Surprise! This Christian Dad Struggles With His Own Faith

January 25, 2012 at 8:40 pm , by 

14 months.

During my day job, I work alongside someone I consider a “friendly atheist.” Not the kind who has a passionate agenda of converting me out of Christianity or who is obviously mad at God for not existing. He just simply believes that when we all die… poof! That’s it.

He and I have the kind of mutually respectful relationship where we can curiously ask each other questions about the other’s belief system, without it ever turning volatile or even emotional.

Last Friday I told him, “You simply have more faith than I do; to believe we all just got here by random chance.”

He replied, “You know, Nick; I find it very surprising that you, of all people, believe in Jesus and the Bible and all that stuff. I know you well enough to realize you are a very logical, rational guy. It just doesn’t fit you.”

The truth is, he makes a good point. I have no trouble at all believing in each of the miracles told in the Bible; from God creating Adam from dust, then Eve from his side, to Noah being able to gather two of every kind of animal on the ark, to the virgin birth of Christ, to Him being the Son of God, to Jesus making wine from water, to Him walking on water, to Him dying for the whole world and then raising from the dead. No problem.

Why? Because it’s all miraculous. It’s impossible unless it’s true. That’s logical to me.

Sure, I definitely believe the Bible truly is legitimate and factual.

I’m not the kind of person who only believes the parts of the Bible and God’s teachings that I want to; the ones that are easy to believe and that make me feel good. That’s not me.

Instead, I am a Bible-believing Christian who trusts in Christ alone for eternal life and redemption of all my wickedness, yet with humility I am willing to admit, there are parts of the Bible and its teachings that I struggle with.

Notice I said “struggle with.” I didn’t say I don’t believe or won’t believe. It means there are certain things I have to sort out, by carefully reading the Bible, praying to God to help me understand, reading related commentary books and talking to other Christians about my concerns.

I have this theory that most Bible-believing Christians have at least one particular part of the Bible or Christianity they have always struggled with believing. Mine is the existence of a literal, eternal, fiery hell in which people can never be redeemed.

While I’ve never met a Christian who believes that babies go to hell, it seems to be a popular belief that basically everyone else born in sin who dies not knowing Christ as their savior goes to hell forever.

That includes people in other countries who never heard the Gospel. That includes people who were only exposed to judgmental Christians who condemned them. That includes people who have been abused by their earthly fathers and have a deranged idea of what a loving father actually is.

I simply don’t want to be in a position where I have to decide who goes to Heaven and who doesn’t. But I feel that if hell is the fiery place it’s perceived to be by most Christians and their agreed interpretations of Christ’s teachings, then I sort of am in that position.

This can of worms got opened about a month ago when I read the highly controversial book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell.

It’s not that I agreed with every thing he said, but he was willing to shed light on my lifelong concerns about the Church’s traditional interpretation of hell. He goes back to every use of the word “hell” in the Bible and focuses on the original Hebrew and Greek words used.

So should I believe that all unbelievers, except babies, go to hell if they don’t believe in Christ by the time they die?

I’m going to give a very unpopular answer:

I don’t know. I have no idea. Yet.

I know that I’m supposed to believe it as an evangelical Christian. But I can’t lie and say in my heart I believe it at this point in my Christian journey.

But I’m trying to figure it out as I reread the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. I’m also reading the book,Erasing Hell, by Francis Chan; which counters the ideas written in Love Wins.

Just for the record, I graduated from a one year Bible college called Word of Life Bible Institute and earned my English degree from Liberty University; the world’s largest evangelical Christian university.

I know the Bible very well. But I can’t stand the thought of believing heresy, whether it’s some trendy author’s flawed interpretation of the Bible, or even the Church’s flawed understanding of Scripture.

Nothing has ever caused me to read the Bible with such passion. As a believer of Christ, I want to know who He truly is.

This is real faith. It’s not about having all the answers. Nor is it being okay with not trying to find the answers.

So what does this have to do with being a dad? Everything.

I want to be able to teach my son everything I have learned about God. My faith is everything to me. As his dad, it’s my responsibility to be the spiritual leader my dad was to me.

So to not understand a major part of my faith is difficult for me to deal with.

Like my atheist friend said, I am a very logical and rational guy. I don’t just believe something because I’m supposed to. I believe because God helps me to.

So help me God for my lack of understanding.

Top image: Hands Statue from Hell in Wat Rong Khun at Chiang Rai, Thailand, via Shutterstock.

