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.
In your chapter about doubt, you write about reconciling faith and doubt. How can the two co-exist?
Not every Christian finds it easy to believe. Obviously [this is a problem for] everybody, but I'm just going to stay with the Christian ranks. When you read the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, a non-reflective kind of person will think, "Gee, I would have loved to have been there." The reflective person will say, "Hold on. How'd that happen? Was he really dead?" Those are all thoughts of doubt. [In John 20] Thomas said, "If I see the scars in his hands and put my hand at his side and see where the spear was driven into him, I will not believe." Thomas was a reflective person. So when Jesus came to him, he didn't shame him. He said to him, 'Here, reach out your hand and touch the scar. I want you to see this, Thomas." He blessed him, he didn't make him ashamed. But he said, even more blessed are those who have not seen and believed. There will only be a few Thomases that have the privilege of touching the hands and the feet and the side. But the rest of us must believe by faith. In my book, this chapter says doubt is ok; it's not something that's going to send you to perdition. It's part of being a reflective person.
That's hard for me to answer. I find that I'm around people who are a little too quick to believe. They say 'because I hear it from some televangelist, I'm now going to believe it, or because some Christian author wrote this, I'm supposed to believe it.' So in that sense, I think too many people are gullible. The key word here is discernment. We need discernment in what we see and what we hear and what we believe.
Turning to your chapter on prejudice, you write that your own understanding of Jesus overcoming prejudice had a lot to do with your own overcoming prejudice when you grew up in the South. How so?
I'm a child of the mid-30s and I had parents whose roots are in the deep South. So I heard statements and words used that, as I grew up, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with. It especially helped me to do a stint in the Marine Corps, where fighting right alongside me were people of color. If you do enough of that, you become colorblind. You realize there are magnificent people out there of all colors, and there are some bad people out there, of all colors. Prejudice is a learned trait. You're not born prejudiced; you're taught it. If you're standing there as a five-year-old child in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, you're learning to hate African-Americans. If you never see that, if you're around parents who teach you to love one another, it doesn't dawn on you not to come to the aid of someone in need or not to talk to someone because of color. I think there are few people like Christ who can get you beyond that problem.
In that same chapter, you imply that Jews are still prejudiced against Jesus.
Some are. You've got to admit that when there are Orthodox Jews who are around Messianic Jews, that is people who were born Jewish but who have come to faith in Christ, there is a hatred for them.
You think that's because they have a hatred of Jesus?
I think it very well may be. They do not believe that the one who came is in fact Messiah. They're still looking for the Messiah. If you place your faith and trust in one you've called Messiah, they believe that's a false messiah. So, you ask if that's a hatred toward Jesus or toward them [Messianic Jews]. I think it's a disrespect toward them, and if we're going to use the word hate, I think the hate would be directed toward the one in whom they believed. They resent the thought that the other person would trust in one who claimed to be Messiah who they say is not Messiah.
Well, hatred of Jesus certainly isn't part of the many alliances forming between Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians these days. They're coming together on gay marriage, on abortion, on Israel. How do you view these alliances?
What they're agreeing on is ethical issues, moral issues. I'd be the first to say that some with whom I would not agree spiritually, as it relates to their rejection of Christ, I would agree with their position as it relates to abortion, or one of the issues you have mentioned. I think we can align with one another on those issues, and that's great. I don't think that just because a person rejects Christ that he doesn't have any opinion I can respect or he has nothing to offer that I can't learn from. That's stupidity and that's ignorance.
You've said that one of the most important principles for life is that marriage is forever, to the same person. But your book devotes entire chapters to getting through divorce and remarriage. What do you really think about marriage?
If it's an ideal world, then the ideal plan is one man for one woman for all of life. However, the ideal is that I never have germs. Sin is a reality. People disobey. Affairs happen. Broken vows occur. I think because of that, there is the permission on rare occasions for divorce and remarriage. I think it's the exception, rather than the rule. It's permitted rather than applauded. But I've even married couples who have been married before, if I've been convinced that they've thought it through, that they had reasons for divorce. In certain cases, you're not under bondage to stay with a person.
Which of the topics that you cover in the book have special meaning in your own life? Have you personally struggled with any of these issues?
You bet. I've been misunderstood. I struggle at times with anxiety and I worry over things. I've felt ashamed over things I've done; until I've made it right, the shame has sort of dragged me down like an anchor. Thankfully, I haven't gone through divorce or the struggle of remarriage. I've known pain, I've worked my way through prejudice. I'm a child of the South and my parents were prejudiced, and I've learned to get beyond the battle of prejudice, but I've known many who haven't because I minister and live in the southern states. Hypocrisy is always a battle for people, along with feelings of inadequacy. These are mine--I just let you listen in on my own struggles.
You offer specific Bible verses to help readers through each of these issues. Were these the same Bible verses that you turned to yourself?
Absolutely. When people ask me how I knew what to speak about on a particular day, or how I knew what to write on, I'll often say, I'll let you listen in on what I needed to hear. I'll let you read what I needed to read. I'll be honest with you--there are times when an author finds himself or herself more strengthened by what he's written than anybody who reads it.