Saturday, September 24, 2011

Looking for Jesus

Once upon a time, I was working at an industrial plant in Texas during a maintenance outage.  Around a hundred contractors worked on completely disassembling large pieces of machinery.  Parts were cleaned or replaced as necessary to ensure reliability.  One particular worker there had an incredible religious experience during the outage.

A man was working on sand-blasting hard-water scale off of some nuts when he saw a vision.  On one particular nut, the image of Jesus Christ was made manifest almost immediately after applying the jet of sand.  Elated and awestruck, he stopped his work and immediately started sharing the miraculous apparition with everyone.

That's the actual nut in the photo!  Do you see Jesus?  Yeah, neither do I.  I can kind of make out a face, maybe even a little like Tom Selleck, but if that is the best the Creator of the universe and master of all matter can do to show His face, I'm not impressed.

If God did go around putting the image of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, on nuts, or toast, or fountain water-stains, it would be weird, and more than a little creepy.  You'd have to examine your bumper after every drive for bug guts in the shape of a crucifix for a sign from God.

Millions of Christians claim to hear from God, but not in picture form.  Thankfully, it appears that relatively few Christians claim to hear God speaking literally.  Instead, in our time, the normal way to "hear" from God seems to be to discern it from emotions they feel or events which occur.  Discernment can be a real problem.

God, in most common reference, provides these messages invisibly.  If there was some invisible phenomenon which moved air from one place to another, and rustled grass and leaves, but was not wind, how could you discern it from wind itself?  Is it just when the air moves in a favorable direction?

If you believe that God controls everything, then anything could be interpreted as a message from God.  Even the weather, which affects everyone regardless of faith, you can see as a personal sign from God.  My older sister appears to have this perspective, as she has said (paraphrased) things such as "God did not want me to take my children to the park today because it rained." 

As a teenager, I had the idea which seems most popular, that God lets most events play out however they will (because He knows the will ultimately end the way He wants), but occasionally does step in to tweak the events or send messages.  I had believed that Jesus/God would step in and provide healings.  I had believed that God would answer prayers.  I had believed that God would place things on our hearts and in our minds.  I didn't know exactly how it happened, but I wanted to know.

You see, as a teenager, I was a budding skeptic.  I was not at all skeptical about Christianity at that time, as a whole.  (The time I am focusing on here, specifically, is during my pious revival mentioned in my last post.)  Yet while the months went by, waiting to hear from God, I thought seriously to myself:  "When I hear from God, how will I know it is really a message from Him?"  This got the gears of my skeptical brain working.

Even at that age, I had come to realize that self-deception was pretty easy.  I had the sense that if I forced myself to look for Jesus in everything, I was sure to find what I thought was Him, but not necessarily the real thing, such as the bolt up above or this recent tale about a guy who thought God had saved him during a trench collapse.

Besides self-deception, I also thought Satan may be out there, lurking around, ready to misdirect me too.  This would have been a perfect opportunity for him, too, given that I was so inexperienced in the faith.  He could have lead me down a path I thought was right because it felt right, but turned out to be all wrong.  I had to be on guard.

That sobering thought reminded me, too, that a message from God may not be telling me to do something that I wanted to do.  In fact, it could be quite the opposite, because it was to be His will, not my own.

With all of these possible snags waiting to catch me, waiting to lead me astray, I got nervous for a while.  I was afraid I might miss the message God gave to me because I was being too guarded, too cautious to make sure it was a real message.  However, this nervousness soon passed.  I knew that God knew my thoughts and my heart, and I knew that God was God.  God could figure out a way to make the message incontrovertibly clear.  At least, that's what I thought.

So I waited.  Listening.  Watching.  Patiently.

Several months went by.  No contact.  No message.  So, slowly, my teenage mind got distracted by other things as my passion for God burnt down to a few glowing embers.  Even with those few, meager embers, I kept the heat of hope alight thinking that God would call me when He needed me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

About a Girl

When I was in high school, I got into a relationship with an older woman.  How much older?  I don't know, for sure.  I was (partially) a gentleman, so I didn't ask.  She was probably in her upper 20's or lower 30's, while I was just 16.  My teenage ego was at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

You've got to understand that I was far from being a Casanova in high school, or really anytime for that matter.  She was one of only two girlfriends I had in high school; the first one.  But using the term "girlfriend" to describe what happened probably isn't accurate.