Bottom image: Marshmallow on a stick over the fire, via Shutterstock.

When Real Life Feels More Like Purgatory

September 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm , by 

Ten months.

Purgatory is the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven.” -Wikipedia’s definition of “purgatory”

I’ve never actually met anyone who truly believes in purgatory, yet I feel that the general population is familiar with the idea of it.

On the final episode of Lost, the people from the Island who had ultimately lived their lives for the goodwill of others instead of greed and selfishness, reunited and reminisced in purgatory before entering Heaven together.

For those who are not Lost fanatics but like the band Coldplay, in their song “42,” some of the most memorable lyrics include the refrain, “You thought you might be a ghost; you didn’t get to Heaven but you made it close.”

Most of us don’t believe in the actual place, but for me at least, there is something pretty fascinating about the concept. I think it’s so easy in this life, in this culture, in this country, to feel like we are lost, or at least that we don’t belong wherever “here” is. We want to think that we deserve to transcend this lowly and boring situation, asking the question:

“What am I supposed to learn from this? Why am I here?”

My life has been filled with stretches like that. Even right now, my wife and I are having to adjust back to the busyness of our full-time jobs in Nashville, this time with a kid; which is a completely new balancing act for us. We are having to figure out and work out our new lifestyles and schedules, making time not only for the three of us, but for the two of us, as well.

It’s a purification process that is not easy; but it is necessary. We can see how natural it can be to let your kid consume your leftover energy and thoughts, slacking on making conscious efforts to keep the marriage relationship fresh and engaging. But we don’t want our lives to end up like Everybody Loves Raymond.

Ultimately, we are being forced to mature our marriage relationship. This “forced maturity” is sort of the whole point of purgatory. You suffer until you overcome.

Not that I am constantly immature or naive, or maybe I am (?), but I am always needing to grow in a way that I never could have without entering my newest purgatory.

But really, the more I think of the literary device we know as purgatory, the more it just seems like a straight forward yet abstract way to describe life itself; the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, we are made ready for Heaven, at best.

We may figuratively compare our lives to hell at times, but really, hell is an eternal end; it’s never-ending loneliness and destruction. Purgatory is temporary.

I don’t mind viewing life as purgatory. Until I pass on in to the afterlife, I will always have much more growing up to do, more necessary suffering, and one more level of maturity to reach- even if I live to be 80.

dad from day one: Will We Be Moving Jack Back to Nashville? (Part 2)

Week 18 (4 months).

“So take your lessons hard… and when your car crash comes don‘t be misled.”
Convince yourself that everything is alright, ’cause it already is.” – “For Nancy” by Pete Yorn

In last week’s cliffhanger episode, I closed by saying that I was counting on a miracle in order to remain in Alabama, knowing that our savings we had been living off of since December 4th would be running out in the next few weeks and that every door and window had closed for us  regarding a long term job.  And more importantly, I needed a job with good insurance, since there are 3 of us now.  I avoid drama at all costs, but in order to be true to the reality of “dad from day one”, I couldn’t play down the real life happenings of coming to terms with the fact that our leap of faith may end with us moving back to Nashville, despite all our efforts to move to Alabama.

That was last Wednesday. It literally felt like my world was collapsing in on me, which I realize is no comparison to the literal collapsing that occurred in Japan last week, but still, it was the most intense thing I have ever lived through.  Maybe a better comparison is that it was like being in a car wreck, where I was in the driver’s seat, running the car through a guard rail, causing my family to be flipped upside down a few times as the car rolled over, not knowing if we were looking up or down.

It helped me to literally understand the phrase, “hell of a week”.  I never so literally felt such a heavy, demonic presence around me.  Not like dark storm clouds and a violent storm; more like a silent, heavy overcast.  It was so subtle, yet terrifying.  I truly felt that my family was caught between two spiritual worlds- with one army that wanted us here and one army that wanted us gone. With that being said, there must be some serious unseen reason why my family should or shouldn’t be living here in Alabama.

But as I had always expected, the scarier that things got in my real life during this move, it would only make it that much more obvious when God miraculously provided for us. In order for this real life story to be more legit, it had to be obvious that it was no coincidence if things worked out in the end.  I, the protagonist, had to be that desperate and completely dependent for God’s intervention.  And I couldn’t just paint God as a genie who grants wishes.  Also, like Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, I had to be willing to give it all up.  I had to become humbled more than I ever have before.

