How can I know this story is true?

This is the question that has frustrated me repeatedly over the years. A decade ago, this question emerged in a different form after I realized that to have faith in God really requires that we make a choice to believe something that has no inherent evidence for it. Check out Hebrews 11:1.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

This verse equates faith with substance and evidence. It says that the thing we call faith fills the same space that evidence would if we had any. So much so that faith becomes, is transformed into the evidence, the substance upon which our hope is founded. It means that we choose to have hope in God based on a foundation with no evidence. That is not a rational choice – it’s irrational.

This is a core principle of Christianity –  that faith is a choice (or a supernatural gifting, but I’ll not go there today). At the core, faith is not a line of reasoning that can be followed all the way to a proof of God and the Christian message. Rather,  faith always requires a measure of uncertainty –  a leap across a divide of doubt. What a foundation to build a worldview upon! It’s mind-boggling and frankly,  it sounds a bit crazy.

I realized this and got stuck for a couple of years back then trying to figure out how to make such an irrational choice – to choose to believe in God when they is no evidence. I reached a point where I could go no further.

Fast forward two years. Sitting in a coffee shop one day, in an introspective moment, I recognized something in me that I could only describe as a drop of faith that I could not explain. I’d been desiring to have faith, but couldn’t figure out how to create it, how to conjure it up within me. So, I’d essentially given up. But on this day I unexpectedly found what I’d been looking for.  I found this drop of faith in me. Like someone trapped in a dark room for a very long time, with sensitive and dilated eyes, I saw the smallest glimmer of light leaking in.  I couldn’t figure out how it got there, but it was there – a drop of faith. I knew it wasn’t from me so I concluded that it must have come from God.

This experience transformed me and I lived for several years with delight in the idea that God did what I could not, he created in me what I could not by generating faith in me. However, my old doubt about the irrationality of faith rose up in me again about a year ago.

This time, the question emerged in the context of story. Stories resonate with me and are full of meaning as I think they do for all people. Over the years, I’ve become skeptical when people give credit to God for healings , reconciliations and good outcomes. People thank God for saving them when what I observed was that it was people saving themselves through perseverance and hard work. Marriages saved by hours of therapy and strong communities. Diseases overcome by good science and doctors. Crediting God for this was no longer making sense to me.

What does story have to do with this? Well, during this time I was developing an increasing respect and acknowledgement for the abilities and resilience of humanity. This depth is revealed in stories. Many of our beloved stories feature common themes of a trapped and broken people in need of rescue. In the middle of darkness, the people have a persistent hope.  A hero emerges and battles forces that seek to enslave. Victory is won and the people are released.

We see these themes in favorite stories – The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, To Kill a Mockingbird and just about every movie and TV show you can think of. These themes are so common and woven into what it means to be human that they show up everywhere. Yet, we all know that these stories are fiction,  written by very insightful men and women who had an incredibly powerful ability to use words, circumstance and emotion to evoke the shared concerns of our species.

So the Bible comes along as a book offering a similar story with the same themes of brokenness, the need for rescue, a hero and a victory. So, out from under the rug, my old question re-emerges asking,

What makes this Bible story representative of reality and all these other stories are not, just being fiction?

So I got stuck again for about a year asking the same question.

I could see where this was going. I knew that if I didn’t pause everything to deal with this question, then I’d be plagued to go through this same cycle for the rest of my life. So about six months ago, I pledged to myself that I’d do whatever it took to resolve this question. So I dug in for the long haul.

Since then, I’ve contemplated many

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Marriage – The Long View

When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. – Mark 12:25

If you are like me, when you read this verse, you’re probably not left with a very good feeling.  For a long time, this verse really bothered me because it didn’t make any sense.  Why would God take away a good thing?

I’m very thankful that I have a great marriage.  My wife is fantastic.  Over the course of our 15 year marriage, she has progressively been filling up a space in my life that was previously empty.  By no means has it been easy.  We’ve been very intentional about building our marriage.  It’s an investment that requires a lot of effort, time and attention.  But it’s worth it because, with her, I’m being made whole and so is she.

