In the blockbuster science fiction masterpiece called The Matrix: there are a few memorable quotes that stick with me as I embarked on this journey.
The first is this: "You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that brought you to me."
The second is part of the same scene: "This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill; the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill; you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes..." As Neo reaches for the red pill, Morpheus concludes, "Remember, all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more..."
This scene in what could be construed as the greatest piece of science fiction cinema of all time, is pivotal when we think of the life choices people make. To seek a higher power or not. To follow our calling or not. To believe in God or not. To take that leap of faith down the rabbit hole or not. These choices are made based on our past experiences. In a fallen world such as this, these choices become vastly more difficult, and often heartbreaking if that choice appears, after much effort is spent, to be a wild goose chase. 'Life is too short,' you might say, 'to spend too much time pursuing something invisible.' Some are more discouraged. 'I've tried Christianity. All that happened is I spent a lot of money and got nothing back but guilt.'
Here is where one of the greatest lies of the Enemy comes into bloom. And where a great many of us turn away from Jesus without even considering the whole picture before knowing what he represents. And so here I am to tell my story to those who will hear it. In Matthew 11:15, Jesus himself states plainly: "He who has ears, let him hear."
I always knew there was something beyond the everyday existence. I always knew from childhood that what we can see is not always all there is. But, as a fairly gullible child, I could probably been made to believe anything. My mother delights in telling the story of how I came home one day to reveal that a school chum of mine had dinosaurs in his backyard... The point is that there is so much untruth and deception extant in the world today that to just up and take the leap of faith is very daunting. For those who were raised in truly Christ-centered families, this leap is not usually a leap at all. It is a step into the adult Christian life, with a faith that is already inherent and nurtured. For those of us who turned from the path as young people, or who grew up in secular or non-Christian homes, this leap is like staring into the mouth of a volcano wearing only a Speedo!
As I said in my previous post, by the time I was in high school I had pretty much turned my back on Christianity as a whole, because I felt it was just one more religion in a world full to busting with different belief systems, and that there was no way to discern which one was the right way unless you devoted your whole life seeking the truth. For teens, the road of life is twofold: it is long and frightening to think about, and it is too short to experience everything, ergo many teens try to experience as much happiness and excitement as possible before they become adults and, 'the party's over...' And consequently many turn away from the limitations imposed by religion, and the search for truth is abandoned. Exciting new schools of thought take its place, though. Scientific studies, psychology and the secular world's encouragement of teenage rebellion all have their roles in our fallen world. At this point in my life, I didn't know the whole story, and wouldn't have wanted to hear it anyway. I figured, if there were really a God, he'll have mercy on those who do good in this world and not necessarily just those who believe in him. Convenient, eh?
For many young non-Christian adults in their twenties, and even older, it is preferable to be angry at the world than do anything about its fall. And those who aren't angry can certainly be resigned to the realization that it just 'ain't gonna get any better.' At any rate, the task seems completely hopeless. It generally takes a very charismatic and revolutionary person to sway the opinion of the masses. And the masses of which I speak are the ones who actually pay attention to the world. Many just sit and don't even watch the world go by. Like I was once, they would rather just enjoy simple pleasures in life, in essence just waiting for it all to be over, and will not even listen to anything that disturbs the waters of their little pond. They may be "content," and not have a care in the world, because they are oblivious to the walls crumbling all around them. Why should they care? What is so important in the world of the visible that demands the attention of every living soul? The charismatic people of which I just spoke can take many forms. Be they authors, actors, singers, journalists, politicians or religious leaders, a fiery passion and a solid foundation of belief in something generally prone to make people sit up and listen. Usually it's the people who keep an ear out for these sorts of things. The ones who sit in their little rooms sheltered away from the chaos of the outside world may occasionally hear an introduction to something profound and life-changing, but once some effort, faith and courage are required on their part, they mostly click the next link or put the book down. So we wait and we watch... I mean, in a world where a celebrity can invent a "signature sandwich" consisting of sliced prime rib, bacon, sauteed mushrooms, mozzarella cheese and chipotle mayo, sell the idea to Quizno's on Celebrity Apprentice and then be newsworthy enough to be mentioned on the morning radio news, how can anything really important be heard through the droning white noise of society? In another quote from The Matrix: "It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth..."
