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Faith, Choice, and Foundations

I saw a really bad movie this week.  "The Omen 2" came on TV and my wife had never seen it (nor had I), and  so we watched it out of curiosity.  If you don't recall the movie, it was the middle movie in a trio of movies based on the Antichrist.  The movies cited some New Testament verses - well out of context - and gave their little monster a number of accessories and abilities besides the original biblical description.  Like being able to stare people to death, and familiars like a silent Rottweiler who kills enemies for him, and a raven (or a really big crow) who also disposes of inconvenient people.  By the way, the 'Omen' movies came several years before 'Star Wars', so I had this mental image of a certain modern director watching Damien Thorn stare someone to death in a scene, and think to himself, 'Niiiiiiiiice, I gotta have MY villain use that trick'.  Anyway, the movie had absolutely no suspense - you could tell by the music when someone was going to die - and a plot that was absurdly thin.  What struck me the most, though, is that the Antichrist legend is pretty rich and detailed (almost every belief system has a story of a final evil leader), and the Bible contains enough information to build a fascinating character.  But somehow no one has ever been able to present a truly believable Antichrist.


When you think about it, though, it makes a kind of sense.   People who are aligned with God don't worry too much about some human trying to play God (most of us are guilty of that to some degree, so the Antichrist is just the most egregious offender), and most people out of alignment with God do not understand the concept or the message.  Some scholars believe the biblical Antichrist was the Emperor Nero of Rome, some others have suggested people like Adolf Hitler was the Antichrist, or at least AN Antichrist.  And of course, the word has been worn out to the point that almost every controversial political figure can expect to be called 'The Antichrist' by his or her opponents.   The word has lost a lot of its significance over time.  There was a time when the fear of damnation caused men and women to tremble, to weigh their lives against a higher standard and to think seriously about the major choices.  While I am not one who believes that God wants us to repent of our sins just to get out of a terrible punishment, I do believe we should be aware that our choices have consequences, and to live in faith by choice rather than compulsion.  Also, faith builds a foundation for a better life which seems irrational to some people, and foolish to even more, but which makes possible greater joy and happiness than anyone can have without it.


Consider Charlie Sheen.  Most of us, at first thought, would gladly trade lives to be someone known for talent, good looks, grace, and more than a little good fortune.  Speaking of which, that life we trade for would include a personal fortune in eight figures, and a regular lifestyle which many people literally fantasize about.  What's not to like?  Yet Mr. Sheen has three failed marriages, accidentally shot a girlfriend in 1990, has been arrested numerous times, including charges of domestic violence and drug-related offenses.  He's been in both hospitals and rehab, but apparently still has not changed his behavior.  Sheen's temper and legal troubles finally cost him his starring role and contract on his TV show, and for all intents and purposes his career is circling the drain.  Charlie Sheen is hardly the only guy to go down that road, though.  Last year at this time, we were just finding out about Tiger Woods, whose philandering astounded even the blasé media, and more to the point cost him his endorsements, derailed his ability to win tournaments, and destroyed his marriage and his relationship to his children.  Let's put it this way - if you're married to Denise Richards or Elin Nordegren, and you still feel you need to cheat, you're seriously messed up.  But let's not forget Lindsay Lohan, though, or Paris Hilton, proof that the ladies also are quite capable of taking a good thing and messing it up completely.      


This is not to say that if you are able to have and keep your success that this means you have it all.  My point is that real happiness and joy comes from something a lot deeper and substantial.  Sheen, Lohan, Woods and Hilton all made the same mistake, in that they chased what they wanted for themselves, and never built their lives on something more enduring and permanent.  I'm not perfect by any means, but I'm pretty sure that I have more happiness and joy in my life than any of those celebrities I mentioned.  Sure, they have more fun and can have any toy or pleasure they desire, pretty much at their whim and as much as they want, but what they fail to understand is why it won't satisfy.  One analogy which comes to mind is a broken rib - you can feel a bit better by having a drink or taking a drug, but until you get the rib healed you will continue to suffer from the situation - any relief will be superficial and temporary.  Life conditions are the same way - you have to recognize, accept and address the real problems in your life, or you can never be free of them. 


What's good about our common situation, is that we have choices.  We make choices all the time, and every one leads to a different place from the others.  One choice may well seem to be inconsequential soon after you make it, but over time and in combination with a whole sequence of choices, you begin to see what your choice leads to.  This is true of education, character, and cultural choices, but even more in your moral decisions.  You are what you do, and in essence, become the sum of your choices.


