Monday, October 30, 2006

Evangelists against Religion

While I was looking around online, I came across an article about evangelists—but they are of a different sort altogether from the usual sense of the word. They think the world needs to be saved from religion.

The Wired News article linked here, “The Crusade against Religion,” tells all about it (in a 8-page article) from the viewpoint of author Gary Wolf, who says,

My friends, I must ask you an important question today: Where do you stand on God?

It's a question you may prefer not to be asked. But I'm afraid I have no choice. We find ourselves, this very autumn, three and a half centuries after the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo, caught up in a struggle of ultimate importance, when each one of us must make a commitment. It is time to declare our position.

Wolf continues: This is the challenge posed by the New Atheists. We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith . . . .

Three writers have sounded this call to arms,
Wolf states. They are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. A few months ago, I set out to talk with them. I wanted to find out what it would mean to enlist in the war against faith.

Throughout the article, Wolf tells how these three men decry the behavior of Christians, the fight over evolution, religious people’s social struggles, their fundraising, their violence—definitions, falsehoods, and possible scenarios in a world without religion (among other things—8 pages, after all).

What is his conclusion? Here it is:

Wolf says: Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.

I would like to point out this one important thing. In this vast study and effort at spreading atheism, these people have examined mankind from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Don't reject God because of people. If you want to find out whether or not God is real, don’t study mankind. Study God. If you truly want to know if God is real, ask him to show you. He will.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A New Baby

Ooooooooooooo, yikes!!!! We are expecting our eighth grandchild at any moment! It’s a little girl, whose name will be Alaina—unless, of course, they change their minds. They live far away from us, and that’s sad. A couple of us have tickets to fly up to the frozen wastelands to meet her in a few weeks. I feel bad about not being there for her birth. This will be the first one I’ve missed!

A baby is a miracle, a gift from God. We all love her already.

To me, it is amazing that we can know the sex of an unborn child. Then, on top of that, the latest sonogram, yesterday, shows that she has lots of hair, chubby cheeks, and big lips. (All our babies seem to have big lips.) And yesterday, she was estimated to weigh about six pounds, fifteen ounces. The blood flow to her brain is good; her heart is doing fine. Her bladder functions well, and her stomach is full of amniotic fluid. Her head is firmly nestled in the birth canal, but still, yesterday, even with her head in a vise, she seemed interested in putting her hand on her foot.

When I was having babies, there was no way to know all this. Maybe in our skeptical generation, God has enabled us to figure out how to see these things so that we would have even more evidence of his awesome power!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Teenagers and God

I’ve been very concerned about this:

In my last Thursday Thirteen, number 7 said that George Barna’s studies show that

“Although 2/3 of all teenagers say they know all the basic teachings... of the Christian faith, 2/3 reject the existence of Satan, 3/5 reject the existence of the Holy Spirit, and 1/2 believe that Jesus sinned....”

So this Thirteen is an examination of teenagers and God.

1. From “the Science of Religion,” a feature story from the University of Texas at Austin, comes information about studies by Dr. Mark Regnerus about the influence of religion on American teenagers, “including sexual behavior, school performance and family relations.” He found that teens are more rebellious when parents are more religious than they are.

2. But when the teenagers are more religious than the parents, “it tends to boost family relations in the eyes of the child—even more so than when the parent and child are at the same religious level, whether that is low or high.”

3. Lynn Schofield Clark wrote an article called “Popular Culture: Replacing Religion for Today’s Teens?” in which she speculates about the influence of movies and TV on kids’ religious beliefs. She says some teens told her that they were very drawn to films about the supernatural—things that are weird, the paranormal, aliens, and ghoulish critters.

4. Apparently, they don’t usually just say they believe in such things, but they believe “it is possible.”

5. They find appealing the idea that the universe might be controlled by a great force. Maybe it could be God. Or maybe not, they say. Anything's possible.

6. Clark says they “don’t seem to be very interested in learning about ultimate truths from authoritative sources like the Bible or religious traditions.”

7. Clark says they are cynical about these institutions, history, and cultural “truths,” “just as their parents, the children of the 1960s,” were. Let's see . . . this article was written in 1999.

8. Uh-oh, there’s where the knife twists. That means people like me and . . . you? I know that somehow my generation fell down as parents, as far as teaching the children to love God—I include myself here.

