When I Became a Christian...

For the next few weeks I’ll be pulling quotes from Evolving in Monkey Town to discuss here on the blog. Today’s excerpts come from Chapter 1, entitled “The Best Christian Attitude Award.”

People sometimes ask me when I became a Christian, and that’s a hard question to answer because I’m pretty sure that by the time I asked Jesus into my heart, he’d already been living there for a while. I was just five years old at the time, a compact little person with pigtails sticking out of my head like corn tassels, and I remember thinking it strange that someone as important as Jesus would need an invitation. Strange now is the fact that before I lost my first tooth or learned to ride a bike or graduated from kindergarten, I committed my life to a man who asked his followers to love their enemies, to give without expecting anything in return, and to face public execution if necessary. It is perhaps an unfair thing to ask of a child, but few who decide to follow Jesus know from the beginning what they’re getting themselves into.

So, when did you become a Christian? What was your conversion experience like? Did you know what you were getting into?

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The earthquake

Before we turn this into a theological debate, 

Before we declare what God has in mind, 

Before we demand answers to all of our questions, 

Before, in our arrogance, we propose an explanation…

Let us weep, 

Let us hurt, 

Let us pray,

Let us help. 

Donate to World Vision or the Red Cross.

 

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Does God Speak To You?

I'm traveling today, so I thought I'd re-post this piece from January 25, in light of some recent conversations I've had. 

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“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

- Susan B. Anthony

There are two things that make me feel out-of-place among my fellow Christians.

The first is my tendency to ask a lot of questions.

The second is the fact that God doesn’t speak to me—at least not the way he seems to speak to other people.

We’ve talked a lot about the first. But until now, I’ve been afraid to talk about the second.  I guess I’ve been afraid of being judged, afraid of being told I need more faith, afraid of getting kicked out of the club, afraid of spending another sleepless night worried that I’m not among God’s chosen after all.

I probably would have kept quiet were it not for the nagging feeling that maybe I’m not alone. Maybe there are others out there who are trying to follow Jesus without the advantage of play-by-play instructions.

In Funeral for a Stranger, Becca Stevens put it this way:

To be honest, I am not sure how people have conversations with God, where God has an actual voice. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it’s always awkward for me to listen as people report these conversations…There have been beautiful and faithful people who have said God tells them what to get at the grocery store, whom to date, and what to wear. That God has a voice different from theirs is hard for me to grasp. The God of their understanding is much more detailed than the God of my understanding. Sometimes the stories leave me feeling as though God is less than God and not the author of life and love. I am a little cynical and skeptical about it all. (p. 12-13)

Like Stevens, I know a lot of good, godly people who believe that God tells them where to live, who to marry, what jobs to take, what books to write, and which people to serve. I love these people dearly, but sometimes I get frustrated with them because, in claiming God’s calling, they often close themselves off to the wise counsel of friends.  When questions about a particular decision are met with “God wants it this way,” dialog shuts down and the community is stifled because no one wants to come across as arguing with God.

I’ve watched in dismay as people have made terrible decisions with terrible consequences, all in the name of God’s calling. Often these dear friends express confusion and anger upon realizing that maybe they were wrong, maybe God didn’t tell them to this specific thing after all. It’s sad because God comes across as looking like a bad communicator at best, and fickle and unreliable at worst.

This may be one reason why, like Stevens, I have trouble swallowing the idea that God has a different voice from our own, giving us real-time directions about what to do next.

For me, it works more like this:

I already know what God wants me to do. He wants me to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). He wants me to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:36-40). He wants me to go and make disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:19). He wants me to imitate Jesus (Ephesians 5:1).

Remaining faithful to this broad calling seems challenging enough on its own without having to read tea leaves about the specifics. So when I pray, I generally pray for the wisdom to apply these principles to my life, openness to opportunities that may come my way, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, which convicts me of my sin and provides peace when I obey.

Aside from that, I guess I just assume there is a degree of freedom and choice when it comes to decision-making, and I’ve never had a burning-bush experience that resulted in a more specific calling. I can think of maybe one or two times in my life when I have felt a strong, perhaps supernatural, pull toward something…but even then, I did not announce it to be God’s will, mainly because I am distrustful of my own motives and I want to remain open to input from others.