The relationship started as co-workers in a restaurant, and took the next step with me providing private math tutoring at her apartment.  She was going to the local community college.  Why the late college start?  Well, I was a little slow to put it together, but I think it was kind of a big break-up, re-invent herself, rebound thing.  I was probably a rebound thing too, but I digress.

I know this is somewhat of a teaser, but I'm not going to divulge the details of the fling.  I'll just sum it up with the fact that I was (thankfully) too shy, inexperienced, and flat-out immature to take full advantage of what would have probably been a big mistake.  The relationship fizzled out before any real damage was done.

Anyway, part of that relationship involved me trying to spend any time I could with her.  She was a Christian, and a regular at her church.  So that meant that I escorted her to church several Sundays.

Her church was different.  It was non-denominational, and it was my first exposure to a non-Methodist church.  To me, for the brief time I attended, it sounded just like a Methodist church, but it looked completely different.  Specifically, there was no Christian iconography.  No crucifix or cross hung prominently behind the preacher.  No stained-glass window adorned the building.  If it wasn't for the pew-style seating, it could have easily been mistaken for just some generic meeting center.

Around the time before this woman, I had put my faith on a shelf.  I didn't go to church.  I still believed in God, but there was nothing about me or my actions which would have given that impression.

Then, there I was again, going to church.  Some might say it was God leading me back into His fold.  I would say it was just me, tempted by having a beautiful, mature woman on my arm, but that was not all.

In the back of my mind, going to church was one of those things I should be doing anyway, but wasn't.  Also in the back of my mind was the haunting question:  Why have I never felt God's presence or heard from Him?  So this church-going revived my thirst to know God.  It took on a significance well beyond this girl.

I started reading the Bible by myself for the first time in my entire life.  Starting with Genesis.  And I started taking hand-written notes; notes which would later serve as the impetus for my Bible summary on my other blog when I came across them about twelve years later.  While I read on in Genesis, there were some things which disturbed me a little bit, but not to the point of shaking my faith at all.  The weight of my faith was based largely on what I had learned of God in church and youth group, which was almost exclusively New Testament based.  The image provided to me was so good that the minor snags I found in my reading were as easy to dismiss as are the idiosyncrasies of dear friends.

I also started praying, which was the first time doing so in a mature fashion.  As a kid, I would pray to God to help me find my lost wallet, but during this personal revival, I was far less trivial.  The maturity of my heart for God far exceeded my knowledge of Scripture, and exceeded the maturity in any other aspect of my life at that point.  I was praying for the healing and good will for other people.  I was praying for God to use me in any way which He saw fit.

But I still wasn't hearing from Him or noticing any discernible signs of divine favor or involvement in my life.  There was no Holy guidance to direct me in God's will.

I began to reflect upon myself to discover what I may be doing which was hindering my relationship with God.  I began to be as upright as I could, changing habits which might be objectionable.  I thought back about my many sins committed that far, and I prayed prayers of repentance.  I remember around that time, Lent was getting ready to begin, and so I chose to give up listening to heavy metal music for Lent, thinking that perhaps that was somehow preventing an interface with God.  (Not being Catholic or knowing much of anything about Catholicism at that time, I just knew Lent was a time to give up something you enjoyed in order to get closer to God.)  I started listening to any sermons I could find on the radio to supplement my church learning.

Still nothing.  Still nothing.

I held out hope.  Someday, God would guide me, when the time is right.  Someday I'd know.  But without any divine guidance, my pious passion eroded away over time.  Hope was still there, but the passion was gone.  I was waiting.  Indefinitely.

Many years later, when I would pick up the Bible again to study it, I mused to myself, wondering if, with just a little divine encouragement, if Abel would not have been killed, like my faith.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Twilight Sucks

I find it amusing and sad that the third most popular post on my other blog is "Vampires in the Bible."  There are no real vampires in the Bible.  If they were there, I'm pretty sure that the church would have hopped on the pop-culture bandwagon spawned largely by the Twilight series as a way to tout how relevant they are.

It just goes to show you how Biblically illiterate the faithful population is.  For far too many, it is a blind faith where they simply swallow whatever their preacher serves to them because they are too lazy to study for themselves, or because their priorities are so far into worldly concerns that they have too little time for that kind of study, which is wrong on so many levels that it scares me to think some of these same people are leading our country, or vying to do so.