9. I wrote about that not-so-little problem in September—about the effects of growing up without religion.

10. Now that we know better, our churches don’t really know what to do about kids. The old ways of teaching children (obviously) didn’t work so well—if I’m an example. They want to know the fiery truth, if there is any. We can't teach it to them if we don't have it ourselves. They believe it if they see in us a consuming love for God and a passionate commitment to his ways.

11. I teach English in a community college, so I spend a lot of time around young adults. They are different from the way I was, and even from the way teens were ten or fifteen years ago. They are hungry for meaning and purpose, and they are on the prowl to find it.

12. The ones who haven’t found it don't know the hope that God offers, and they are scared about facing the world. That’s because they do know that evil is real, whether or not they know to call him Satan. He breathes right down their necks every day.

13. Most of the ones I know who have found God will talk about him openly; they want to write their essays about the works of great, dedicated Christians and about what God means in their lives. They wear Jesus T-shirts and jewelry. They have found that they can stand up with him in the hard choices that face them. They have fire in their eyes and in their hearts, and I am encouraged by them.

God is doing a new thing. Do you see it?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Obama for President?

Hmmm. Here’s an interesting thought. Maybe Senator Barak Obama, Democratic senator from Illinois, will run for President next time.

He is against the war in Iraq—that’s good. But he is a supporter of abortion, and that’s not good. I believe I’ll think about him and pay attention to news. This is most of an article, “Obama, Obama, Obama” by Brian Montopoli that appeared today on the CBS News site.

The press corps has spent the last year or so speculating about – and building buzz for – possible 2008 Democratic presidential candidates who are not named Hillary Clinton. It looked for a while like Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner would take the anti-Hillary role, something that would both satisfy a press corps eager for a storyline and party activists worried Clinton couldn't win. The New York Times Magazine even gave Warner, who is little known nationally, its cover in March.
But then Warner said he wouldn't run, and the press corps turned to Barak Obama, the freshman Illinois Senator who gave 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address. Obama has less than two years experience in the Senate, and he had insisted he had no plans to run for president – until yesterday. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said he will "consider" running after the midterm elections.
What changed his mind? In part, the evolving political landscape – it's hard to imagine Obama making the jump with Warner in the race. But he's also well aware of the boost he's gotten from the press. Obama is presently the most talked about first-term Senator in the land, with the exception of a certain former first lady. He has landed on the cover of Time magazine ("Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President") and has been featured in countless other media outlets, from the Washington Post to Men's Vogue. This morning, put his "Meet the Press" comments among its top stories.
Media critic Howard Kurtz has characterized press coverage of Obama as "unbelievable puffy." He asked on CNN's "Reliable Sources": "[W]hy are journalists…practically trying to draft the guy into a presidential race when he's been a senator for just under two years?"
The answer to that question is complex – it has to do with Obama's genuine likeability, his largely unblemished resume which offers few negatives outside his relative lack of experience, and the press' aforementioned need for a nifty storyline. It also might have something to do with a desire amongst the press corps for a viable black presidential candidate. The last time we saw the press pushing a candidate to this degree was prior to the 1996 election, when Colin Powell flirted with running.
Something of a backlash has already begun – including in the pages of the New York Times, where Bob Herbert is cautioning against Obamamania. And there is also talk that Obama is leveraging all the attention for other reasons – everything from book sales to a chance at a vice presidential slot. We'll see how it plays out, but Obama has certainly been living a charmed political life so far – his opponents in his Senate primary and the general election stumbled thanks to personal issues, his party gave him a prime opportunity to make a national name for himself at its 2004 convention, and the media seems to have (for the most part) fallen in love with him. (And so has Oprah!) It's perhaps no surprise he's thinking about running sooner rather than later – in American politics, the only thing harder than generating Obama-level buzz is sustaining it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Adopting a Baby--Enlarging a Heart

When love takes you in, your life is changed. Love has the power to do amazing things in anybody’s life. Love enlarges your heart and soothes your spirit.

I found a perfect example of this truth when I discovered Amy’s blog, “When Love Takes You In.” Amy and Michael are in the process of adopting a baby from China. Read about their preparations and feelings, and be touched!

My husband and I asked about adopting a Vietnamese baby years ago. But they wouldn't consider us, because we already had three children of our own. They had a long list of people who had no other children.

God creates life--and love.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Here are 13 interesting things about world religions:

1. According to the web site “Religious,” , Christianity has grown tremendously since 1900—from about 558 million to about 2 billion (by 2002).

