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One of the most difficult battles that I have had as a former atheist trying to find and maintain faith in the God of the Bible has been the apathy of those who claim to be followers of that God. If I REALLY believe that God created me and all that I see around me, and if that same God came to Earth as John 1:1 – 14 says, and that he lived among men to show them and teach them how to live; what effect will all of that have on my life? We are not just talking about a pop culture icon here. We are talking about God! We are not just talking about something that entertains us or provides us sensual pleasure. The church is not a country club substitute. We are talking about eternity. We are talking about our choices in life and how we make those choices. We are talking about what works!
I find myself in a world drowning in apathy. One of our fellow workers had an experience that is so typical of people in the world today. He was with a family who were all standing around the deathbed of a family member. The dying man took one last breath and then fell silent. The hospice nurse listening to his heart with a stethoscope stood up and informed the family that he was dead and then excused herself from the room. The family stood in silence for several minutes looking back and forth at other family members. Finally one of the family members said: “I guess we ought to pray.” There was another long period of silence, and then one of the family members said: “Does anyone know how to pray?” My friend, who is an active Christian, then led the family in prayer. If you think this is an extreme case, let me assure you that it is not. Faith in God and in Jesus Christ is not considered to be important in our culture today. For a person to be biblically literate is to be relegated to second-class citizenship in the minds of many people.
As a person who was raised in a non-religious home and never attended a church of any kind until I became an adult, I can testify as to why this situation exists. The people I knew when I was a teenager who went to church were no different from those of us who never went to church. They were even less committed to what they believed than those of us who were involved in organized atheism. Sexual misconduct was common, even sometimes after youth group meetings or Sunday night services. When I did go to a church service, what I saw was a lot of bored people who frequently were writing letters, reading novels, or in recent years texting or doing Facebook. All of this convinced me that my atheism was justified and that all religious activity was a destructive scam.
So what changed me from that mind-set to being a believer who is not content to be inactive in my faith? The answer to that in a word is “evidence!” Not only did evidence lead me to become a Christian, but evidence has sustained me when hardships have come upon me because of my faith. When my son was born with severe birth defects, I had to question why. The evidence that good could come to me and to others became clear. When Romans 8:28 told me that good could come from my bad situation because God would make it happen, I doubted that such a thing was possible. As I watched my atheist associates try to deal with similar situations, I saw how futile their efforts were, and how I could help them. I found satisfaction in being able to offer answers which no human could provide. Pain and suffering brought me to deal with the evidence that there is a purpose to human life. Even I, a weak human being, had a major role to play in the struggle between good and evil. My atheist friends and family had no such purpose and no capacity to deal with the reality of life. When my wife of 49 years died, I was once again forced to deal with evidence. I became aware of forces beyond our physical abilities that become active in the duress of loss, and that open a future catalyzed by such an incredible loss. Watching friends who had no faith and were filled with non-belief or with religious apathy deal with the same losses I experienced, gave a dramatic contrast to the result of my active Christian faith.
It was evidence that enabled me to survive when forces within religion and even my fellowship attempted to destroy me and my ministry. For many years I reached out as a young Christian to people who had faith issues. In the 1960s very little was being done to help people know that God exists and that the Bible is his word. I was functioning in a vacuum, and God blessed our efforts in incredible ways and with incredible fruit beyond anything I could have imagined. Eventually, I discovered that some of the threats and attacks on me, my family, and my ministry were coming from men who claimed to be Christians and who were leaders in some churches. There were false charges against me. In most cases my accusers were defending traditions that were not what the Bible actually teaches. The campaign became increasingly aggressive, and many Christians accepted what was said about me without checking it out to see if it was true or biblically accurate. I had to make a choice as to what I was going to do. I considered many options — withdrawing from my ministry, embracing beliefs that I knew were unbiblical and unscientific, or even renouncing my connection to the church.
A man who was very well-known in the church at that time sensed what was happening to me and gave me two pieces of advice. His first advice was to focus on Jesus Christ and lean on my relationship with him. “Don't let your faith be damaged by Satan's success within the church,” he said. He reminded me that Jesus was strongly opposed by the religious powers within Judaism — the very people who should have been his strongest supporters. He asked me, “What makes you think that you are immune to this kind of persecution? Jesus experienced it, and so will you.” His second advice was given in the words of a Tennessee backwoods teacher, “You can't out puke a buzzard.” We cannot let apathy and the unchristian behavior of those who claim to be religiously correct, drag us down to their level. Jesus never stooped to the level of the Pharisees and “turning the other cheek” is important in dealing with personal attacks, even from people who claim to be religiously correct. I will always be thankful to Ira North for his timely intrusion into my struggling world. We best deal with apathy by doing what Jesus told his followers to do and what Paul and Barnabas did in Acts 13:49 – 51:
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas … . So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to [the next city].
I wish I had a good answer to the problem of apathy in the church. It is an effective tool of Satan, and it would seem that all we can do is to beg our brothers and sisters to renew their faith. Look at the evidence and act on it. Our ministry has shifted some in recent years as we find more and more members of the church wanting to know how to support what they believe. Our material is available, and we will continue to try to assist people with faith problems. We all need to be ready to help when life crashes in for folks. It is up to fellow Christians to help them re-establish their understanding of why they exist, what God has planned for them, and how God can make good come from the worst of situations.
© Yury Zap. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
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© PHOTOCREO Michael Bedmarel. Image from BigStockPhoto.com