I'm beginning to think that jealousy, envy and bitterness are the most destructive emotions a person can have. It's so easy to fall into the trap. Life is hard. There are so many disappointments. And the older we get, the more we begin to realize that we've only got so much time left. One by one, we begin to write off the dreams of our youth.
We look back on our mistakes. That one bad turn we made twenty years ago has turned into a labyrinth of disappointment. "If only I hadn't . . . . .", we think; or "If only I had . . . . ". And then, there are those fortunate ones. They are the people who have it made. For every wrong move we made, they made three right ones.
We think, it's not fair. I deserve better. Somehow, the self-dialogue takes on a different character. It becomes envy. And the envy becomes hatred. We begin to believe the lies whispered from the darkness. It's like some evil yeast, fermenting in our hearts. It grows and grows until we are consumed with bitterness. And the pain is almost unbearable.
But here's the thing. We've all only got a few years in this life, especially when you compare it to the timeline of eternity. When we die, that's the end of the pain, at least in this life. The things that we have (or don't have), as compared with those of others is immediately irrelevant. You can't take your BMW, or your nice house with you. You can't take your prestigious career with you. You can't take your body with you. And yes, even your family stays behind (at least until they reach the end as well).
And by the way, the folks that you were so envious of face the same thing. We all go through the same gate.
So, whatever you are going through in this life is, relatively speaking, unimportant. All of your problems will be solved soon, relatively speaking. Conversely, your eternity becomes, relatively speaking, extremely important.
This raises the question of exactly how you will plan for your eternity. Forget the last will and testament, and the side-by-side cemetery plots. Even those are temporary. Instead, think about what your options are and which one you will exercise. They are all mutually exclusive. Unlike the market, you can't hedge your bets. You can only pick one. One option is to do nothing and hope for the best. Another option (which I many people choose by default) is to hope that your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, and that there is some sort of cosmic tally being kept. The third option is simply to open up a Bible and begin reading.
It doesn't matter what preconceptions you have. It doesn't matter if you have a real problem with religion. All that matters is that you simple open it and begin reading it at the beginning. The Bible purports to tell you what you need to do to make it through that eternal gate. You can decide for yourself whether it makes sense for you. A caveat: the Bible isn't an easy read, like many of the "fast food" books found today, purporting to provide spiritual insight. You may have to wrestle with it a bit. But if you do it with an open mind and heart, I think you will find what you are looking for.
And, by the way, if you find what you are looking for, it might even help with all the other stuff.
My daughter Meredith was in kindergarten in 2008, the same year of the presidential election. She came home from school one day in early November, very excited. "Daddy, we voted for the president!", she exclaimed. Her school had held a mock election, to give the kids a fun and practical civics lesson.
I asked Meredith who she voted for. She replied, "Marack Obana," which I thought was a pretty good facsimile of the candidate's name for a six-year old. I then asked why she voted for him. I'm not sure what I was expecting. I know it wasn't, "Because his economic policies will ensure future economic security," or "I really like his stance on Afghanistan." But her answer still caught me off guard. In her sweet little voice, she declared very seriously, "He had the best smile." I thought about it for a minute and had to agree with her. If the choice of presidents was based upon the relative smiles of the candidates, Obama would be pretty hard to beat. The guy had a great smile.
And as I thought about it, I realized that her comment was actually pretty insightful. A lot of people would likely vote for Obama because he was more youthful, better-looking and simply projected better than his rival. In America, many people consistently vote based upon what is referred to as the "party line." If we view ourselves as Republicans, we tend to vote for Republicans. And we tend to forumulate our opinions about things based upon what the news folks tell us, good or bad and depending upon how our political views jive with theirs. In other words, we make decisions based upon someone else's opinion, rather than digging in and doing the research ourselves. We vote, a very important decision, based upon unmeaningful criteria.
