“The Bible? You believe in that?” Ben asked.
Ben walked into our Lifetree Café today—looking for something. I learned he was a successful businessman, friend of Hollywood stars, estranged family man, and hungry to talk.
“You believe in God?” he asked. Before I could respond he barreled ahead. “The virgin birth? The crucifixion? The resurrection? The ascension? Don’t you find all that a little hard to believe?”
He went on. “If God is real, where was he when the fires killed all those people in Texas?” We had a good conversation. I shared my experience with the Lord I know.
I like Ben. He’s familiar with church, and with “you Christians.” But today he sees no evidence of God around him. Though he owns multiple businesses, several homes, and plentiful wealth, he seems empty.
He’s typical. He reminds me of so many I meet at Lifetree. He graphically represents the spiritual emptiness in our country. And I’m afraid the church as we know it . . . has failed him.
The American church is designed primarily as an academic institution. We seem to think that if we can just get Ben to attend our sermons and Bible studies we’ll solve The Problem.
But what is The Problem? It’s quite academic, we think. We sigh and snort when we see statistics that reveal only half of the population can name any of the four gospels. We fume when we read that more than ten percent believe Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc.
We’ve built a machine to address The Problem—biblical illiteracy. But, the more I get to know the vast majority who do not frequent our churches (and legions of those who do), the more I’m convinced that thin academic knowledge is not The Problem.
What’s more, I don’t think that was The Problem 2,000 years ago when God sent his Son to earth. People already had the Word. What they needed was the One who made the Word flesh. They needed to experience the living God in a real way. They needed to find a relationship with the real God. An authentic relationship that went beyond the academics of the scribes and the Pharisees.
Don’t get me wrong. Knowledge is a good thing. Everyone, all of us, would benefit from more Bible learning. But I just don’t believe the lack of biblical information is The Problem. I know it’s not Ben’s problem.
After Ben shared his deep doubts, I asked about his past. “When I was younger I went to church. In fact, I decided to go to seminary,” he said. “Then at the end of three years of seminary, I realized I lost any faith I had.”
Ben doesn’t believe God is real. That is The Problem.
He knows the history. He knows the doctrine. He’s studied the ancient God of the Bible. But he needs help seeing the God who is still living today. He needs to hear the real stories of real people who experience the real love of the living God.
He needs to experience that love firsthand. And that, my friends, is our real mission.
oh wow~thom!~ you hit me “between the eyes” and now i have a lump/bump on my forehead! ok~now with the “visual”(lump) as a reminder? maybe i can get telling the real stories of real people experiencing the real love of God! thankyou!
I think the problem is twofold: Christians with academic knowledge and no relationship with Christ. Many have been lulled into thinking that their academic knowledge (whether from the seminary or their shielded experience in their own church) equates to completion in the Christian walk. They’ve got it all down pat and continued learning and growth is for so-called “baby” Christians or those outside of the faith. They simply go through the motions week in and week out. The other problem I feel is with Christians whose knowledge is rather shallow and thus they cannot give rational answers to questions that are posed. They have a feel-good religion but it does little to actually make others feel good or to answer their questions like the young man you described.
I too believe the difficulty we face as the church is two fold. Both areas tend to be extreme. In America, we love ‘feelings’. Therefore we have believers who live roller coaster lives, knowing little of the truth, going from one high to the next and living desperately low in between.
Extreme #2 is having the knowledge (+ judgement)and little relationship, if any with Jesus Christ. These believers seem to consistently pass judgement on anyone who doesn’t look like them on the ‘outside’.
Perhaps the pendulum would swing to the center and our witness would appeal to unbelievers when we begin to live as if both God’s written Word and relationship with Him has such an impact on our lives that we are changed and life IN CHRIST is GOOD.
When those two intertwine in the lives of believers, I believe it is then we will affect our society.
I thought of the verses when Jesus tells the Pharisees that they know scripture very well, but what they fail to understand is that the scriptures testify to the Person of Jesus that they were ignoring.
We’ve got to stop focusing on talking ABOUT Jesus, and start BEING Jesus to a hurting American culture who has very little experience with compassion, love, grace, joy and peace! Go Thom! Thanks for being the gutsy guy you are! Lifetree Cafe : LIKE
Pardon my Gravatar, but I firmly believe it. Faith Hope and Love and the Greatest of these is Love. Feel it! Live it! Take it! Share it! Give it! Talk about it! Be love in ALL that you do! Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Neighbor, Boss, Coworker, Employee, Car Driver, Whatever! Be Love! Thanks Thom!
I have found the Church to be lacking in regard to academics. Ben’s statement, “The crucifixion? The resurrection? The ascension? Don’t you find all that a little hard to believe?” points to the Church’s not doing a good job explaining these events. The crucifixion is a matter of history. Historians today agree that Jesus was crucified and died on a Roman cross. The Apostles dispersed when Jesus died, they didn’t expect him to really die. He was taken from the cross and wrapped in grave clothes, packed with spices and enclosed in a tomb. The tomb was guarded by Roman solders. The Jews thought that His followers would take the body because they heard talk of a resurrection.