So after all that work and investment, it feels like, that in the verse above, Jesus is patting me on the shoulder, telling me “Good job, but it’s game over when you die.”  Hey Jesus, that doesn’t really feel like good news.  On the contrary, the idea of living through eternity without being in a bond of marriage with my wife feels horrible.  I want to be with her forever.  I don’t want to be walking down some golden street 10,000 years from now and bump into her and say, “oh yeah, I remember you.  We had some good times.  Too bad they’re over.”  Nope, ripping out the part of you that makes you whole is not good news at all.
For quite some time, I just couldn’t get past this teaching from Jesus.  Could Jesus really be saying this?  How does this make any sense with the gospel?  In short, it doesn’t.  Frankly, there’s a lot that hasn’t been making sense in my faith lately.  However, there are some things I’m now absolutely convinced of – there is a God and he wants me to know him more than anything else.  God is so committed to me knowing him that he gave up everything to enter my world and use my language and my experiences and my culture to show me how much he wants me to know him – his goodness, his love and his persistent, unrelenting pursuit of wholeness with me… and with you.  So something was wrong, not with Jesus’ teaching, but with my understanding of it.

At The Springs, one of the songs we often sing is called Beautiful, by Phil Wickham.  You can read the lyrics here.  The song starts with the words “I see your face in every sunrise.”  In verses 1-3 he describes how we see the face of God in the created world around us – the colors of the morning, the planets, the stars.  Today, we see the face of God in the things he made which act as symbols – pointers to the true face of God that we cannot currently see.  But leading into verse four, the music swells and crescendos with a large chorus singing:

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful

I see Your face, You’re beautiful

These words describe why it is good news that there will be no earthly marrying in eternity.  The image is of a large population of saints crossing into eternity.  This multitude doesn’t wander aimlessly, but moves with a purpose to a place… called by wedding bells.  Think about your own wedding – how it was or perhaps how it will be.  There is always the briefest of moments in every wedding, the sweet anticipation when the bride is waiting just outside the sanctuary doors – still outside, still unrevealed to those gathered within.  These lyrics paint that brief and extraordinary moment in our future when each of us, the believers, those whom God desires, will come together for such a purpose.  We saints, as individual points of light shining with the imago dei, will draw closer, coalescing, merging together to form  the one for whom Jesus sacrificed everything – the radiant and glorious and beautiful bride of Christ.  And in the exhale of this moment, the doors open to our wedding and we finally, truly see the face of our beloved standing ahead waiting with outstretched hand and bursting with pride and wonder on his beautiful and very real face.  We move into an eternal consummation where death will not part, for our groom has overcome death so that we can, very literally, live happily ever after.
This… is good news that makes sense.  I know that my marriage today is good and right and what I need to give me wholeness in this life and I am so thankful.  I also know that my marriage is meant as a symbol pointing me to an ultimate consummation that will happen one day, when I will join with my wife and my loved ones and every other believer whose eyes have been opened to the glory and beauty of our amazing and wonderful God.  And we, in some crazy sense that I do not understand, will become one flesh with him, knowing him as he desires to be known and experiencing the wholeness that was meant for us from before time began.

Letter to Anne Rice

I sent this letter to Anne Rice in 2009.  She has since posted it on her website.

Posted 6/30/09

Forgive my informality, but I feel l must call you Anne because of the intimacy you have shared with me for fifteen years.  During those years you walked with me through your books on my own journey away from and back to God.  I almost don’t know where to begin except with the inadequate words, thank you.  Perhaps I’ll mimic your style alluding to the present then offer explanation from my past.  I’ve just finished reading Called Out of Darkness – this book being the
capstone on all your other books I’ve read.

I thank you for sharing you most intimate thoughts and struggles as you walked through the doors in your life.  I feel I have walked a parallel path, growing up with a God-focused yet in a very conservative protestant world.  I too spent much of my youth in the church.  I grew up in an environment of rules and traditions that were binding and restrictive.  Of course as a child, I didn’t understand the impossibility of satisfying the legalistic demands placed on myself and those around me.  I simply viewed this world as reality and as the manifestation of the will of God.  Yet, even in this world, my intuition suggested that there was more, something I was missing, something more beautiful and mysterious.  Nevertheless, as a young man in seminary, my trust in the legality of God’s law was at its height. This manifested in what you allude to throughout your book – judgment and accusation which I later learned were simply motivated by simple and ugly pride.  When my own church family, those in whom I found my identity, turned against me with threats of excommunication for the “false doctrine” I was preaching, my mind began to change.  I started seeing the ugliness and arrogance behind the seemingly glossy facade of my church.