If you voted in the 2008 election, think about it. Did you research either candidate's congressional records? Did you review any of their writings, speeches or other materials which could reveal their consistency on issues? Did you develop your opinion based upon any firsthand, direct information? I'll confess that I didn't. I'll further confess that my mind was pretty much made up long before the election, simply based upon my own preconceived notions.
And of course, we know what happens when we make decisions this way. We can make bad decisions. We shortchange ourselves. And often, we later regret those decisions.
Which brings me to the point. And it's an entirely different point, but it stems from making a decision without having all the facts. Or making a decision, based upon someone else's opinion. I'm talking about making a decision about God.
Certainly, you may not at this moment feel compelled to make any decision about God. Your life is pretty good. You don't see anything problematic on the horizon. So, why not just keep cruising along in life as you are? The issue is that, sooner or later, we are all faced with either a crisis in this life that cannot be resolved by natural means. Maybe it's that call from the doctor's office with the biopsy results. Maybe it's the loss of a job, or worse, a loved one. But eventually, something will happen to you that will force you to face the fact that you only have so many years on this planet. And once you do, you have to decide whether there is anything after. Do you simply die and that's it? Or does something else happen.
A decision not to decide is a decision in and of itself. And a lot of people make a default decision about God. They decide by default that God isn't really in control of things. They come to believe that God didn't really create the heavens, the earth or mankind. They aren't really athiests, but they don't really want to believe in the God of the Bible.
The problem is that they make this decision without really understanding the source document itself. The make a decision, based upon what they've heard from others. Sort of like Meredith, they voted based upon a criteria that at least to an adult, didn't mean very much. And like many adults, they decided without digging in and formulating their own opinion. They didn't actually read the Book itself.
The Bible puts forth God's story. For now, if it makes you feel better, let's refer to it a "theory" of who God is and what He wants from us. There are several central components to this theory. The first component is that God created everything. The second is that God created mankind as a loving act. The third is that He sought to have a relationship with mankind, but mankind rebelled against its Creator. And the final chapter describes how God remedied this rift once and for all. It's a pretty fantastic finale- God sends His Son, in human form, to teach mankind about Him and ultimately to pay a price so that mankind could have a relationship with Him forever.
If you've made a reasonable effort to read the Bible and compared it's characterization of God with your own life, and concluded that it is a book of fables, then so be it (I'm talking about beginning with Genesis and reading it all the way through to Revelations). I applaud your initiative and respect your conclusion. You came to this conclusion based upon the facts and derived your opinion about the Bible's validity based upon those facts. You are entitled to your opinion.
But if you have come to a conclusion about God without an earnest effort to read the Bible, I would respectfully suggest that you reconsider. If the Bible is accurate, it describes an eternal and everlasting consequence of your conclusion. For that reason alone, it's worth careful consideration. And if the Bible isn't accurate, then the most you've lost is your investment of time to read it.
I have to agree that "Marack" has a great smile. And if I were six, I'd likely vote for him on that basis alone. But I'm not six and I owe it to myself, my family and my country to vote for him, or someone else, for reasons beyond his apparently excellent dental hygiene. Instead, I need make an informed decision. Similarly, when it comes to deciding who God is, my decision should be based upon more than a superficial understanding, without having invested any time in the literature that purports to explain it.
What if Heaven was like a hospital? The hospital is filled will all kinds of sick people. Some of the patients are seriously ill. These people have cancer. The hospital does all that it can to treat them. Doctors administer chemotherapy and radiation treatments. In some cases, radical surgery is necessary. Organs are removed in order to give these victims a chance at life. But nothing seems to be working. The cancer simply and relentlessly keeps coming back.
Eventually, the patients grow weary of the exhausting and debilitating treatments. They begin to give up hope. For them, life ibecomes a constant state of dread, sadness and worry.
But one day, something miraculous happens. On that day, every single patient is cured of cancer. Through testing, the doctors confirm it. Each one of the doomed people is now somehow and inexplicably cancer-free.
