarding this good news in our culture: most people don’t know it.
No way! Everyone knows about Jesus and Christmas and Easter and the cross and the resurrection and all of that “good stuff”. After all, there are movies and books and people talking about it all of the time, and many people are dragged to church at least once in their lives. How could they not know what the gospel is about?
In the Bible, Jesus goes from place to place healing people and casting out demons and teaching these incredible things with an authority that no one had ever seen before. And everyone who witnessed it believed in him, right? Wrong. Many people still didn’t believe in him. He was right there! He was right in front of them, and they still didn’t get it. Jesus said, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:13) The truth of Jesus Christ might be right in your face, but it isn’t sinking in. And the thing is, you probably think you already know it. But you might not.
The precursor to the good news is that you’re a wretched sick self-centered sinner with no hope for life. Are you with me so far? This is important. This is the part that many people today don’t understand. I want you to ask yourself, am I a good person? If you’re a good person and you are well and satisfied, the gospel isn’t for you. Why would it be? If you’re healthy, you don’t go to the doctor. It’s a waste of time and you don’t want to be around sick people. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) If you are fine on your own, why would you want to accept a teaching that calls you a wretched sinner deserving of punishment? I certainly wouldn’t.
If you think you are well, you will not understand the gospel message. You will not find Jesus Christ.
If you don’t want to look inward, I challenge you to look outside of yourself. Look at the world around you, and also the world in general. Is there more evidence that people are good deep down inside, or is there more evidence for what the Bible teaches? Be honest.
Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! (John 8:43-45) Jesus
The good news comes after the bad. The bad news is that you are wretched. The good news is that God Himself made a way to save you from this living death.
Jesus and God are one. The Bible is very clear on this. “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) Jesus dying on the cross was a way to satisfy God’s wrath and justice regarding our evil natures. Since Jesus forgave those who came to him, and since he is God in the flesh, he removed the punishment for their sins. And since he raised to life again, he can provide life for those who follow him.
The cross is at once a clear illustration of the evil present in our world and the extent to which God loves us. The good news is that, though the world is very evil and full of pain, God loves you to the point of dying for you. He is eager to call you his son or daughter.
The good news is that, though you deserve death, God gave His life to save yours.
I’m about to give you what Christians like to call a testimony. What it really is is a story about how one comes to know Jesus Christ. Some stories are really incredible. I know a man who was dying in the hospital with kidney failure, and though he didn’t know Christ he turned to him in a final moment of desperation. Immediately he got out of his bed and peed two large kidney stones without any pain. He was healed, and later went on to become my parent’s pastor. Now he is a missionary in Guatemala. My mother was plagued with nightmares about a man in black coming into her room throughout her life. Soon after accepting Christ she experienced another vivid nightmare and commanded the dark presence to leave in the name of Jesus. On that occasion she felt led to a specific verse in the Bible (she didn’t know the Bible at all at the time) and it read, The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:20) She never had another nightmare. Wild stuff, and there’s plenty more.
My story is a little different. It doesn’t have miraculous healing or men in black. But it is still pretty incredible. Hopefully I can do it justice in this little post.
It begins with my mother praying for a son before I was conceived. She asked God for a son, and also that he would serve the Lord (God) throughout his life. Not long after that, I was born. I really believe that any true account of my life has to begin with this prayer. Did my whole life begin with a prayer? That might be cooler than the kidney stones.
My youth was not particularly a good reflection of the Christian life. I mostly hated to go to church and I killed animals for fun. I also swore like a sailor. But even with all of that going on, I should point out that I always had a sensitive spirit. If I steered clear of church or anything related to God I would become drained and irritated and an overall worse person. When I read the Bible or listened to a sermon I felt something stir inside. At a very young age I claimed to accept Jesus Christ as my savior, and perhaps I really did, but I wasn’t walking with him. I wasn’t living for him. I was largely a nominal Christian (in name only). This was true through high school and into my freshman year in college. You see, up to this point the story isn’t that interesting.
My freshman year sucked. I experienced a painful break-up and I hated my dorm. I went home almost every weekend to get away from it. My roommate, Eric, was cool, and I did have a few friends from home, but overall I felt like garbage. My world was shaken up, and I felt lost and angry. At this time I filled out a random survey in the dining hall. It turns out that the survey was put out by a Christian group called the Navigators as a means to recruit anyone seeking God. If I had known that at the time I probably wouldn’t have filled it out.
I remember Jeff Campbell and Steve Yeakley coming to my dorm room asking if I wanted to go with them to one of their “meetings.” I absolutely did not want to go. Why would I want to hang around with a bunch of Christians singing sappy songs? Reluctantly, I would go. But oftentimes I would make up an excuse and dodge them. I really wanted no part. In my mind I had all of the answers, and I didn’t want to talk about my personal life with a bunch of strangers who were probably hypocrites anyway. I recall sitting in a car with one of the senior Navigators and telling him that I didn’t belong. I could never feel comfortable with a group of Christians.
