Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Return of the Prodigal Son

“So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Matt 26: 40-41, ESV). 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, 
and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24, ESV)

Hi there. Remember me? I used to write here every once in a while, and then I stopped. I stopped for a long time. Do you wonder why? Have you missed me?

The last time I wrote, I believe I was wrestling with this feeling of apathy towards God. I was feeling detached and generally dead in the spirit. Everything had become academic. Routine. A bloodless investigation of literature, not a spiritual journey towards atonement with God.

It's so easy to drift away, so easy to sleep. It seems like human nature...maybe it is human nature. The spirit is willing - my spirit was willing - but the flesh is weak.

Thankfully, God kept me firmly planted in the Body and immersed in the Word. Honestly, had I not had such a strong connection with my church, my small group, my mentor, and the choir, I would have drifted away, maybe never to return.

A year ago, in my first post here, I talked about my church background and beliefs. Thinking myself theologically well-rounded and reasonably intelligent, some of my opinions were solid. Nothing could sway my understanding of what marriage should be like, what the nature of sin was, or the identity of Christ in relation to God. These seemed like really logical conclusions on my part.

Pride has always been and will always be my greatest sin, but thankfully, God knows that.

A sermon was given this past summer that awakened me to God's real work in my life. It was a solidification of what I had always known but had never been able to put my finger on - my testimony. So, here it is. Here is how I know that I have been saved from myself:

He has never given up on me. Even at my lowest point, even when I was so deeply immersed in the sin of my own making that even I found myself to be a vile waste of air, God has never stopped pursuing me.

He has pursued me when I needed to be found. He has let me fall away when I needed to be humbled. And He has set me back up again when I needed to be strengthened. Despite all my terrible sins, personal flaws, and outright disobedience to Him, God has remained ever faithfully my God. 

Now, dear Reader, I could go into innumerable detail on this, and if you really want to know how bad my life got, I am more than willing to tell you, but not like this. Call me. Text me. Facebook me. We'll set up a date to have coffee, and I will tell you every way that God sought to break me, humble me, entice me, and persuade me to worship Him as He deserves.

That being said, it is good to be back. Thanks be to God.

Doubting Thomas

And have mercy on those who doubt; (Jude 1:22, ESV)

To err is human; to forgive, divine. - Alexander Pope

Jesus and Thomas

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29, ESV)


In this anecdote from the Book of John, Thomas refuses to believe in the resurrection of Christ until he can see and touch Him.

Believers may rush to judge Thomas; perhaps we even believe that we would never have been so blind. How could he show such a lack of faith when he, himself, had fallen under the leadership and love of Jesus? Why does Thomas need to see and touch the wounds of Jesus before he could believe them? Surely the testimony of the other disciples should be enough for him. After all, Thomas had every reason in the world to believe - he heard the prophecies of His death and resurrection from Christ's own mouth. Yet, despite all that, Thomas doubts. Thomas wants proof.

There is a tendency among believers and non-believers alike to judge one another for their inability to believe in what the other sees as obvious and absolute truth.  How can someone deny the existence of the Divine God? How can anyone not recognize the validity of evolution? And so on...the storms of debate rage on. Always have. Always will.

But is seeing really believing? I wonder if that was Jesus's point. Upon touching the wounds of the risen Christ, Thomas immediately professes his belief, but Jesus responds with a question: "Have you believed because you have seen me?" 

"Well, yes," I would think at first. Of course that's why. He wanted proof. You came and gave him proof. End of story. Except that it's not the end of the story. It never is.

Did you ever see that magic act where the two people go around the stage doing completely insane quick changes? I must have watched it a thousand times, and I still can't figure it out. Seriously, go watch this:Quick Change Magic

Now, I don't believe that either of those people is magical; they're just really good at tricking me. And that, I think, might be Jesus's point to Thomas. Why would you allow the subjective reality of your senses to dictate what you believe? Any mother can tell you that intuition is a better judge of what is right and wrong in her child than any medical book could ever be.  Reality, for all its concrete, observable, quantifiable, reasoned elements, is still no more real to you or I than the dreams we have each night.  

Nonetheless, humans are built to trust our senses and our reason, and as a result, we doubt - even when we have no reason to doubt at all.

Why do I tell you this? Well, in the past few months, I have come across at least two friends who have sought me out and questioned the validity of the Bible, the realistic probability of its accuracy, and what I believe on everything from the origins of the Universe to homosexuality as a sin. And I have gladly answered them to the best of my ability, but there is something that I still need to say:

I know what you are going through. I still have doubts myself.

For me at least, being a Christian isn't about certainty of facts or an iron fisted handle on the full reality of God. For me, being a Christian is only about accepting with faith that which is unseen. 

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, 
the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1

To doubt is human. We are not meant to fully understand all which is or has been or is to come. We question. We ponder. We consider the possibility. This is the very essence of what it means to be human, not beast.

It must have been very lonely for Thomas in those eight days. All of the other disciples having seen Jesus resurrected from the grave, and poor Thomas is left to only imagine what it would be like. I feel for him. I am him.

I am thankful for are those moments when I can actually feel God moving my heart towards Him. I am thankful for the sunsets that could only be created by a Divine God. I am thankful for the sounds of my children's laughter, reminding me of His love. I am thankful for all of those moments that re-solidify my faith because, like Thomas, I need it. We all do.