Imagine how these formerly terminal patients would feel. They have been given new lives. Hopelessness is replaced with an incredible sense of joy and wonder. Now think about their problems. They probably still have mortgages and car payments. People still cut them off in traffic and conversations. There lives are, in a way, exactly the same as they were before their illness. They still have problems, worry and fears.
But something has changed. Their problems just don't seem the same as they did before, in comparison with what they were facing when they were sick. They find themselves willing to forgive others more readily. In a way, they won a lottery of sorts and everything else pales in comparision. They didn't do anything to earn their healing. It was a miraculous free gift.
What if you were suddenly given a similar gift? But instead of being a gift of life, it was a gift of eternal life. What if Someone gave you a free ticket to an eternal life of happiness, comfort and peace in an almost indescribably wonderful setting?
Chances are, the things of this life would concern you less. You would probably realize that, relatively speaking, you would have only a few years left here on Earth. You would most likely begin to anticipate your afterlife. When people cut you off in traffic, or in the middle of a sentence, you wouldn't mind as much. You would probably put it all into an eternal perspective. Knowing that your eternal destiny was assured, you wouldn't sweat the small stuff, or much of anything else for that matter.
One other thing: if this happened to you, you probably wouldn't be able to contain yourself. You would feel compelled to share this almost too good to be true news with others. You'd want them to take advantage of this free gift..
What if Heaven was like a train station? All day long, passengers come and go. Conductors announce departures and people scurry to get onboard. Everyone is so caught up in the events of the moment, that they get on and off trains without even thinking about it.
As the day draws to a close, there are some passengers remaining. They aren't in any rush to catch their trains because they think that they have plenty of time. If they miss one, there will be several more later. Some people are busy with important telephone conversations. Others are napping before their departure, with the confidence of knowing that their trains won't leave for hours. Still others are grabbing a bite of dinner at the concession or a cocktail at the bar.
And suddenly, it's midnight. It happens without any warning. The remaining passengers look around and realize that they are the only ones left in the station. It seems so much larger, now that most of the people have gone. One of the napping passengers wakes with a start and looks around. The station has changed, in what seemed like an instant. Once hustling and bustling with activity, now it seems empty and foreboding.
The passengers make their way to the departure platform. Every destination on the board is now black. There aren't any more trains leaving. The passengers look around helplessly. The hadn't expected this. There are no more trains.
Ever since the very beginning, God has beckoned mankind to join Him. He did it throughout the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, He paid mankind a personal visit, in the form of a Man. He fed people. And He healed them. He had friends. And he told them that eventually, He would have to die in order to fulfill all righteousness. He would be sacrificed for the sins of all mankind. It was His gift. For the first time, mankind would have a choice. Rather than slaughtering animals in vain efforts to somehow make themselves right with God, man could simply accept the gift through faith in Him.
What will happen to you if the train leaves next month? What if it happens tonight? Do you plan to be with Him? Do you know how?
I would think the lonliest feeling imaginable would be to wake up in the train station and realize that there would be no more trains. Ever. And any chance you had of getting home is gone forever.
If you don't know how to make that trip, there are plenty of people who can tell you how. Churches are filled with them. And I'd be happy to explain it to you as well. Just send me a message through the contact form on this website.
Right now, I'm struggling a bit. I'll explain why in a minute. You may know that I have recently finished the final draft of "The Reasonable Person- Due Process of Law, Logic and Faith" and am presently seeking a publisher for the book. The book is intended to accomplish a couple of things. Most importantly, I hope it demystifies Christianity, especially for people who didn't grow up in church. And I hope that it provides a logical framework with which to analyze the claims of Christianity. After reading it, you should be able to determine what you believe, at least as to God, and why you believe it.
I have a theory that, at least to some extent, modern Christianity has recreated a Pharisaical-like structure, as the faith has become increasingly organized. In Jesus' time, the Jewish establishment, the Pharisees, had created an intricate and complex system of rules and requirements that had to be followed. Or, at least all those claiming to be good Jews had to follow them. They were the self-appointed gatekeepers to God. The rules included requirements like ritual washing and bathing, in order to be clean enough to enter the temple. And they included the giving of alms and other similar rule, which at least in theory, gave one a better chance at Heaven.