A critical moment came when an acquaintance from high school ran into me on the way to one of the meetings. He asked where I was headed, and when I told him he replied, ” Really? I thought you were an atheist.” What!!??! That was shocking to me. How could someone think that I was not only not a Christian, but a full blown atheist?
Perhaps the most important event at this time was when a friend named Dan Kim asked me if I wanted to read the Bible and pray with him in the morning before school. This terrified me, but for some reason I agreed. All we did was read a passage and pray together. I had never done that, but it affected me in a big way. Suddenly everything I always said I believed was made real. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20). Christ was there that day, and I would identify this as the true beginning of our walk together.
After that I read the Bible like a child discovering the world for the first time. Suddenly all of it mattered to my life because I knew in my heart that it was the word of God. I got a great deal from Bible studies, and remember a stretch where I felt incredible excitement and energy for God. I experienced tremendous personal growth as I began to see the areas of my life that needed help. And I also started to find great joy in being with other Christians. I no longer kept them at a distance. A group of people who love Jesus and live accordingly is called a Christian community. I was part of a Christian community and I liked it a lot.
So if freshman year was the breaking, and sophomore year was the building, junior and senior year were the working. I was given the opportunity to start a Christian magazine alongside other Christians at UMass. This project demanded a great deal of time, prayer, faith, and plain old work. We were on the front lines of spreading the good news about Jesus Christ to a very secular campus. There was much pain involved, and I was broken and humbled by physical pain and emotional strain from the first day it all began until graduation. I believe in the spiritual realm, though many American Christians do not, and I really believed in it when we started to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ in a land of spiritual darkness. If you encroach on foreign soil, there will be consequences. Nevertheless, God enabled us to do this work. It was the single most important endeavor of my life up to this point.
So now what? College was an incredible time of personal and spiritual growth. I was walking hand in hand with Jesus Christ! But now I am looking for my path. Now I seem to be waiting for God to grab my hand again and take me somewhere incredible. Interesting things are happening.
I am blessed to have a girlfriend who shares my love for Christ. Nicole is an inspiration and encourages me to seek after God.
I have also been fortunate to make friends who also love the Lord and have invited me to join Bible study and just hang out. Through my friend Tim I have also started going to a church in Auburn called Faith Baptist. I’m really liking it.
Before I end this, I really need to let you all know something. My walk with Christ isn’t just this big stuff that I’ve mentioned. Actually, it’s mostly not any of that. Really, it’s the day to day living. It’s the small choices and the quiet prayers. It’s praising God for anything and everything. It’s the peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ and walking beside him through life. I love Jesus, and there are many reasons to if you read the Bible, and if you experience his love for you from those who already love him. You’ll notice I say love quite a bit when speaking about my God. You’ll notice that.
I hope you’ll continue on this journey with me as I dig deeper into some of the issues preventing people from experiencing the love of God.
Sometimes ideas float around in our heads for hours or days. Sometimes they simmer in our minds for months or even years. For a good stretch of time I have thought about writing on what it means to live as a Christian in this place and at this time. Certainly, I have addressed this from time to time in past blog posts, but I have never made it the focus. Now is the time to brush aside the excess and the filler in order to see what’s really going on. It’s time to cut to the chase, get to the point, and to get on with it already. In the clearest and most honest way possible I intend to reveal exactly what it means to “walk with Christ.” I’m tired of the jargon. Only straight talk from here on out. Here it goes.
My intentions, so you know precisely where I’m coming from, are to identify critical areas of confusion regarding the Christian faith, and also to explain boldly and unashamedly what it means to live for Jesus Christ in this present age. Having lived in my culture for twenty-four years, and having actively pursued a life of faith for about five, I am confident that I can address these things with a high level of competence and conviction.
You may find this of interest even, and maybe especially, if you identify yourself as non-religious, atheist, agnostic, or simply secular. Everyone appreciates honesty, and every intelligent person appreciates knowledge. I aim to provide you with the inside scoop. I’m going to show you the dark underbelly of Christianity. Much of it isn’t pretty, but all of it is true. That is my solemn vow to you.
Who am I to speak about these things? I’m not a missionary on the front lines of some foreign battlefield. I’m not a spiritual leader faced with the burdens of many under my care. Heck, I’m not even a husband or father or anyone with buckets of real world responsibility. What I am is a regular guy who knows the love and life of God. And since most of us are regular people, I suppose it makes sense for one of us to speak plainly on this topic. If we always waited for the right time or circumstance before taking action I doubt anyone would have children, or anything else of real value.
