9: The Important Part

 

saturn

Saturn, imaged by the Cassini-Huygens space probe.

Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. — Watchman Nee’s final words from a Communist Chinese prison

There you go; we come to the end of this little e-tome. My goal, as stated at the very beginning, was to show you that either we are here at the hand of a Creator, or this cosmos is just one of countless others and you’re an accident.

Both require faith … so it’s your choice. Choose wisely.

Christianity is not a set of rules and rituals. Organized religion has turned it into that (and we Christians will one day answer to God for it, too). True Christianity is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That’s all it is. That’s all it ever has been. Men, being unable to handle that simple truth (or, as often as not, being hungry for power and control) have added the rules, the rituals, the chanted creeds and organizations and pledges and stained glass.

People who are bound up in organized religion try to “live right” out of fear that God will punish them. Those who’ve met God and who know Him personally try to live good and loving lives to please Him … and ask Him for forgiveness out of genuine sorrow when they fail Him.

patriarch-kirill

At least organized religion has great
hats and really cool robes, though.

Now For My Story

As a young man, I was sick very frequently. I had ulcers. I caught the honest-to-goodness red measles; it ruined my vision, so I had to wear thick, geeky-looking glasses. I had constant upper respiratory infections and even needed surgery on my right eardrum.

As a result, I missed a lot of school. To pass the time, I read everything that I could get my hands on — especially anything that had to do with space. My nickname was “the professor.” I was an ubergeek.

Like many kids growing up in the 1960’s, I wanted to be an astronaut. I had scale models of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft in my bedroom. I was glued to the television whenever the astronauts would appear. No matter how many times I heard a countdown: “3 … 2 … 1 … LIFTOFF!” … I always felt a chill go up my spine. Oh, I wanted to travel into space! I wanted it so badly, I could taste it!

apollo-white

I could totally see myself doing this.

When the book club sheets were circulated in class at school, I looked for titles that dealt with space travel. The first one I saw was Robert Heinlein’s The Past Through Tomorrow; I ordered it and read it at least a zillion times from cover to cover. I bought more of his books, then branched out. I fell in love with science fiction (and still enjoy it to this day).

I’ve kept that love for our cosmos all my life. Balanced against that, though, is the spiritual side of my nature.

apollo-15-rover

I wanted one of these.

A Fateful Meeting

One evening, my mother handed me a gospel tract. It challenged me to accept Christ as my savior and included the familiar “sinner’s prayer” at the end, the most basic version of which might go,

Lord God, I admit that I’ve failed to live up to Your standards. I am a sinner. I want to change and I need the forgiveness that Christ purchased at the Cross. Come into my heart and life and be my Lord and my Savior.

The first time I prayed it, nothing happened. I prayed again. Nothing. And then a verse that I had heard somewhere came to my mind: “you’ll find me if you seek with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). I prayed one last time, and this time I said, “God, I mean it. I want to mean it.”

At that moment, I knew God was real. To this day, I cannot explain it. I’ve had skeptics try to tell me that it was all emotion (one told me I should consider being “deprogrammed”), but it was “realer” than that. At that moment I knew, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that God was real and that He had saved me.

That changed my life forever. I wasn’t filled with empty-headed joy; I felt a peace, contentment and love that you couldn’t slice with a knife.  I was 9 years old at the time and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I’d like to challenge you to make that same decision.

bonhoeffer

One of my heroes: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who
was executed by the Nazis for resisting
Adolf Hitler and for defending the Jews.

True Christianity isn’t about behavior, it’s about belief. You can behave as perfectly as you like and be no more of a Christian than Stalin was. Likewise, you might be struggling with all sorts of sins and temptations, but if you believe in God and have prayed that prayer above, God is on your side. The Bible says that we have an “advocate” with the Father (Jesus) who argues in our defense (1 John 2:1-3).

But I’ll warn you: you can’t “try on” Jesus like a pair of pants at the mall. You’ve got to really, really want to know God personally. You’ve got to be willing to admit that you’ve done wrong and to admit that you need forgiveness. You must be willing to allow Him to change you into a better person (you cannot change yourself; you let Him change you!). The Bible says that you are actually asking to be adopted (see Romans chapter 8) into God’s family. That’s not something that you can just “try” for a few days.

I assure you now; if you ask God for that gift and mean it, you’ll never be the same. Not only will your life have meaning now, you’ll have an eternal future to look forward to! Hollywood gets heaven wrong; the movies show it as an ethereal, mystical-looking place with generic white figures moving in circles. In fact, it will be the realest place you’ve ever known. Realer than real. As real as it gets. We’ll know one another, we’ll eat, we’ll sing and we’ll work in and on a new Heaven and a new Earth.

