agnostic

Arguing and Outreach by Michael Nichols

I just finished watching the new feature film God's Not Dead with a bro from my congregation. I had preconceived notions about what I would see. Most of those notions were pretty awesome. I expected it to be a well-executed movie. I did not, however, expect as much conviction from it as I got.

God's Not Dead, if you haven't seen it, is about a college freshman who is presented with the fearful challenge of defending his faith in front of his philosophy class. The reason? His philosophy professor required all of his students to write the words "God is dead," sign it, and turn it in. The alternative? Defend the antithesis. Argue/prove the opposing viewpoint.

The main character in the story feels that God is leading him to do this and not back down from it. In standing for his beliefs and for Jesus, he was discouraged by most of the people from whom he sought guidance. His girlfriend, one of them, actually broke up with him over it--to boot, she also professed faith, but was convinced that doing this would somehow wreck their future together.

It was a great example of what good can come out of being able to defend your faith. That having been said, watching the professor, who ardently opposed God in all ways, along with the general use of philosophy in the context of the Christian faith, made me think about philosophy's place in outreach.

Parallel to this story were several others being told throughout the film. Many of the stories had to do with people living with the backlash that comes with following Jesus, or conversely dealing with their own doubts and feelings/oppositions about God Himself. In addition, these parallel stories included the hardships that these people were going through. One person had cancer. Another had dementia. The professor--need I say more? Another freshman was kicked out of her home for following Jesus and not recanting. A minister was struggling with not feeling used.

I realize I've given you spoilers. Sorry. But I want to paint a picture for you. These people had real lives. It wasn't just the things they believed about God. They had lives that shaped those beliefs, and in turn their beliefs shaped their lives. Then there was also so much that was beyond their control! Isn't that true of life!

No matter how comprehensively you argue to defend the faith, no matter how convincing your speech is, no matter how many words you put in the correct order--simply put, a person cannot be convinced to believe. They must choose for themselves. That having been said, they're not going to choose something that they don't know about, or something that they believe is silly or bad for them.

We can argue all we want, but are we loving the least?

Are we lifting up the losers in the hallways of the school?

Are we ensuring that people know they're not alone?

Are we willing to sacrifice a little bit of time, effort, or money, just for the sake of being sure that maybe one person gets a meal for the day, or has proof that they really do matter to someone?

Do they know that Jesus died for you?

Do they know that Jesus' love for you has saved your life and given you the ability to live more fully than ever?

Do they know that the same is true of them?

Do they know that He's more than just some idea, but that He is 100% real?

Convincing people of the truth of Jesus is infinitely important...

...But has convincing people of the fact of it replaced our desire to really live it?

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal..."

--Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 13:1)

God's not dead.

Wood Chips of Faith -- Part 3: The Corinthians by Michael Nichols

The church at Corinth, spoken of in the writings of the new covenant, was a church undergoing a transformation. They, like myself, experienced an intersection of what they were told to trust and what they came to trust. A city of idols, when they were greeted by the apostle Paul, he recognised that the position they were in was foreign to the place from which he came. They had an established system of doing things, completely based upon the idols they worshiped. In order to reach them, he met them where they were, spoke to the place they were in.

In the beginning of his first letter, he talks about how the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. That's a tough pill to swallow. Even the most basic of God's concepts defy the most complicated of man's. People tend to do what makes them feel good for the moment, but God tends to do things that do good for us and others.

This ancient church was one living by the will of the flesh. People involved in numerous sexual sins (including incest) were popping up. People were dealing with the collision of their old beliefs with their new beliefs. Some were abusing the rite of the Lord's Table (or Communion), while others still were merely confused about how spiritual gifts (prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and the like) were to be used. All of these things are important, yes, but his lead in is what caught my attention...

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

... He wasn't sent to complicate things. They just became that way, unfortunately. For Paul, yes, but mainly for the church at Corinth. Paul wasn't the one experiencing confusion but rather the one trying to help them through it.

Paul expounds upon his opening statement in the verses to come (click the indented text to see the rest) by explaining that the power of the gospel isn't in man's wisdom, but it is really found in the crucifixion, and after fifteen chapters of working through issues of internal division, issues about which they wrote to him first, Paul finally brings it all home. For the sake of saving space, click this passage: I Corinthians 15.

