As a pastor, and someone who is looked to as an “authoritative” figure on the things of God, I get asked a lot of questions. I don’t mind questions at all because it challenges me to look deeper into God’s word for answers. However, what astonishes me is the percentage of people that still have unanswered big questions about God and life. I’m not suggesting that I don’t have questions anymore, but they have changed in scope and focus. I have transitioned from “Why are things the way they are?” to “Things are the way they are, so how do I use my abilities to make a difference?” It may sound like a small transition in thinking, but it’s actually a large leap, and there were a few steps along my journey that were pivotal in completing the jump. The first was what to do with Jesus.
There are a few times a year that people are likely to face their belief (or disbelief) in God head-on. The holiday season leading up to Christmas is certainly one of those times. In my opinion, for those uncertain of their beliefs, it’s becoming more of a challenge to navigate through the sea of political correctness, cries for various religious freedoms, and increasing pressure to live a life without God altogether. One of the stumbling blocks for many who do embark on the journey towards faith is why Christianity? Of all the religions in the world, how can you be certain this is correct? See…it’s one of those big questions I was referring to!
This question, in and of itself, has filled libraries of theological discussion. Fortunately for you, I don’t quite operate that way. In my own life, I’ve set out to make the answers to big questions as simple as I possibly can. As I’ve mentioned before in my writing, I spent the first 25 years of my life as an Atheist. During that time, I had the fortune of studying world religions and received a very unbiased presentation of many of them. Considering I had no belief in God at the time, I was viewing them all through the same objective lens. Nearly all religions have a prophet or spiritual leader. Nearly all have a series of tenants or commands to follow. Nearly all claim to be the “correct” way. However, not all have Christ.
I realize that many people still consider him just a man, not the actual Son of God. Or perhaps they view him as a prophet in a long line of prophets before and after him. However, there are some key aspects of Christ that literally make all the difference in world. For me, the things that set him apart and solidified in my heart that he is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) are that he sacrificed himself for mankind, he rose from death, and he is still alive today! No other person or god can make the same claim. I am by no means exhausting the list of attributes that point to Jesus being the one true Son of God, but merely sharing some keys to what eventually led me to invite him into my life. Here’s was my train of thought in the three areas I specified:
“God sacrificed Jesus on the alter of the world to clear that world of sin.” Romans 3:25 (The Message translation)
My logic - To think that I can go through life without messing up is crazy. I will most certainly hurt myself or someone else whether I mean to or not. Either way, in order to pick myself back up again and have someone who will always forgive me and cheer me on, my mistakes have to be taken care of. Christ did that for me and everyone else.
“After his suffering, he (Jesus) showed himself to these men (the disciples) and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3
My logic – This is not the only historical account that says that Jesus was raised from the dead. Without coming back to life, like he said he would, the argument could be made that he was just a man. His resurrection forced me to make a decision whether I believed it or not. To not believe it crumbles a foundational claim of Christianity, and a person cannot truly embrace what it means to be a Christian. After all, Christian literally means Christ follower.
“I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” Revelation 1:18
My logic – If Jesus is still alive today, I should be able to see evidence of him working in people’s lives. As I simply began to ask those around me that I knew had faith in Jesus, it was clear that each person did have a relevant, personal experience they could point to of him actually doing something in their life.
The evidence I was finding began to mount, and my speculation on the existence of God began to cross into the territory of faith. It was a choice I made! A person can no sooner experience the true love of God without accepting Christ and what he did for them than they can enjoy a refreshing glass of water without putting it to their lips and taking a drink. It’s virtually impossible. I took the drink and my life has never been the same. Jesus describes this exact phenomenon when he said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” John 7:37-38
The next step for me in being confident about God and life was no longer questioning His goodness, motivation, and love for the people of this world. Let’s face it, it’s awfully convenient that God is able to get all the credit for the great things that happen in our life, yet He’s not to blame when something bad happens. This is a hard pill for some to swallow, but it is 100% true. He is good all the time! His heart is for us and never against us. The world He created was perfect and good (see Genesis 1) and everything good around us stems from this. The bad in our world stems from a different place. It came from the choice to follow our ways and desires over God’s (see Genesis 3). This started with Satan and has been in perpetual motion ever since.
I began to realize this because my life choices weren’t producing the good things I was hoping for. I did have good in my life, but not to the degree I wanted. As I drew closer to God, I saw that He wasn’t to blame for the bad and was actually the source of the good! This began to shift my idea of God from a far-away, disciplinarian who was waiting to punish me as soon as I did something wrong, to a close, personal, good and loving Father who made himself know through His son Jesus. All of a sudden, many of my big life questions didn’t seem as unreachable anymore. What was important became sharing this goodness with others who had their own unanswered questions. This work continues to this day.
In the polarizing climate that our country finds itself in right now, it’s going to be increasingly important that each of us is confident in what our beliefs are. This is so we can have a clear indication on how to handle ourselves in an ever changing world. The key in the midst of all of this though is to proceed with love. Fortunately for us, Christ paved the way in this area too. Next week we will look at the Christmas story from a unique angle to find out just how much he did for us when “he made his dwelling among us."