I am a Christian, and my Master commends me to spread the Good News, but I want to be careful about the thin line between honest testimony and unreasonable fanaticism.  Just last Saturday, I was taking a nap when there was a ring at the door.  A group of evangelists were inviting folks to come to their church.  Fair enough, but the problem is that they started out their tour with the assumption that everyone they were going to meet needs saving from hellfire.  Telling them I was already a believer did no good, as they then expected me to either A)join them on their tour, or B)invite them in for a few hours of scripture study, prayer and in-home revival.  Now, I believe in the Bible, and I love to pray, but it's just plain wrong to show up at someone's house and tell them what they have to do with their own time and residence.  As I said, I was sleeping when they showed up, and while I pray often, I have a firm rule that I do not pray on command just because some other person expects me to, much less considers it a requirement of faith.  Sorry, folks, I worship God, but even though I believe you are my brothers and sisters in Christ, that does not mean your opinion counts as His.  I mention this little incident, because if I was put off by the Jesus Sales Team, I suspect my neighbors were no better pleased with their heavy-handed assumptions and, well, arrogance.  As if to reinforce the problem, I was cut off in traffic yesterday morning by a reckless driver speeding through traffic and weaving through lanes - with a WWJD sticker on his back bumper.  What would Jesus do?  Drive slower and act more friendly, I think.  That's not to tear down Christians in general, though as I am a believer I have the responsibility to call out my own, first.  I bring that criticism up for two reasons.  First off, when I speak about laying a moral foundation for our lives to build upon, I believe that comes from God, and from what I know it seems that He speaks to all of us.  No, not necessarily as a real voice you hear, though I know that He does that some times (He does that to me when I am especially poor at listening, but that's for another time).  But we all know, at some deep level, when we are over the line, when we are not saying, doing, or being the person we should.  The idea that God only cares about people in one part of the world, or offers communion with one culture, or shares the truth about His will with one group, is absurd.  I think C.S. Lewis was right when he suggested that all myth has some value, and we do well to consider a belief system on its own merit.  That's not to say that all beliefs are valid, or that all roads reach God.  But I do believe that God knows the heart of every one of us, and you cannot make God angry by loving your neighbor or helping someone in need.  That is, regardless of doctrine, a man who acts in the ways that Christ commands is His best follower.  The man (generic form, not meaning male per se) who performs the commands of the Buddha is his best student, regardless of whether he knows a single teaching by rote.  The reverse is also true - a man who hates his brother hates Christ, no matter how much Scripture he can recite, and a man who does not care when someone suffers, spits on the God who made us all.  We make the choice over and over again, sometimes choosing well and sometimes poorly.  What separates us, I think, starts with whether we care about our mistakes and the people we hurt, or if we just want to take care of ourselves.  If we are sorry for our wrongs and mean to improve, even though we will screw up we are the family of God, and walking the right way because of the foundation of choosing to care and help.  If not, we neglect that foundation, and even a thousand good deeds, if done only to please ourselves, will come to nothing and end is failure. 


Hope is always true, but we have to choose it and build upon it.  Faith is stronger than rebar, but harder to work with for most of us.  But we have to start with Charity, because that is the direction of our heart and the theme for all our decisions.  Care, then act on it. 




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Comments (16)

Now, I believe in ... (Below threshold)
James H:
Now, I believe in the Bible, and I love to pray, but it's just plain wrong to show up at someone's house and tell them what they have to do with their own time and residence. As I said, I was sleeping when they showed up, and while I pray often, I have a firm rule that I do not pray on command just because some other person expects me to, much less considers it a requirement of faith.

Reminds me of something I've heard before:

[W]hen thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Lk. 18.10-14 Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

That might the first "+" I'... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

That might the first "+" I've given James H, but I'm not certain.

I also wonder just how many souls have been won to Christ by cold-calling at their homes. I suspect not many - and there is a good chance more minds and hearts were shut more tightly closed to the Good News as a result of the intrusion. As my late mother used to say, "You catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar."

I pray (privately!) for increased faith, hope, charity, patience, and all virtues, and in thanks for the peace which Christ brings my soul. I believe if I can put my faith into practice, I will do more to bring others to Christ than I could possibly do by badgering them.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

My late mother, who had an ... (Below threshold)

My late mother, who had an acerbic wit most of the time, had a sign on our front door informing sales people and religious missionaries that they were not welcome to ring our bell. If they still persisted, she would answer the door and snap at them: "I don't discuss the Bible with people who cannot read!" and slam the door in their faces. At first I was horrified, but then after working a straight 36 hour shift at the radio station newsroom, I needed sleep and that doggone doorbell hauled ME out of bed and I found my mother's approach quite effective!

The last missionaries who k... (Below threshold)
James H:

The last missionaries who knocked at my door (about a decade ago) received a very loud NO from a very grumpy James H. Said missionaries found reason to be elsewhere.

This and Gayle's experience bring something to mind. Door-to-door missionaries and door-to-door salesmen prey on the same instinct -- the desire not to be seen as rude to a visitor. But I would argue that these people are themselves rude, for attempting to impose on the hospitality of people who are clearly not interested in the wares they offer.