In His matchless grace and wisdom, God directed me into the US military.  This experience led me into foreign countries and cultures and introduced me to new ways of thinking.  During this time I read Interview With the Vampire and over the years the rest of the books you’ve written (with a couple of exceptions).  To make this story shorter, life led me into atheism.  My faith, once based on an image of a demanding God of legal judgment, crumbled in the midst of the influences of science and my involvement with real people living in a real world.  Yet, like you, even in this world of atheism that inner voice of intuition continued to demand my attention.  This voice would wax and wane in volume, but it was always there questioning my present worldview.  Throughout these years Lestat’s struggle (which was in fact yours) resonated with me and was my frequent companion.

For me, I knew that God’s existence could not be proven in the scientific sense.  Further, I knew that believing in God must be based on an irrational choice.  I grew to understand that in order to believe in God, one must accept that such belief could not be conjured by one’s own efforts.  The nature of faith is such that we humans are unable to create it.  We can get close.  The creation thunders the existence of God, but it is not conclusive.  Objections can be made.  One’s own intuition and conscience points one in the direction of God, but it, as well, is not complete.  A gap between belief and unbelief exists that cannot be crossed by human effort.  No human can build a bridge big enough or strong enough to span this divide.  This realization defeated me.  On one hand, I knew that faith is based on an irrational decision that enables one to cross this gap.  On the other hand, I knew I didn’t have the capacity to convincingly and completely make such an illogical choice.  I felt hopeless and alone.  I remained in this state for two years …in pain.

Then one normal day, I introspectively sensed the tiniest drop of faith within me.  This part is difficult to describe.  But it seemed that in the darkness within me a near microscopic fracture occurred.  And through this crack one solitary beam of weak light shone.  It illuminated so little and barely changed the hue of the darkness, but I felt its warmth.  This light brought with it hope.  A hope, like a long lost friend, that I didn’t recognize at first, but as it got closer I remembered that I’d once known it.  And with this small hope, the re-birth of joy.

In this unearthly moment I realized, as if in an epiphany, that I was absolutely correct in my understanding of faith, but that I was missing the key element.  No matter how much effort I put into it, there was no way for me to bridge the gap to faith.  Yet, what I had missed for so long was that God never expected me to bridge the gap myself.  Rather it was like God was telling me, “I know that you cannot create your own faith.  You are not the Creator.  I Am.  Therefore, I create faith in you so that I can be glorified.”  It was God who caused the fracture in my soul.  It was God who broke into my prison to rescue me.  He saw me trapped and He came for me.  Since then His fracture has expanded and increased in size so that more of His light illumines my dark soul and his faith and love floods into me creating something new and beautiful.  It is by grace that we have been saved through faith, and this is not from ourselves, but by the grace of God (Ephesians 2).  My experience added to this to say that while salvation comes through faith, the faith itself also comes from God and is another form of his grace.  What a marvelous realization!  Not only can I not claim my salvation as my own work.  I cannot even claim my own faith!  All rescue, all salvation is the direct result of God’s personal attention to and action on my individual and seemingly inconsequential soul.

This is my story (abbreviated here though it be) and I share it with you because you shared yours’ with me.  Legalism attempts to discover, protect and preserve truth in an unchanging form – a system that focuses on a destination as its goal.  Legalism’s destination is a sure and complete knowledge of truth and the will of God.  In unperceived personal heresy, the Legalist arrogantly claims to know and be the caretaker of the correct and full interpretation of God’s will and Word.  When I use the term God’s Word I mean the essence that includes Scripture, but also God’s force that brought everything into existence and sustains it (the logos, Christ).  I could go on and on about the Word of God, but I’ll not here.  My point in saying this is that God is anything but easily described.  He is the mystery of mysteries.  He manifests himself in myriad ways according to his will and is doing so through you.

