What motivated you to write this book?
I wrote on getting through the tough stuff because there's so much of the tough stuff that makes up life. It is easy for Christians to have the false impression that once we have established a relationship with Christ, which we believe sets us right with God, the problems of life will somehow scoot away or they will slowly be removed from our lives. I find people surprised to hear that Jesus never promised that. In fact, sometimes when a person does decide to get serious about his faith, to trust in Christ and him alone for eternal life, that causes problems. It brings about misunderstanding, and sometimes it leads to confrontation, and a number of the things I deal with. Doubt is a part of it, and you don't get removed from the reality of death or pain. I decided to write and explain these are not exceptions; this is the rule. Life doesn't work out nice and neatly for those who are sincere about their faith. As a matter of fact, it often turns very serious as a person becomes serious about his faith.
As you say, people often think that finding faith in Jesus will make life easier. In your experience, has finding out that that doesn't happen ever caused people to lose faith?Certainly. There's a lot of disillusionment. Someone may watch a televangelist, and the televangelist's message may suggest, 'If you do this, and you do that, you're on easy street.' The idea is this is a no-lose deal, a no-brainer, 'I'm going to be healed.' But the reality is that they aren't healed. That leads to disillusionment. The book says, come back to basics: Life is tough.
You mentioned misunderstanding. In your book you say that Jesus was the most misunderstood individual who ever lived. What do you mean by that?
First of all, in my view of the scriptures, he was sinless. Being sinless, you would think he would get enormous respect, that there would be a massive following, that there would be those who would want to be a part of that life and yield to him. On the contrary, from the very beginning, his life was marked by those who saw him not as a virgin-born child, but as just another carpenter's son who claimed to be messiah. Many people in his own day saw him as an illegitimate child. So he's misunderstood as far as his birth is concerned, and also his purpose and his mission. That's what drove him to the cross--misunderstanding. That's why he said, 'Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing.'
Do you think Jesus is still misunderstood today?
Surely, mainly by those who have never investigated his life, or they've investigated with a preconceived caricature and haven't allowed the scriptures to speak for themselves. That's not fair. If I'm going to make a judgment call, I need to investigate the evidence to form an opinion.
You begin the book with the problem of temptation. Why did you choose that topic?
There is no order of importance in the book. I could have started with inadequacy, which is probably a problem for more people than the onslaught of temptation. I do find in life that temptations are numerous, whether it's toward eating too much, saying too much, going too far. The temptation to be greedy, envious of others, the temptation to have what somebody else has--these are all very common, and I thought it would be a good place to begin. Plus [temptation is present in] the life of Christ, as his ministry begins. He was taken into the wilderness for 40 days and tempted by the devil.
You were obviously very moved by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
I was. As I state in the book, I've never witnessed anything that comes anywhere near depicting what I believe the New Testament teaches regarding the suffering Christ went through. I've preached on it for over 40 years, and every year before Easter, I address the subject of the crucifixion. But I have never seen it portrayed in such a vivid and realistic manner. I don't think he took liberties with the text. I don't know him, so I'm not carrying a torch for Mel Gibson. I just find when I study the scriptures and I read the rather antiseptic term, 'they scourged him,' you can pass over that word that we rarely use today and think little of it. When you see it for 35 minutes, like in the scenes in the film, it does something to you. I think it's a remarkable work. I finished that film in tears.