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Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
During my day job, I work alongside someone I consider a “friendly atheist.” Not the kind who has a passionate agenda of converting me out of Christianity or who is obviously mad at God for not existing. He just simply believes that when we all die… poof! That’s it.
He and I have the kind of mutually respectful relationship where we can curiously ask each other questions about the other’s belief system, without it ever turning volatile or even emotional.
Last Friday I told him, “You simply have more faith than I do; to believe we all just got here by random chance.”
He replied, “You know, Nick; I find it very surprising that you, of all people, believe in Jesus and the Bible and all that stuff. I know you well enough to realize you are a very logical, rational guy. It just doesn’t fit you.”
The truth is, he makes a good point. I have no trouble at all believing in each of the miracles told in the Bible; from God creating Adam from dust, then Eve from his side, to Noah being able to gather two of every kind of animal on the ark, to the virgin birth of Christ, to Him being the Son of God, to Jesus making wine from water, to Him walking on water, to Him dying for the whole world and then raising from the dead. No problem.
Why? Because it’s all miraculous. It’s impossible unless it’s true. That’s logical to me.
Sure, I definitely believe the Bible truly is legitimate and factual.
I’m not the kind of person who only believes the parts of the Bible and God’s teachings that I want to; the ones that are easy to believe and that make me feel good. That’s not me.
Instead, I am a Bible-believing Christian who trusts in Christ alone for eternal life and redemption of all my wickedness, yet with humility I am willing to admit, there are parts of the Bible and its teachings that I struggle with.
Notice I said “struggle with.” I didn’t say I don’t believe or won’t believe. It means there are certain things I have to sort out, by carefully reading the Bible, praying to God to help me understand, reading related commentary books and talking to other Christians about my concerns.
I have this theory that most Bible-believing Christians have at least one particular part of the Bible or Christianity they have always struggled with believing. Mine is the existence of a literal, eternal, fiery hell in which people can never be redeemed.
While I’ve never met a Christian who believes that babies go to hell, it seems to be a popular belief that basically everyone else born in sin who dies not knowing Christ as their savior goes to hell forever.
That includes people in other countries who never heard the Gospel. That includes people who were only exposed to judgmental Christians who condemned them. That includes people who have been abused by their earthly fathers and have a deranged idea of what a loving father actually is.
I simply don’t want to be in a position where I have to decide who goes to Heaven and who doesn’t. But I feel that if hell is the fiery place it’s perceived to be by most Christians and their agreed interpretations of Christ’s teachings, then I sort of am in that position.
This can of worms got opened about a month ago when I read the highly controversial book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell.
It’s not that I agreed with every thing he said, but he was willing to shed light on my lifelong concerns about the Church’s traditional interpretation of hell. He goes back to every use of the word “hell” in the Bible and focuses on the original Hebrew and Greek words used.
So should I believe that all unbelievers, except babies, go to hell if they don’t believe in Christ by the time they die?
I’m going to give a very unpopular answer:
I don’t know. I have no idea. Yet.
I know that I’m supposed to believe it as an evangelical Christian. But I can’t lie and say in my heart I believe it at this point in my Christian journey.
But I’m trying to figure it out as I reread the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. I’m also reading the book, Erasing Hell, by Francis Chan; which counters the ideas written in Love Wins.
Just for the record, I graduated from a one year Bible college called Word of Life Bible Institute and earned my English degree from Liberty University; the world’s largest evangelical Christian university.
I know the Bible very well. But I can’t stand the thought of believing heresy, whether it’s some trendy author’s flawed interpretation of the Bible, or even the Church’s flawed understanding of Scripture.
Nothing has ever caused me to read the Bible with such passion. As a believer of Christ, I want to know who He truly is.
This is real faith. It’s not about having all the answers. Nor is it being okay with not trying to find the answers.
So what does this have to do with being a dad? Everything.
I want to be able to teach my son everything I have learned about God. My faith is everything to me. As his dad, it’s my responsibility to be the spiritual leader my dad was to me.
So to not understand a major part of my faith is difficult for me to deal with.
Like my atheist friend said, I am a very logical and rational guy. I don’t just believe something because I’m supposed to. I believe because God helps me to.
So help me God for my lack of understanding.
