Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

The Day I Discovered Hope

Before becoming a follower of Christ, I was skeptical and critical of anything I considered to be “religious.” And, because I thought those calling themselves Christians were more intolerant and hypocritical than other religions, I was especially critical of Christianity, or at least what I naively thought was Christianity.

I wasn’t an atheist; I believed in a god, but my god wasn’t a judgmental god like I believed the Christian God to be. I cannot blame my negative attitude towards Christianity on my parent’s because they were two of the most non-judgmental people I knew. Nor could I blame my cynicism on the church I grew up in because I rarely went to church as a teenager (when I formed these opinions) and, when I did go, I didn’t really listen to the sermon. I was probably drawing pictures on the church bulletin or daydreaming, which is what teenagers did to “tune-out” before cell phones came along.

The truth is that I had formed a belief about an impersonal non-judgmental “anything goes” god because that was the type of god that suited the lifestyle I was living.

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My Former god

BUT, at the age of 21, while staying in a hotel for a week, I did the unthinkable – for the first time in my life, I actually read the Bible!

One night, while searching in vain for something to watch on TV, I noticed a Gideon Bible on the dresser next to the TV. I don’t remember what motivated me to turn the TV off and pick up the Bible; maybe I was looking for more reasons to ridicule Christianity, but I hope it wasn’t something that shallow.

I began reading the Gospel of Matthew and quickly discovered that the Jesus of the Bible was nothing like the pious preacher-man that I had created in my confused mind. The Biblical Jesus seemed to hate religion more than I did. And, unlike me, He actually knew why He hated religion and could coherently articulate His disgust of all things religious.
He told the religious leaders that they were, “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “fools;” He said that they were, “unmerciful,” “unjust,” “faithless,” “self-indulgent” and “self-righteous.”

I was cheering him on like a 12 year old boy cheering for his favorite superhero as he’s beating-up the bad guys. Then, it suddenly occurred to me – I was one of those bad guys! In my anti-religious zeal, I had become everything that Jesus accused the religious people of being; everything I claimed to despise – I was literally my own worst enemy!

Jesus defined religion as any worldview that “…replaces God’s commands (His word) with their own man-made teachings.” (Matt 15:9 NLT) His overall message was that religion doesn’t draw people closer to God, as it claims to do; it misrepresents who God is and therefore leads people away from God. Because it masquerades as hope (for this life and eternal life), religion is the ultimate tool of deception. Something the Apostle Paul later warned new Christians about;

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” (Colossians 2:8-10 NASB)

I did not commit to follow Jesus (“God’s commandments”) that day; I was (and still am) stubborn so it took me a few years of “research” (living for myself) before choosing to live according to God’s ways. But, I did steal the Gideon Bible and continued to read it over those 2 years (don’t judge me; I made a donation to Gideon’s a few years later when I got a conscience).

Over the next two years of searching for truth, I read my hot Gideon Bible and other books on faith and religion, but never stepped foot in any church. I was more skeptical of so-called “organized religion” than I was before reading the Bible.

Then I met a man at work that, with his thick black beard and gentle demeanor, looked and acted like I pictured Jesus or one of the Apostles looking and acting like. He was a quiet man in his early thirty’s and he knew the Bible better than anyone I’d ever met. And, like the Jesus, he associated with “sinners” and even the worst of them liked and respected him.

I began asking him questions about religion and the Bible and he gave me answers that helped to clear up my spiritual confusion. I also asked him what kind of church he attended and he answered me without elaborating. I was surprised that he didn’t try to convince me that his denomination had the correct doctrine and all others were mistaken. His reluctance to build-up his denomination and tear-down others caused me to think that maybe his particular denomination was the “right one.”

The following Sunday morning, I got out the Yellow Pages (for younger readers, that’s a giant phone book) and found the closest church of his denomination. I was reluctant to go in when I drove up and discovered it was just a small storefront church in a strip mall full of boutique shops and restaurants. After sitting in my car for several minutes, I finally decided to venture in.

As it turned out, I was early and the whole congregation (about 15 people) were having a Bible study. I thought about making a run for it, but a man quickly shook my hand and began introducing me to people.