When I was in college I had... (Below threshold)
Phil Snyder:

When I was in college I had a wonderful way to get rid of door to door Evangelists. You can usually tell them when they knock on the door and you see them with tracts and Bibles.

One Saturday, 3 of them came to my apt (it was close the the university and was prime recruiting grounds). I got tired of the planned and scripted questions, so I answered the door with "If you were to die this minute, are you sure you would go to heaven?"

The poor evangelists had not been trained for this opening. They hemmed and hawed and looked confused (they must be thinking "Hey! That's MY line!"). They answered "Well, yes." I then replied: "That's good to know. have a nice day!"

My conversations with door to door evangelists never took more than 1 min after that.

Compare the armor of the Sp... (Below threshold)

Compare the armor of the Spirit with actual weaponry of the day. We are not given a spear, a javelin, a bow and quiver, or even a sling for hurling rocks.

We are given the Sword of the Spirit, the most personal weapon possible. To use a sword, you must be right up against him.

That's why cold-calling is likely to get a cold-shoulder: to the traveling evangelist, your house is just another number on the street.

God has the worst marketing possible: people who had (or still have) severe personal problems, talking to people they don't know, about things the other person either has no current interest in, or has been burned by bad representations thereof.

If He didn't call people to Himself, the church would have died out long ago.

Phil, that's a new one! </p... (Below threshold)

Phil, that's a new one!

I think there must be a mark on my home because I have not had these missionary types come in literally over ten years. The last time, I actually had time and asked them many questions and professed my own beliefs which, though Christian, certainly came from a different denominational slant.

Maybe they marked the house with a "Crazy Christian Lady Lives Here" sign :)

I pray that the jehovas wit... (Below threshold)

I pray that the jehovas witness's stay away.

Great post! I enjoyed readi... (Below threshold)

Great post! I enjoyed reading it.

DJ. Thanks for keeping peop... (Below threshold)

DJ. Thanks for keeping people thinking about spiritual, eternal things. Even J.T. must read your stuff once in a while.
Seriously, it is very saddening that people know so little about the evangelical message of forgiveness and eternal life as a gift from God to anyone who seriously believes. There are so many shysters working the streets that no one is interested any longer in knowing about the path to God. So, the truth of God´s grace in Christ gets written off because of a rejection of religion which seldom represents God at all.
I don´t know an easy answer of how to communicate the good news to people without them feeling threatened. First of all, to get healed, a person needs to believe they are sick, but the vast majority are in denial. Until they recognize that they are infected with sin/self-centeredness, they won´t listen to the message of how to get well. The Holy Spirit needs to convict them that they are cut off from God and in terrible danger. Then, they might even listen to someone who comes to their door. When they are ready, let´s hope that the messengers who come to their door are not people "traversing mountains and seas to make them twice a son of Hell as they are." This is what a lot of the Pharisees did. This is what the Mormons, Jehovah´s Witnesses, and some evangelical fundamental, legalistic churches do.
If you want to hear a great song on this subject, go to rockymountainministries.org (Don Francisco´s site), and look for a song entitled "Get your hand off that Doorbell". he really is a Christian because he lets you listen to his music and download it for free.
He´s got lots of other really great songs that counteract religiosity and put things in perspective.
To return evil for good is diabolical
To return good for good is human
To return good for evil is divine

Excellent article. Thanks ... (Below threshold)

Excellent article. Thanks for writing and sharing.

As a Christian myself, I am... (Below threshold)

As a Christian myself, I am always amazed when someone tells me something about my faith. I recall once someone telling me that the Bible does not have the page 666. I try and remember that before I discuss things with people, as ignorance comes through no matter what the topic!

Thanks DJ. I pray for peopl... (Below threshold)

Thanks DJ. I pray for people who do not believe. I came into the fold at a later age, 23. Ever since, I wonder how anyone can go through life without an anchor keeping you steady. A private respite.

I also pray fervently for the world and the USA in particular. Jerimiah 29:11. ww

I found that answering the ... (Below threshold)

I found that answering the door in cut-offs with a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other, inviting them in if they are female usually results in a vapor trail off my property.

I am the only person I know... (Below threshold)
Buster Dog:

I am the only person I know that the Jehovah's Witnesses start making excuses to leave after a bit. I look at that they are lost and need the Gospel, which I give them. It saddens me that most of them were raised in some wishy washy denomination that never bothered to teach the hard truths, or explain basic doctrine like the Trinity.
I invite them in and open the Bible. But I am fairly well grounded in the faith. If you are not, just close the door and use the reminder to get out your Bible and start reading.

Now (almost 30 years after ... (Below threshold)
Phil Snyder:

Now (almost 30 years after my post above) I am an ordained Christian minister. When I am greated at the door by either Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons, I am likely to engage them in apologetics - defending the Trinity against their Arianism.

Other Evangelists I will assure that I am a Christian Brother and wish them well.






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