And yet, there are many wonderful people in my life who seem to have a different kind of relationship with God—one in which he gives them very specific orders about what to do. They enthusiastically tell me about how he led them to buy a certain car, take out a certain loan, attend a certain church, go on a certain mission trip, even get a certain parking space.

Part of me wants to dismiss the phenomenon as little more than the human tendency to project our image upon God and read into things. But part of me wonders if I’m missing something, if I’m supposed to hear God the way that so many of my friends and family hear God.

Sometimes I wonder if something’s wrong with me.

Does God speak to you? How?

And how do you respond when someone tells you God told them to do something that you think might be a bad idea?

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Is God Really in Control?

As promised, a post about something unrelated to politics! If you feel like wallowing/ gloating about the election results, there are plenty of sites on which to vent your frustration/elation. If you want to talk about determinism and free will, this is the spot for you!

The other day, an author friend of mine sent me a message that said, “I’ve finished my manuscript and sent it to my editor. It’s in God’s hands now.”

 I couldn’t help myself. “You’ve got a pretty high opinion of your editor, don't you?” I responded.

Those who know me well know that I’ve always struggled with the idea of divine intervention, and am not particularly fond of theologies that emphasize determinism.

When I hear the expression, “God is in control,” I tend to think about the Asian tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in 2004, the countless women who have been raped in the Congo over the last few days, and the many children who will die of hunger and preventable disease this year. Is God controlling all of that? Isn’t it a bit too easy for those of us enjoying comfort and security to make such a statement?

When I am urged to pray about a church building project, or when I'm told that God has intervened and made funds available for a vacation or an exotic mission trip, I think about the little boy in India who begged me to pray for his mother, who died of AIDS a few days later.

When I’m wrestling with doubt or am frustrated with Christianity, and someone tells me to “leave it in God’s hands,” I feel like they’re just telling me to shut up and stop asking questions.

When I’m told that God picks and chooses who He wants to save and who He wants to damn, and that I shouldn’t question the notion that He created people for the sole purpose of inhabiting hell, I get pretty angry—not just by the theology, but by the stoicism of those who believe it.

Most of all, I am deeply suspicious when someone tells me that he is getting specific instructions from God to do this or that, that it’s not really his choice that he buy a new car or take out a loan or apply for a certain job. God is telling him to do it, and he is simply obeying God’s will. Isn’t this just a way of spiritualizing decisions we’ve already made and justifying our actions?  How does one know when it is God talking or simply one’s internal voice?

These attitudes reached a bit of a boiling point this week. I don’t know abut you, but I know some people who were absolutely convinced that God had told them to vote for John McCain and others who were absolutely convinced that God had told them to vote for Barack Obama. I was urged to pray and fast. And yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I was reminded that this election was “completely in God’s hands anyway,” so ultimately it didn’t matter one way or the other. I guess I’m wondering why anyone would bother to  vote if they thought the results were predetermined. And why would God be telling some people one thing, and others the opposite?

So, (no news here), I’m not a fan of determinism. It seems to me that it is applied somewhat arbitrarily, and that it is incredibly impractical. One has to believe in a certain amount of free will in order to function. Otherwise, I’d just sit on the couch and watch the news all day, expecting my book to write itself….(Oh, wait. Perhaps I’m a bit more of a determinist than I thought!)

And yet Dan graciously reminded me the other day of how important it is to respect the fact that so much of life is out of one’s control.  

We can plan and obsess and worry and strive, but we cannot manipulate all of the forces around us.  We can’t uncover all the mysteries of the universe or choose when we live or die. He reminded me that perhaps this was what Jesus was getting at when he said, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” While our lives are heavily influenced by the decisions we make; they are not completely defined by them.  There is a certain amount of peace that comes with this realization, a sense of surrender that is undoubtedly healthy and good.

Still, I’m not convinced that praying for the hungry and homeless is enough, or that “leaving things in God’s hands” is the best approach to stopping the spread of disease and the scourge of human trafficking. We’ve got to put legs on our prayers. We’ve got to quit blaming God for failures that are essentially ours, not His. At its best, the idea that “God is in control” protects us from arrogance and worry. At its worst, it prevents us from taking ownership of our decisions and making serious effort to change the world.

So, is God in control, or are we?

I’m still not sure that the answer is as simple as we make it out to be. Let me know what you think!

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