It was a very casual atmosphere; a small group of “normal looking” people sitting with their chairs in a circle drinking coffee and eating donuts discussing the Bible. They asked me to get a cup of coffee and a donut and join them. I reluctantly agreed and nervously poured a cup of coffee and sat down.

Back then I had a difficult time forming a sentence that didn’t include at least one or two cuss words; not that I ever tried to form such a sentence, but I thought cussing might be inappropriate in Sunday school so I was trying really hard to be on my best behavior. I was doing great until I spilled my coffee all over the new carpet. The cuss words spilled out of my mouth quicker than the coffee had spilled out of my Styrofoam cup. I won’t repeat what I said, but sometimes people say SOB instead of saying the actual words like I did that day – not quietly either!

If those people had judged or lectured me about the evils of cursing that day, it would have confirmed my preconceived notions about church people being harsh and judgmental. But they didn’t do any of that; to my surprise, most of them laughed, but not at my spilling coffee or my cussing; I think they were laughing at the shocked “I’m going to hell” look on my face.

The few minutes that followed erased years of negative beliefs about Christians being self-righteous and judgmental. Several people jumped up and got paper towels and cleaned up my mess. The man that introduced me to everyone poured me another cup of coffee. And the Pastor’s wife assured me that it was okay, others have spilled before etc (I wanted to ask her if they cussed too, but I didn’t).

I don’t remember what the Pastor spoke about that Sunday morning 29 years ago, but at the end of the service he asked if anyone would like to come forward and pray with Him and commit to follow Jesus. I looked around at the 15 or so people in the room to see if anyone was going to take him up on his offer, but found that most of them were looking at me. I finally figured it out and accepted his offer.

Today that once-tiny storefront church is a thriving congregation, but I never went back. Not because I was embarrassed about spilling my coffee and cussing in Sunday school, but I began helping a friend run his restaurant on the weekends so for the next several months I didn’t go to church anywhere. But, the commitment I made that day wasn’t just the emotion of the moment; it was real and permanent. I bought a new Bible and began reading it daily, just like I do today. I promised myself that I would believe the Bible over any church’s doctrine that contradicted it. I made this vow to myself because even then I understood that this was the dividing line between genuine Christianity – hope – and hopeless religion!

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106 thoughts on “The Day I Discovered Hope

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  1. Thank you for the link and suggesting I read this post, I’m glad you found the truth that was hidden behind your misconceptions.

    Personally, I have no problem with religion as a concept or the way that Christianity is promoted by any denomination.
    I just don’t believe. I don’t have the ‘faith’ that must be the foundation for any relationship with God.

    That’s the way it’s been most of my adult life. My accident and the consequences have not helped me find any belief in a caring God, especially now that I am more aware of the suffering good Christians I have met are subjected to.

    I don’t think there’s an answer to the ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ question.

    That’s an example of what stops me finding faith. I’m the kind of person who needs answers. Solid, scientifically proven answers. It’s just the way I am.

    Maybe not forever

    Thanks again

    Steven

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Steven. I hope and pray that you discover faith in Christ (not religion). You may or may not believe in God, but I’ve heard testimonies from former atheists and agnostics that uttered a simple prayer (for faith to believe) that went something like this – “God, if You’re there, give me the faith I need to believe.” God is okay with doubts and questions, Steven. I am praying that He gives you the faith you need.

  2. Pingback: Bill – Unshakable Hope « A Christian Overcomer

  3. Amen… Matthew 10:8
    Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
    101 Comments …
    Thanks For Stopping By …
    enjoyed this story.

  4. lolahbf on said:

    Haha! My mum stole a bible too. That’s how she became a Christian.

  5. I can relate in so many areas.. excellent life-story! Thank you. I was not raised in church, & also wanted to behave. 🙂 I was raised with truck-drivers and bikers, with all the attitude, and cussing. One day it was horribly freezing, and generally I don’t drive with bad weather. I’m in MN. My husband dropped me off at the church, and my friend, the preacher’s bride, and my godly mentor, says sweetly, “I’m surprised you ventured out, did you drive?” and BOOM… I didn’t even think twice, but blurted out “H-no”. I can laugh out loud today, because the same response. No judgement. She didn’t even hear it…true grace. Me, I freaked, laughed with my inner freakout. The kids ALL heard it, and had a few giggles too. It was a grace, and it took time for the Lord to get some of the Egypt out of me. 🙂 Thank you for reminding me of those stories.. we really need to reflect back.