The empty tomb was found by two women (not the best witness as women couldn’t testify in court) and the Roman solders were gone. His grave clothes were found neatly folded. If one were to snatch a body would they take time to remove the clothes? Not likely. Jesus appeared over a dozen times over a period of 40 days. People touched Him, spoke to Him and ate with Him. Doubters like His brother James and Thomas became believers. There were over 500 eye witness to his resurrection. Many went to their death because they wouldn’t worship Cesar and recant their faith in Jesus. The Apostles went from cowards to bold preachers of Jesus’ teachings. All but one (John) died as martyrs. It’s hard to believe that the apostles and rank and file Christians went to their death if these things didn’t happen. The Apostles surely would have known if it was a scam and they would have gone to their death knowing just that. Not likely. People die for for what they believe to be true but not for what the know is a lie. Followers of Islam die as martyrs but they believe it’s true.
Yes, as Christians have to show good example to others, be kind and loving but we are human and we will fail. We are not perfect and that’s where the problem lies. We need a savior and we have that in Jesus.
I think we could all use a good dose of love… Thank you for sharing.
I think the better question to answer would be how the story of Jesus is wholly plagiarized from the Persian god Mithra, who was also born of a virgin, performed miracles, was born on December 25th, was called the way, the truth and the light, the lion, the lamb AND was buried and rose again on the third day.
When it comes down to it, the vast diversity of religions should be a clear indication that religion is wholly man’s creation, not the divine. Let’s say Christianity is the true religion. That then means 1.5 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion seculars, 900 million Hindus and 376 million Buddhists are ALL wrong…and that’s just the top 5. What if, by some fluke, the one true religion is Scientology, with 500,000 subscribers. The vast majority of believers on earth would then be wrong, and have wasted their entire lives believing and revolving their lives around a complete lie. The only group that won’t be screwed if they’re right is the seculars, because they have no deity to answer to and haven’t conformed their lives as such. And yet many of them still possess a moral compass.
Pasha, let’s suppose Christianity is right. It is the only faith based on a personal relationship with a living God. It is the only fair way to get to heaven and live in the eternal life in that it ONLY takes faith in Jesus Christ as your substitute sacrifice for ALL the sins in your life, past, present and future. It is the only faith in which ALL men and women are created and treated equally. It is the only faith in which we are told to Love God, Love our neighbor, UNCONDITIONALLY. The ONLY hate in Christianity is for SIN, never the sinner. It is the only faith that God gave freely to all peoples of all nations by instilling a desire to know and love Him, thus providing that moral compass.
And yes if you do not belief in the God of the Bible, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as the only way to salvation and eternal life you will be judge in the end to have lived “a total lie,” condemned to hell. It is appointed to all peoples once to live then the judgement.
Hebrews 9:27-28 “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” NLT
Monark, thank you for ignoring the first portion of my comment. This personal relationship you speak of with a “living god” is wholly created and based on an archaic book written by humans in a time when they didn’t know what an atom or germ was.
And you speak of the fact that it “only takes faith in Jesus” as a selling point of Christianity. But when this perk gives solace to murderers, rapists and pedophiles that despite their sins, that if they accept Jesus as their lord and savior, they will be forgiven. And I cannot subscribe to a religion that provides that comfort to those who don’t deserve it.
That’s not to say that the teachings of Jesus, Buddha etc. worthless. They were truly revolutionary, for their time, and deserve attention. BUT it is not a basis to form one’s life around and judge others for not believing it, especially when it becomes the only text that is referenced. I don’t believe it is any religion’s role to provide that to people, although they sure as hell try to take credit for it. In fact, highly religious people even try to take the moral high ground over secular people by saying they have god on their side, and that all those who don’t accept *insert savior here* are automatically “lost.” That doesn’t seem like a morally sounds stance to take, in fact it is outright overzealous and pompous to take such a point of view. Something Jesus himself I’m sure preached against.
I am even envious of those who are so sure about what happens after death and are so sure of their comfort under the watchful eye of a loving god. However, I personally cannot subscribe to such beliefs, as comforting and reassuring as they are. Anyone who proclaims to know of an all-knowing deity, know it on a personal level, and to know what happens after death, is being facetious because they proclaim to know something about the nature of the universe and death that I do not.
Start from the last point first. I do not consider lightly my comments or the situation you or any one else my find themselves in when it comes to personal faith. If I did, I would not waste my time answering these posts which so far continue to have a reason for me to comment.
Because I have a confident faith is not a reason you need be jealous or dismissive. Once a faith is accepted God gives a believer the Holy Spirit who then opens ours eyes when we are ready to the truths God has for us. We are not all knowing or any other “voodoo” knowledge.
Second, I did not judge you. Wether you believe or not is your choice, not mine. Your eternity depends on your response not mine. There is nothing for me to judge. I am sorry if others have, christianity tells us never to judge others lest we be judged ourselves by that same standard.
