Easy Like Sunday Morning: Christianity in a Nut Shell

Ah, the good ole days of flannel boards and McGee & Me.

Flannel boards will always remain in the warmest parts of my heart and childhood memories.  Nothing brought those Biblical accounts to life more than a cloth cut-out of a generic bearded Jewish man who could play the part of Moses parting the Red Sea, then less than a minute later he could be Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, or even Noah gathering all the animals on the ark.

And when the teacher was lazy or absent, we got to watch one of thirteen McGee and Me tapes, featuring Nick Martin and his crazy cartoon sidekick.  Lesson learned- you CAN beat the bully in a skateboarding contest, if even he cheats.  Also, if you sneak out to see a scary 3-D movie with your best buddy Lewis, you’re parents are going to find out and ground you.  And of course, it’s never a good idea to try to impress your friends by telling them that your Native American Indian neighbor eats rabbits.  Because he just needs a friend.

But eventually, my faith had to be able to grow beyond the entertaining and miraculous stories I heard each Sunday morning.

I admit.  It’s not easy anymore for another human being to “challenge me” in my thinking, regarding my faith.  I can spit out a hundred cliché Sunday School answers whenever I’m asked anything Christian related.  Because for those of us who “grew up in church”, we do know all the answers.

At least all the answers for the questions we are tiredly asked again and again by Christian leaders in a church setting.  You just can’t go wrong with “God”, “Jesus”, “the Holy Spirit”, “Heaven”, “good”, “bad”, “Satan”, “hell”, “pray and read the Bible”, “invite them to church”, or “tell them about Jesus”.

Typically, I don’t spend money or time on Christian marketed items.  Books that generically tell me I need to stop being “downtrodden by the world” and “stand on God’s promises” to “expand my territory”.  T-shirts that illegally parody business logos and make them “cute” by throwing in the name of Jesus.  A sticker to put on the back window of my car that arrogantly boasts “straight pride”, picks fights with atheists and Pro-Choicers, or announces that God is Republican.

Besides, I think most Christians know by now that God has switched His allegiance from the Republican Party to Ron Paul.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

But thank God, in the past two years, I have been challenged in my thinking, regarding my faith, more so than any other time in my life.

How?  1) I got married.  2) My small group from church read a book called The Hole in the Gospel.  3) I was asked an allegorical question about a bicycle.

Getting married to a faithful Christian has helped me to mature not just because of her confidence when mine is sagging, but also because marriage shows me how selfish I can be with my time and space.  Two years later, I’m much more easy-going about stuff that only mattered in The World of Me.

The Hole in Our Gospel is the book that my Wednesday night small group (Bible Study) decided to read.  Seriously, it is the most life-changing book I’ve ever read.  The Bible is the most influential.  But the Hole in Our Gospel has actually helped me to personally identify what the Bible and my purpose in my life are all about.

For me, my faith had always come down Ephesians 2:8-9 in the Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast.

That Bible passage has everything a Baptist likes to hear, regarding one’s spiritual wellbeing: “grace”, “faith”, and “gift of God”.

It doesn’t say anything about helping other people, doing good works, or giving away our time, money, and energy.  Because as long as we splice in “Jesus loves you, died for you, rose from the grave, and will give you eternal life in Heaven if you say this three sentence prayer…”, then we are fulfilling our duty as a good Christian.  Get people to say a prayer and go to church.  Get them to stop cussing, drinking, and smoking- because that improvement shows their “spiritual fruits”.

As a Baptist, I had always been leery of the phrase “works”.  Because it had been engrained in my brain fibers that God’s salvation couldn’t be “earned”.  I understood from the book of James (2:20) that “works” were necessary to prove that my faith to be sincere.

The problem is that I, along with many Protestants just like me, naturally had been led to believe that “good works” means “good behavior”; and “good behavior” is a list of things Christians don’t do- including watching R-rated movies (unless they’re war-based: What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get?) and drinking anything with alcohol (both vanilla extract and Nyquil are approved, fortunately- and though participants should keep it on the down low, drinking wine is permitted for special private events like wedding anniversaries: Water into Wine).

