Questions: Why?

I haven’t received any questions this week, so I thought I would take the time to answer the question as top why I of all people considers himself a Christian. I really wanted to focus on the philosophical reasons as to why I believe in and follow Christ but I realized that those reasons would mean nothing to you if you don’t know my story. For some of my readers I may be rehashing information that you already know but for others who are new readers I think you will appreciate knowing where I am coming from. My story can be best summed up with a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

As for myself, I confess that I am a child of my age, a child of unbelief and doubt up to this moment, and I am certain that I shall remain so to the grave. What terrible torments this thirst to believe has cost me and continues to cost me, burning ever more strongly in my soul the more contrary arguments there are. Nevertheless, God sometimes sends me moments of complete tranquility. In such moments I love and find that I am loved by others, and in such moments I have nurtured in myself a symbol of truth, in which everything is clear and holy for me. This symbol is very simple: it is the belief that there is nothing finer, profounder, more attractive, more reasonable, more courageous and more perfect than Christ, and not only is there not, but I tell myself with jealous love that there cannot be. Even if someone were to prove to me that the truth lay outside Christ, I should choose to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.

I was born 35 years ago on Nov 2nd 1977, I was originally due on Oct 8th but there were issues with my birth and my mother was in labor with me for almost an entire month. I don’t know how I survivve the birth, I probably shouldn’t have but it’s a miracle that I did. Because of the trauma I suffered I develo9ped various disabilities, most of them having to do with fine motor skills. My eyes didn’t work right and I had 2 surgeries by the time I was 5 to correct them. I was also born with a high functioning form of Autism that we now know as Aspergers Syndrome but back then we didn’t really have a name for what I had.

I had many problems going through school, I was abused by my peers and even by my teachers. I had a difficult time staying focused on school work and I rarely did homework, partly because I had trouble with writing and partly because I didn’t understand the concept of doing school work at home. So starting in the 1st grade I had teachers who believed the best way to handle the issue was to withhold lunch from me until I had the daily work done. This caused me to obsess over food for I hated the pain I felt when I was hungry. I would come home and eat until that feeling went away. I went from being a skinny kid to being fairly chubby. I was also bullied by other kids for various reasons, mostly because instead of playing with other kids I would go off by myself and walk around in circles flapping my hands around. This was the first time I ever heard the term retarded and I spent quite a bit of time wondering if that was truly what was wrong with me.

We didn’t go regularly to church when we were kids but we always believed in God and Jesus. I remember getting saved when I was 12 years old, I had gone with friends to a Christian concert and I participated in what is known as an alter call. I said a prayer known as the sinner’s prayer and I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior. This would not be the last time I said such a prayer but more on that some other time.

Throughout Jr High and High School I was a dedicated Christian, my family even started going to church. I was baptized the same day as my mother and brother. Also throughout Jre High and High School the bullying had continued and in  many ways had gotten worse. I was begining to lose my self esteem, I was beginning to see myself as my tormentors saw me. I started having issues with anxiety and depression. My Senior year was the worst, for most of the year I didn’t feel as if I had any friends and I would spend a lot of time in my room alone. I was even losing interest in band and choir, things didn’t seem to matter as much as they used to. This was the first time I seriously considered killing myself. I even began to think that God hated me, that he created me to be a big practical joke and I began to wonder if I was going to go to hell. My poor brother didn’t have it much better, he had Epilepsy which not only caused seizures but also caused him to act out in many ways. It caused him to be violent and he had very little impulse control. In many ways the only thing that saved us both was each other.. We had become best friends.

Then on August 27th 2001 at the age of 26 my brother was accidentally killed in a car accident. This was the final nail in the coffin of my faith which started to fail me back as early as high school though I fought for it for a long long time. I couldn’t understand how a God could allow something so horrible to happen to someone who loved him so much. I didn’t know if there was a God anymore, there certainly wasn’t a personal God and if there was some sort of being out there I knew that I didn’t want anything to do with him. All following him did for me was cause me pain, I became deeply depressed, I was drinking and smoking pot as much as I could and in many ways I just wanted to die. My weight had ballooned all the way up to around 360 lbs and I didn’t care. I resigned myself to enjoy as much of the pleasures of this life as I could for as long as I was alive. I met a girl online and we started dating but I wasn’t ever really in love with her nor was she in love with me. We even got married but it never really took. I was messing around with women on the internet and she had a guy she knew move in with us as a roommate. After 2 years of a miserable marriage I left my wife at the time and started having an affair over the internet with a girl who was also married. She had told me she was being abused and I gave her every reason to leave her husband and be with me but she never did and that was the 2nd time that this life almost killed me.

