The Best Reason TO Believe…

 

During this recent series, “The Best Reasons Not to Believe,” I’ve spent a lot of time reading blogs and writings of people who don’t believe.  I’ve tried not to condemn or judge, recognizing God gives people the privilege of unbelief.  I’ve been surprised at the number of people who no longer believe who started out as believers.  They grew up in church.  Some went to seminary and served in ministry.  Somewhere on their journey, they decided they did not believe and walked away from God.  Most did not embark on a life of debauchery.  They continued to live normal, American, moral lives.

From what I can tell from their stories, their faith did not suddenly disappear.  It eroded over time.  What caused their faith to erode?

  1. They were hurt by church or church people.  They saw people who claimed to be followers of Jesus act in very non-Jesus like ways.  They saw hypocrisy.  After a long period of hoping for things to get better, they walked away from church and faith.
  2. They were disappointed by God.  They were out to change the world and prayed for miracles and the miracles never came.
  3. A nagging doubt grew.  The doubt was often fueled by some tragedy, either personal or global, they could not explain or excuse.  So they turned away from God.
  4. For some, they couldn’t swallow everything the Bible taught or related.  Science and faith battled and science won.  Or they were troubled by the stories of war and bloodshed.  How could God order things?  They had a picture of who God should be and the God of the Bible didn’t measure up.
  5. They put their trust in rational thought.  They believed that everything in life must be explained in a rational, non-mystic way.  Because religion in general and Christianity specifically call for faith, it does not fit their way of seeing the world.

Two things struck me as I read:  First, universally people would describe their life journey of unbelief like this: “I decided I would make my own decisions about life and God and the afterlife instead of relying on someone else.”  Respectfully I would respond we all do this.  Everyone must decide for themselves whether or not they believe.  But I also believe we must ask a follow up question: “Can you adequately see the entirety of your life, your soul?”  The only rational response is “no.”  Who will tell you about your blind spots?  Who will tell you about the dangers you don’t see?  The non-believer would say to me, “You are in danger of spending your entire life worshipping a God who doesn’t exist.”  They are right.  I would say to the non-believer, “You are in danger of living life apart from the God who does exist.”  In these stark terms, this is highest stake issue a human can face.  It requires thought, careful consideration, and full consideration of the consequences.

The second thing that struck me was how many non-believers still admire Jesus.  Charles Templeton, a believer who became an agnostic, said in his old age he missed Jesus.  There is something that is magnetic about Jesus, his character, his teaching.

So what’s the best reason to believe?  Jesus.

If church hurt you, if you have doubts, if you struggle with evolution versus creation, if you agonize over tragedies in the world, if stories in the Bible make you uncomfortable – focus on Jesus.  He is so amazing, so magnificent.  Fall in love with him.

Ever noticed how love can make something make sense that didn’t make sense before?  Fall in love with Jesus and you will find the reasons not to believe go away; the reason to believe falls in place.

How can Christian Claim Jesus is the Only Way?

one way

The argument usually goes like this:  All religions are the same.  Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism are different paths to the same god.  Human beings have gotten it all confused with religious mumbo-jumbo and cloud the picture of who God really is.  If you press someone who is making this argument by asking who is the god behind all religions, they will tell you god is a loving spirit who wants all humanity to live in brotherhood.

This argument has appeal.  It eliminates exclusivity and rivalry between religious systems.  Believers in any faith could no longer judge others who believe differently.  It seems tolerant. But the argument has a dark side.  It rejects the idea of exclusive truth.  Those who advance this thinking end up creating a new exclusivity in the name of tolerance.  They judge those who speak for their faith and act on their faith’s teachings.  They cut off moral conduct from an objective standard of truth.

All religions claim exclusive truth.  Judaism claims keeping rules, laws, and instructions is the way to intimacy with God.  Islam claims the essentials of salvation are the five pillars: confessing Allah is the only god and Muhammed is His prophet; participating in daily prayer; giving alms to the poor; fasting during Ramadan; and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.  Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal god at all.  Hinduism does not believe in one god, but many gods.

Ravi Zacharias, the great Christian apologist, points to the four great questions that every religion seeks to answer: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  Only the answers of Jesus to these questions match the reality of life.

Origin:  Christian faith says we are not identical with God.  We are made in His image, yes, but we are a different order of being.  Hinduism claims we are the same as the gods and through the process of reincarnation, it possible to ascend to the plain of deity (Mormonism also claims it is possible for humans to be become divine).  Because we share the image of God, but are not identical with Him, we have a sense of right and wrong (morality), but we cannot act morally on our own one hundred percent of the time.

Meaning: The God of Christian faith does not ask us to have meaning by being “good.”  Only through true worship – submitting ourselves to Him – do we find the meaning of our lives.  We worship by acknowledging that He is greater and different than we; and we seek His involvement and help in daily life.  This is contrary to Islam and Judaism, which teach your life’s meaning is based on your conduct.

