Exploring christianity

Christianity is the world's largest religious faith with 1.5 billion adherents around the globe. That's more than one out of every four people alive today. The birth of Jesus was so monumental that it split our reckoning of history into two parts: everything that has happened on our planet took place "before Christ" or "after Christ." As author Philip Yancey has observed, "You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind." So how do you explore Christianity as a seeker? Many people begin with a good book that will serve as something of a tour guide. One that we highly recommend is by a pastor and author in Charlotte, NC, Jim White, entitled A Search for the Spiritual: Exploring Real Christianity. You can pick up a copy (or order one) through any bookstore.  This book not only attempts to explain the Christian faith, but also tries to address the questions and concerns of seekers head-on. But it is only a resource - it shouldn't be the search itself. So let us suggest some other investments that might serve. These suggestions are not designed to manipulate you toward the Christian faith but simply to help you check it out for yourself.

Maintain an Open Mind. First, decide that you're going to maintain an open mind. Sometimes we say we're going to explore something when we know that we are not really open to what we might find. Having an open mind doesn't mean blind acceptance of whatever you explore - you need to evaluate differing views, have some healthy skepticism, and check out the facts.

What it does mean, however, is that you begin with an openness to what might be discovered. If you start off saying, "Yeah, I'll check it out, but I know it isn't true," then you're not exploring with an open mind. To seek authentically means that you keep a healthy balance between solid investigation and a willingness to accept what you find. To begin your spiritual search with integrity, we would suggest that you begin with a seeker's prayer. Simply pray, "God, I am not even sure that I believe You're there listening to this, but if You are, I want to find You. I really do want to know the truth. If You exist, please show Yourself to me."

Determine What It Is You're Looking For and Make Sure It's Fair. Second, when exploring the Christian faith, determine what it is you're looking for, and make sure you have fair expectations. Most seekers would say they are after spiritual truth. They want answers to life's ultimate questions. They are looking for God and a relationship with God so they can order their lives accordingly. And that's fair. But people don't always stop there. Sometimes they tack on expectations that are not fair, such as "I want whatever I find to solve all of my problems - instantly."

That isn't going to happen. Nothing works that way. Scott Peck wrote a well-known book called A Road Less Traveled. It opens with a line everyone can identify with: "Life is difficult." That's true. Life is difficult, and the Christian faith never promises it will deliver a life free of such difficulty. The Bible teaches that when you give your life to Christ, your eternal destiny is altered, you experience a radical reorientation of your priorities, you find a new purpose in life, and you encounter the power and work of God in your life. But these experiences are far different from the instant removal of every problem, every struggle, or every issue of pain. Christians believe that the Bible says God can and does do miraculous, incredible things when you are in relationship with Him, but that's not what you should look for, or what God always promises to deliver. Instead, God's power and presence, which come from being in relationship with Him, give us the ability to go through the difficulties of life with strength and hope. As the Bible says, "The good man does not escape all troubles - he has them too. But the Lord helps him in each and every one" (Psalm 34:18-20, LB). It is also unfair to want whatever it is that you find to complement your lifestyle rather than change it. That's like saying, "I'd like to buy twenty dollars worth of God - not enough to get me too excited or keep me up at nights, but just enough to make me feel good about myself." Few religions, and Christianity in particular, allow for a mind-set that sees spiritual faith as an accessory item that does little more than enhance one's existing quality of life. Since your deepest needs and issues are spiritual in nature, you should expect your search to lead you to the deepest corners of your life, and you should expect what you find to change you from the inside out. For example, take a look at what the Bible has to say about the nature of our interaction with God and His Word: "For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done" (Hebrews 4:12-13, NLT). If you determine that God exists, you should anticipate that He can never be trivialized, marginalized, or put in a box. His truth is not designed to complement your life but to redirect it, change it, and transform it.

Check Out the Source Documents. Once you've determined that you're going to search with an open mind, and you've got a handle on what is fair to expect from your search, it's time to begin the actual work of the search process. Begin by checking out the source documents of the Christian faith.

