Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why Follow Jesus? Experience

I believe that experience gives us confidence to walk faithfully with God. The more we walk by faith the more reason we have to place to our trust in God. Without the experience of God working in my life it would be very hard for me to remain a Christian. Experience is the firmest evidence we have to personally follow Jesus Christ.

As I read different blogs written by atheists I do come across arguments and questions that I have no answers to. I sure wish I did. It would be nice to be able to write arguments that left no doubt that God exists and that Jesus is His name, but it can’t be done. I have come to realize that uncertainty is part of life. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t good solid evidence to believe in God and to follow Jesus, what it does mean is that intelligent people can give good arguments supporting a number of positions. There are intelligent atheists who can offer well thought out arguments supporting why God doesn’t exists. There are smart theists we can demonstrate why believing in God is a very reasonable thing to do. There are well educated Christians who can provide evidence on why following Jesus Christ is the best way to live. So who do we believe? After all many of us lack the training and skill to properly evaluate these arguments. In the face of this reality what we have to fall back on is experience. Experience has helped me understand that it is perfectly reasonable to follow Jesus. It is my opinion that experience is an essential ingredient to the life of faith. Experience provides the personal evidence of God at work in the world around us that we need to continue to trust Him.

I want you to understand that I follow Jesus Christ because the experience of my life tells me that this is the best way to live. If I did not have evidence of God working through my life I would give up and live as if there was no God. It is this evidence of life experience that the apostle Peter appeals to when he encourages Christians to remain faithful.
17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one's work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. 18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed - not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21; NET)

Peter reminds his readers of a simple truth: being a Christian is better than being a pagan. They were living an empty life, but now they were able to enjoy eternal life. Hope and purpose came because of Jesus Christ.

As I reflect on my life I recognize three types of experiences that keep me grounded in faith even when doubt creeps in.

The experience of education.

The apostle Paul makes it clear that faith begins with knowledge (Romans 10:14-15). There are basics beliefs that we need to have before we are willing to take that first step of faith which starts the ball of experience rolling in our lives. The knowledge we accept as true has less to do with the quality of argument and more to do with whether or not we trust the source and whether the “truth” supports our world view. For this reason a Christian person, or a person who has grown up in a Christian home, is more likely to accept the argument of a Christian apologist and reject the argument of an atheist evangelist. The reverse is also true.

The education I have received: from my parents, Bible College (Nebraska Christian College, Lincoln Christian Seminary), and from books I have read and sermons I have listened to have helped confirm this world view I have adopted. In light of this knowledge I have received I am able to understand the world in which we live in and come up with a reasonable way to live that I believe will allow me to enjoy the most out of life.

The experience of Christian people

I have lived my entire life in a Christian environment. My brother is also a minister/pastor. My sister is married to a youth minister/pastor. My dad preaches and has a degree in Christian counseling. My mom is very involved in the ministry, especially the educational aspect, of the church my parents attend. This is my environment and so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that I am a Christian.

It needs to be said that during times of doubt, those times when I have come to question the experience of education, the experience of being around other Christians have helped me to remain grounded to my faith. This has worked two ways. First the positive examples of Jesus Christ in my life have helped me understand that the best way to live life is to follow Jesus. Following Jesus makes my life better. Second the examples of non-believers, whether friends or relatives, have reinforced the truth that the life lived without Jesus is an empty life.

Let me give you an example. In my immediate family since we are all followers of Jesus we truly enjoy spending time with each other. There is no drama, gossiping, or backstabbing that goes on it just doesn’t exist. We enjoy life together. This is not true for my extended family where people have turned their backs on Jesus. I have people in my family who have been arrested for drugs, who have failed marriages and broken homes, and have simply made life harder for themselves because they decided not to follow Jesus. This experience tells me that following Jesus just works.

The experience of personal encounter

Let me state this up front: I have never had a “conversion” experience. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t believe every emotional high that I have had during worship, camp, or other events in my life are necessarily encounters with God. The New Testament tells us the Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. I believe that often Satan uses these emotionally high experiences to make us believe that is when we are close to God. The result is that we work hard on manufacturing these experiences and end up missing out on during those things which really build our faith: obedience, service, study, ad prayer.

The most profound encounters I have had with God in my life have not necessarily been times of immense joy and feelings of closeness, but times of fear and brokenness. Like the dream I had when I was a senior in high school which showed me going to hell and my family going to heaven. The meaning of the dream still etched in my mind: I can survive on my family’s faith.

Then there was the encounter I had, not with God, but with Satan. It was the scariest thing that has happened in my life. I left that night with a healthy respect for the supernatural and the war that is raging behind what we see and touch.

There are the answers to prayer that have left me humbled. How God came through in the most unexpected way to provide what I needed. Then there are also the people God has touched through me. From the changed lives of youth I worked with when I was in youth minister to comments I have received on this blog I have had the privilege of being used by God.

I realize that an educated and intelligent atheist could come and read this and tell me why I am crazy for believing what I believe and why this is not a valid argument for believing in God or following Jesus. That is okay because if they had a chance to live my experience they might see things a little differently.

  • Point to Ponder: Experience is an essential ingredient to the life of faith.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Peter 1:18-19
  • Question to Consider: What experience have I had that allows me to put confident trust in Jesus Christ?

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