As I put it last week, “Perhaps there’s a thin line between bravery and foolishness. The way I see it, that thin line in my case is actually having a steady job.”  I could also compare it to that “bankrupt/million/bankrupt” wedge on Wheel of Fortune.

That was last Wednesday.  Less than 24 hours later, in what felt like a loopy dream, I found myself in a job interview at the place I truly had my heart set on when I moved here.  (Interestingly, this is not the position I referred to last week; this is something completely different.)  It’s a Marketing position for one of the world’s largest playground equipment companies.  I know it’s the perfect fit for me.  Today I took my drug test, so unless there was something extra in the brownies last night, I start this coming Monday (March 28th).

But… the good news isn’t over yet.  God is more creative than that for this story.

Something else happened in the past week that is pretty dang awesome. Something that I didn’t initiate.  Instead, out of nowhere, I was approached. It’s bigger than just simply having one of my articles or “dad from day one” entries being published in a magazine.  I don’t think it would be wise to give away all the details at this point, but just know that it involves me signing a contract, it will take “dad from day one” to a whole new level and audience, it means I will be teaming up with a major publishing company (in a regular paying gig), and it should officially begin within the next month or two…

So, that is what has happened since “Part 1”.  What a week.  Granted, I realize now more than ever, there is no where telling where anyone may end up for the duration of their lives.  I honestly never would have believed that I would ever have moved back to Alabama, or more importantly, that I would ever want to. But as far as my own plans, I want roots again.  I want solid ground.  I want anchorage.  I don’t want to even think about moving again.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t be surprised if all this dramatic struggle is a necessary part of the story of “dad from day one”.  With rare exceptions like the movie Napoleon Dynamite, a strong plot is vital to build a solid story line- not to mention, it’s absolutely necessary for character development.

So, will we be moving Jack back to Nashville?  With an exciting and fulfilling job starting Monday here in Fort Payne, a big secret “dad from day one” reveal coming up in the next month or so, and a juicy income tax return coming our way soon, I suppose it’s as safe as possible to say that we can keep our anchor down in Alabama.

It’s the ultimate irony that we moved to Alabama to settle down, yet it has been such an unsettling experience until now. And it’s pretty interesting, too, how these doors opened the very week that the winter season ended and the spring season began.  Man, the symbolism.  The dead of winter surrenders to the resurrected life of spring.

Please, God, let this good ending and new beginning be real.

“You got to go through hell before you get to heaven… ‘Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay.” – “Jet Airliner” by The Steve Miller Band

Seeing Your Life Flash Before Your Eyes in a God-Nudged Leap of Faith (Like Being in a Near Death Experience)

I will begin with an excerpt from the final scene of the movie American Beauty, narrated by the protagonist “Lester Burnham”- played by Kevin Spacey:

I’d always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout Camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves from the maple trees that lined our street. Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will someday.

I would venture to say that every living person is familiar with the idea of your own life flashing before your eyes right before you die- whether you actually die or it’s just a near death experience.  Interestingly, it’s not career titles or material possessions that are included in these flashes. Seeing your life flash before your eyes is a great way to be reminded of what’s truly important to you: People and the important events of our lives that involve them. “Loved ones”, as we tend to call these important family members, friends, and mentors- though sometimes that term is used more often after they have passed on.

Knowing that the living people who I am closest to are the most important and influential thing in my life, they became the inspiration for my leap of faith.  My wife and I decided that bringing our son into this world meant we should move to my hometown to be surrounded by family.  Honestly, it wasn’t that difficult for me to abandon the financial security we had back in Nashville.  Because again, it’s wasn’t financial security that showed up when I allowed my life to flash before my eyes.  On many levels it may seem foolish that we left steady jobs in a very unsteady job market, but we believed that God would honor our trust in Him to provide for us, knowing we deliberately chose family over financial security.

Though I’m not in a near death experience right now, in this God-nudged leap of faith, time is standing still as I see a constant slideshow of what I have lived through as well as what I hope to see once I land.  I struggle daily not to play the “what if?” game, regarding my past.  But at this point, it’s not about the decisions that led me to this difficult place.  It’s what God can do with this situation and how He can be seen by others because of it.  Not to mention, I know that this event will either enhance my faith through discipline and patience, or it will cause me to foolishly put faith in men who may or may not provide a job for me.