Morality:  This is the oldest and hardest question of humanity: Do I get to make the rules or are the rules made for me?  Contemporary Judaism often finds itself at odds with different interpretations of moral law.  To paraphrase Dallas Willard, Judaism struggles to define who is a good person.  Christian faith is clear: No one is good.  All sin and fall short of God.  Morality and the definition of who is a good person arise from God’s character.  Unlike the Hindu gods, goodness flows out of God himself.  Because no human being is good, only God and God’s power can make a person good.  This is why Jesus had to die on the cross, so we could be made good, righteous.

Destiny:  Buddhism offers Nirvana, an escape from the cycle of reincarnation.  Islam offers Paradise for those who believe and do good deeds.  Christian faith says our destiny is based on the resurrection of Jesus.  This historical event open the door to life change.  Grace can flood our lives.  Barriers that our goodness could never remove are removed by Jesus’s power.

On this, all world religions agree:  If Jesus really did rise from the dead, this means He is God, then Muslims, Jews, and Hindi fail in a serious way to love God as God really is.  On the other hand, if Jesus is not God, if did not rise from the dead, then Christian fail in a serious way to love God as He really is.

So why did God make Jesus the only to Him?  Only through Jesus can our moral failures be forgiven.  Only through the power of His resurrection can our powerless lives be empowered.  Only through Jesus can we find the true meaning of our lives – loving our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and body.

*I’m very indebted to Tim Keller and Ravi Zacharias for their wisdom.  Their thoughts flow through this post.

 

21 Weird Things About Hell

 

 

People have wrong ideas about hell.  Here are some teachings of the Christian faith you may not know:

  1. God doesn’t send people to hell.  They choose to go because they don’t want to be in His presence forever.
  2. There will be a lot of religious people in hell because they knew about God, but they did not know God.
  3. Satan is not in charge of hell.  He is one of the occupants, experiencing the torture of his own fragmented self.
  4. Hell is a riot – because no one can agree.
  5. You want to see hell in miniature?  Look at someone torn apart by addiction of any kind.
  6. People in hell blame other people for not giving them enough information.
  7. People in hell blame God for putting them there.
  8. The fastest way to hell is denial.
  9. In every story Jesus told about hell, no one asked to get out.
  10. Hell is the continuation of your fragmented soul forever.
  11. The fastest way to hell is denial.
  12. Why is hell a place of fire?  Because fire dis-integrates.  Hell is a place of dis-integrated souls.
  13. Hell has no mercy, no love, no grace, no forgiveness, no beauty, no joy, no gentleness, no self-control.
  14. There are degrees of hell, just like there degrees of soul separation/fragmentation.
  15. There is no time in hell.  So while heaven is a place of joyous discovery, hell is a place of frozen self-centeredness.
  16. There has to be a hell.  To force someone to have intimacy with you is rape.  God will not rape your soul.
  17. The sin that blinds most people to the danger of hell?  Self-righteousness.
  18. Any who is happy about people going to hell is in danger of going themselves.
  19. The frustration of hell for those who are there is they experience the reality they choose and their limited power to change it.  People in hell might be still trying to fix themselves.
  20. God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell and paid the highest price so people could have a choice.
  21. People still choose to be away from God in spite of God’s offer of grace.  As Dallas Willard said, “Hell is the simply the best God can do for some people.”

 

Why Hell?

 

I’ve been reading this week reasons why people don’t believe in hell.  The most cited reason: I can’t see how a loving God would send people to hell.

I get that.  God, who is the source of love, doesn’t seem to be the kind of being that would send people to eternal punishment.  One blogger I read talked about a parent putting themselves on the judgment seat and then punishing their child for wrong doing forever.  This blogger concluded no parent would do such a thing (however, I’ve known a few that would).  Therefore, the blogger concluded, either he was morally superior to God or Christianity was wrong about hell.

This kind of logic is appealing, but it poses the wrong analogy.  What if instead of the parent being on the judgment seat, the parent told the child, “You can never leave me.  You must always live in my house.  In fact, I will chain you so you will always be in my presence.  You can have no thoughts of your own, you can make no choices on your own.”  A god who forces people to be with him, to spend eternity with him, turns into a god who makes people dance like puppets.  Anybody want to live that life?

For love to be real, for relationship to be genuine, there must be choice.  God, in His great wisdom, grants us the freedom to choose to do life with Him.  That choice begins on earth and goes beyond death.

All evidence points to God allowing people to make their own choice about relating to Him.  This changes our idea about being saved.  To be saved is not just to escape hell and go to heaven.  To be saved is to choose to follow Jesus all the way to the heaven.

People who choose not to follow Jesus do not go to heaven because they do not want to.  The place they go is called hell.

What is hell like?  Scripture teaches us is hell is a place of regret.  Why?  People regret their life choice to live without God.

To live with Jesus is to live forgiven, to live cleansed.  Followers of Jesus are the Easter People, the people of hope.  People without Jesus are people who live in guilt.  They are people who choose to live life without eternal hope.

If all this is true (and I believe it is), it means my life choices here are really important.  Choosing Jesus matters.  The reality of my commitment is shown by my life choices.  It also means other people may choose not to follow Jesus.  That should break my heart.  There should be no glee when we talk about people going to hell.

At the end of your life, your decision about Jesus matters.

What’s your decision?