With your Christ the Lord series, I believe God is using you as an instrument (St. Francis) of His Word.  “And the Word became flesh…”  This is what you are doing through this series – making the ephemeral spirit into comprehensible flesh.  I thank you for painting such a believable picture of our Lord.  Though unknowingly, you have participated as co-worker with God to increase His light shining in my soul.  From Lestat’s questions, I learned the inherent value of the search even when it feels hopeless.  From Maharet, I learned that a love of family and community can keep one sane.  And from your picture of Yeshua I see the man I could never envision.  I thank you for your commitment to write only for and about Christ and I encourage you in this.  You are having a powerful effect.

Through God’s direct and personal efforts in my life and yours He has ever so patiently led us back to Himself.  I thank God for the path that he has led you on and pray that he continues to transform you into ever-increasing beauty.  Write on.

With immeasurable gratefulness and renewed hope,

Andy Fritsch
Edmond, OK

 

Is faith intellectual?

James 1:14-24 says (NLT):

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” 19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? 21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

Notice again verse 18:

“How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

It is sometimes difficult for me to separate faith from intellectual conclusion. It is very tempting for me to need to intellectually understand what I’m believing in. Yet, in this passage, James seems to address the difference between faith and intellect. If faith is simply a conclusion based on a logical progression of ideas, then it can be “shown” to others by directing them down the same logical progression. Assuming the other follows the same logic, they will come to the same conclusion. It is just a mental exercise and good deeds are irrelevant.

However, James draws and inseparable connection between the thing he calls “faith” and “deeds”. So much so that he says faith is un-showable unless it is shown through deeds.

So, using logic :), we must conclude that if faith can only be demonstrated by deeds and the intellectual faith I described above does not require deeds, the this type of intellectual faith must not be faith at all, but something else entirely if James is the authority for defining what faith is.

Since, James was the step-brother of Jesus and lived for years with the God-man witnessing what it means to live by faith, I think he’s got pretty good credentials for being an authority on this topic. Therefore, the intellectual faith I’m so tempted to adopt is false and worse – it is vain conceit.

So if faith is not the product of an intellectual argument, what is it? James describes faith here as a life-changing belief, a conviction that transforms. Simply put, if one does not show the acting out of one’s faith through deeds of mercy and kindness, that one has no faith at all. If he claims to have faith, but no deeds to manifest it, he is fooling himself and is deluded by his own pride. He does not really believe, nor is he convicted because he does not act.

Waiting in the Waiting Room

So here I am in the emergency waiting room at Edmond Regional Hospital. I’m experiencing a strange neck pain that came on suddenly three days ago.  The pain started as a soreness on the left side of my neck and has since spread down my left side of my neck, into my ear and my entire head (primarily my left side) is throbbing. I’m a bit dizzy. This is a strange pain. I’ve never experienced it before. So I’m waiting on a CT scan most likely to check the condition of my carotid artery.

In all this, I feel like writing. While in this waiting room, I’m looking at people in pain, people distracted, tired people. One woman is crying and holding her side. Another is laughing and talking far too loudly. People are standing, walking, pacing …all uncertain.
And the thing I keep thinking about is the new body that God will give me. I see the frailty and feel trapped and enslaved to my body. Some people identify themselves with their body. I never have. I’ve always viewed myself inhabiting this shell. Its the reason why I don’t take care of my health – because “my health” is not really mine. It belongs to this body that I just happen to be in.

Honestly, I’m OK with death. I don’t fear it at all. I know that the moments before it happens may include pain and disorientation, but I also know that it will be temporary. The only thing I fear about death is what my absence will do to my family.

This is the real fear and it is a near constant presense for me. It is always lurking in the dark corners of my mind. I have no doubts in the miraculous faithfulness of God to provide, but there are also the practical realities of that they would face. The ever-present nature of this fear is due to the continual war that I wage between what I know I should do and what I actually do.

That needs some explanation. Since I consider myself to be something other than my body, I don’t take care of my body. I know I should because I realize that my temporal experience here with my family exists within the physical world. As long as I exist within space-time, I can have no other experience of my family than that which is grounded in the physical.

Yet, for some reason this intellectual acknowledgment does not provide sufficient motivation for behavoral change. So here I am at the hospital most likely the result of my not taking care well enough. Truth and consequences.