But what really opened up my mind was reading (and eventually memorizing) the verse that directly followed my convenient “faith is all you need” Bible passage.  The next verse, verse 10, says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared behforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Created for good works?  Not good behavior?  It’s a lot more serious if I truly take the words of Christ seriously when in the Gospel of John (13:34), Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

And finally, it hit me: Oh, Jesus actually cares about people starving in poor countries, despite their “wrong religious beliefs” and “stupid civil wars” and “corrupt governments”.

As hard as it was for me to process, God cares just as much that I as a Christian do my part to physically help those people as He wants me to in some direct or indirect way (supporting missionaries) learn about Jesus.

That financially helping these random, dying, desperate people across the world actually equates in God’s eyes as me loving them as He loves me.

With that being said, I no longer believe that a person goes to Heaven just because they said “the sinner’s prayer” when they were at a Vacation Bible School when they were in the 5th grade.  I believe, like Jesus’ half-brother James wrote in his book (2:20) that faith without works is dead.

And works means that I help people who are less fortunate (even if they themselves in deed got themselves in that situation), because that shows them God’s love, and I don’t necessary have to preach to them as I’m doing it.  I just need to start by helping them.

True, no one can earn God’s love or salvation.  Nor does believing in Jesus mean a person doesn’t go to hell.  Jesus himself said in the Gospel of Matthew (7:21): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”

So what is the will of God for us?  What does He want us to do besides obey His law, read the Bible, pray, and tell others about Jesus?  (All of which are “Sunday School answers” I referred to earlier.)

For a start, my wife and I knew it meant sponsoring a child named Gueslin in South America.  So now we have this postcard hanging on our fridge with a picture of a sad-looking 5 year-old boy who I wish I could take care of myself.  We send him money every month and pray for him and his family as we think about him.

We know that raising our own child (due in November) in our faith is what God wants.  We know that helping anyone in need is what He wants.  And we know that we can’t always wait for those opportunities to come to us.  I’m working on making it a new obsession: Finding ways to help people.  Because God likes that.

So where does the bicycle come into the picture?  A few months ago someone showed me a Xeroxed copy of a bicycle and asked me: “Which tire is faith and which tire is works?

The back tire is associated with the power while the front is associated with balance and steering.  Both are very important and necessary.  But if a bicycle would only work if one tire was faith and the other was works, which tire should be the front and which should be the back?

I was actually asked this in a group of people.  Half of us believed one way.  The rest, the other way.

My answer: The back tire is works, the front tire is faith.

Because if faith is dead with out works, so is a bike immobile with no one to actually pedal the thing.  The front tire only moves because the back one does.

And basically, if I’m actually understanding what Jesus said, loving God means loving other people the way He loves me.

I can’t rely on reading the Bible and praying to move me anywhere in my faith.  That’s what steers me.  Instead, I actually have to move my feet.

The Similarities Between Science and Religion (SCIence + FaIth = Sci-Fi)

 

 

In a year of history when pretty much anyone who will ever join facebook is now on facebook, those seemingly out-of-touch souls living without it most likely see it a different way:  They don’t want to be found.  The facebook search proves empty.  But not everyone who is lost wants to be found.

And while some people never find what they are looking for, some simply aren’t trying to find anything.


I am not one of those people.  After thinking about it a lot, I’m convinced that even if I wasn’t raised in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, I would still end up where I am today in my spiritual beliefs.  I’m intrigued by this mysterious Middle Eastern religion based on an ancient book that explains the origin of the universe and ancient mankind.  That predicted the life of a man who would wreck the traditional religious laws as he died for his radical and offensive beliefs, then brought hope to his followers by strangely coming back to life after his body was mangled beyond human resemblance.

 

The way I view Christianity is similar to the concept of the show LOST.  It begins with normal people trying to adapt to living in a less than perfect land.  There are struggles for power, unseen dangers, continued plans for rescue and escape, and supernatural occurrences that can not be explained.  Time goes on and they begin to realize their dwelling place has a history which is cursed from whatever it was that happened in the past, mysteriously involving ties back to Egypt.  The more they look, the more they find.  What began as a drama and action show in the first season evolved into a sci-fi show as seasons went on, losing many of its original viewers by the time the ancient Jacob was finally revealed last season.