The key here, which you will notice in verse 12, is that they were divided over the most fundamental part of our faith: the Gospel itself. The Gospel centers around the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, everyone dies. Some are burned, but some are buried, which Jesus was. They killed Him, put Him in the ground, like any other bloke... then He got out three days later, which other blokes didn't do. This proved that He is who He says: the perfect Son of God, the only sacrifice that could take our place and quell death for us... but the heart of it isn't as mechanical as that.

The heart of the resurrection is that it was the result of His love, and the result of the fact that He is worthy of our praise, our love, our hope, and most fundamentally our faith. What Paul said so many centuries ago, I reiterate now: If our hope in Christ does not surpass the bounds of death, we are to be pitied above all men. I admit freely that if there were no resurrection, our faith would be in shambles, and it would all be for nothing.

The truth remains that after the greatest act of love on earth was committed, miracles, voices of change, new and renewed lives, and a sense of community within and without adversity, sprang up, and despite fragmentation through generations, despite hypocrites, despite deviation, despite devastation, throughout history that same core has been carried down, and none of it has stopped... but it's not about the good things that you see being done, nor about the talents being used or who uses them, or any sort of mechanical movement of the God's chosen people: it is about the love that Jesus gave to us, and its about the love and the new life that is awakened and still awakening within us when we come to terms with the acceptance of Jesus.

Back to that story from two posts ago, the story about the friend at that youth conference, back in 2009 -- she saw the truth because she had this hope, this faith in the love of Jesus and the truth of it. It was her identity, and had it not been so, had she not been a friend to me in such a miniscule yet massive way, I probably would not be in the place I am today.

As we returned to the facility used for the conference, everything that was said before and after the break suddenly took on a new context. Now, I knew I was missing the point of faith, and I didn't really know what it was. Sure, I knew the concept like the back of my hand, but I didn't know how to trust. I don't know if my faith saved me before that day, but I do know that I walked away a completely different person with a completely different outlook, because I saw God's love in action, given to me through someone else He loved, to show me He loves me too, and that was enough to show me I didn't have to live in fear, and I've been getting over it ever since. Things haven't become easier, but I've definitely become stronger because now I have something lasting to live for.

The title of this blog, "Our Light Affliction," is a quote from II Corinthians 4:17-18 KJV, Paul's second letter to this same church. I adopted this because it hails back to the first letter, chapter 15. You can click the reference if you want to see, but it simply says that the pain we're dealing with now hides greater joy on the other side of it because the things we see here are fading away, but the things we don't see last forever. Love, hope, faith -- none of these can be tangibly seen, but they can be felt, and these things can be more real than the instruments through which we live them out.

The ultimate fulfillment of our faith is found in heaven, at the resurrection, when those who have given their lives to hope rather than to despair are given the blankest of slates and the freshest of starts, and no longer will anyone have to run from pain, push through adversity. That, my friends, is a hope worth living and dying for. Jesus thought so, and He lived it out.

Our faith in people and in God can go just as equally through the wood chipper because this world has grown so dark... but this world is not our home. I still have so many questions without answers but I don't need them all. I just need Jesus. I don't mean to go church mode, but if you're looking for something, whether or not you know what you're looking for, this Gospel is definitely a good place to start. Try it, and see whether or not it's worth believing.

Even if you do have faith, don't be afraid to get back to the basics every now and again. Remember where you came from, and don't lose heart when your doubts and faith collide. You're just experiencing life in a fallen world. It isn't the end of the world if you don't please every single person who claims to believe what you believe, nor are you a hypocrite for having questions or not having it all together. It's not a free pass to live recklessly, but we're all human, agnosto-Christian or otherwise. Life doesn't end here, so even when your faith goes through a wood chipper, it still comes out as your faith.

This is a letter to people of all faiths, Christian or not. This isn't a religious story but a testimony of what has been done for us all, and how that love sought me and found me. Who am I to stand in His way? I am dust, and I will return to the dust. Jesus, however, is love, and He lasts forever. That, my friends, is worth it. :)