When sin entered the world, so did disease and sickness, injury and pain. Such is the broken world we live in. Yet, even waiting here, in my own pain, writing about my own shortcomings and failings, I see the restoration that is coming. Eden will return. Once again we will be clothed in light and not know our nakedness. And one day, my loved-ones and I will walk with our Father in the cool of the day.

Come quickly Lord Jesus and take us home.

UPDATE: Turns out the neck pain was caused by muscle spasms.  Muscles may not be able to think for themselves, but they can make you think.

Deliverance from Legalism

The Hebrews in Egypt were enslaved for hundreds of years.  They cried out for a deliverer.   Generations later, the Israelites in Babylonian captivity prayed for a deliverer.  Years after that, the Jews under Roman occupation hoped for a deliverer.  Today, legalists are enslaved by fear, ignorance and conceit.  Yet they do not cry out for a deliverer.  The Jews before them knew they were enslaved and needed a deliverer.  Yet the legalist doesn’t know or understand his need.  Should deliverance be brought to the legalist even though he does not ask for it?

My first instinct (and the instinct of many others I’ve talked to) says No!  Deliverance must be desired.  There is truth in this.  Yet, there is also truth in the fact that before I could accept Christ as my deliverer, He had to first show me that I was enslaved to sin.  I did not know it.  I was ignorant.  Jesus shone his light on my life and revealed my darkness.  Only because of this revelation was I aware of my slavery.  Adding another dimension… when Jesus initially cast his light on me revealing my sin, was that light complete?  Did it display the entirety of  my corruption once and for all?  Or did the light, like the creeping rays of the sun, only illuminate the first aspects of my guilt – those that I was ready to see at that time – not revealing all on my life’s depravity, but only the portion needed to germinate my infant desire for Him?

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and imbalance with God, not in one great sweeping revelation, but in degrees and moments of revelation.  We’ve often heard people say life is a journey.  Our initial conversion is the first step of that journey – the beginning of God’s working within us to reveal, through his ever-increasing light, the dark spots on our souls.  Throughout our lives, God engages us in a process of renewal and reclamation, encouraging and convicting us to increasingly surrender more and more of ourselves to him.  He continually shows us that we continually need a deliverer.  God did not intend for our initial deliverance through the new birth to be the goal, the end, the destination.  Our first trusting of God resulted in our being born again, but for the rest of our lives God spends his energy building greater and deeper trust of himself in us so that we increasingly rely on him.  With great patience and love, God casts more light on us revealing our need.  With this light, he also whispers his promises and works his wonders to continuously assure us throughout this process that we have our deliverer.

If we consider God to be acting mercifully toward us as he walks with us through this process, should we not also show the same mercy to our legalistic brothers (as they walk on their own journey)?  Or should we, unlike God, abandon them to their slavery?  In spite of the people who say there is no hope or that it is a waste of time to approach the legalist, I simply cannot reconcile the idea of abandoning my brothers who are trapped in legalism with the gospel message of Jesus.  Jesus came to set men free.  Consider these scriptures:

John 8:31-36

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Rom. 6:6-7

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Gal. 5:1-10

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

2 Cor. 3:17-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Perhaps rather than abandon our legalistic brothers because we view their plight as an insurmountable obstacle, we should recognize their situation for what it is – enslavement.  Perhaps our response should be one of holy discontent.  Rather than be apathetic, perhaps we should grow angry at their imprisonment.  Perhaps we should commit ourselves to their rescue – finding ways to scale the walls of their prison and deliver them from bondage.

What was Jesus’ response to the Jews screaming for his blood, “crucify him, crucify him!”  He showed them mercy – rescuing and delivering them.  He laid down his life for them.

* All scripture quotations from the NIV


Books I’ve Been Reading

2009

  • The Gunslinger: Book 1 of The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
  • Leaving the Faith of My Fathers: A Spiritual Journey by Joe E. Lewis
  • The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice
  • Christ The Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice
  • The Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • The God Who Smokes by Timothy Stoner
  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  • Set Free! Stay Free!: The Fallacy and Failure of Legalism by Larry Deason
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • New Moon by Stephanie Meyer
  • Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
  • Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
  • Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zhan
  • Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zhan
  • The Last Command by Timothy Zhan