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)

Archive for the tag “Religious”

Uncomfortable Truth

It seems that America is obsessed with comfort these days. Have you noticed all the mattress commercials? They all claim that their brand is the most comfortable and tell us that we need to replace our mattress every eight years to maintain that optimum comfort. One mattress store will even finance your mattress for eight years. (I don’t care how comfortable the mattress is, if you finance it, you’ll probably be up half the night worrying about making your mattress payment).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably more obsessed with finding physical comfort than most people. One of the most difficult things about being paralyzed by ALS is trying to get comfortable because my body is literally dead weight. There’s no turning over or even turning my head in order to get more comfortable when I go to bed. I recently got a new mattress, the one that I see the most commercials for, and it’s every bit as comfortable as the manufacturer claims, and I really do sleep better. (Don’t tell the mattress people, but the mattress I replaced was twelve years old).

So I really appreciate physical comfort, but…

It also seems that much of the Western world is seeking a more comfortable (politically correct…) form of Christianity. Even if I wanted to do so, I’ve concluded that I’m just not clever enough to make Jesus and the New Testament into something more “comfortable.” Even writing this post is out of my comfort zone.

Like a lot of non-Christians, before making a commitment to follow Christ, I viewed Christians as narrow-minded, judgmental and hypocritical. My cynicism about Christians (churchgoers) was so deep that, even after committing to follow Christ, I wanted nothing to do with church or churchgoers (“organized religion“). For about five months, I read the Bible for an hour or two every night. With no preachers or churchgoers to influence me, I learned to just take the Bible at face value – I became convinced that it is God’s word.

truth and comfort
I eventually accepted an invitation to go to church and discovered that most Christians are not narrow-minded, judgmental or hypocritical. I also came to realize that non-Christians can be all of the things that I was accusing Christians of being.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

How does one make words like Jesus’ above quote more “comfortable” for the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu or for anyone else of a different belief system? As I said, I’m not that clever. Even if we “speak the truth in love,” as the Bible instructs us to do, verses like this and so many others can be taken as fightin’ words by many people.

Jesus is not a unifier; He is the most divisive figure in all of history. Trying to make His words more “comfortable” will only serve to strip them of their life-transforming and hope-giving power. Besides that, people deserve honesty not comfortable condescension.

Other than His most devout followers, the only people that Jesus succeeded in unifying was/is His political and religious enemies: “Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day (the day they crucified Jesus); for before they had been enemies with each other.” (Luke 23:12).

CS Lewis

CS Lewis

What would a “comfortable” (acceptable to all religious and political groups) “Christianity” look like? China has already given us the answer. The following are just some of the rules the Chinese state-approved “churches” have to follow:

• The Communist Party has the final decision on who can preach and what can be preached.
• Preaching about the resurrection and the second coming of Jesus is forbidden.
• Gathering to worship outside approved churches and official “meeting points” is forbidden.
• Evangelizing or giving out tracts is forbidden.
• Importing Bibles is forbidden, even if they are given away for free.
• Printing Bibles is forbidden, even if they are given away for free.
• Government officials cannot be Christian.
• Teachers cannot be Christian.
• Soldiers cannot be Christian.
• Police officers cannot be Christian.
• Children and teenagers cannot be Christian.

Obviously the above is not Christianity, but sadly there are many churches in North America and Western Europe that could relocate to the middle of Beijing without having to change what they preach.

China is officially an atheist country, including the education system. But the truth is that China will soon have more Christians than any other nation on earth. The majority of these Chinese Christians meet secretly in house churches that teach the true message of the Gospel. They risk beatings, imprisonment, losing their homes, jobs and even their lives. Like the early Christians and so many oppressed believers around the world today, they’ve chosen the uncomfortable road.

Opendoors.org

Opendoors.org

With the increasing pressure from governments, the education system, the media and even some Christian denominations to make Christianity more politically correct and comfortable for all people, which road will you choose?

God Doesn’t Make Sense!

The fact that God’s nature was difficult for me to understand used to be a real challenge to my faith. This was especially true after being diagnosed with ALS. I don’t remember ever asking God “Why me?” but I naturally wondered why God would allow this or any other horrible disease to strike anyone. I began to rethink everything I knew, or thought I knew, about this being we call God.

One of the first things I studied was the Christian definition of God; the Christian belief that God is made up of three separate beings (Father, Son and Spirit) that are actually one being. This doesn’t make sense! I have heard many different analogies that attempted to explain this concept of this three-in-one God by everyone from children’s church pastors to highly-educated Theologians, but I still don’t get it! I know better than anyone that I’m far from being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after many years of trying to figure out this concept of what we simply call the Trinity, I’ve concluded that no one is able to explain this Triune God in terms that are understandable to even the razor-sharp knives among us. And, I’m now okay with this because –

If we were able to understand God in human terms, He wouldn’t be God; He’d be a man.