Go back and use the above prayer, if need be. Then contact me and let me know if I can help or answer any questions. I’ll try to address a few more questions and objections in the remainder of this page.

watchman-nee

Watchman Nee.

The Old Q&A Session

I’ll be glad to discuss any of this privately via email, or if you know of a good online forum, send me the link. But in no particular order, these are a few that I’ve been asked in online discussions.

This first one is kind of long. (You have been warned.) But it’s extremely important.

Q. Do you think it’s wrong to swear/be gay/drink/listen to rock and roll/drive too fast/wear red pants with tassels/whatever?

A. Ask God.

Look: I’m not dodging your question, I’m giving you the only correct answer, straight from the Bible. I refuse to play the game by the world’s rules. Christians have done that for too long.

Our 100,000 watt FM talk station here in Alabama runs the Dave Ramsey Show. Dave wants you to get out of debt and to stay out of debt. That’s his whole thing. And yet, invariably, people will call him and ask what he thinks of this business scheme, or that investment … while they’re still in debt.

Dave will tell them to get out of debt first. Some callers get annoyed; it’s obvious that they have no intention of doing so. They’ll try to drag an answer from him. “But speaking hypothetically, which do you think would be the better deal?”

Whether you agree with Dave or not, he sticks to his guns. Well, I’m going to stick to mine here: develop a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, read the Bible, learn how you can best please Him, and then let Him change you. You need to get out of “spiritual debt” first (and it’s easy, considering that Jesus paid it for you, if you’ll receive it!), then worry about the other stuff.

It doesn’t help that many of the largest organized Christian churches in the World have gotten this all wrong. They emphasize behavior instead of belief, and that’s absolutely backwards. But that’s how most people think. “Do good, get a treat; do bad, get thumped.” It’s hard-coded into our BIOS.

(For my fellow believers: see this excellent “Coffee Talk” about the 10 Commandments from Dr. Rick Walston at Columbia Seminary. When the Bible says we are not under The Law, but under Grace, it means: we are not under Law, but under Grace!)

You cannot draw up a list of Evil Things, determine that you will longer do those Evil Things, and somehow magically become acceptable in God’s eyes. It doesn’t work that way. The Bible says that even our righteousness (i.e., our “goodness”) is like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6).

To repeat: true, Scriptural Christianity is belief, not behavior. You come to God as you are, admitting that you need Him. Accept Christ as savior. Surrender to Him. Read the Bible. Fellowship with other Christians. The rest will come naturally.

Q. What about groups like the Westboro Baptist Church?

A. Anyone who has truly met God, and who has a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, is only too aware of his or her imperfections. We are so grateful at being forgiven and accepted by God that we love Him — and others — in return.

Frankly, it’s very difficult for me to believe that Fred Phelps has actually met the same Jesus that I have. I certainly don’t see Christ-like love in what he and his people are doing.

Q. You really believe there’s a “devil?”

Yep. But I think that some Christians spend entirely too much time worrying about him, instead of trying to get closer to God. The devil has been soundly defeated. If you’ve been adopted into God’s family by receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the devil has no power over you. All he (and his friends) can do is lie, suggest, mislead and distract you.

“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4).

Q. If God is all powerful, could He make a stone so large that He couldn’t lift it? (This is intended to illustrate the logical absurdity of a supreme being.)

A. He already has. God the Father, maker of Heaven and Earth, made the stone. God the Son, being limited by the human flesh, couldn’t lift it. (Hint: there’s a reason why we believe in the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all co-equal and yet individual.)

(And of all the things I could say in defense of the Trinity, just remember this: God is not bound by the rules of this Cosmos!)

Q. Why your God? Why not some other?

A. There are a dozen answers to that, but briefly: Christianity is unique in several important respects.

The Trinity, the idea of a God who is both plural and singular at the same time, who has revealed Himself in three persons, is just one. Skeptics apparently think that we are supposed to be embarrassed about this, but it is a central tenet of our faith, and is clearly taught in the New Testament. Further, it answers logical objections like the “Big Stone Problem,” just discussed.

Three in one, one in three: God the Father, outside of this universe and timeless; God the Son, who is the active human agent for salvation in our Cosmos, and the Holy Spirit, who is the presence of God in this world.

Most other religions have deities that are limited in some form (if nothing else, by time; they are “stuck” in this cosmos with the rest of us, and while powerful, are limited by that). Our God is timeless, ageless and limitless … and on the other hand, He is a Jewish carpenter who was willing to die in our place.

