Thursday, December 15, 2005

Obstacle Course

It was a far-too-quick, but interesting discussion on the radio. Tuesday afternoon, talk-show host Tammy Bruce was talking about belief in God. If you've never heard or even heard of Bruce, she's not a typical talk show host. She is a conservative. She is also a lesbian. It's an odd combination, I realize, but that's what made this discussion a bit more intersting.

I only hear Tammy Bruce occasionally and usually for only 20 minutes, if that much, but I think I have a grasp on many of her key beliefs. One is that she believes in God. As she talked about that on the air Tuesday, you could hear the conviction in her voice. She is definitely a theist. And she quoted a new Gallup poll which reported again that by far most Americans believe in God. That poll also even showed that of the four percent who say they there is no God, most of those folks say they aren't really sure about it.

But as Bruce talked about her own beliefs, she talked about what really held her back from being a Christian, or from being involved in a church, was being burned by "church people" in the past. She wasn't specific about any incidents, except to say that people representing the church had "lied to us" and hadn't acted like Christians toward others. There are tons of examples of this behavior and frankly, this is an obstacle which many people can't seem to jump.

The first obstacle to faith in Christ is the existance of God Himself. The vast majority of those hitting this barrier balk at the idea of the supernatural. Naturalistic explanations are sought for things which are beyond our knowledge. They believe that physical laws are in place and nothing can violate those laws, unless it is explainable by Science. If a person refuses to even consider that there is more to the universe than can be possibly shown by Natural processes, then the idea of God is out of the question.

The next obstacle is God's nature. Is God more than simply an impersonal force or the culmination of supernatural power? Can a God be merely a force? It would seem that a creator who is nothing more than energy is little better than another naturalistic explanation for creation. But if there is truly some kind of personality in God, then the next obstacle is the belief in not just a God, but a personal God. A God who actually cares about His creation. Deists, like Benjamin Franklin, profess a belief in God, but not in a God who is active in today's world. Perhaps this obstacle is a bit easier to overcome than most, as I can't say that I've ever met a deist. A God who offers us no hope isn't much of God after all.

The big hurdle then, is dealing with the nature of that hope. Once one has accepted the personal nature of God, one must then deal with the dueling religions which have formed around differing ideas of how God deals with us. Which of all of these constructs of man is the true way to God and that hope? What must we do to earn heaven? All of the world's faiths -- Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism and various other cults -- each call for man to earn perfection or salvation of some kind. The only exception is Christianity. Only Christians believe that we are saved solely by God's grace. Only Christians could buy that a mass murderer like Ted Bundy could repent, accept Christ and be saved. The "salvation by faith, not by works" obstacle is the biggest hurdle toward Christianity. If someone is saved by God, shouldn't it be obvious by their actions?

This brings us back to Tammy Bruce. Her objection was that oftentimes Christians don't act "good." All of us Christians are slapping our foreheads and exclaiming, "Duh!" at this point! We fully realize that we're not perfect. That's the point. We cannot be perfect. We don't always look like what the world thinks we should resemble. We know that. But sometimes we forget how big an obstacle this can be to people considering the claims of Jesus Christ. Paul warns us not to be a stumbling block to other believers, but the natural extension of this teaching is that our actions must also not cause those running the obstacle course to slip and fall before ever reaching Christ.

But the message which isn't reaching people like Tammy Bruce is that putting our faith for salvation in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ doesn't instantly make us better people. The theological term, sanctification, describes the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. It's not like fast food or instant pudding. The process takes time and unless we submit to Christ's will for us, then we won't look any different than the garden variety pagan. We'll be just as fallible, just as dishonest, just as selfish, just as materialistic. But if we are truly committed to maturing in our faith, then there will be fewer and fewer errors shining like a neon sign in the wee hours of the morning. But there will still be some.

The existance of sin in the life of the Christian does not make Christ any less God. The fact that priests and pastors have sexually abused people and that Christians have cheated on their taxes and that believers have been hateful toward others and that teachers have deceived people for their own benefit -- all these things do not diminish the claims of the Bible or the Church of Christ Universal. The bumper sticker, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven," is true, yet it only makes us sound like we think we're better than others.

The only ladder to help people over this obstacle is constructed from humility and honesty. We cannot afford to come across as thinking we're superior to unbelievers because we're not. We cannot pretend we aren't tempted and never take the temptation because we are and we do. And we cannot present Christ to others for any reason other than the fact that we love Jesus and we love those who don't know Him. The rebellious, the drunks, the addicts, the proud, the rich, the intellectual, the lonely, the rejected, guy just trying to make it through the week... these are the people we are to love, the same way God loves us.

Once we overcome this obstacle, perhaps others will clear the final hurdle and come to know Jesus Christ.

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