C.S. Lewis was one of the best Christian apologists of the twentieth century, but before becoming a follower of Christ, he was an outspoken atheist. He concluded that there was no God because the idea of God didn’t make sense to him. He wondered why a supposedly loving God would allow his mother to die when he was just ten years old. He also wondered why a God that claims to care so much for His creation would permit the horrors he witnessed as a soldier in World War One. I imagine a lot of people asked similar questions after seeing innocent people being killed and maimed in Boston and in West, Texas. But, ironically, it was also this seemingly nonsensical nature of God that brought Lewis back to the God of Christianity.

“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

As a professor at Oxford, Lewis and some other professors, including his fellow professor and friend, the author J.R.R. Tokien (Lord of the Rings) formed a group where they would meet and discuss Philosophy, Theology and other “Big issues.” Tolkien was a Christian and he began challenging Lewis’ conclusions about God. Like me and so many others that have come to a crossroad, Lewis began to rethink his beliefs about this mysterious God.

lewis

 “Atheism turns out to be too simple” – CS Lewis

Lewis also came to the conclusion that mere mortals were unable to fully comprehend what we call the Trinity. And, like me and those who understand the implications of this conclusion, this idea of an incomprehensible God intrigued Lewis. He eventually ditched his “simple” atheism and turned to a complex God.

He wrote: “On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings… On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine…If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about…Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn’t have guessed. That’s one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It’s a religion you couldn’t have guessed.”  

Why do we expect to understand why God allows tragedy and heartache when we cannot even comprehend the makeup of God? We haven’t yet even figured out why people do the things they do. God sees the Big Picture – the eternal picture, the picture that we’re incapable of seeing. For that reason alone we should give Him the benefit of the doubt when tragedy strikes.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Don’t give up!

After reading some of the comments from my last post (“More than just a Dream”), I’m afraid that I might have left the impression that my only hope (for physical healing) is in the next life. If I believed heaven was my only hope for healing, I probably would have checked out years ago. Waiting (for heaven) to be healed is merely my backup plan; it’s my Plan B. Whether it’s through medical science or a miracle from God, even after 16 years with ALS, I’m still hoping for the best outcome here on earth. This is what I believe for others too, regardless of the severity of their trial.

I realize how crazy it sounds for someone who has received a diagnosis of ALS to be hoping for a complete recovery. I’m not naïve; I’ve known so many good Christian people who have died of this and other insidious diseases like Cancer, Heart Disease and Lupus. And I realize that, medically speaking, ALS is 100 percent fatal. Well, technically that’s not true; there are medically documented cases of people being miraculously healed of ALS and even the ALS Association says, “There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.”  So maybe it’s only like 99.9 percent fatal – I choose to believe for that one tenth of one percent chance.

As I typed that, a scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber came to my mind (don’t judge me). In this scene, one of the “dumb guy’s” named “Lloyd,” who’s in love with a beautiful and sophisticated character named “Mary,” is asking her what the chances of them ending up together are:

Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?
Mary: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…
Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.
[pause]
Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

Maybe some of you reading this think I’m like Lloyd for being excited about a one in a million chance of being healed of ALS. Maybe you’re thinking that I shouldn’t encourage people to hold onto “false hope.” I’m definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’m not “Lloyd” either; I’ve been contemplating this for over 16 years and here are some of my conclusions:

  • Miracles by definition defy all natural laws – including statistical probabilities.
  • For the 16+ years of this trial, God has sustained us with miracle after miracle; I don’t think I have the right, nor do I think that I’m qualified to categorize certain miracles as “big” and others as “small.”
  • There’s no such thing as “false hope” when you’re looking to the “God of hope.”
  • Jesus still heals; He “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb13:8)
  • “God doesn’t show partiality.” (Acts 10:34)
  • “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
  • I would rather die looking for a miracle than live not believing in them.

In Daniel chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the Jews bow down and worship his god. All those that refused to bow would be thrown into the furnace that the Babylonians used to make bricks. As most people know, three young Jewish men refused to bow and this is what they told the king; “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

For me, this is more than a great example of strong faith; I believe this is a pattern of faith that all Christians should emulate regardless of challenges we might be facing. We can proclaim that, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from [insert your trial here]. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT… we are not going to serve…” doubt, fear, worry, hopelessness or anything else that destroys faith, hope, joy and peace!

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.

beverages,bottles,cheers,drinks,drunks,emotions,food,glasses,intoxicated,smiley,smiley face,smiley faces,smileys,smilie,smilie face,smilie faces,smilies,smily,smily face,smily faces,symbols,wine bottles,wines

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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