So you can imagine what it was like when a little over 4 years ago I started to explore my faith and determine if following Jesus was the right decision. He was a great man, for certain. A powerful teacher. But Messiah? Really? Died for our sins? Yeah right sure. How do we know that the people we healed weren't audience plants like you see at a magic show or one of those crazy hucksters who are taking advantage of people's faith for money? Please - I thought. I prayed: God - I believe in you. But faith in Jesus? Show me why I should. If He was real - show me.
God listens to your prayers and answers clearly when He has something important for you to understand.
Not long after that we were talking with our pastor and he recommended the book "The Case for Christ." I ignored that recommendation until at least 5 other people also said that I should read the book. If you've never read it, it's actually pretty interesting. It was written by a former atheist journalist who set out to proof Christ's non-existence. His wife had recently committed her life to Him and was driving him insane; this book was supposed to put an end to it, once and for all. Indisputable proof that Jesus as Messiah was garbage. What he ended up finding, however, was indisputable proof of the exact opposite - he could not find anything that backed up his original mission. In the end, the evidence was so strong FOR Jesus that this atheist journalist who lived his life forming opinions on cold, hard facts ended up converting to Christianity. It's kind of like a modern-day C.S. Lewis story.
At the end of the book, I was stunned. The girl who needed proof had it in her hands in the form of a former atheist's accidental journey to God's love. I had my proof that Jesus existed... and the seed to grow my faith had been planted. But I still had doubts - I wasn't there when Jesus walked the earth. I wasn't there for all of these miracles He performed. And how do I KNOW He loves me? I am the kind of person who needs love SHOWN to her - just saying "I love you" isn't enough.
Again - God pays attention to your heart and when He wants you to understand something, He won't give up.
|Photo by Katrina, from Flickr|
Soon after I was thinking these things over, God brought me to the text about Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the disciple who did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, and needed to see the wounds in His hands in order to believe. So - what happened when Jesus presented His hands to Thomas? As Jesus always does, He gave Thomas pertinent words of wisdom:
Jesus said, "So, you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing." (John 20:29 - The Message)
Ever since I read that verse, it has been a constant reminder of what faith is. Believing without seeing - it is trust, it is knowing with your heart what your eyes cannot lay eyes on. It reminded me of a conversation that my mom, brother, and I had when I was in high school. Mom was trying to explain to my brother what faith was (he was going through some Boy Scout faith declaration thing) and I kept arguing about it. Finally (he was about 11 or 12) he asked why I wouldn't just believe what Mom was saying. Her answer: "Your sister is a very analytical person and needs to see all sides of a thing. Questions aren't bad."
How do I know Jesus loves me? That was the last question I had to tackle. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks - the cross, plain and simple. Why do I say it hit me like a ton of bricks? I got the concept that Jesus died for our sins - that was easy. But God knew I needed to be SHOWN what Jesus did for us to really grasp and understand.
God pays attention to our hearts and shows us what needs to be seen for us to get His points.
The first thing that was shown to me was a graphic description of the medical aspects of Jesus' torture and crucifixion. For those with weak stomachs that won't click the link hidden in those words: the bottom line is that historians agree that crucifixion is the worst form of execution ever concocted by humans. Not only that - but Jesus' crucifixion with the preceding torture that he endured is the worst crucifixion ever documented.
If that description wasn't enough... you can watch the whole thing unfold in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ".
I cried my eyes out when I saw that movie. All of these things solidified my faith - I had all that I needed now to know that Jesus existed, that faith is required to have a relationship with God, and that Jesus absolutely loves me and each one of us individually. With each lash and hammering of nails, He was taking on every lie we've ever told, every gossipy thing we've ever said, every hurt we've ever caused. All of that junk for all of mankind (and it's a LOT) - up there on that cross.
Sometimes I cry when I take communion, thinking of what He did for us. What He did for me.
Now, I know I'm not perfect. I've hurt people in my life. I say stupid things and do stupid things and don't always act selflessly. I don't always think and act as Jesus has called us to act - Growing is a process. With it comes screwing up and learning and forgiving and repairing and reconstructing and then repeating the process. It will never end - I will forever be growing in one shape or another.
But I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, and I know that if each day I take steps to be and act and do as He has called us to - that each day I will grow in my faith, I will become closer to Him, and I can be the light in the darkness. All of my missteps are forgiven, and all I have left is to be His hands and feet in the world - to show the love He has for us to others so that they may know what I have grown to know.