  6. I just LOVE the humor that seasons your powerful words! I was a die hard drug & alcohol user and abuser who thought I was serving God when I made Him second to my #1 ‘god’ of addiction. I paid a heavy price as I faced unspeakable suffering that caused my ‘certain’ death 3 times before I ‘got’ the walk. It’s NOT ‘religion’ that defines our service to God…it’s a transplanted heart!

  7. Wow…first, thank you for liking my blog post. That’s an encouragement for me:) But getting to read this was amazing!! I got goosebumps and shivers (or Godbumps) as I was reading. I was just talking with a friend about how God does not change so that He can reach us. Rather, He changes us so that we can run into His reaching arms. C.S. Lewis said that “Every story of conversion is a story of a blessed defeat.” So thank you for sharing how God has had the victory in your life! God’s Word is so powerful and your testimony is so powerful! Thank you for encouraging me today as I wait for God to take a hold of a friend who is very lost. Hearing how He worked in your life spurs me on to hope. Christ truly is our unshakable hope…thank you for the reminder!

    • Thank you for your kind words. I love the CS Lewis quote! I am reading “Mere Christianity” right now for about the seventh time. I also like another quote of his that might apply to your friend. I don’t have the exact quote handy so let me paraphrase; he said, when a person begins questioning his faith and even the existence of God, he’s probably closer to the Spirit of Christ than he’s ever been before.
      When I was full of doubts and questions, I would have laughed if someone told me that I was closer to the Spirit of Christ than I was when I was going to church and being “religious.” But I now realize that Lewis was right – doubts and questioning is a phase everyone must go through to become grounded in faith. It sounds like you’ve also experienced this.

  8. This is an amazing story of your life! I found that through goose bumps and laughter, I know exactly how you were feeling! 🙂 Thank you for liking my posts on my site too, I really appreciate it!!
    If you ever have the desire, I would love to post your story as a Moment on ComeToJesusMoments! Thank you again and God Bless…

  9. Thank you for your story. I love hearing about people’s conversions and how God has changed their lives. I too am disabled and terminally ill with cancer (stage 4 – inoperable) and have devoted my life to trying to spread God’s Word to others.

    I have shared my testimony in my blog as well (http://christiansareus.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/i-am-second-live-second-1-lies/). I created my blog to try to help guide new Christians in the way that the Bible teaches.

    I really appreciate your commitment to Christ and, even through tough times, you keep your chin up and your hands folded and keep trusting God for as long as you are still on this earth. Although, our promise of eternal life in perfect bodies is very alluring at this point… 😉

    Thanks again for sharing.
    Mark Davis

    • Thank you, Mark. I’m sorry for your diagnosis! I am glad you are growing better (spiritually) instead of becoming bitter. You know, the only way this life, with all it’s trials and heartache, makes sense to me is if it’s all about eternity. I think you would probably agree that this is the message God puts into us when we face a life-threatening illness.

  10. Wow! You have an amazing testimony! I am so thankful that our paths have crossed in the blogging world! You are an inspiration to me, and I was encouraged by the reaction (or non-reaction) of the little group of people in the church where you spilled your coffee. I would like to think that my church would have the same response 🙂 I would like to think that I, would have the same response!
    Thank you for stopping by my blog and “liking” some of my posts. God bless you on this journey through life!

    • Thank you, Becky. I don’t know your church, but I’m guessing that your church and most churches would react that way. Obviously I wouldn’t have thought that before that day. Thanks for your comments.

      • Ahh, well thankfully my church makes every effort to share the gift of God’s grace, and encourage people to come just as they are. So much so, that the name of the church is “Grace”. Simple, and so true, because really, that is what we have all been given.

      • The name of my church is “Grace”….and it is a BIG factor in all that is said and done there. Come just as you are, and we will love and accept you just as you are, because after all….where would any of us be without grace!
        I guess what I was trying to say was, unfortunately the common perception of the day is, you have to be “cleaned up” before you can come to church. Hopefully, it is changing though.

      • Your church sounds a lot like our church, Becky – come as you are!

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