I’m tired of the jargon. I’m tired of tiptoeing around the simple truths of the gospel message. I’m tired of the confusion and fruitless banter.
In the following posts I intend to speak plainly.
I hope you’re ready.
(Before I begin I want to address the sharp decline in blog posts. There are a number of reasons for this, but none of them are good enough to keep me from writing. For many months I had developed a good routine of regular posting, but that routine has been broken. For many weeks now I have felt the urge to write, but when it comes to the actual process I have been lazy. I always want to write. I just need to do it. Hopefully this will be the start of a new upward trend.)
When you sign a lease you may notice a section describing “acts of God”. This surprised me. It seemed odd that a legal document would attribute natural disasters to an all powerful being. Aren’t we supposed to be sensitive to those who don’t believe in a god? Shouldn’t it just read, “acts of nature”? Or what about those believers who don’t believe that God causes catastrophic events? Maybe they should be called, “acts of Satan”. Of course, then you get into the whole problem of evil debate, and there just isn’t enough room on any legal document to resolve that one.
In my brief lifetime I have seen natural disasters claim the lives of many hundreds of thousands. If you consider disease to be a natural disaster then you can increase the death toll to many millions. Natural causes end the lives of many. Very recently we saw an 8.9 magnitude earthquake devastate Japan. If what I heard is correct, it was the fifth largest earthquake in recorded history. The earth moves a little bit and all hell breaks loose. But why? Who doesn’t have that question sticking into their mind like a splinter?
Why does this happen?
One scientist gave a very reasonable answer on the news yesterday. He said that there are now 7 billion people living all over the world, and many of them live near the coast. The earth has always been shaking and stirring. With so many people living so closely together, if something happens it can’t be anything but catastrophic. Also, since we can communicate instantly all over the world we are more aware of these disasters. The global community must face the difficult reality of natural disasters. We are at the mercy of natural forces.
Another interpretation is that the world is coming to an end. Disasters of this magnitude happen as a precursor to the end of days where God will pour out His wrath on humanity. Many will use this recent event as evidence for Armageddon. It happened because God is angry and it’s just going to get worse.
Some try to find blame when something like this happens. Innocent people aren’t killed arbitrarily. That doesn’t make sense. They must have done something to bring it upon themselves. When something so chaotic and disturbing occurs, maybe we turn to justice or karma as a source of comfort. Bad things happen to bad people. There is some force keeping tabs, and making the world a fair place to live.
For the one who believes in the goodness and sovereignty of God, these disasters pose a challenge to faith. God can prevent these things. So why would he allow them?
The answers aren’t easy, and sometimes we can’t know them. But when faced with the undeniable reality of massive suffering I am reminded of the Son of God.
Life isn’t fair. The sinless man was scourged by sin.
Life is painful. God was whipped, mocked, and nailed hands and feet to a cross.
God is good. He endured all of it in order to save us.
The cross is at once a reminder that life is painful and unfair, but also that God is more loving and good than we would dare to imagine. It isn’t an easy answer, but how could it be in a world like this?
If you know me, you know that I am overall and abundantly in possession of a sunny disposition. I’d like to remind you of this (or tell you for the first time) so that you don’t have to worry about reading a mopey rant about hating winter. I have made a few observations about the month of February, and I would simply like to express them.
Every year I find myself growing weary of winter after about the middle of January. By the time February rolls around, I have had it. Think about it. It comes after November, December, and January. It’s like winter is punching you in the face for three months and then , in February, you’re on the ground and it’s telling you to bite the sidewalk.
But it’s only 28 days you say. Yeah, they got rid of a few days because people were complaining. Stick an extra day on July and August, they said. This is February’s only redeeming quality, but it’s also 28 days too long.
The snow has piled up for months and it’s getting all black and rock-hard on the sides of the road. No more snow, you think to yourself as you drive by massive frozen mounds wondering when it’s all going to finally melt.
Also, consider the holidays that February gives us. First we have Groundhog Day, which without the movie would be exciting for people living in Punxsutawney, and anyone in elementary school. Not really a holiday in the standing of Christmas, or even Arbor Day. Then we have “Send a Card to a Friend Day” on the 7th, which is really pushing it card companies, since Valentine’s Day is only a week later. Ah yes, Valentine’s. For many millions it is a day to be reminded of your loneliness, and for many millions more it is a day to fulfill a joyless obligation. But for some, perhaps, the day can be used to express genuine affection. It should be noted that Organ Donor Day is also on the 14th, which works because a lot of people are getting their hearts ripped out of their chests anyway.
Honestly, February is just the month that comes at the end of winter. It doesn’t have those warm days that you find in March with its flower buds and returning robins. March is the assurance that warm weather is coming. February is the dark just before the dawn.
Thank God it’s not February anymore.