Monday, October 20, 2008

3 degrees of Christianity

I’m always amazed by the stories of people who are either angry at God, or are disappointed in God or have given up on God altogether because of a perceived failure on His part to “deliver the goods” as they imagined would happen if they became followers of Jesus.

In a very general way, the path these people follow is something like this:
A child gets sick, or
The layoff notice is handed out, or
Ones love-life is non existent, or
Depression or other chronic illness strips one of hope.

So a person prays that:
. The child would be healed
. New work is found soon
. Some one to love you comes along
. Freedom from the illness is provided

Nothing happens
The relationship with God is damaged, neglected or tossed aside. When someone has turned away from God, the above seems to be the Path the most people have travelled.

This doesn’t need to be the way life goes.
While the above may be the general Course that is travelled, the falling away from God comes for two main reasons:
. First, as I’ve just described is the erroneous perception that Jesus is not trust worthy, His promises are false, and the “good” life that Jesus promises is far, far different than the one imagined.
. The second reason for a damaged relationship with Jesus is a failure on the part of the individual to take into consideration ALL of God’s provisions. The person seems focused on and even obsessed with what s/he thinks are the negatives in life and ignores all the good that Jesus has brought into one’s life up to that point in time.

If this is the way a person does life, the result is practically guaranteed - the end of that person’s life as a Christian. This actually should not surprise. When Jesus was telling the parable of the seed and the sower, He indicated that roughly 75% of those who begin to follow Him will at some point fall away. Jesus said that the spiritual life of most would-be Christians will be strangled by life’s worries or enticed by life’s temporary attractions or simply crushed under the weight of trouble.

There is so very much more to the Christian life that these early quitters completely miss. They simply never pushed beyond their initial encounter with the harsh reality of life. Because they failed to be trained by Jesus, because they never exercised or practised with the tools that Jesus promised to give to them, they were unable to persevere, to endure and claim the victory that is ours if we don’t give up.

To move beyond this pitfall, to move on to the next stage of one’s Christian walk involves interpreting life in light of Jesus’ promises. Rather than looking at life and concluding, “God is not good,” we need to start with the truth that “God IS love” and interpret the events of life through that lens.

Jesus truthfully said, “I will never leave you or give up on you.” What does that mean when a child dies?

Jesus truthfully said, “I will meet all your needs.” What does that mean when your vehicle or even your house is repossessed?

The person who makes it to the second level of Christian growth is someone who has not made the error in logic that says - “If bad things happen to me, or if my prayers are not answered with a “yes” that means that God must not exist.”

The person who reaches this stage of h/her walk with Jesus is usually the person who stands in awe of all the good that Jesus has brought into that person’s life. In fact, that is why the tragedies that Christians experience can be somewhat confusing. How is it that God loves me, but allows / causes the loss of love or never experiencing love. How is it that a God who loves me also allows poor health to persist? What does it mean when God says, “I love you. Now deal with the death of your child”? My wife and I have walked through all this and much much more and I can say beyond a shadow of doubt, Jesus really is all one needs in circumstances like these. That is why people like Richard Dawkins find it so confounding when tragedy actually increases a Christian’s faith, when experiencing life’s horrors actually draws someone closer to God. Sadly, people like Dawkins can’t possibly know the richness and depth of the life that is lived with Jesus as Lord and Saviour. These people are left to stand on the sidewalk looking in and criticising something they know nothing about.

Having said that, the second stage is crucial to the development of faith, of trust, of acceptance, of patience. This step is mandatory if one is to develop the Fruit of the Spirit as per Galatians 5:22ff. For those who suck it up and work this stage of Christianity, one of the major things that is noticed is the presence of God’s love, mercy, grace, gentleness, kindness and protection not just in the midst of pain and suffering, but ESPECIALLY in the midst of the sorrows that life is sure to bring. While bewildering in the beginning and while causing the furrowing of the brow and meditation in the quiet moments, the realisation slowly dawns on us that Jesus really doesn’t leave us or give up on us. The realisation awakens in us that we are slowly but surely becoming emotionally indestructible. We begin to see that suffering, and lots of it is not something to be avoided at all costs. Rather, the presence of suffering in our lives takes on meaning. We come to realise that in a weird way, suffering has become essential to our greatest personal growth. And suddenly we understand why God’s suffering in the person of Jesus of Nazareth was so important to God’s plan of salvation. Suffering in our world is not an accident or mistake. It has purpose; deep and meaningful purpose.

This takes us to the third and final level of Christian living. As with Paul, we can now understand what once were incomprehensible verses.
. “When I am weak, then I am strong,”
. “I rejoice in my infirmities, in insults, in hardships, in difficulties.”
. “I have learned the secret of contentment in all circumstances.”
. “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
. “We also rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character and character produces hope.”
. “So then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
. “Therefore humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand. Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares about you and at just the right time He will lift you up.”
. “Be thankful in all circumstances.”

This is a wonderful, wonderful stage of life. Rather than worrying, and planning and watching for all the possible eventualities that may befall a person, I can simply follow Jesus wherever and through whatever He leads me. I can do this because through experience I’ve discovered that even if I or my wife or my children should die, regardless of what life may bring, I know that all is well with my soul. I have been tested and tried again, and again and again over decades of sometimes brutal pounding and I know beyond any doubt that the presence of God delivers far beyond my hopes and dreams. I’m alive and well and living in the Lord.

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