2. Currently, the largest religious groups in the world are in this order: Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

3. The same site says that in spite of this growth, Christianity is in a slow decline, as compared to the growth of the world’s population; it was estimated that by 2002, Christianity would be the religion of 33.1% of the world’s people, down from 34.5% in 1900.

4. The site also says that Islam is growing rapidly, but it is not as large, percentage-wise, as Christianity. However, at its current growth rate, the estimate is that it will overtake Christianity “later in the 21st century.”

5. According to the web site “Statistics for the Changing Church,” some good news is that George Barna’s research shows that recently, " there has been a rise in the proportion of adults who read the Bible..."

6. But some bad news, Barna says, is that Christians spend much more money on entertainment than on any spiritual activities.

7. And even worse, Barna’s studies show that “Although 2/3 of all teenagers say they know all the basic teachings... of the Christian faith, 2/3 reject the existence of Satan, 3/5 reject the existence of the Holy Spirit, and 1/2 believe that Jesus sinned....”

8. And, going along with those facts, we should know that witchcraft is growing, particularly Wicca. According to an article which may or may not be accurate, the lack of organization among Wiccans makes it difficult to track them statistically, so there are no dependable numbers. But this article might be from a more research-friendly source, and its author agrees.

9. A number of bloggers write about witchcraft, for example, “Tinkerbell,” a witch who lives in the Netherlands. She says that witches do not believe in Satan. Here is a web site maintained by “Ex-Witch Ministries,” where witches can exchange ideas with Christians without being pursued or criticized by them.

10. And with all this in mind, here is something Christians should pay attention to: Barna’s research shows that "Half of all unchurched and non-Christian adults admit that they are seeking meaning and purpose in their life - providing a meaningful entry point for evangelizers."

11. If at least half of non-Christians admit that they are on a search for meaning and purpose, then most of the rest of them are, too. In fact, I believe that this search has always been one of people’s most urgent needs—possibly the most important after survival needs are met.

12. A committed Christian should be aware of this need and be able to discern it in conversation with other people. I think God programmed us in the beginning to search for meaning so that we would seek him.

13. Christians should know with all their hearts that God, through Jesus Christ, is the only fountain of real love and therefore of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. They should be eager to share this understanding.

AND here is an interesting site for the rational seeker of meaning in life.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Difficult Words of Jesus

My blog-o-friend TS wrote that he was reading his Bible—the sixth chapter of John--on the bus recently when he began to question “whether Jesus actually spoke the exact words quoted in John or not.” He says, “This posed a problem, because I believe any real Christian has to believe in the inerrancy of scripture simply because it can't be inspired if it's not accurate. And if it's not inspired, then why are you believing it?”

Through Jesus, God was trying to establish a “new covenant”—a new way of understanding the people-God relationship—a new way of relating. He wants us to be totally committed to him, to be filled with delight in him, to be open to all the riches of his love. He offers a relationship grounded in personal, passionate oneness with him; in fact, he longs for such a relationship with us. We long for it, too, whether we realize it or not, and we have a large, empty space that can be filled only by God.

In the Bible are many images of physical closeness. These illustrate, I believe, how close we can be to God. After I had read these things about 98 times, prayed a lot, and puzzled until my puzzler was sore, I realized that God was trying to show people through these images--especially in images of eating and drinking—how complete oneness with him can be.

In Ezekiel 3, Ezekiel had a vision in which God told him to eat a scroll. He did, and it tasted “as sweet as honey,” and it filled his stomach, so that then, he could go out and talk to the people about God.

The Lord’s Supper is a time of eating the bread (Christ’s body broken for you) and drinking the wine (his blood shed for you). It's a time when we remember him and open our hearts to him.

Jesus offered a Samaritan woman living water in John 4:8-26 . We can find many other “living water” references.

In the part TS was reading, John 6, Jesus said he is the living bread—the bread that gives eternal life. He said, “I am the bread of life. . . . if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then he said, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Some people were horrified because they thought he was talking about cannibalism.

I don’t think that is what he meant at all.

If you think about it, when you eat something, it becomes so much part of you that you can no longer separate it from yourself—it nourishes you, gives you strength, keeps you alive. In a very real sense, what you eat and drink creates you, giving you life. In a physical way, your body cannot live without food and drink. In a spiritual way, you cannot live without “eating” the bread of life—Jesus Christ—taking him into yourself completely so that he is part of you.

“Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:57).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Forgiveness and Love

Gattina wrote a comment on my entry "Love Others..." a few days ago. She said,

I really admire these people having such a faith in god. But I think even people without any believe also could do that. In my opinion you don't have to be a christian and believe in god to be a good and selfishless human. It depends on your character. I think nobody would know himself enough to know the way he would react in such a situation.

Gattina—I think you are right, in some ways.

I think it is entirely possible for people who don’t necessarily believe in God to be good, generous, compassionate, and forgiving. And it is true that no one knows how he would react in a situation like this. But I believe the circumstances here are unusual—the Amish families' forgiveness and the older girl’s self-sacrifice, both. In both, I see great acts of love, beyond what the usual person could give.

I believe average people, believers or not, would have a very difficult time forgiving a man who murdered their children. Believers and nonbelievers both struggle with the need to forgive.

We have a fairly easy time forgiving people when they cheat us in games, when they cut in front of us in traffic, if they talk behind our backs, and maybe even if they are unfaithful in marriage. But the death of a child is one of the very hardest things to deal with—we are supposed to die before our children do. We are not supposed to have to outlive them, especially because of murder. When they forgave Charles Carl Roberts, they sacrificed their self-serving desire to lash out at his family, to hate him. That's what most people would have done.

And the thirteen-year-old girl who offered herself, in hopes that the younger girls might be saved—I believe such acts of selfless sacrifice come from the heart of God. It reminds me of the self-sacrifice of the character Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in exchange for the life of Charles Darnay, for the love of his family. It reminds me of God’s sacrifice of Jesus, in exchange for our deserved punishment, for love of us.

First John 3:20 says, “For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” And verse 23 says, “this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us." Chapter 4, verse 10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And verse 12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Unconditional, sacrificial love is powerful. To be able to love like that takes great faith in God and comprehension of his love. We are called to love the way God does—to love people regardless of the return, regardless of how we are treated.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things about Judy

Here are thirteen things NOT involving technology that I love to do with my grandchildren. (There are, of course, others that do involve technology, but I wanted to exclude that today.)

1. color pictures

2. play with Play-Doh--We like to make “animals” and “food,” especially.

3. watch birds--Last summer, we watched a swallow family that had a nest at the edge of their porch;we imagined what their birdy conversations were.

4. throw the tennis ball for our dog Taz, who is obsessed with this activity

5. make cookies and birthday cakes

6. draw with sidewalk chalk

7. go for walks and pick up interesting leaves and rocks

8. talk in bed at bedtime

9. water the flowers

10. make tents and “live” in them

11. swing

12. pick tomatoes

13. build Thomas the Train tracks

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. My 2 Cents

2. Amy

3. Scribbit

4. TS

5. Tink

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Love Others . . .

Sacrificial love has for some years been a concern of mine. Exactly what does it mean? What does it require of us?

I wrote a series of posts about sacrificial love back in January, in case you wish to read them. I will write about it again, I am sure! I am deeply touched by the Amish people's reaction to the murder of some of their little girls a little over a week ago.

On the “Beta” version of Blogger, we can’t do “blog this” yet; maybe we will soon be able to do it. So in the meantime, I want you to read this excellent piece written by Andrew Thompson, who writes the blog “Gen-X Rising.”

Greater Love Has No One Than This . . .
posted Monday, Oct. 9, by Andrew Thompson

It was one week ago today that a milk truck driver named Charles Carl Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and shot 10 Amish schoolgirls between the ages of 6 and 13. He killed 5 of them and himself. The horrifying and senseless nature of the crime has been placed in bold relief by the reaction of the Amish community, which has both forgiven Roberts and reached out to his widow and children.

Those terrible few minutes in the schoolhouse were also witness to an incredibly powerful act of Christian self-giving. A recent CNN story reports that Marian Fisher, one of the murdered schoolgirls, asked Roberts that she be shot first because she thought it might serve to save some of the younger girls. Her younger sister Barbie, who was seriously wounded but survived, has related the story to adults.

Think about that for a second. Could you make such a sacrifice? Could I?

That 13-year old girl could, and she did. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

This is love as Jesus taught it. It wastes no energy on sentimentality or ephemeral "feelings." It is grounded in a disposition of self-giving and expressed in acts of self-sacrifice. It is the love that all Christians are called to receive and express, however imperfectly.

