Why Bother with Christianity?

If you can be happy without Jesus, why bother?  I’ve been thinking about this lately.  I’ve been thinking about all the happiness blogs people have sent my way.  It seems that all over the world, folks find legitimate forms of happiness apart from knowing God.  I know what this feels like.  I know that when I exercise, eat right, blog about my flair, and do any other host of mood-modifying activities, I can be happy.

I used to think that people went to church and read their Bible because they were unhappy.  They become Christians because of the promise of happiness.  While I do think that going to church and reading the Bible dramatically increase the likelihood of happiness, I don’t think that Christianity is a religion that promises happiness.  Happy Christians tend to do other things that boost their mood like, for example, engaging in vibrant church communities.  But happiness, in this case, is a byproduct of lifestyle.  Jesus doesn’t promise happiness. 

However, Jesus does promise one very important thing.

He promises. . . peace. 

Jesus said this:  “In me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Jesus says that he leaves us “peace.”  I thought back to the blessing God commanded to be spoken over the nation of Israel.  Simply this:  that God would turn his face towards them and give them peace.  Later, Jesus is prophetically described in the book of Isaiah as our “Prince of Peace.” 

This morning I skimmed my Bible for passages that describe the peace of Jesus.  Romans 5, it turns out, defines the peace of a believer.  Here, the writer tells us 3 reasons Christians have peace:

1.  They find favor with God by faith alone, not by anything they do or fail to do.  They are completely reconciled to a Holy God because of faith in Jesus.  This point alone astounds me.  I can talk to the God of the Universe, and He loves me.  Unbelievable! 
2.  Because of Jesus, they have hope in the glory of God (his power and presence) in every situation.
3.  They can rejoice in suffering because of what it produces in them (perseverance, character, hope).  When God directs a person’s life, suffering has meaning and will produce good

Curiously, New Testament writers claim that Jesus himself is our peace.  Paul writes:   “He himself is our peace” since in his very body he reconciles sinful mankind with the holiness of God.  By his very body, he grants access to God.  Christianity, after all, is a religion about God’s body:   the incarnation–that little baby come to earth as a God-man– the crucifixion–God hanging on a cross to die, and the resurrection–the literal body of Jesus conquering death.  And in the ascension, Jesus returns to the Father but leaves the promised Holy Spirit who indwells believers at the moment they believe.

Is peace better than happiness?  Absolutely.  The assurance of God’s peace which, according to scripture, transcends understanding, is deeper and more profound than mere mood.  So while happiness is something I can moderate, my peace comes from Jesus alone.

Living with flair means I depend upon the sure peace of God even when flair fluctuates.


Why Professors Can Also Be Christians

It’s possible to be a scholar and a Christian.   It’s possible to study neuroscience, understand the process behind how we age fossils, know the mechanism of evolution, immerse yourself in various spiritual paths and still proclaim, with a resounding “yes,” that Jesus Christ is the one true God.  Many professors have deeply held spiritual beliefs.  Students, I find, have a hard time believing this.  Let me set the record straight.

I believe the claims of Jesus because I don’t base my faith on my experience (I read too much neuroscience to be able to validate my perceptions of God as truth).  And although I feel, on a daily basis, what I describe as the peace and love of God in my life, answered prayer, protection, provision, and joy, I’m not a Christian because of emotion or experience.

I also acknowledge Jesus because I know you don’t need to discount science.  I’m married to an organic chemist, after all.  I honestly don’t understand, with 100 % certainty, the matrix behind creation or how species evolved (I wasn’t there).  The more I read, the more I observe, the more I see mystery and the limits of human understanding.   I’m not afraid of science; the deeper I delve, the more I’m amazed.

When students ask me why I’m a Christian, I tell them it’s because of the historical Jesus.   As a college student, I read the entire New Testament because I had to be absolutely certain that Jesus made claims to divinity and that his body was resurrected as proof of his claim.  Why, I reasoned, would I stake my life and my reputation as a future scholar on some hogwash that wasn’t true?  I needed to come to terms with the claims of Jesus.

What I found when I read the eye witness accounts of Jesus of Nazareth included miraculous demonstrations of power:  controlling weather, healing diseases, curing blindness and paralysis, knowing a person’s thoughts, multiplying resources like bread, wine, and fish, casting out demons, and predicting the future.  As I read, I wondered to myself why people worshipped this man.  And why did he cause such a political stir?  Other people, as the scriptures and historical documents report, did miraculous things.  Healers, psychics, and sorcerers had been around for a while (they made big money).  Other men, in other cultures, claimed to have the power of God.  They even performed miracles.  I’ve even read other cultures, in other times, have their own virgin birth narratives.

But when I examine the resurrection of Jesus’s body, when I analyze the reports of who saw him, and when I read how I could know God, I had to listen.   I also had to listen to the hundreds of prophecies, written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, that talked about his life and death–and resurrection.

The religious rhetoric imprisoning Christianity makes it nearly impossible to talk about it.  I don’t even know how to begin.  What I can say is that I acknowledged, in my mind, that Jesus was the incarnation of God.  Scripture talks about “receiving Jesus” into my life, so mentally, I asked the spirit of God to reside in me.  As someone who reads about the brain, I’m not sure where the Holy Spirit actually dwells in a person, but I know Jesus claimed that receiving the Holy Spirit meant you had a Counselor and a Comforter.  Jesus also claimed that by receiving him, I’d have eternal life that began now.  In other words, the spiritual death that accompanies our separation from a holy God wasn’t a future death.  It was the reality of my life before knowing God (“sin” is one way to describe it).  I had no “relationship” to God.  When I began praying to Jesus, I became alive spiritually. This meant that I began to enjoy worshipping God, praying to God, listening to the instructions and promises in the Bible, and most importantly, relishing the favor of God.  I also had power in my life to become the type of person God wanted me to be.

I didn’t go to church today.  I was too tired (grading, a big wedding, everything else).  As I lay in my bed, I thanked God that my going to church doesn’t help me impress God.  I’m deeply loved, completely free, and completing confident that I am known by God.  I go to church to enjoy praising God with other folks.  I don’t do one thing to earn God’s love; I also can’t do anything to lose God’s love.

So, in case you wondered, that’s why I’m so happy and full of energy when I’m teaching.  That’s one reason why I can live with flair.  God’s love is unfathomable; it sets people free.  My teaching philosophy has much to do with the love and acceptance I extend from knowing God.

Now you can say you know a professor who is also a Christian.

Living with flair means seeing the harmony between the life of the mind and the life of faith.