Third, heaven is a perfect place. NO ONE who sins can enter. God considers ALL sin worthy of eternal damnation regardless of the levels of offense and morality we may place on individual sins. Whether God chooses to forgive a murderer or someone who tells a white lie is His business, I cannot tell Him whom He lets into heaven, His home or how He chooses to make that happen, faith through Jesus Christ forgiving power from the cross to resurrection.
As far as Mirtha is concerned, his supposed incarnation occurred before human kind existed. This alone would make his existence impossible to believe. No one was there to record it. Second, knowledge of this “god” is first recorded 600 BC.
The prophecy and existence of biblical scripture was much sooner than this 1450 – 1410 BC. Shared stories long before that, since the beginning of creation. Jesus was a documented historical person, well known and written about in much of history, not just in the bible. He was crucified under a Roman governor and the account is recorded as a matter of fact in the Roman and Judean records as fact, not myth. The facts line up and are identical to that which was foretold in written scripture prior to 600 BC.
Mithraism is another manmade-cult that cannot be supported by the facts or the power of a living God. All I can ask you to do, if you in fact wish to know the God of the bible and the God of this universe all you must do is ask Him for guidance.
I don’t wish to engage in this debate with you much longer, because I am not going to convince you to any of my points, nor are you going to convince me to any of yours. But a few things before I go.
“Once a faith is accepted God gives a believer the Holy Spirit who then opens ours eyes when we are ready to the truths God has for us. We are not all knowing or any other “voodoo” knowledge.” I do not know what your definition of voodoo is but the consumption of a ghost after believing in a deity sounds sort of like voodoo to me.
You then proclaim to not judge, as that is not a Christian value. And yet, when you speak of Mithraism and their “god,” you talk down to them as a cult, just because they were not raised in the same time or geographical location as you did. This sounds like judgment to me.
Further on Mithra, you say that its incarnation is before mankind existed….unlike your Judeo-Christian god?
You also seem to prove my point by citing the years in which the story of Mithra was written at 600 BC, you know the story that’s a clone of the one of Jesus, i.e. the New Testament which was written 70 years after the death of Jesus. If my math is correct that means that the story of Mithra predates that of Jesus by 670 years.
In any case, I am not trying to speak against the existence of god, because as I said before I do not proclaim to have more knowledge of the universe than any other human. However, the religious dogma that is instilled in the minds of children is what I am criticizing.
Why focus on something that forces you to have “faith” to exist when you have human potential right in front of you?
Just to set the record straight for those that may read this after you have left.
We are given the Holy Spirit who then lives with us and helps us, not consumes us or possess us. God is a gentleman and will not force himself upon anyone. God wants us to voluntarily worship him, this way it is worship and not slavery.
In Christianity there is right and wrong. Again I judge the sin not the sinner. I cannot determine if you believe one thing or the other only you and God knows that. I can only answer the questions you have laid before me with facts stating the answer to the topic at hand.
The God of the Bible has always existed and always will, don’t ask me to explain it I can’t, that I must accept by faith, no apologies.
You misunderstood the math. Prophesy of the coming of Christ and what he would go through was first written in 1450 – 1410 BC. 800 years before Mithra was known to exist. There are well over 50 prophecies. The prophecies fulfilled with the coming, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus inculde the lineage of the Messiah, that the Messiah will bear God’s attributes, what the Messiah will do, and what will be done to the Messiah. An author and speaker named Josh McDowell calculated the odds of Jesus fulfilling only eight of the Messianic prophecies as 1 out of 10 to the 17th power (a one followed by 17 zeros). This is equivalent to covering the entire state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep, marking one of them, mixing them all up and having a blind-folded person select the marked one at random the first time.
Pertaining to faith, no offense, but I see the result of human potential without God all around everyday. I don’t share your optimism of its success without God. History has always repeated itself and has NEVER been good when people try to do life without the God of Christianity.
I pray that someday you will discover and experience a life with the God of Christianity. Amen.
@ Monark. I heard it said recently by Dr John Dickson that the difference is history. Christianity is a historical faith. If I said that my mum flapped her arms and flew like a fairy but presented no witnesses, that would be purely faith based. When I then go on tell you that 2000 shoppers at my local mall saw it and you could colaborate my story with them, that is historical.
You still might not believe it (I personally would find the concept bizare) but the nature of the claim has changed significantly from being one judged on “faith” alone, to one based on the tests of historical facts.
Great discussion guys.
@ Pasha Bahsoun. It is a astonisghing coincidence that my father-in-law is named “Mithra” – no relation to the Mithra you are refering to.
As per my comments to Monark, I think the profound difference here is history and the way historical claims are tested. The story of Jesus and the story of Mithra would – I imagine – have vastly different historial evidences. I am only really familiar the evidence for Jesus, but from the comments I have read, there would not the same historial evidence for the story of Mithra.
Obviously though, historical evidence can only give historical understanding. It then is a matter of faith when considering the spiritual implications of that historical evidence.
Keep questioning. I hope you find the answers you seek.