Growing up in a southern Baptist church, every Easter there were two hymns you had to sing…or you probably weren’t really Baptist.
One was “Low in the Grave He Lay”. Most people don’t remember it by that title, but by the bouncy chorus that interrupts the sad, mournful verse. After lamenting the crucified Jesus, suddenly all the men kicked off the chorus with “Up from the grave He arose” (“HE AROSE” the women echoed). For Baptists, that was right up there on the same raucous joy level as Beer Barrel Polka for Yankee folks…
…only without the beer.
The other was a waltzy little ditty called “He Lives”. At the end of the chorus, it says, “You ask me how I know He lives…He lives within my heart!”
As I entered my college years, that explanation ceased to satisfy me. With all my intellectual questions about the Bible, just saying “Well, I know He’s real because He’s set up housekeeping in one of my internal organs” wasn’t enough. To a cynical, doubting collegian, it seemed like a romanticized copout.
Now after years of studying the history around the resurrection, I see there’s more reasons than that to believe. The evidence for Christ’s resurrection, though circumstantial, is actually pretty strong. Better minds than mine have articulated it, from C.S. Lewis to Chicago Tribune reporter Lee Strobel – men who started off trying to disprove Christianity, but ended up believers. Rather than regurgitate it here, I’ll let their work speak for itself.
Suffice it to say, if you want to believe in Jesus, you can certainly do so without “checking your brain at the door”. Like most important decisions in life it’s still a matter of faith, but it’s not “dumb faith” as some of my atheist friends would have you think.
I think that’s exactly where God wanted to leave it – believable enough without being overwhelmingly obvious. Why? So that people still have to choose.
If we could look in a telescope and see God waving to us from space, we’d all be idiots not to worship Him. Instead, God has left a level of “plausible deniability” in the world. There’s enough evidence to believe, but not so much to make faith an inevitability.
I know some people say, “Dave, when you can scientifically prove He exists, I’ll believe.” But that’s the point, God’s not going to allow that. He’ll plant clues in our world, like a million hidden Easter Eggs, but we can choose to walk past them, ignoring the evidence. And if you shove a brightly painted egg in their face, they would say it’s intricate design and colors came about through billions of years of chance. Oh, and Peeps are the result of natural selection.
I can hear the arguments from skeptics already, challenging me as laughably unscientific. It makes me a little sad, but I know it wouldn’t make any difference if I took them a signed invitation to heaven from Jesus Himself. They’d still run as fast and as far from God as they can, because they know someone that awesome would require a response from them.
It’s just easier to keep dodging and weaving.
Now in my middle years (that is, if I happen to live to about 103 – fat chance!), I’m rediscovering the wisdom in that little hymn I mentioned upfront. After all the philosophical proofs, I believe changed lives inhabited by the risen Christ are the best evidence He’s alive.
I’m writing this from a retreat for men in a recovery program. I just led 65 of them in worship, and I’ll guarantee you’ve never heard anything like it. Men who’ve disappointed parents, destroyed their own marriages and families, broken and humiliated by sin…but singing like heaven’s about to break lose. Why? Because Jesus has invaded their lives like a river breaking through a dam! Their past was washed away in that flood, and new life rises in them like champaign bubbling over. They have nothing left, yet they have everything that matters.
Counseled with a 60 year old business man who’s now found Jesus in a homeless shelter. After he lost his house and car, he had one last possession – a bottle of Armani cologne. But the other day it slipped out of his hands and smashed on the floor. Before bitterness could wash over him, he called his bunkmates to come scoop up the cologne to wear to church that day. He has nothing left but the clothes on his back, yet he looks me in the eyes and says, “I’m finally free!”
There’s an 80 year old lady who goes to the jail each Tuesday. Her class is busting at the seams with prisoners who want to be in the overflow of her love. They don’t all realize that years ago her own daughter was brutally murdered. In her desire to follow Christ’s forgiveness, she befriended the murderer in jail and forgave her. Now she dedicates her time to loving other inmates as a tribute to her daughter. Talk about “amazing grace”!
Speaking of jail, I led a Good Friday service there this week. To start the service, I was going to kick things of with some of my own musical stylings. For the record, I’m a classically trained pianist and vocalist. I sang the lead role of Jean Valjean in last summer’s production of Les Miserables (be careful if we meet in public – I might just launch into “Bring Him Home”. Yes, I’m that big a ham).
For a lark, I asked if one of the inmates who told me before he sings might have a song for us. That slender African-Amercian gentleman humbly walked to the front of the room and started singing the most gorgeous rendition of The Old Rugged Cross I’ve ever heard. It was simple, yet covered in powerful waves of the grace God had shown this repentant man. Needless to say, I did not proceed with the song I was going to sing. I know better than to try and perform after God Himself just sang through someone, even if they were wearing orange.
The power of the resurrection has also hit close to home for me as well. My own dad was a terror to grow up with. Each day at 4:30pm, I would stiffen at the sound of his Plymouth Valiant crunching the gravel in our driveway. I don’t have one memory of him smiling.
Yet today he’s 87, and filled with more peace and wisdom than any man I know. Somewhere along the way, God changed him utterly and completely. He simply changed into a completely new person housed behind the same face, like a good version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Because of Jesus, I have a new dad.
So go on and debate to your heart’s content. It won’t make any difference to me – I’m just as stubborn now as the skeptics. That’s because you’ll never disprove God to me when I see Him changing lives every day.
In the words of that hymn, “You ask me how I know He lives – he lives within my heart!”, as well as the hearts of many sinners saved by His amazing grace.