The biggest difference with true Christianity (see the first question above) is that most religions teach that if you “live right and do good,” you’ll be rewarded: either in this life or the life to come. True Christianity, alone of the major religions, has substitutionary atonement: you can’t be good enough to please God or earn His favor, but out of love and pity for us, He took the penalty in our place. All we have to do is believe it and receive that free gift. No charge! (You don’t even have to send in one of those stupid rebate cards.)

Also, from the cosmological angle, the Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in clearly teaching that God is timeless; that He existed before (and thus, outside of) this Cosmos. After the Big Bang became the consensus, some other religions tried to make this claim, but we’ve been saying it for many, many centuries. Been there and done it, long before t-shirts were ever invented.

(The little ditty that I used a few pages back about God being timeless, and therefore not being a created entity, actually came from St. Augustine, for example.)

Q. What about suffering? I once had a loved one who died in pain from a disease.

A. First, thank God for places like St. Jude’s, which work tirelessly against the terrible diseases that afflict our children. I encourage you to support them in any way that you can. God blesses us with material wealth so that we can help others.

But I’ll have to get a little theological here. Whether you take the Genesis account literally (as I do), or view it as liturgical and symbolic, God created Earth to be a paradise, and placed Man in that paradise to live with Him. Man rebelled, bringing a curse on the entire world.

Simply put, God was prepared to spoil us rotten and we blew it. One day, God will create a new Heaven and a New Earth, at least in part, to rid Creation of that spiritual curse.

Q. You seem like an intelligent fellow. How can YOU believe in God???

A. I’ll ignore the veiled insult, that only people of lower intelligence could believe in a Creator, and instead take it as a (somewhat backhanded) compliment. But the answer is actually simple: I believe in God because I’ve met Him. Asking me to not believe in Him would make as much sense as asking me to stop believing in the existence of my mother, my wife, and my cat, Millie — all of whom I’ve met as well.

millie

Cats don’t have owners, they have staff.

(And again, I’m not boasting; I’m nothing special. You can meet Him, too. Go back to the sinner’s prayer above.)

Q. Name some people whom you look up to.

A. Many, but two come to mind: First, C. S. Lewis, whose Surprised By Joy is highly recommended reading for those of you with a bent for philosophy. In it, he describes his journey from committed atheist to someone who would eventually be described as “the most thoroughly saved person” ever.

I am a Christian all the time; the way I behave when watching basketball on TV, or eating dinner, or sitting in church, is pretty much the same. C. S. would have felt the same way.

I would also love to meet John Polkinghorne some day. I’m not nearly as smart or as accomplished as he, but I still feel like he’s a kindred spirit: he loves science and the scientific method, but he also loves Jesus with all his heart. My kind of guy!

Q. I once prayed to accept Christ and nothing happened. This is a joke.

A. Re-read what I said above: you have to mean it. You can’t “try” Jesus (in spite of the fact that there are at least a dozen Gospel songs that ask you to do that). You’re making a commitment. You’re asking to be adopted; that’s not something that you “try.”

Q. You read science fiction??!?

A. And fantasy. And alternate history. I lean toward the light-hearted stuff and the space operas (Lois McMaster Bujold, David Weber, Eric Flint), but yeah, I enjoy it.

Look: I have no problem with reading things that might present world views that I disagree with. I can also go to a movie and watch a man fly around and toss locomotives at his enemies. That doesn’t mean that I’ll walk out of that theater expecting to see someone in a Superman suit actually doing that in the parking lot.

It’s fantasy. Escapism.

Q. You really believe that God created all of this just so I could exist???

A. Yup, sure do. Another recommended read is J. B. Phillips’ classic, Your God Is Too Small. The truth is that God is more loving, more kind, more holy, and more powerful than we can even begin to imagine.

In fact, once you really get to know God, you’ll understand why David says, “what is man, that you even give him a stray thought?” (Psalm 8:4)

Thank God that He does! He loves you to death … and died to prove it!

Q. (More of an observation, really.) You have a weird sense of ‘yumor.

Thank you. I’m glad you noticed.

I’m like anyone else; I have good days and bad days. But underneath it all is the peace and joy that I have in knowing that God loves me. I should have been the one who died on that cross, but Jesus did it for me. Every day is a blessing.

Read this carefully, all of you, whether you’re an atheist or a devout, Bible-thumpin’ Believer: one of Satan’s most effective lies is that Christians are supposed to be dry, somber and serious. Satan wants the world to believe that only “his” people are cool and happy. I refuse to live that lie.

The ancient Hebrew words for “joy” are sometimes translated as “dance.” One of those words (gil) perfectly describes a dog chasing his tail for no other reason than he’s just pleased with life in general.

Life is fun and to be a Christian is a joyful thing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a plain ol’ poopy-head. Nuff Zedd!