Has Christianity failed you?
Consider God’s intervention on three different occasions, as related in the New Testament. We read in the story of young Saul of Tarsus, a terrorist committed to destroying the infant Church, that Jesus met him in spectacular appearance and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).
The encounter with Jesus turned Saul’s life around, and he became the apostle to the world, eventually writing one-third of the New Testament. He was a self-declared enemy of God, yet God came to him in a dramatic fashion. I have stood on that Damascus road quite a few times.
I have seen the wall that still stands in the place it stood nearly two thousand years ago.
Breathing threats against the followers of Jesus, Saul was brought to his knees and moment, and history changed. Sometimes change comes that spectacularly!
In the second instance of God’s intervention, we find the apostle Peter in prison and the church in Jerusalem gathered to pray for his release. The book of acts tells us that an angelic “visitor” came into the prison, freedom him from his bonds, and led him past the guards and out into the streets (Acts 12:5-10).
I have often wondered why the angel didn’t lead him all the way to the prayer meeting, why he was left on his own to find his way there.
He was the friend of Jesus, yet he was rescued from the prison and then left in the street to find his own way.
Does this “halfway” rescue sound familiar?
How many times have we wished that God would take us all the way, not just half the way?
But God has his plans and his ways, and he never violates the freedom of the person. Instead, he challenges us and invites us to trust him and surrender that lesser freedom to his greater call.
Sometimes the miracle is dramatic; sometimes it is a halfway miracle.
Finally, we read of Jesus on the path to Calvary. At the last moment, when his pain is at its worst and humiliation at its highest, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He is the Son of God, left at the mercy of his enemies.
This sense of abandonment by God seems to be repeated too often, and those who are closest to him often appear to be least protected by him. Yet he still asks us to trust him, to believe that he is with us now as he works out his purpose in us and that he will be there for us at the end of the earthly journey.
And I might add that Jesus’ worst moment, as he faced total abandonment by God -- which because of him none of us will ever do -- he was right in the center of the Father’s will.
Some of us he meets in dramatic ways -- often at the moment of our salvation. For others, it may seem that he is with us only halfway as we serve him in difficult circumstances. And still others of us may not be delivered from our trials, even to the point of death.
But in all of these there is one common thread.
For everyone -- except Jesus himself, who established the church by his death -- the church is always near at hand to extend loving care in his name.
For young Saul there was Ananias, who cared for him in the aftermath of his encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:17-19).
Those very disciples whose lives Saul was seeking to destroy were there to lower him over an intimidating wall and enable his escape from the violent intentions of the religious zealots (versus 23-25).
For Peter, the church was in prayer for him as he spent the night in prison, and they joyously welcomed him into their presence is set free in answer to their prayers (acts 12:12, 16-17).
The mission of the church is not only to bring people to God but to take God to those who are wounded by the experiences of life, to touch those who are broken, to bring healing to those with damaged emotions.
Those of us in the church recognize and accept our responsibility towards someone whose trust has been shattered, as evidenced by the schools, hospitals, rescue centers, and missions established by the church over the centuries.
But what about when the church is responsible for shattering a person’s trust?
What about the judgment we too often exhibit toward fellow believers who have failed to live up to their own beliefs?
What about the collective behavior of the church that leaves a person with no place to go for acceptance, forgiveness, for love?
What about when the response of members of the body of Christ to those who trust has already been shattered is far from the way Christ responded to those who had failed or sinned or been failed by someone?
What about when that person whose trust has been shattered because of us turns his or her back on the Christ we claim to represent and walks away not just from the church but from God? What then?
Christianity will seem to have betrayed those who turned to the church (made up of individual Christians) to receive a healing touch and found no help, no one to offer comfort.
To the person who faces a dark night alone, feeling that Jesus has let him down and has not met him in the time of struggle, let me ask: Is it the Jesus of the Gospels that has failed you, or is the church that bears his name that has failed you?
In this physical world, the church is meant to be the hands, the arms, the heart of God. To those inside the church, let me change the phrase “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” to “Ask not what God can do for you but what you can do on behalf of God.” Pain can be best mitigated by the touch of another person.
Sometimes the touch of a Christian comes early, unmistakably, and with great effectiveness. At other times the Christian in our lives can carry us only halfway, and we are responsible to trust God to take us the rest of the way. And at still other times this touch comes at the last moment and proves that, though it seems often defeated, true faith will survive all the assaults of its opponents.
The man looking for a new arm may find that the loving care of the church brings him an even greater miracle -- the miracle of new life in Christ.
Taken from Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias. Copyright © 2010. Used by permission of Zondervan, www.zondervan.com.