To my friends who characterize yourselves as agnostics, skeptics, atheists, humanists, or doubters. To those who have been alienated by, disappointed in, or disenchanted with the church or those who call themselves Christians. Boy have I got a blog for you.
Over the last few months I’ve become increasingly and painfully aware of how poorly those of us who call ourselves Christians are reflecting the Savior we profess. Even with often well-intentioned actions and words, Christians become something we are cautioned not to be: stumbling blocks. We have offered arrogance in place of humility and self-righteousness in place of compassion. On a broader scale, the business marketing of the church and Christianity has jaded this generation of non-churchgoers. Many grew up in the church and have seen firsthand that Christians are sometimes guilty of “shooting their wounded.”
Now, I’m not just going to go on beating up Christians. But if you’re one of my friends I addressed in my opening line, allow me to make a request. Please set aside the hypocrisy, inconsistency, selfishness, and inadequacy of the Christians you now base your cynicism on. Consider in its place the selflessness, sinless perfection, and all-sufficiency of Christ himself. Forget for a few moments your disappointments in Christians and the Church. Take the risk of embarking on a re-examination of Jesus Christ. Not just his teaching, but his person.
If you have no confidence in the words of a preacher, take another look at the Bible itself. You can always choose to reject what you find there. But I believe the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit can accomplish what the futile arguments of well-meaning friends cannot. Bear with me to look at just a few verses.
Christians often refer folks to the powerful logic of Paul in the book of Romans. It’s good stuff. Likewise, I direct you to the 11th Chapter of Hebrews, the so-called Hall of Fame of Faith.
Verses 1 and 2 state: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”
Verse 6 says: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
No offense, but if you’re firmly established in your position of non-belief, it’s going to be hard to get past those verses. Please—get past them. The rest of Hebrews 11 is a chronicle of the faith of patriarchs and heroes from Abraham and Isaac to Samson and David. I encourage you to read it all. Then read the first two verses of Chapter 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Now we encounter a problem. I mentioned that Christians’ very behavior can be a stumbling block that prevents others from seeing who Christ really is. But Christ Himself is actually a stumbling block, as the Bible points out. Or a cornerstone. It all depends.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims a message that is a two-edged sword. In Isaiah 8:14 he refers to the coming messiah as “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Then in 28:16 he says, “See, I lay in Zion a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.”
In our age, it is easy to misplace our trust. We can trust in our skills, shrewd business acumen, accumulated wealth, work ethic, a network of friends or colleagues, or even luck. The same has always been true. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1:20a-25):
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews [even to this day] and foolishness to Gentiles [that’s all the rest of us], but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
Returning to Hebrews 12, verses 14 through 29 contain admonitions for believers and non-believers alike. Christians first: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” I am afraid that is exactly what has happened in many cases. A footnote in my Bible explains bitter root: “pride, animosity, rivalry or anything else harmful to others.” There’s certainly enough there to bring conviction upon most of us Christians. Let me go further with that “holiness” requirement. Could we extend it to assume that without holiness no one will see the Lord in us? I believe that’s a fair question. Further, can our religion blind others to our Lord?
Since I believe no one will be dragged kicking and screaming into faith in Jesus Christ, I would like to show my respect for my readers by stepping aside and letting Jesus stand on his own words, his own person, and above all, his atoning sacrifice. Hebrews 12:24 calls Jesus the “mediator of a new covenant,” and the following verse cautions us all: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” I am struck by the fact that only a few pen strokes can alter “condemnation” to “commendation.” Or vice versa. But because God has given us free will as well as an intellect, it is our choice.
While over 1,000 words by my hand may not persuade a single soul, a single touch of the Holy Spirit is both more efficient and effective. If you would like to continue this discussion with me via Facebook, e-mail, in person, or by phone, I would welcome the opportunity.