Minor Updates in 2020
Everyone has a personal faith. Some people place their faith in traditional religions while others collect ideas from various sources and create a unique, personal faith. Sometimes people put their faith in social or political movements. Still others place their faith in progress or technology, that is the future. Not everyone has a well thought out faith, not everyone recognizes what their faith is, but everyone lives by some sort of faith.
So what is faith? It is trusting in something you can’t prove. That’s not to say that faith is irrational, or that there isn’t evidence backing your conclusion, just that you have to go beyond what you can see. Even the pure “rationalist” has to make a “leap of faith” to trust their thinking as discussed by Timothy Keller in his Authors@Google talk. A great illustration of this comes from the book Flatland. Just as the two dimensional residents of Flatland struggled to imagine the greater reality of three dimensional space, so we struggle to see the full reality that goes beyond what we can see with our eyes. C.S. Lewis’ discussed this struggle in his wonderful sermon The Weight of Glory. There is a spiritual dimension that anyone can discover, but no one sees naturally.
Faith in What?
For me, the one word answer is “Jesus”. In a sentence it would be Jesus loves me and gave me a new life which I didn’t deserve. I think it’s important to say Jesus rather than Christian because in the mind of many people, the term Christian is link to very un-Christian images. Saying follower of Jesus brings front stage that the Christian faith is centered on a personal relationship, not a system of beliefs, a strict code of ethics, nor is it an alignment with the political left or right. I appreciate the attempt to recapture the word Christian in Carol Wimmer’s poem entitled When I Say “I am a Christian”.
My personal theology is more expansive that the Nicene Creed or Missional Manifesto, but I am much less dogmatic about “my” additional details. I recognize that many of my beliefs are my opinion, not fact, and not so important that I should let them separate me from others. As my friend Danny Hall says, “there are very few beliefs I would be prepared to die for.”
How I Found Faith?
I grew up in a secular Jewish home. I had faith that I was a good person who could make a difference in the world. In my teens I discovered that I wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I could be selfish or cruel when I wanted to be gracious and kind. I started to fear there was more evil in the world than good, and wondered if there was any hope.
I read the scriptures of several faith traditions including the Bible. I read many books about life and faith from Autobiography of a Yogi to Zen Mind, with Mere Christianity and many others books in-between. Nothing gave me the answers I was looking for. I decided that there must not be a God. Then one night I felt the need to pray for a friend (who I later learned was in grave danger). It was odd, praying to a God I didn’t believe in. Over the next couple of years I found myself continuing to talk to God, even though I didn’t hear any reply.
One day a friend succeeded in getting me to a bible study after persisting for months. The study made sense. One of the observations the teacher made was that if Christianity was true, it should make a huge difference in people’s lives. I thought “Exactly… but it not true which is why Christians are such hypocrites”. I looked around the study. There were people I had known for several years. I was fairly self-righteous, and thought I was better than they were. Yet, I could see a love, a unity in that community that I couldn’t explain. I later learned the Bible (John 13:35) noted “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. I wanted what they had. The teacher called for people to commit themselves to Jesus. All of a sudden, everything I read in the last few years snapped into focus: foremost the amazing life of Jesus described in the the book of John and C.S. Lewis’ Liar, Lunatic, Lord argument. That night I became a follower of Jesus.
Over the next few months I continued to examine my new faith. Did it truly make sense, or was it an emotional reaction to a meeting? I learned much of the material found in Discovering God which convinced me that I could trust the Bible. The more I investigated my new faith, the more it made sense. I concluded that I really did think the Christian faith was true. I started to see God’s hand in the world. Decades later, I find the core of my faith unchanged. I still encounter things I just can’t get my head around. Life is filled with paradoxes which defy understanding. When I encounter something that is beyond me, I have learned to admit I don’t understand and then I choose to wait for God to make it clear.
If you want see the heart of classic Christianity I would suggest reading the “book” of John found in the Bible. The books A Search for the Spiritual by James White and Discovering God by Dennis McCallam are brief but excellent guides to the process of exploring spiritual issues. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller clearly addresses the most common questions related to the Christian God. The identity of Jesus is the single most important issue when considering Christianity. Is there credible evidence that Jesus is the Son of God? The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel attempts to answer this question. Basic Christianity by John Stott has one of the clearest explanations of the core of the Christian faith.
in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respectI Peter 3:15 (ESV)
How Faith Shapes My Life?
I think people often make the “Christian” life too complex. They have a long list of rules, things that they should do, things they should avoid. I think it’s much simpler. One of my favorite Bible passages that gets at the core of how following Jesus should effect our life:
He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your Lord.Micah 6:8
A similarly brief formulation was provided by Jesus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
How does this work? The life of a follower of Jesus is spent learning about who Jesus is, understanding His love, and letting His love set them free to live a meaningful and loving life. As you grow to know a friend, and to appreciate them, your life changes a bit and you take on some of their characteristics. A follower of Jesus will slowly have their life changed so that it looks more like the life of love that Jesus lived. Not because they are now following an external set of rules like the Ten Commandments, but because they have love in their heart. Book of Galatians which can be found in the Bible’s New Testament says that the fruit of the Spirit, that is the result of God working in a Christian’s life, should be love. Then this book goes on to enumerate what this love looks like: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Jesus himself said that people will know we are His followers by the love which is manifest in their community.
After I decided to follow Jesus I attended Xenos Christian Fellowship for twelve years. During my time at Xenos I lead small groups, planted a house church, and with others started a ministry to international students, establish a missions program, and sent a team to Brazil and to Southeast Asia. Xenos provided a great foundation of both practical and systematic theology, advanced hermeneutics and provided an effective framework for service. I then moved to the SF Bay Area and attended Penisula Bible Church which helped me trust God more deeply in day to day life and to find common ground with people who embraced different traditions and beliefs thanks to the example of Doug Goins. At PBC I co-lead small groups, served and provided mentorship to college students, young adults, and young married couples. I coordinated the Perspectives class several times and co-lead our missions team. For the last few years I have been attending Menlo Church, Cafe Campus. I am involved with small groups and am part of the Stephen Ministry.
There are countless resources and books to explore different belief systems. It would be hopeless to try and keep a good list. When I first wrote this post one of the best sites was Websites about Religion: originally created by Wabash Center. These days I would say use a search engine.
There are a number of other books have been pivotal in shaping my world view. Some of the most significant authors include C.S. Lewis, Dennis McCallum, Watchman Nee, John White, Larry Crabb, J. Oswald Sanders, Ralph Winter, Richard Foster, Kenneth Bailey, Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard, and Timothy Keller. I have benefited from many of the ideas popularized by Renovare.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.Hebrews 11:1-3 ESV