16 years ago today, I wrote this in my journal:
We had a nice Christmas and I got all I needed: a book, a sweater, and coat. However, I was not as focused on Jesus as I should have been. But New Year’s Eve was much better. We went into the year praying and sharing the Lord’s supper. Though conversational prayer makes me nervous, I still think it’s a great idea and that we need to do it more. Jesus said that when two or three are gathered in His name, “I am there among them.” It is pleasing to God and uplifting spiritually. The next day (New Year’s Day) I was motivated to spend a lot of time in prayer and reading the Word.
I just read “Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse” by Jim Bakker. Good book. I no longer assume that the rapture will occur before the tribulation. I’m not saying it won’t, but there’s no scripture saying it will. In either case, I believe we need to prepare for some hard times. We must be at such a spiritual level that we would be willing to die for our faith.
One thing that scares me is that I’ll grow cold spiritually and become a lukewarm Christian. I want to press on to higher levels of spirituality without caring what the world thinks or how many sacrifices I must make. I must be more bold and receptive as well. I want to participate in the church body of Christ. And everyday I will pray for wisdom (James 1:5) and the spirit described in 2nd Timothy 1:7.
— January 3rd, 1999
Dear Former Self,
I would commend you for not getting your end-times theology directly from the authors of Left Behind, but now you’re just getting it from Jim Bakker (a known con man) instead. You have a tendency to tweak your belief system every time you read a Christian book. It’s okay to change your mind, but the fact you mentally give every Christian book you read a five-star rating indicates a lack of critical thinking skills. Did you know it’s possible to read a book, completely disagree with everything it says, and still enjoy reading it?
This latest book got you thinking about whether you would be brave enough to die for your faith. Let’s break this down. What exactly is faith? There are many definitions, but it is clearly not the same as “belief.” Otherwise, the words could be used interchangeably. It is one thing to believe Antarctica exists even though you’ve never been there, but it’s a whole other thing to believe Heaven exists. Even if you think there is good evidence that Heaven exists, you don’t know it’s there the same way you know Antarctica is there. You have to have faith.
The point is this: Why would you be willing to die for something that you don’t know for sure? There are many things one might die for: family, country, or even ideals. But religion cannot be verified. You know your family or country exists, and the ideals you hold (such as liberty) do not need external verification.
But with religion there is no way to prove it is true, which means it could be false. This is why religious people always appeal to faith. Giving your life for something that might not be true would be a terrible waste. I can understand the willingness to die for the freedom to have religious beliefs, but that’s not the same thing. That’s the ideal of liberty.
If you are willing to die for something that requires faith, what sort of sacrifices and life-altering decisions will you make based on faith? This is an important question. When you make decisions based on things you can’t know for sure, they are liable to be bad decisions. Instead of using faith, you should consult reality.
And by the way, praying for wisdom will not make you wise. Yes, it would be nice if that’s how it worked, but nothing is that easy. Wisdom comes from knowledge, experience, and reflecting on what you’ve learned. It’s a process that never ends. Praying for wisdom is as futile as praying you’ll get better at math. Instead you should spend that time learning about the world and gaining new experiences.
— Matt, January 3rd, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.