Top image: Hands Statue from Hell in Wat Rong Khun at Chiang Rai, Thailand, via Shutterstock.
Bottom image: Marshmallow on a stick over the fire, via Shutterstock.
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Sunday, September 18th, 2011
If I wasn’t a devout Christian, what would I believe in instead; especially after becoming a dad? I try to imagine…
I don’t have enough faith to believe in nothing at all, so I would probably think that my life as I know it is just a figment of some big computer program in which I play a small role; unaware of how insignificant I really am; basically, I’m getting the idea from the movie The Matrix. Or maybe I would believe my life is simply a dream inside of a dream inside of a dream, like in the movie Inception.
Either way, it’s clear to see that if I didn’t take the words of Jesus Christ literally, along with all 66 books of The Bible, that I still would be led to believe that I am part of someone else’s plan; that there is some all-powerful force behind it all and for some reason I was chosen to play a part in it.
Something I hear other parents say a lot, or at least grandparents, is that when they look at a young baby, they see an innocent angelic being. I’m not knocking that concept, because I totally get it. But for me, what I see more of when I think deeply about my son Jack, is a human currently incapable of understanding right from wrong, but who nonetheless needs no instruction on how to make the most destructive decision possible.
Jack naturally would choose to crawl down the stairs if I wasn’t there to stop him. He would stick my car keys into the electrical outlets if I wasn’t already 23 steps ahead of him. He would never sleep, never get his diaper changed, and never leave the presence of his parents- using his crying power to try to sway his parents’ interception.
So the fact that Jack needs no help in being prone to make the wrong decision would definitely say something to me if I had no religious beliefs. It would clearly show me that despite man wanting to be good, on his own, he is prone to do the opposite.
That would cause me to realize that as a human, I am in need of some kind of intervention or path to lead me to be reconciled of my flawed nature- which is wired with good intentions but ultimately bugged with morality viruses.
But I wouldn’t be okay with the belief that there is simply some “higher power” who would usher me into a heavenly afterlife just because I was a “good enough” person. Because what exactly would be the standard of “good?”
What would make the most sense to me at this point is that there must be a God who not only created this whole universe but who also Himself would be willing to intervene in my morally imperfect state, helping restore flawed mankind to the state of Paradise that this world once was.
That way of thinking would ultimately cause me to be curious enough to pick up a free Bible in a hotel room somewhere and start reading The Old Testament, taking notice of the reoccurring theme of a perfect man who would eventually show up to willingly take on imperfection and sacrifice his life for all of mankind.
Then as I would move on to The New Testament, I would read about how God Himself came to Earth in the form of man; bringing to life the ancient predictions of The Old Testament.
I would ultimately become fascinated by this Jesus fellow, eventually believing that He was the answer to my state of moral depravity. I would recognize that no matter how hard I tried to be good enough on my own, I would ultimately fail and never be “good enough.”
Humbled of my pride and eager to embrace this mysterious yet somehow practical savior, I would become a solid believer in this man from Galilee.
Even if He wasn’t God, who He claimed to be, I would still be so enamored by a man who has managed to lead so many millions of people astray by his false teachings within the past 2000 years, and who could cause people who didn’t believe in Him to still at least say he was a good teacher, despite Him being dead wrong or even lying to people that He was God.
And that’s how ultimately, I would have become a follower of Christ, simply by observing the nature of my son. That is the gospel according to Jack.
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Deep Thoughts, Must Read, Spirituality, The Dadabase
Saturday, July 23rd, 2011
Is The Dadabase a “Christian blog?” That’s a good question. The answer is yes; in the sense that I am narrating my version of fatherhood from a Christian perspective. The answer is no; in the sense that it is not directed specifically for a Christian audience and that the majority of my posts do not contain an explicitly spiritual theme.
While I do sporadically splice in quotes from the Bible, I intentionally do not use quotation marks nor do I list the Biblical reference where they came from. Because to me, these ancient teachings are intertwined into my thought patterns. So I don’t see a need to separate them when I write.
I love writing for Parents.com. I am so appreciative of how much they value the realness and authenticity of all their bloggers; free of censorship. I can truly be me without having to ask myself, “Was that too Christian of me to say that?”