I was fed up, fed up with life, with God(if he even existed) and with all of the pain I had gone through when things started to slowly turn around. I happened to meet my wife Corrie on the internet one night, just a total chance meeting. There was obvious chemistry there and we been talking to each other every day since. I moved her to Tucson to live with me which was against her conservative parents wishes but we didn’t care we both found something we needed in each other. I asked her to marry me and she said yes. That’s when everything that I had never actually dealt with finally bubbled to the surface. THe bullying, the loss of my brother, my issues with faith, all of it. I started having panic attacks, big ones. I had always had the occasional panic attack but these started happening every week, sometimes more than once per week.  Even worse than the panic attacks was the constant feeling of dread I had, I was worried about everything. I thought that it was just the wedding I was worried about but even after Corrie and I got married they didn’t stop. I finally had to get on medication to calm me down but there was still turmoil in my life. I lost 2 jobs because of anger issues I was dealing with. I thought that falling in love with the right person would fix every issues I had in my life. What else needed to happen?

It was around this time that I started having honest conversations about God and faith with my wife. I asked her candidly what it would mean to her if I gave faith another try and she said it would be really important to her. I made her no promises except to check some things out and so we started going to churches. The first church we tried was too big, too…. ‘church-y’ for what I needed so we kept looking. After reading Blue Like Jazz and seeing the type of church that Don Miller was a part of I knew that was what I needed to find, something missional. I did a search for missional churches in Tucson and found 2, Revolution and The Village. I told myself I’d try them both out and see which one I liked the best. I went to The Village that next week and I still haven’t been to Revolution.

I’ve been going to The Village now for 3 years and I have learned so much about God and myself there. In those 3 short years I have become a drummer in the worship band, a member of the leadership team. I lead a bible study, visit people when they are sick in the hospital, cry with those who grieve and pray alongside everyone who asks me to. I cannot begin to discribe the difference in character that I have noticed in myself, I am far from perfect but day by day I am becoming more and more Christ like. My marriage is stronger, it will be 5 years this August. I have less demands about how life is supposed to be and more longings for how I can better serve those that are around me. God has put it on our hearts to move towards foster care and adoption and more and more each day I see myself learning how to be a pastor, perhaps of The Village someday or perhaps I’ll be called to plant my own church. I will be preaching my 2nd sermon ever this July, I cannot believe that me the guy who hated God and never wanted anything to do with him is doing the things I am doing now.

If you were to ask me why I am a Christian there are 2 reasons I can give you. #1 is because looking back over my life it’s obvious to me that someone has been guiding it all, that the things that have happened could not have happened by chance. It would take more faith to believe that than to believe that God is orchestrating everything. The 2nd reason is the resurrection. The more I look at the evidence, the theories that surround the evidence, I am convinced that there was a Jesus and that he was raised from the dead. Next week I will go into more detail for those reasons. For now it’s my prayer that my story has helped you in some way. I hope you will find the furious love of God for you, somewhere in my story.

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Hellbound? A review and some thoughts

I finally had the chance to sit down and watch Hellbound? Today. I’ve been waiting about 2 years to see this film which began filming in the aftermath of Rob Bell‘s Love Wins book. It’s a movie that delves into some deep theological areas all surrounding around ideas about where we will go after we die. There is a lot to unpack about this film but first things first, if the subject matter is interesting to you you should go and watch it.

The thing that I love best about this movie is it gets rid of the notion that there are black and white answers to any of these questions. There just aren’t. There are answers that are more widely accepted than other ones but those answers suffer the same handicaps as the othger questions. They require a certainty that no on on  earth has. There are scriptures that seem to point to the fact that there is an eternal hell awaiting some of us when we die but there are also scriptures that seem to speak of the salvation of everyone. I think Kevin Miller did a good job of handling the subject matter pretty evenly, there is a slight advantage to the universalist viewpoint but Jerry Walls, Mark Driscoll and Greg Boyd all got quite a bit of screen time and none of them are universalists.

I would have liked to have seen someone like NT Wright interviewed for this thought I am sure he;d be reluctant to participate. He offers a strikingly different viewpoint on this whole matter that I think adds to the complexity of the debate.

Entirely too much screen time was dedicated to Westboro Baptist, I think at this point of time everyone knows what they believe and everyone agrees they are as far from Christianity as one can get. To keep going back to them again and again  really didn’t push the conversation forward.

I also think continuing to include Chad Holtz without any kind of edit or allowing him the opportunity to express his new views on the subject was a bit sloppy. For those that don’t know Chad is a pastor who lost his job after defending Love Wins in a letter to his congregation, he has since changed his view on Hell and has expressed this change publicly. I don’t agree with many of Chad’s current conclusions but his interview should have been removed or he should have had a chance to share his new thoughts.

Overall I am happy with the questions that the film was asking, I am very happy with the sense of uncertainty that the film leaves, these are important questions, not ones to be taken lightly but ultimately they aren’t questions that any one of us can ever know for sure. Perhaps the uncertainty about what happens after we die should lead us to another set of what I think are more important and more pressing questions. What are we going to do with the gospel today? What else might have Jesus been saving us from if not just from hell?

Very little time is spent on the life to come in the bible, most of what we find there has to do with this life, the here and now.  I think it is safe to assume that most of our focus should also be on how we are living this life, not so much where we will spend eternity, but more about how we can serve God and others here.