Faced with monstrous evil, Marian Fisher responded in the most sublime way possible for a Christian - she offered her life for the lives of her sisters.

Monday, October 09, 2006


"I’m not comfortable with fear.” I read this in a comment on another blog; it was written by a blogger called “Peppylady.” I am not comfortable with fear, either.

I decided that fear is very big and nasty and is responsible for much more than we realize.

Here are some things fear does to us:

It stands between us and our self-expression. It keeps us from saying things we want to say or that we feel we should or could say. That covers any number of situations, from when we should stand up for ourselves to when we should ask for help or try to explain something or find out about something we need to know. We don’t know what to say, and so we often say nothing. We often find it is easier to complain or express anger than to say something complimentary, kind, or loving. We have trouble saying, “I love you.”

Therefore, it stands between people, preventing good relationships. When we hold out a tender part of ourselves to another, offering love, risk is involved. A little voice says to us, “What if he doesn’t say he loves me, too?” We find it more comforting to stay safe and just not make the offer.

Because fear prevents good relationships, it keeps us from showing love to our children and our spouses and other family members. We build walls—protective covers to keep ourselves from being hurt. We are afraid to take the risk of loving. We listen to that mean little voice saying “Don’t let him hurt you.” Our children grow up angry and resentful—and full of fear, themselves. It is less risky-feeling to lash out in anger than to speak of love. We cannot forgive, and so hurts may build up for years.

Then when we get thick walls built around ourselves, we can’t let ourselves feel emotion. And we can’t, therefore, feel other people’s hurts. We are too preoccupied with being sure we are treated right to be able to reach out to help someone in need—even people we love.

The Bible says, “There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives fear away. Fear has to do with being punished. The one who fears does not have perfect love” (First John 4:18).

I used to think that meant when people loved each other perfectly, there would be no fear. I thought if people could just get to that point of loving unselfishly, fear and intimidation would be gone.

But I found out not many years ago through praying, reading the Bible, and studying that, instead, it is talking about the perfect love of God. God is love. And when his Spirit lives in us, his love is what sends fear away. We don’t have to fear anything. He is God of peace, understanding, and love—not darkness and fear.

He is real. And he is powerful—more powerful than forces of darkness—and very loving.

The picture is from this web site:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Half Believers

"Light half-believers of our casual creeds."

That’s what British poet Matthew Arnold said about people in the 1800’s in a poem called “The Scholar-Gypsy.” I think it is still a true indictment of us here in America today. We are casual believers. We often act on the Christian beliefs that don’t require a great deal of us and ignore those that do.

Are we too comfortable?

We like to think we control our own lives. We want to do whatever we want to do, and then when things fall apart, we want to take care of it ourselves, deal with it, solve it. We often make a mess of things. We often blame other people for our actions and choices. The Australian—The World has an article about this tendency, as seen specifically in the Mark Foley scandal.

The Bible teaches that we have a choice to give our lives fully to Christ.

What would happen if we really tried to live by the teachings of Jesus?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thursday Thirteen--Hunger for the Spirit

People everywhere today hunger for the Spirit of the Lord, but they often don’t recognize their longing for what it is. How do I know that? Look at the state of the human spirit. Thirteen signs I see, and lots of each one:

1. Anger

2. Loneliness

3. Isolation

4. Fear

5. Emptiness

6. Violence

7. Perverse sex

8. Addiction to pornography

9. Depression

10. Rudeness and personal rejection in the “big put-down”

11. Preying on the vulnerable

12. Blaming others for wrong behavior and choices (when

13. Drug use

The answer to this complex problem is simple: cry out to God; ask for his forgiveness and help. Turn to him and follow him.

This is my Thursday Thirteen list. I am subscribed to the "Mr. Linky" auto link thing, but I haven't figured out how to get it to show up on my entries yet! Therefore, if you read this and want your own list linked, please leave a comment so that it will link to you. If you want to look at others, look through comments here, and/or look at this link:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Who Is Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

People’s opinions about who Jesus is are about as varied as the people themselves, it seems to me. That may be because the Bible is a book that many people own, but not many actually read. I have read (somewhere) that the Bible is at the top in book sales, while it is one of the least read books. A sad thing. How do people know who Jesus is if they don’t read his book?