Jesus came along and challenged the system. He said that what was on people's hearts mattered much more than following rules. He said that it was most important to love God, and to love your fellow man. The Pharisees hated Jesus. They constantly tried to trip him up. The funny thing though, is that they never did. They had studied the Hebrew Bible since childhood, were from the best families and had gone to the best schools. Jesus was a carpenter from Galilee. And Galilee was sort of the Appalachia of the Middle East. Most civilized people thought that not much good could ever come from there.
In many of our Christian churches today, we've created similar systems. You have to know when to stand, when to kneel and whether it's "trespasses" or "debts." Some congregations prohibit musical instruments in worship. Others require baptism. And still others create new rules by throwing out all of the old ones. You can spot these groups because everyone wheres bermudas and flip flops to church. They've turned the rules on their end. But like the hippies of the '60s, eventually the societal majority emulates these "rebels" and they become mainstream. Think of the Beatles song "Revolution" as elevator Muzak.
In any of these cases, the issue is that there are insiders and outsiders. And the insiders want to stay insiders. It's not that they are necessarily trying to prevent outsiders from participating. It's simply more a case of they like things the way they are. They don't want anyone to change their "system." It's comfortable and they like comfort.
Which brings me to why I'm struggling right now. As I explained at the beginning of this post, I've recently finished the final draft of "The Reasonable Person." I've spent almost five years of my life working on it. I've written it while working in a very demanding in-house practice and being a husband and dad as well. The book has over 500 footnotes and I have painstakingly provided scriptural reference to every substantial assertion contained in the book. I wrote the book for one reason and ironically, it's for the same reason that I wrote my first book, "Law School Labyrinth- The Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education" (Kaplan Publishing, 2d Ed., May 3, 2012). I wrote Labyrinth to help struggling law students. I wrote The Reasonable Person" to help non-Christians who are struggling with finding meaning in their lives, and to help Christians who are struggling with their faith.
I've asked two preachers in Nashville mega-churches to take a look at the manuscript. I didn't ask them to review it. I didn't ask them to endorse it. I didn't even ask them to read the entire book. I asked them to take a look at it. I asked them to take a look at it for one reason. I wanted a doctrinal perspective on the book. In other words, I wanted them to look at the book and tell me whether the felt that it was built upon sound biblical doctrine. I'm a lawyer and not a theologian. The book is written from a lawyer's perspective. So, I wanted to make sure that someone with clergy credentials had "blessed" it (in the vernacular, and not as a pun).
The funny thing is, both had virtually the exact same response. It was almost as if they were responding from a script. Each of them said, "Thanks, but I've got too much on my plate right now."
And I struggle with that. I struggle with it because we've all got too much on our plates these days. The secret is to figure out what is important and invest your time in it. A person can run in hundreds of directions, chasing this and responding to that. But a person who has an impact knows how to decide what their life's purpose is and do all that they can to fulfill that purpose. I believe that God has a purpose for me, and I believe He has provided the Holy Spirit to help me accomplish it. So, I spend a lot of my quiet time doing all that I can to hear Him and try to discern His will. And I believe He wanted me to tell the story contained in "The Reasonable Person."
"The Reasonable Person" is intended to demystify Christianity. I feel that we have overcomplicated the subject, which really only deals with a couple of things. God loves me and He loves you. He sent His Son Jesus to live among us, teach us and provide an example for how He wants us to live. He became one of us. God was one of us. And when that part of Jesus' mission was completed, God allowed Jesus to be sacrificed as payment, once and for all, for the sins of every single person. It righted the cosmic scales forever. The blood of God outweighed the sum total of every sin that man could ever commit. He paid for my sins and He paid for your sins. It's what Christians call a "free gift." All you have to do is receive it through faith in Him. It's really not that mysterious.