While many people do enjoy sci-fi, many do not.  It either repels or attracts a person.  Sci-fi is abstract.  It’s imaginary until proven literal.  This train of thought led to the realization:  Christianity is about as sci-fi as it gets.


The following paragraph is how Wikipedia defines science fiction:  “A genre of fiction. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically-established or scientifically-postulated law of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”.  Science fiction is largely based on writing entertainingly and rationally about alternate possibilitiesin settings that are contrary to known reality.”

 

Again, as I put it, imaginary until proven literal.  But my spiritual beliefs are not built on fiction, they are based on a book translated from the ancient Latin and Greek scrolls of Moses, Paul, and Co.


 

Christianity is comprised of so many sci-fi elements:  An alternative story of how the universe was formed, countless scientific miracles (Noah gathering all the animals on a giant boat for a year as the rest of the population is destroyed by a world-wide flood, Moses parting the Red Sea, the Seven Plagues of Egypt, Jesus’ birth, life, and resurrection, etc.), a realization that a person’s spiritual condition and relationship with their Creator affects both their current condition and their eternal one, a future life outside this universe.  Very bizarre.


It should be no surprise that “the Force” in Star Wars has been compared so much to elements of Christianity.  Sci-fi and religion are ultimately inseparable.


So why is Christianity so popular, not just in our country, but across the world?  With sci-fi being such a stumbling block for so many people, why are so many people okay with the fact that to an outsider the entire concept of Christianity can seem like a weird fairy tale?


The major element that sets Christianity apart from all other major religions is the fact that God actually loves people and wants a daily, personal, eternal relationship with him.  I’ve studied all major religions and the rest seem to feature a distant god that a person can only hope to be in good standing with by following a list of do’s and don’ts, void of love, mercy, and grace.  I simply need an involved God who loves me and has a plan for my life.


It has been said that religion is for the weak.  Yes, that’s the whole point.  I am weak and can’t save myself.  That’s sort of the whole idea behind serving God.  Humility was a major part of who Jesus was when he lived on Earth.  That’s the example to follow.


But interestingly, it’s not just Christianity that is laced in sci-fi.  All religions are.  Even for those who are truly atheists and believe that when a person dies, that’s simply the end and there’s nothing else, they still have to address the fact that the universe had to come in to existence somehow and miraculously support intelligent life.  To answer that question, it takes faith in a sci-fi concept that no living person was around to see happen.


One of the major religions of the world that tends to slip under the radar is what I call “Good Personism”, which is completely different from Christianity.  Based on the spiritual outline drawn in entertainment media such as Disney’s baseball movie Angels in the Outfield, if a person is good, they become an angelic being when they die and go to Heaven.  If a person is really bad (mass murderers, rapists, people who slaughter seals and whales, etc.), they become a demonic creature and go to an unmentionable hell.

 

The reason this religious concept is so popular is because it’s one of the most non-offensive religions, while appearing to resemble whatever the popular religion of that culture is.  Here’s how.  The creed of followers of this faith is the following:  “I’m a good person.  At least I’m not as bad as (enter the name of a known felon or war tyrant).”  The problem though is that creed itself shows an acknowledgement that morality should be confronted by a worthy judge.


This concept is non-offensive because it is quite vague about what exactly it takes to be bad enough to be cursed and how good a person has to be to be saved.  It groups all gods together so that as long as a person believes in some sort of higher power, at least, then that makes everything okay.  The origins of this faith are based on elements of Christianity, Buddhism, national tradition, and a general, innate understanding that mankind is corrupt.  In this religion, Jesus is simply a “good teacher and a good man”.  (Even though a good teacher and a good man wouldn’t base his teachings on lies, claiming to be the only way to God if he wasn’t.)


What if the physical, tangible life we see around us was all there really was?  And we didn’t have to think about bigger things outside of that?  But then someone we know dies.  And it crosses our minds for at least a few minutes that there has to be something more.  That leads to faith in something.  Even if it involves a person unknowingly converting to Good Personism.


 “From emptiness to everything, everyone believes.”  -John Mayer (“Belief”)

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