Basically, if it relates to and ties in with my life as a dad and a husband, it’s fair game. The Dadabase is simply an unfiltered reflection of what goes through my head as an unseasoned parent and an everyday guy who just happens to be of the Christian faith.
But while technically I do have complete freedom of speech here, I also believe in using my freedom to write content that is relevant to the majority of readers and not becoming consumed with promoting my own agendas to the point they become a distraction.
As a Christian, I sometimes struggle with the assumption that my viewpoint will largely be perceived by the general public as politically incorrect, representing an old-fashioned mindset that is typically unwelcome in mainstream media and entertainment.
I’m not referring to a reluctance to use the name “Jesus” instead of “God” or “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.” Instead, it’s stuff like when I mention that my son has a soul, that I am spiritually responsible for him, that I pray for him to one day know Christ like my wife and I do, and when I matter-of-factually state that there is a heavenly kingdom awaiting us after this life.
Even more so, I am overly aware of the bumper sticker that reads, “Jesus, save me from your followers.” I recognize that for some, the word “Christian” has a stigma connected to it, associated with words like “judgmental,” “prideful,” “arrogant,” and “bigot.” I realize how easy it can be to determine the integrity of an entire group based on their loudest, most hypocritical examples.
I know I am not expected to be perfect, but I am expected to be different. Yet in the most basic ways, as a parent, I still represent the way many moms and dads feel; Christian or not.
A slightly reoccurring phrase I have seen in comments that readers leave on this blog is “It’s like you’re reading my mind…”. Despite having different preferences in our parenting techniques and styles, most of us share the same basic desires for our children. It doesn’t take being a Christian to want to positively re-brand fatherhood or to be vulnerable enough to admit that I fell in love with my son gradually, not instantly.
Last month my wife helped teach 3rd grade at Vacation Bible School. The theme was “Where Faith and Life Connect.” That’s one of my themes too; as a human, as a writer, as a guy who has to go to a real job during the day just like most other people, and as a parent.
Yes, my faith is the most important thing to me. But it’s not all I talk about. In fact, whatever the next Dadabase post is about, I’m sure it won’t mention anything about God or Christianity or any overt spiritual themes.
Just as the familiar blue skies eventually intersect with the mysterious outer space, so do my everyday life events overlap my intangible Christian faith.
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Deep Thoughts, Spirituality
Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
Week 17 (4 months).
*While this entry is actually the 5th chapter of my series entitled “God-Nudged Leap of Faith”, it is just as relevant to “dad from day one” as well. Therefore, I consider it a cross-over episode.
A few weeks from now, on April 4th, it will be four months since my wife and I took our God-nudged leap of faith. We carefully planned and prayed over our decision to leave our secured careers behind in Nashville to live in a small blue collar town in Alabama where my family lives. Having our first child, a son named Jack who was born on November 16, 2010, was a big part of the motivation to move. It made sense to slow down our pace of life, not only for ourselves, but for him. We wanted Jack to be surrounded by his grandparents, aunt, and uncle.
My wife and I both were born in 1981. As children of the 1980′s, we were always told that you can do anything if you really believed in your dreams. Maybe that’s why we were brave enough to take this leap of faith. Maybe that’s what got us into this situation: Having almost depleted our savings and unable to land the right jobs back in my small hometown, we are now at a breaking point.
But in this moment, I don’t feel brave. Perhaps there’s a thin line between bravery and foolishness. The way I see it, that thin line in my case is actually having a steady job. It’s not a matter of the choice that we may have to move back to Nashville- it’s simply the only option if at least one of us doesn’t get a job within the next 2 and a half weeks. We need to make the most responsible decision at this point.
That 2 and a half week deadline is both how long our savings will last us as well as how long it should take to know if the most recent job I applied for will be mine or go to someone else. I can’t say that there were truly no job opportunities for me here. The first week we were here, I interviewed and was offered a job that was similar to my one in Nashville for the past five years- however, I found out during the interview that it meant working every Saturday and three nights a week. So I turned them down. Looking back, it’s easier to say I should have jumped at the chance. But at the time, I felt that it defeated the purpose of moving here if I couldn’t spend Saturday’s and many evenings with my family.