I don't know, I suppose that there are people who would prefer that it remain mysterious. There certainly were those people, the Pharisees, in Jesus' time. The mystery preserved the status quo. And it meant job security for them. But God doesn't want gatekeepers. Jesus welcomed everyone- sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and I suppose even lawyers. God wants every single person to come to Him.
So, I suppose the book will have to go to print without being "blessed." But I'm okay with that. And somehow, I think He is as well.
You know who I'm talking about. You might even be one of them. "Wrong side of the tracks" Christians are people who, despite accepting Jesus as their savior, continue to struggle with sin and doubt. They probably didn't grow up going to church. They may have had very difficult lives. Perhaps they grew up in dysfunction such as alcoholism or abuse. They may carry deep emotional scars. They think of themselves as being from the wrong side of the spiritual tracks.
They see people in church who are dressed nicely and seem so happy. Wrong side of the tracks Christians think that they don't measure up. This causes them to avoid committing to a church or really getting invested in it. They go to church to worship but get out as quickly as they can, hoping that they won't be noticed. Of course, the truth is that we are all broken. We've all got issues. And only God can really fix them.
Their self-deception is reinforced unintentionally by others. We get caught up in their various "care groups" or "life groups" or "worship groups" or whatever other term currently in vogue with contemporary Christian churches. These "right side of the tracks" Christians are in the middle of all of it. They are in the mainstream. They are surrounded by support and Christian friendship.
However, in today's mega-churches, people can get lost. Wrong side of the tracks Christians are especially vulnerable. They walk in the door with an open heart. But they can be made to feel unwelcome. A friend of mine joined a church a few years ago that had substituted its Sunday night service for smaller "life groups". These were smaller groups that met at church members' homes; an alternative to formal Sunday night worship. Often, they consist of families that have known each other for years. The problem, however, was that my friend never got invited to join a group. Somehow, he got lost in the administrative shuffle. It became a "by invitation only" worship meeting. Eventually, he faded away. His Christian journey was detoured by an administrative error.
American Christianity has always been concerned with outreach ministry. Frequently, it takes the form of charitable and missionary support in an undeveloped country. This is a spiritual "no-brainer" in that we help deal with that countries immediate an pressing needs- clean water, food, clothing, shelter and medical care. And there are often Christians at the forefront of these efforts. They give selflessly of their time and are personally involved in helping those less fortunate. Katie Davis, of Amazima Ministries is a perfect example of this selflessness. She takes this type of ministry to a new level. She moved to Uganda and became a foster mom to kids who need her in every possible way. Katie has clearly put her money where her mouth is. Hers is an "up close and personal" ministry.
The rest of us typically give money. I'm not knocking money. We all work hard for it and giving to charity is certainly one form of Christian sacrifice. Without money, Katie couldn't do what she does. You might be thinking, "How on earth can I do what Katie Davis does? I've got a job and a family to support. I can't simply drop everything to get "up close and personal" with people. All I can do is give money."
And that brings me to the point. You can do something. And you can do it right where you are today. All you have to do is one thing. Look around you. Look at people in your neighborhood. Look at people at work. Look at people in your church. Chances are, there are people who need help. There are probably some wrong side of the tracks Christians struggling. You can help them.
Another friend of mine became a Christian well into his forties. I'm sure that this fact alone made him feel like he was from the wrong side of the spiritual tracks. He could have easily slipped through the tracks at his church. But that isn't what happened. After his first confession of faith, the church leadership assigned him a "mentor." This mentor was a mature Christian, well along in his Christian knowledge, faith and development. My friend explained that his mentor "was available anytime, 24/7 to answer any questions and deal with any issues I might have had." This set my friend on the right path and today his faith is strong and his commitment to God is incredible.
So the next time you are in church, look around. See if you can spot a wrong side of the tracks Christian. And if you can't, they try this. Find anyone. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their faith walk. And then listen. You might be surprised at what you hear. And make up your mind to help others. Then do it. In big ways and small. Find people around you that you can help.
After all, that's what Jesus did.