At Boundless: The Line, Motte Brown has a blog entry called “The Real Jesus.” It is a review of an article at Slate called “Jesus Christ: Choose Your Own Savior” by Chris Suellentrop. These both have very interesting thoughts about people and knowing who Jesus is. Suellentrop sounds like the Ironic Secular Public Voice of today as he lists some of the most popular images of Jesus, such as “Manly Jesus,” “Warrior Jesus,” “Blue-State Jesus,” and “Party Jesus.” But in his conclusion, he abandons irony and sounds like a believer. He says,

On the road to Damascus, Paul encountered the risen Jesus, the so-called Living Jesus, the Christ of faith. That's the Jesus that most Christians seek to know and to understand.

I am reading Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. He tells a story about how he and his friend Brooke went to Calcutta to help Mother Teresa one summer, so that they could find real Christianity. They found it in the loving care of the destitute and dying. He says that when Mother Teresa died, a reporter asked him if he thought her spirit would live on. He answered,

“To be honest, Mother Teresa died a long time ago, when she gave her life to Jesus. The joy and compassion and love that the world finds so magnetic are only Jesus, and that is eternal.”

Who is Jesus? He is eternal love.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Faith Story, Revisited

Yesterday I posted the story of how I came to have faith in God. I began by saying, “Sometimes people know exactly when believing in God happens to them, but sometimes people just ease into it and never realize how it happened. Sometimes people are just believers all their lives.”

Kilikana of “Live Each Moment” posted a comment. She said, in part, “I don't believe you can be a believer for your entire life because I believe you have to make that decision for yourself, and are not born into a Christian family therefore making yourself a Christian.”

What I meant was that sometimes children grow up with Christian influence and can't remember ever not believing. And I agree with Kilikana that they eventually have to make the conscious decision to follow Christ as they get old enough to understand the commitment—to grasp the concept.

My daughter, for example, grew up going to a Sunday school class that my mother-in-law taught. She spent a great deal of time with "Mema" and with my parents, who were also a Christian influence on her. She tells me that she can't remember ever not believing in Jesus, even though the rest of us were decidedly lukewarm. She was baptized when she was twelve. During her teen years, her best friends were all Christians, and they read their Bibles and prayed together.

When she was in college, she collided with life in "the world," and she says that in a sense, she lived a double life for a few years--believing, yet not living the Christian life. Sometime soon after college graduation, she made a conscious decision to start living the way she believed. Now she and her husband are making every effort to raise their children in faith. I wrote about that in this entry, “Drew and Jesus.”

Nobody ever just makes himself or herself a Christian. People are sinners by nature; a “sinner” is somebody who does things that cause separation from God. We all have an inborn tendency to be sinful, to rebel against God. We all need his loving forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He seeks us and reaches out to us, but we have to make a deliberate decision to open our hearts to him and follow him.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Faith Story

Sometimes people know exactly when believing in God happens to them, but sometimes people just ease into it and never realize how it happened. Sometimes people are just believers all their lives.

But however it happens, God meets you where you are, in relation to him, and if you are willing, he leads you and gives you what you need to grow into a deeper relationship with him. As Oswald Chambers says in his Sept. 29 entry,

If a man or woman is called of God, it doesn’t matter how difficult the circumstances may be. God orchestrates every force at work for His purpose in the end. If you will agree with God’s purpose, He will bring not only your conscious level but also all the deeper levels of your life, which you yourself cannot reach, into perfect harmony.

This is the story of how I came to have faith in God through Jesus.

For 51 years of my life, until March of 1994, I considered myself to be a Christian. But there was a little contradictory question I had: Is God real?

I was baptized when I was 8. My parents took me to church, and I learned about God. But I never got to know him. To me, he was just kind of out there on the edge somewhere, watching over things in a kindly way.

When I was in college, I came to the “intellectual” conclusion that there was no way to tell whether he was real or not. After this decision, I had a strange, empty, disappointed feeling.

As I went on with my life, I had a lukewarm, sort of distant belief in God--I prayed now and then and took my 3 children to church fairly often, “doing my duty” as a responsible mother. I thought moral goodness and unconditional love were the most important things I could teach my children. As they grew up and began to do things on their own, the emptiness that started when I was 19 began to grow again.

In 1988, my father was hospitalized, very ill with pulmonary fibrosis. He was always a sincere, loving, quiet but straightforward man who had rarely been sick. He hated fooling with hospitals and such things, and the emotions of those who loved him distressed him. He said, "I don't know why a fellow can't just go on when it's his time." In spite of his living will, he was put on a respirator in the midst of a crisis, possibly a heart attack.