And the day I published the last chapter of this series, I interviewed and was offered a job as an account representative. It seemed like the perfect fit at first, but soon I realized I was the wrong guy for the job- like an accountant trying to do a computer administrator’s job or a forklift operator trying to work in a cubicle on the phone. I was very appreciative, and maybe too honest to not waste their time, but after a week and a half, I had to face the inevitable and re-entered the gloomy world of “much qualified but unemployed”.
My heart was set on raising my son in the same small town I loved while growing up. But it’s starting to seem like I’m playing Red Rover and I just can’t break through the other side. And while all of my family’s lives and futures will change if end up moving back to Nashville, I think of how Baby Jack’s life will be the most effected. Nashville is a wonderful city; after all, it’s where my wife and I met and got married. But his grandparents (my parents) had set their hearts on seeing him nearly every day (the house we live now in is barely a half a mile from them). And Jack won’t get to grow up with his cousin (my sister is due with her first child in July, who will be in the same school grade as him) as closely.
We chose love over money. We chose faith over security. I would love to believe that this story ends the way I intended. But unless God provides a miracle, because that’s the only saving option, then we have to count our losses (emotional, physical, and financial) and abandon our simple dream.
In Nashville, Jack will have to be raised by babysitters while my wife and I work. As compared to living in Alabama, my sister was going to babysit him since she is going on maternity leave for awhile. That’s hard for me to grasp. It makes me think of a divorce in that Jack will only see his family (other than my wife and I, of course) on most weekends. That’s not what I had my heart set on.
My intentions were good. My heart was right. My faith was real. My God can still intervene.
One of the main reasons I decided to write this God-nudged leap of faith series was to show how God would provide for my family. He has always provided for me before. I just can’t imagine this story ending with this all being for just character building experience. Not that God’s faithfulness and providence depends on my story. So to be fair, no matter how this story ends, I will continue writing it- even if we have to pack our lives back up and return to Nashville (where I could go back to my gracious former employer).
I realize that our willingness to move back to Nashville away from family could simply be like Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Maybe it’s simply a test of our faith. But I also fully realize that despite all it took to get here, we may be required to actually make the sacrifice. For the next two and a half weeks, I will be looking for that ram caught in the bushes, like Abraham was given. I’m counting on a miraculous whirlwind to catch me and carry me either to safety on the ground, or back up to where I leaped from in the first place.
Like Bruce Springsteen said in the first track of my favorite album of his, The Rising: “In God’s hands our fate is complete… I’m countin’ on a miracle to come through.”
It’s in God’s hands, where it’s always been.
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People, Spirituality, Storytelling, The Dadabase
Thursday, December 30th, 2010
It’s a sort of eery feeling getting up at 1:30 AM, 3:30 AM, and/or 5:30 AM every morning to feed and change Jack. While it’s still dark and quiet, while I’m only “awake” enough to put the word in quotation marks, and while my memory barely records the routine actions taking place during the twilight, I’m sure I’m subconsciously looking for something out of the ordinary. As I hold Jack in one arm and his bottle in the other, the dimly lit room casts a strange shadow on his face. Sometimes when I look at him during this time I get a little creeped out. In this situation he reminds me of a baby version of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz (played by the Jewish actor Bert Lahr); that movie and the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, though they are both wonderful classic movies, have always freaked me out a bit. On a similar note, it also seems like I’m taking care of a little old man, with his receding hairstyle (Jack Nicholson style), his chubby cheeks, and his baby-version-of-cussing-somebody-out cries when he’s really hungry and his diaper is wet.
To make matters more theatrical, there are times when I am taking care of him during the middle of the night when it’s like he peeks around my shoulder and sees something and gets this calm yet curious look on his face. Does he see something? A guardian angel? Jesus? Maybe the ghost of Bert Lahr?
I wouldn’t be surprised if babies can see into the spiritual realm. It could make sense in a way; babies are completely innocent. They are unaware of damning traps like pride and greed. I could see how a baby is naturally closer to Heaven than we adults are. Sometimes I envy the things my baby may be seeing. But then again, it would be just another thing to spook me in the middle of the night. It seems every account I can immediately think of in the Bible where an angelic being spoke to a human, the angel always had to start the conversation out with “Do not be afraid…” But Jack isn’t scared by whatever he is seeing around me that I am less aware; if he’s actually seeing anything supernatural at all.
Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion:
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Nostalgia, People, Spirituality, Storytelling, The Dadabase