The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written by over forty authors over a period of several hundred years. Christians call it God's Word, or God's revelation to us. The word revelation comes from the Latin word "revelatio," which means to "draw back the curtain." Christians believe that in the Bible God reveals Himself and truth about Himself that we could not otherwise know. So the first thing that anybody ought to do who is interested in the Christian faith is to read the collection of documents that Christians claim is God's revelation.

Interestingly, when Jesus was once asked a number of questions by a group of spiritual seekers, he answered them patiently, but finally, after diagnosing the flow of questioning, He said something intriguing: "you do not know the Scriptures...have you not read what God said to you?" (Matthew 22:29,31, NIV). It was as if He were saying, "Listen, I'm more than happy to stand here and talk with you and answer questions, but it's becoming clear to me that you haven't even read the basic text!"

Here are two suggestions for you to keep in mind when you start to read the Bible. First, make sure you begin with a modern translation. Many seekers have tried to read the Bible but have found it difficult, obscure and tedious - and for good reason! But the reason probably had less to do with the text itself than with the translation used. The Bible was written in two languages: Hebrew and Greek. Hebrew was the language of the day when the Old Testament was written, and Greek was the language of the writers of the New Testament. As a result, all our Bibles today are translations of those original languages. When the Bible was translated in the 1600s, the Greek and Hebrew languages were translated into the language of that day: King James English. As a result, the version contains a lot of "thees" and "thous." The King James Version was an enormously popular translation because it reflected the language of the people of that day. But we don't talk that way today, and there's nothing magical or holy about King James English. Moses never said "heretofore" or "walketh," and neither did Jesus. That's the way people in the seventeenth century talked! We suggest you get yourself a good, modern translation that is easy for you to read and understand, such as the New International Version or the New Living Translation.

Second, when reading the Bible, remember that it really is a library of books. You possess some freedom as to where to begin reading. In fact, we wouldn't recommend starting on page one and then working your way through to the end. We know that's how we read most books, but it's not the best way to read the Bible. Most who are familiar with the Bible would suggest that you start off with one of the four biographies of the life of Jesus found in the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (named after the men who wrote them). These books will lay a good foundation of the central message of the Bible - Jesus and His life and ministry. After that, go to the Book of James, which is a practical little book containing five chapters that will show you what patterning your life after Christ might look like. Then read the first book, Genesis, in which you'll find answers to some of the foundational questions of human existence in light of what you've learned about Christ. After that, you're probably in good shape to jump in wherever you want.

Come to Terms with Jesus. Our fourth suggestion involves the focus of your search. Focus on Jesus, for He is the heart of the Christian faith. When we say "focus" on Him, we mean that you should come to terms with His identity. Here we have a man who walked the earth and claimed to be equal to God. No other major religious figure ever made that claim - not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Confucius. Only Jesus Christ claimed to be God in human form. Was He or wasn't He? This is the ultimate question a spiritual seeker must answer when it comes to the Christian faith.

Find a Church That Lets You Seek. The final suggestion we would throw out to you as you explore the Christian faith is this: find a church that will let you start exploring where you are. In other words, find a church that will let you come as a seeker and will attempt to help you in the seeking process. Why attend a Christian church to explore Christianity? One reason is so that you can talk firsthand with people who are Christians. Listen to their stories, raise your questions, enter into a dialogue with them about their faith. Stafford Crossing Community Church is uniquely designed and impassioned to help you in this very way. Our weekend services are designed to present the basic truths of the Christian faith at an introductory level. If you are investigating Christianity, these services are crafted especially for you. Your search is the most important search in the world. In truth, there's no such thing as a "spiritual life" - there's just "life," and your spirituality courses through its every vein. Thus, finding the door to spiritual truth, opening it, and walking through it make up the most significant journey you can ever undertake, for on the other side is not simply spiritual life, but life itself.