Fortunately, it’s not people who provide jobs anyway.  It’s not them who help me provide for my family.  It is completely God.  That’s something I have begun reminding myself daily.  And in the process, I have been directed to one of God’s Hebrew names: Jehovah Jireh.  It means “The Lord will provide”.  I have been getting in the habit of praying to Jehovah Jireh, as His name specifically declares His providence.

I am not hopeless.  I will personally admit that as a man who is designed to care for his family, not having a job though I am fully capable and qualified, is quickly taking away my dignity.  But really, is dignity what I am after?  No.  Seeking after God and only trusting in him, not men or corporations or even myself, is a humiliating process.  The word “humiliating” has such a negative connotation to it.  But being humbled is important.  Pride is to be damned, literally.  It only gets in the way.

So damn my pride to hell.  Damn my dignity too.  So what if every time a new door closes a new one opens, only to be shut just like the others.  More than once now my wife and I have seen the perfect jobs dangled right in front of us in job interviews, being one of two final candidates for the position.  But ultimately, the blessing of a job goes to the other person- a person who statistically predicting, would not jump at the chance to glorify God in the way we will once they get a job.  Or a sudden hiring freeze appears.  Something has always caused to the door to shut, so far.

I don’t even know anymore whether these “almost got the job” situations are a result of spiritual warfare in some lesser modern day story of Job or whether it is God Himself allowing these interceptions to increase our faith in Him.  As I watch our $10,000 in savings that we moved here with dwindle to less than half that now, I wonder if taking this leap of faith with $75,000 would have made any difference.  Because then we would have $65,000 more confidence in ourselves.

It’s not money we need- it’s jobs.  And men can’t provide those- only God can. Whatever the lesson is to be learned here, we will learn it.  God will provide. It’s His name, after all.  Jehovah Jireh, I believe it!

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 29:23
A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.

Ecclesiastes 7:8
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

So Maybe I’m Allergic to Peanut Butter… in Large, Consistant Amounts

But not allergic to peanuts themselves.  Noted, I’m no doctor.

One of the darkest places in life for me is when I am throwing up- which only happens a few times each decade.  It’s that feeling of inescapable depression, like being a notches away from a sickly death- a hellish gravity so overwhelming that I tend to wonder if I will wake up as a ghost like Bruce Willis and not realize I’ve been dead the entire movie.  Usually I try to keep things a bit classier when I write, but in this case there is really no way around the fact that over the weekend I spent the hours from midnight until 4:30 AM constantly vomiting, only interrupted with sporadic periods of rest on the bathroom rug.  I understand that some people have never gotten food poisoning.  As for myself, I can easily think of my three worst occasions: The Central Park drive-thru in 1990, the shady Chinese buffet restaurant in 2007 (back when I still ate pork and shellfish), and the apple & peanut butter incident of 2010.

I don’t know; maybe getting food poisoning every couple of years is like getting stuck by lightening more than once in a lifetime.  Or maybe my digestive track is just ultra-sensitive to any food that is slightly less than proper and sanity.  But what I do know is that I am unable to digest slightly massive amounts of anything- even if it hasn’t been setting out in a Chinese buffet for three hours unattended. What clued me into my possible allergy to large, consistent amounts of peanut butter was my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup overdose of 2003, when I consumed 36 of them in less than 24 hours: I had just came back from spending a summer in Thailand where both peanut butter and rich, American chocolate are rare finds.  I experienced a major depression for the following two days along with a mild rash on my left wrist for the next six months.

Last week my choice snack every day was an apple with three tablespoons of peanut butter. So good- and seemingly healthy.  But I guess by Day 6 of this treat, which I made my lazy dinner Friday night, was just enough peanut butter in a week’s amount of digestion to throw my digestive track into shock.  Because this was the first time that after I puked up all my food from that evening, I puked up a thick yellow substance, then a thick green substance, then blood- and that pattern repeated a few times before I finally fell asleep until late morning. Eventually though, every single trace of peanut butter was erased from my body. Now, a few days later, I was able to eat my first meal with meat (tilapia, okra, and salad), though my voice is raspy from all the ralphing and my ribs hurt any time I cough or sneeze.

To my understanding and according to my self-diagnosis, I have survived yet another case of food poisoning- and surprisingly this time it didn’t involve a restaurant, but instead a good snack.  I’ve eaten a lot of peanuts in a week’s time and never had anything like this happen.  There must be something about the simple process of smashing the peanuts to turn them into butter than makes them slightly toxic to me.  Sure, I didn’t experience any of the typical symptoms of peanut butter allergies like swelling, but I just think it that peanut butter is smart enough of a food to hurt people in its own sneaky ways.

