A certain pastor, doing some grocery shopping in the local market, met in the cereal and cracker aisle a young man who had recently been baptized and received into church membership but had been conspicuous by his absence on Sundays. The pastor greeted him and then mentioned how he had missed seeing him at worship.
The man, obviously embarrassed and uncomfortable with the encounter, looked down at his feet and then replied, “You know, Pastor, I tried your Christianity for a few months – I really did! But it didn’t work, man. I felt like a fool when all my friends were laughing at me and calling me ‘holy Joe,’ and all that kind of stuff, when I started coming to church and when I didn’t go along with them. And listen, you know, this Jesus thing is a lot crazier than I thought it was; you know, like having to give up things and trying to love everybody and help them, and doing some scary things you’ve never done before. Like, it didn’t work for me, so I guess I’m outta there. Sorry, man!”
The young “would-be” believer is not the first, nor will he be the last, to discover that there is a kind of craziness to being a person of faith. The apostle Paul knew it and wrote to the Corinthians, “We are fools for Christ’s sake … the refuse of the world … the scum of the earth” (I Corinthians 4:10). At least, the young man was honest about not wanting to pay the price of a vital faith commitment.
Yes, there are disadvantages to being a person of faith. For one thing, if we are Christians, we are asked to believe more than we can understand or prove and more than the world accepts. We believe in God whose existence we cannot prove either through philosophy or science. When the Hubble space telescope was launched, a Florida news reporter asked people their response to the possibility that the telescope might peer right into heaven and locate God.
Many of those interviewed welcomed the possibility, for they said it would substantiate their faith once and for all, and it would answer those atheists and skeptics, like the Russian cosmonauts who taunted that they hadn’t seen any evidence or signs of God in their journeys into outer space. Despite lack of such proof, people of faith still affirm the existence of God and believe that God is at work in the universe and in individual human lives.
Yes, people of faith believe that God is at work in human history and in our personal lives, fulfilling His purpose of love. We can’t prove that either, and there is certainly overwhelming evidence that refutes it. And the world cries out, “You’re not only crazy, you’re so fanatical that you are dangerous.” The person of faith answers, “Yes, I guess I am.” But it is hard to be dismissed as having lost your senses, as being deranged, as having lost contact with reality.
A woman shook hands one Sunday morning with Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin at the door of the church after he had preached, and she said, “Oh, Dr. Coffin, you don’t know what a help your sermons have been to my husband since he lost his mind.” Well, that’s how the world treats and dismisses people of faith – as people who have lost their minds.
Now, come further and see that if we are persons of faith we are not only asked to believe more than we can prove or understand, we are then expected to do it. We are, as Paul exhorted the Christians at Rome, “to present our very selves to God as living sacrifices, dedicated and fit for God’s acceptance.” “We are,” he continues, “to adapt ourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world, but let our minds be remade and our whole nature be transformed.”
This may mean being called to fight for causes that are unpopular and that will set us over and against the very people from whom we want approval and acceptance. It may mean doing something about the rightness of which we are not certain ourselves; we can only hope it is right, but we know we have to do it. Sometimes, as persons of faith, we will be called to live out tough love that will be misunderstood by those who are being challenged by it to change.
We may have to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, apologize, and forgive. We may have to give up our pleasures, forego our plans and dreams in order to help others find their way. We may end up teaching a Sunday School class, sitting beside someone who is dying, doing someone’s laundry, or scrubbing floors as a volunteer in an orphanage. We may be required to take risks that place our very lives in jeopardy, and we may be attacked and ridiculed by the persons we are trying to serve.
There are disadvantages to being a person of faith. Little wonder that the young man in the grocery store said, “I guess I’m outta there.” Despite all the disadvantages, being a person of faith is the only way to discover the deepest meaning of life. When we are God’s and God is alive in us, we experience the power of love that outlasts everything else, and never lets us go. Living out that love we find how beautiful the world is, even in the midst of the ugliness that does mar the human family. We discover how exciting it is to live with and for others.
As a certain Christian nurse said, who had worn herself out in service to the poor and the suffering, “I wouldn’t have missed it – not one minute of it! Life is so wonderful!” Yes, there comes a joy and an assurance that whatever happens it will be all right, for nothing can separate us from God’s love. Knowing God’s grace, we can “rejoice in our hope, be patient in tribulation and constant at prayer.” We will be “aglow with the Spirit,” as we serve the Lord. What more could we ask?
Dr. Fred Craddock tells this story about his father. Dr. Craddock says that when he was growing up in North Tennessee, his father did not go to church. He was always home fussing about dinner being late on Sunday. Once in a while the minister would come and try to talk with his father, but he would dismiss the preacher out of hand, saying the church was full of hypocrites and only interested in him for his money.
Sometimes an evangelist would come with the pastor to call in the Craddock home, and the father would say, “You don’t care about me, you’re just interested in winning another soul, or about the money I would give.”
He must have said it a thousand times, but there was one time when he did not say it. It was in a veterans hospital, where the father lay after radical surgery on his throat had rendered him voiceless. Now he was undergoing radiation therapy, and he was in much pain.
When Dr. Craddock entered his father’s hospital room, he looked around and there were flowers everywhere – on the table, on the window sill, on the floor. Dr. Craddock examined the cards and every one of them read – Men’s Bible Class, Women’s Fellowship, Youth Fellowship, the Children of the Sunday School, Your Pastor and every other organization in that little church. The flowers and the stacks of get-well cards all came from persons and groups in the congregation.
Old Mr. Craddock saw his son examining the cards. Unable to speak, he picked up a pencil and wrote, on the side of a Kleenex box, a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.”
Fred Craddock read it and said to his father, “What is your story?” and his father wrote again on the Kleenex box, “I WAS WRONG! I WAS WRONG!”
There are disadvantages to being a person of faith, but God’s love has the last word, and it is the real victory over the world.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.