He struggled. When he tried to pull out the tubes, they tied his hands. He tried to chew the breathing tube in half until he was exhausted. He tried hard to tell us something; he wanted something. On the seventh day, we bought a child's chalkboard and helped him hold the chalk so he could write what it was he wanted. In a shaky hand, he wrote the word "peace."

Shaken, I went home, took a long walk, and prayed the first truly earnest prayer of my life. I reminded God that my dad had been a good man, had taught us honesty and kindness. I said to God that my dad hated having to struggle with that respirator--and worst of all, knowing he was near death, he hated seeing how upset we all were. I said, "God, if there is no possible way for him to recover, then I pray that he won't have to keep on suffering like this for very long--but that he can just have peace." God honored my request and answered my prayer--and my dad died the next day.

I was shaken all the way into the deepest part of my heart. I felt many different emotions: grief over my father's death; a little guilt as if it were my fault to some extent; profound gratitude that he didn’t have to go on suffering; deep awe of my glimpse of God's caring for us and his power--and. . . I was terrified.

I didn't tell anybody else about my prayer for my dad for six years.

I see now that what I was afraid of for 6 years was this: If I acknowledged the truth about Jesus, I would have to completely reorganize my life with him as the center of it. At the time, all I could think about that possibility was that if I believed God was real, my life would undergo countless difficult changes.

So. . . since I had always been good at lying to myself, I tucked away this shattering encounter with God and went on being noncommittal.

In the fall of 1993, my two sons, then 18 and 21 and in college, turned to the Lord in a strong way. I was glad to see how joyful they were. They said, “I am a Jesus freak.” They said, “I’m a pew-jumpin’, Bible-thumpin’, tongue-talkin’, devil-chasin’, wide-eyed, sanctified child of the livin’ God! Hallelujah!”

One morning we were talking about all that had happened before, which shall remain vague here. Through tears, Brian said to me, "Mom, God gave me back my life--what could I do other than give him the rest of my life?" I was overcome with joy and sorrow and grateful thanksgiving.

I made an appointment to have a long talk with God several days later when I would be driving a few hours alone. While I was thanking him for sparing and saving my sons, God just swooped down and enfolded me. I am sure there was really no audible roaring and thundering wind outside, but there was certainly some there in the car. For the first time, I experienced the power of his love, protection, and mercy. I finally realized that he is incredibly real and that he loves me; immediately, my life began to curl itself around him. After years of active resisting, I began my journey to a fulfilling relationship with him.

During my encounter with God, he saved me from a growing, gnawing emptiness and filled me with such love and wholeness that I was not about to shove him out again. I began to study my Bible and pray, and I couldn't get enough. After a few months, I asked God to forgive me for being so lukewarm all those years and to find a way to use me. About a week later, our new pastor called and asked me to chair the Outreach Committee in our church. This in itself was amazing because for twenty-three years, I couldn't even remember which committee I was on. I knew this was an answer to my prayer. I spent a lot of time in prayer about the work of this committee, and God led me to understand that he wanted me to get involved in his work in the Volunteers in Mission program, through helping with mission trips to Mexico.

The Bible assures us that God has given us everything we need to live a truly holy life and to be a living reminder of Jesus Christ. If we trust in Jesus, we believe just that--we already have what we need, so we can do it (2 Peter 1:3-4). Through our knowledge of Jesus and our openness to be a channel of God's spirit to others, we come to share his divine nature while radiating the love of Christ all around us. Peter tells us that through these promises, we can escape evil; we can control ourselves and get away from the corruption of the world and be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:13-15).

Brennan Manning tells the story of the old Rabbi in his book Abba’s Child. A husband and wife were very concerned about their only son, who was disobedient; he would always leave school and go out into the forest. So they began sending him to the old Rabbi of their synagogue for instruction. They were amazed at the results; he began to go to school and obey his parents. He became kind and loving. They went to see the Rabbi to find out what he had taught their son. The Rabbi said, “When the child comes, I do not speak. I simply hold him against my heart.”

That’s what Jesus wants to do for us. He doesn’t promise that life will be rosy after we become Christians. But through our hearts, he will lead us and sustain us. Then we can hold others against our hearts.

This entry is my part of the "Bloggy Tour of Testimonies," hosted by Lauren of "To God Be the Glory." If you'd like to read some more faith stories, see the long list of participants on the page linked here on her blog. To God be the glory!