Lesson learned: From now on I’ll go light on the PB.

dad from day one: He Who Dies Happy in Old Age, Still Dies

Thirty weeks.


Ironically, while waiting for my first child to be born I am accompanied by thoughts of the finality of my own life.  Having a baby is such a huge milestone, such a life-changing event, that my mind skips decades ahead to when my kid will graduate high school, to when I will be a grandparent, and ultimately, to my inevitable passing into eternity.  In my mind, all those big events are strung together like bubbly Christmas lights from 1988.

My wife and I have this agreement that concerning our own inevitable deaths, we will die healthy but of “natural causes” in our sleep, both at age 92, holding hands.  And I would assume that most happily married people would wish for the same thing- to be able to raise their children with their spouse, to grow old with their family, and to pass this life in our right minds – not lonely and suffering in a nursing home.  I don’t consider a sudden brain aneurism, a car accident, or being mauled by a bear while hiking through the woods.  No, you see, I have carefully planned out my own “natural causes” death in a romantic and perfect way.

And that’s the only way I can think about the end of my life- with optimism.  Assuming I will live a long, happy life, giving all I can to my family.   It’s the only way I can think, because even now, two months before Baby Jack is scheduled to arrive, I am responsible for another life.  I have to be here to take care of him.  And my wife.

I truly am incapable of trying to fathom how so many people in the world don’t have a solid understanding (or at least some kind of basic perspective) of what happens after this life, and that they don’t think about it on a daily basis like I do.  How the afterlife is completely something to be considered, how beyond heaven and hell issues, this dream of life is the prequel to eternity.  And now, already, a new soul has been created, and I had something to do with that.  I have changed the course of eternity.

This baby is not just a body; he’s got a soul.  A soul that will need guidance for this life and the eternal one.  And I have to be here for that.  Even if these thoughts may seem dark and depressing to some, I refuse to ignore the reality that life and death are intertwined.  As much as I “try not to take life too seriously” like all those stupid bumper stickers and annoying e-mail forwards tell me, I still take life seriously enough to think about this stuff.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

dad from day one: Actor Turned Director

Twenty-nine weeks.

It took me 12 straight days to teach myself to solve the Rubik’s Cube; it was during this time that my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby.  Of course, we didn’t tell anyone until over a month later, but during my “learn to solve a Rubik’s Cube” phase, I had several people crack themselves up with this joke: “If you’ve got the time and patience to solve that thing, it’s time for you to have a kid!”  And they were right.  My instincts were making it obvious that like so many actors, the time eventually arrives when it’s time to dabble with directing.

(Cue the song “In My Life” by The Beatles as the proper soundtrack as you read the rest of this post.  It’s officially my favorite song ever.)

I can look back on my life with satisfaction, knowing that my accomplishments have outweighed my failures and regrets.  I have met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world (most of whom are facebook friends).  I understand the meaning of life.  I am solid in my beliefs on the afterlife.  I have married the woman I am meant to be with.  I can now solve the Rubik’s Cube in two minutes and twenty-five seconds.  And though this paragraph may resemble a goodbye letter to the world as I prepare for my life to come to an end like I’m 90 years old, I recognize that in some ways life as I know it will end, as it transforms into a new one.  A more meaningful one.  From “me” to “dad”.

On top of all this, I’m about a half a year away from turning 30, so yeah, I’d say it’s time for things to stop being about me so much and more about someone else.  I have been the protagonist, but soon I will become a full-time director.  All of life has prepared me to this new role.  The cynic could see it as circular reasoning- that you spend your youth learning how to become a responsible adult, and then once you do, you just do it all over again with modified little reruns of yourself running around.

But I would say the cynic is still under the assumption that life is all about him- that life either simply ends when he dies or that hopefully when he dies, he’s been “good enough to get to Heaven” or that at least Hell won’t be that bad, but instead just a big party where the temperature is slightly hotter than desired while Jimmy Buffett plays an eternal concert and the margaritas are never-ending.

If anything, I could see how raising a kid will be a redeeming and cleansing process, helping me to see how little I truly know, helping me to appreciate my family and childhood teachers more, helping me to straighten out my priorities even more, helping me to ultimately give more than I take.  I could see how this baby will ironically make me a better adult.  And how the humility of changing diapers is only a small part of this evolution of my life.

And yes, Baby Jack will probably already know how to solve a Rubik’s Cube before he gets to Kindergarten.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com