Deciding to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ is a leap of faith. No doubt about it. First, you need to accept unequivocally that what is written in the Bible is actually the truth, even that stuff hidden in parables. It is effectively "taking the red pill." My decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour was, I thought, the most exciting and revolutionary decision I ever made. I came when I was called, and there really is "no turning back." I heard God speaking to me through his people, and for the first time in my life, I didn't have an argument ready. Instead, I felt inclined to listen and allow the Lord himself to present his case without allowing my preconceived notions to deafen me and close the door. There was no thought of, "Well, the Bible is just chock-full of contradictions," or "How can I serve a God that demands so much sacrifice?" or my favourite piece of rhetoric: "Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven." That last one comes out of the mouths of even teenagers, who so flippantly wave their individuality around like a banner. Somehow somebody started that little rumour and the Enemy fanned the flames and whispered promises into young, impressionable ears that Hell is "where the party is" while Heaven is a place where you spend all your time bowing and scraping to a God who'll burn you as fast as lightning if you step out of line. No wonder God is losing followers, right?
WRONG! Jesus said in Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Many see any burden placed upon you by God as one they aren't willing to bear. They see it as oppression. Here is the true extent of that burden, as stated by Jesus in Matthew 22:37. "Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." If we live our lives solely to fulfill these commands, life may not always be easy, but it WILL be joyful. The yoke we will bear will be light and whatever burden it occasionally is will be easy. After all, to truly do something out of love is to happily put forth whatever effort the act requires, regardless of the cost, and not desire thanks or repayment afterward. All God desires is that we love him, and each other, and live in peace.
This is the foundation which points to the whole reason God sent his son Jesus to walk among us. Jesus teaches us in Scripture, and in our daily lives, how to live in peace. How to love one another, and thereby love God and seek to please him. How to accept love from another and not be suspicious of it. During Jesus' life on earth, he gave us the foundation by which we should lay down our burdens and our weapons and our hatred. By which we should forgive all debts and trespasses. By which we should believe there is a better way and a place in Heaven for every single living soul on earth. You see, John 3:16-21 states another foundational truth: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believes on him is not judged: he that believes not hath been judged already, because he has not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For every one that does evil hates the light, and comes not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. But he that does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God."
ETERNAL LIFE! That's the famous line. What comes after, though is the part we sometimes forget. Jesus did not come in order to point fingers and lay blame, reward the righteous and condemn the sinner. He came to save us all! To secure a place for everyone in the Kingdom! If only we can lay aside our petty anger and jealousy and debts owed us, and believe that he died for our sin. Believe that God's hope for us is to see him at the end of our lives and be welcomed into his glorious presence. His desire is that none should perish, but receive the gift of eternal life in Christ our Lord. Because he loves us all that much.
Now, for a non-believer, this is a tall order. To believe that one man could bear the burden of every single sin that people commit once and for all time is a tough one for anyone to believe. Unless you understand, as I do now, that Jesus was God in human form. Many don't know this. God laid aside his deity, or godhood, for a time to experience life as a human being. Thus, by dying on the cross, he brought the curse of all our wrongdoing and hatred and violence and excess onto himself and purged it, so that we can enter Heaven pure and clean at the end. And so here we are on Good Friday. The day we hold as the anniversary of Jesus crucifixion. The day our sins were forgiven, as long as we believe it. And on the day we die and stand before God, the whole of our lives will be laid out for all to see. Belief in Jesus means that his sacrifice will cancel our debt of sin, and so when Satan, the Accuser, says, "I know you, and I know what evil you've done," we will ask the Lord what he sees. And the Lord will embrace us, saying, "I see nothing but the blood of my Son, Jesus Christ." And we will be welcomed in the Kingdom. Isn't that encouraging? Guilt was never meant to be a part of our lives! True belief means a death to our old life, turning from sin to the best of our ability, and accepting the gift as such: a gift. Free of charge. Jesus is our certificate of debt. It reads "PAID IN FULL." Will you take the red pill? After all, all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more...
Next issue, I'll reveal some experiences I've had that prove it to me again and again that God is alive and well in the world, and in our lives. Even where we least expect him to be. And while you're waiting, I challenge you non-believers to crack open the book of Romans. And you Christians, it's worth the re-read. For sure.
Grace to all.