Monday, July 4, 2011

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Born Again 10: What Do You Want?

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Sharon's next message began with a somewhat unusual Scripture text:
“Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’" (John 1: 38)
There was no further explanation, yet her meaning seemed clear ... she was reaching a decision point.  She was standing there at Bethany next to John the Baptist's disciples, looking at the Savior, knowing now who He was.  Now was the time for choosing.

She went on:
I did finally finish, “Jesus Without Religion” (by Rick James). The best part about the book is that it was written in big fonts and it was only 125 pages :). To say that it was “a good book” doesn’t really do it any justice. So here is my feeble attempt to give it my own review:
“Jesus Without Religion” is exactly as its title states. The author described the life of Jesus Christ in a historic sense and cited specific dates when the (true) Gospels were written so to verify the true existence of these events. The author also used simple-to-understand examples relating to today’s lifestyles to explain lessons inscribed in a verse. The book cited several verses in the Old Testament which were again stated in the New Testament, only spoken by someone else hundreds of years later. (I find that amazing, by the way!) The author challenges you to pay attention to these “prophetic features” in the Old Testament and to recognize that they really all lead to Jesus Christ. I also found the author’s style of writing funny in a silly kind of way. If I didn’t know anything about Jesus Christ, I think this book would give me enough overview of who He is and would make any reader think about what their “next step” could be.
As I indicated in my previous post, this was truly God's providence on display.  At the appointed time, God had drawn Sharon and I back into the same orbit, both older and wiser.  I was at last ready to guide, and she to follow.  He then placed this book in her path to show her how.  Once again, my job was to watch and pray.
What I learned about myself as I read through “Jesus Without Religion” while having my Bible as a reference?
How remarkable that she would test what she was reading against Scripture.  A true Berean indeed.
1.) I liked the book because it used references in our world history to set the timing of Jesus’ life. Somehow, I realized that that’s a big deal to me. I have come to understand that one of the reasons I have a difficult time “opening up” to the Bible is that I only see the stories in it as, well ... stories! I’ve known of the story of Christ, as well as the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. etc. but I’ve never placed them in history, because I saw these moments in time as “holy” and no ‘normal’ human lived in these holy times. I don’t know how else to explain this but it is only now that I am “accepting” that Jesus truly walked the same land as, say, the leaders of the Roman empire, whose realism is embedded in our history books. I was thinking of a time in college when I was having a difficult time with one of my classes. I was failing my Astronomy class for one reason: that I didn’t believe that the earth was tilted on it’s axis by 23 or 24 degrees. I had always thought that the earth rotated perpendicular to its axis so when I finally learned that it didn’t, it blew me away. Why that was so important to my brain, I don’t know but all I know is that after I finally got past “the truth” about our planet, the class was not so difficult to understand. You’re probably thinking that I am a very odd person just about now. I am, in many ways! 
I wonder what percentage of today's postmodern church (much less our society) believes the Bible is essentially a fable, useful for moral teaching or spiritual encouragement, but certainly not true in any literal sense?  I'm sure there's a poll out on that somewhere, and I'm sure I'd be distressed to know the answer.  Here Sharon, born and raised in the bosom of that very church, confesses that she herself grew up with precisely that mindset, which proved the primary intellectual obstacle to her own faith.
If you think that’s odd, here’s a doozy for you ...
2.) There’s lots of talk about “grace” in this book, in the Bible and even in your blogs. You’ve cited many lessons on “grace” in your emails to me and I just read them and take them at face value. Ray, I just looked up the definition of GRACE from my dictionary and here is what it says: grace (n) 1: unmerited help given to people by God (as in overcoming temptation) 2: freedom from sin through divine grace. 3: a virtue coming from God. 4: used as a title for a duke, duchess or an archbishop. 5: a short prayer at a meal. And then it goes on. You know what I learned about myself this weekend? That I didn’t know the first three definitions of the word “grace”. I really didn’t! I know it’s a prayer, but that’s about it! How could I not know? I doubt that it’s a language issue as I’ve been singing the song Amazing Grace since I was in kindergarten. Have I been so numbed to the word that I just assumed I knew what it meant? What is wrong with me? Am I the only one who didn’t know that the “Grace of God” is truly a wonderful thing not to be taken for granted?
Now this actually didn't surprise me at all, being one of my favorite topics.  Still, it was exciting to see Sharon really grab on to the exciting truth about grace. She was truly at the doorstep.
3.) And then there’s the word “Heart”. You’ve used it several times in your emails as well as the book I just read. There’s a passage in the book that says the “entrance to the kingdom depends on the heart” that is willing to accept it or to reject it. I have never made the conscious decision to open my heart to “accept” Jesus Christ. I told you before, I was born and raised just knowing it and I thought that was enough. I’m realizing that it’s a lot tougher to actually believe it, or “accept it”. But I am slowly learning that all it is is a decision on my part, to decide that I do want Jesus in my life. The author used a good example when it was time for him to make a decision. He said that it was like “getting married and saying ‘I Do’ to” the question. Or in this case, to say “I do” to Christ.
What do you want?
I would like to think that what I’m going through is “normal”, and that I am not alone in this. I cannot help but ask myself why I never made a decision. But like you told me, I need to not “worry about the past” and to “just press on forward”. I do want to accept Jesus and I want Him to guide the direction of my life. I am looking forward to learning more, so I guess my experience this past week, although a bit frustrating at times, was a good one. I am looking forward to reading the Bible as a whole and looking forward to understanding it better, this time around. Also, another good thing that came out of this is that I have a better appreciation for the song “Amazing Grace”. I love this line: “How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” That’s just so beautiful!
Sharon stood looking at Jesus.  For the first time she was seeing Him as He was ... real, living, loving, calling.  What do you want?  She wanted Him.

Next:  Born Again 11:  The Jesus who Lives in Me

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