That is not to say that healthy debate and speculation isn’t good for us but we need to be careful as to how we frame that debate. Humility and respect is of the utmost importance. I’d personally like to see more of that in many of the areas that we discuss. Creation vs evolution, whether or not gifts of the spirit still exist, even the very nature and existence of God. If both sides of any topic would learn to respect the other side I think our conversations could become a lot deeper than they are currently.

I am not at all certain about what happens when we die. I tend to lean towards something that I guess could be called universalism but there is a hefty amount of “I don’t know” in almost all of my theological ideas. This allows me to explore things and keep an open mind about what God is doing and where he is leading me. The Bible is not a black and white book so it does not allow me to have a black and white theology. I am certainly never going to assume that I know for sure the final destination of any individual or even any one group. I think our lives DO matter here as do our choices. I am not one to believe in some get out of jail free card for anyone, including Christians, we will ALL give an account of what we have done here and we will all need to work out our OWN salvation with fear and trembling.

Jesus doesn’t want to get you out of hell, he wants you to pick up your cross and follow him into death. Death to ego, death to self, death to making this life about how much you can get out of it, death to idols of money and toys and sex and power. Those are the things I believe will be burned up in hell and that process will be painful. Many of us are already going through that process right now while we are still living. I have seen things that I thought were important getting burned up right before my very eyes.

I am very glad that Hellbound is around for people to watch and to spark conversations like this. Maybe we’ll find that when we are talking about final destinations we’re missing the whole point of who Jesus was and what he did on the cross. Maybe we’ll understand what it means to follow him. Watch this movie alone and in groups of people and have conversations about it. You’ll be glad you did.

Lamentation

1I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
    in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
    and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
    with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
    like those long dead.

Lamentations 3:1-6

I have recently been studying the laments of the bible. Not just those in the psalms though many of them are found there but others in the text as well. This is language that I can honestly say in many ways I wish wasn’t in the bible but in other ways I am glad it is.

Let me start with the reasons I wish it wasn’t

I want faith to be about victory, not only the victory of being reconciled with God but also victory in my struggles and pain in this life. I want the affliction that I have suffered at the hands of others to mean something and to be made right not in some far off heaven which we can;t even know for certain exists or not but in the here and now. I want some of the things that have happened to me to be avenged, yeah I said it. There is a part of me that wants the most graphic language of the imprecatory psalms or cursing psalms to come true to my enemies. Stuff like

“Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave.”

Psalm 55:15

I want to believe that once you’ve found Jesus that life, THIS life, will somehow magically work out. That there won’t be anymore pain and suffering, That I was made for greatness and the wasteland I leave behind in my youth only adds dramatic affect to that reality. But the laments prove me wrong, that men of God, even the greatest members of God’s hasll of fame, suffered greastly even after they dedicated their lives to following him.

King David in psalm 22 cries out in anguish

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Paul cries out in Romans 7

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

All over the text of my most holy book I see men and women, dedicated to the path that GOd has set out for them, struggling, suffering, crying out in grief and anger.

I don’t want this to be the way!

But(and you will notice in the laments that there is almost always a ‘but) I am also glad the laments are there for us to read.

Because they let me know that I am not alone. They remind me that even giants of the faith, even Jesus himself had grief and sadness and anguish in this earthly life. They remind me that God does his greatest work through suffering people, including THE greatest work of all which is the atonement for the entire world.

I am in good company!

And.. no matter how much I selfishly wish it was sometimes, this life I have chosen to lead is not about my comfort, it is not about my earthly desires, it is about him, Jesus, and the work that he is doing for this world and the broken sinner who dwell on it.

It is about my chance to take part in that work, to further the gospel, to give aid and comfort to people just like me who leave behind a landmine in their past.

They also remind me that, in the midst of whatever I might be going through, that laments, honest crying out from my soul in grief and sadness, is as much a part of worship as my thanksgiving in good times is. It reminds me that those giants of the faith were not afraid to come to God and leave it all at his feet, even their rage, even if that rage was sometimes directed at him.

I am thankful that I serve a God who invites me to experience all of my emotions and allows me the opportunity to express myself out of all of those emotional states, that he cannot be shaken in his love and fondness for me even when I feel like the entire world is falling apart around me.

I love and hate the laments of the bible. They are an eyesore for someone like me who wishes that life could be led without suffering but they are manna for a guy like me who sometimes wonders if he is all alone in the pain I have experienced.

How about you? What is a lament that rings true in your life? Share the verse with us. ALso have you ever thought about writing your own?

Yeah.. I listened to that!

So I have been trying to think of some fun stuff to do on this blog as well as writing the more serious stuff and one of the things I figured I’d do is share some of the gloriously horrible Christian music I would consider guilty pleasures. Please understand, as bad as some of this stuff is I have no intention on mean spirited jabs, I sincearly loved this stuff as I was growing up and some of it still has a place in my heart. I’ll start with a good one.

Dude! Seriously!  I used to crank this song up so loud. Yeah buddy!

PS If you can think of a better name for this feature let me know.