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Aug. 29, 2016

Dear Brad,

It’s not surprising that I’m a Christian. It’s as much a part of me as being a white American woman who is on the wrong side of middle age.

I come from a long line of Protestants. I was raised a Lutheran, but these days I attend a Methodist church. There’s not much difference in denominations.

According to both of my grandmothers, my ancestors arrived in the New World before the American Revolution. Through all these generations that I know of, my people always had at least one thing in common — their Christian religion, in the Protestant vein.

There is a very small church in Western Pennsylvania called Bethel Lutheran Church that wouldn’t exist without my ancestors. They donated some farmland for this church and its cemetery. As part of the deal there’s even a spot in the cemetery for me there when the time comes, free of charge, should I accept it.

My parents had me baptized as an infant, and took me to Sunday School and church, well, for lack of a better word, religiously. I sang in the kids’ choirs and then the teen choir. I went through confirmation classes, and stood up in front of the congregation and announced that I was a believer when I was a teenager. I also responded to an altar call at a revival meeting about the same time, just for further affirmation. Around this time I was encouraged to be an assistant to the teachers for the first and second graders in Sunday School, so I did that too. Later that led to teaching Sunday School on my own. Since I’ve always loved Bible stories, that arrangement worked out fine for me.

I feel very blessed that I was raised by Christians who established a Christian home. Each year I continue to learn more about my religion through attending church and Bible studies.

Despite these positive influences, like all people I am definitely a sinner. I’m ashamed of some of the things that I’ve done in my life, and some of the things that I didn’t do but should have. Sometimes I have some very unkind thoughts. Sometimes my questions take over.

I always wish my faith were stronger. Sometimes I can explain my faith confidently, but other times I stumble.

But I know that I’m forgiven.

I believe God created the universe, and I believe there is a heaven and a hell.

How did Jesus dying on the cross centuries ago affect me personally? If He hadn’t, I would go to hell when I die because like everyone I am too evil to get into heaven on my own. People in general are pretty wishy-washy as a species, and we’re definitely not holy.
When God sent his only son to Earth and allowed humans to kill Him even when He certainly didn’t deserve it, He took all of the evil things people did in the past and the bad things that they’ll do in the future onto Himself. That includes my sins.

Jesus could have saved himself from dying on the cross any step along the way, but he went through with dying an awful, uncalled-for death to teach us about forgiveness and to give all of humanity an out on spending eternity in hell. There’s only one condition: we have to believe that He could do this and that He did do this. If you believe, you’ll spend eternity with God and Jesus in heaven after you die.

If you don’t, you’ll end up in hell, with no way out.

That pretty much sums up what I believe, but being a Christian determines how you try to live your life too.

When you’re a Christian, you try to focus more on God than yourself. Trying to determine the will of God, trying to follow the Ten Commandments, and trying to follow the example Jesus laid out in the Bible are your biggest goals. You try to make an honest living and get ahead, but your career, your possessions, your home, your favorite sports and hobbies, and your bank accounts aren’t your biggest priorities. You know they’re just worldly things.

You try your best not to get caught up in destructive, evil pursuits; you try to treat all people like you want to be treated, and you try to be kind and of service to others. You’re obligated to forgive others, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness. (That last one is a hard one for me in two cases particularly.)

You talk to God regularly through prayer. It’s mind-boggling to think that the force that made the whole universe really cares about my problems, but God likes it when you talk to Him. Sometimes it’s hard to know what he’s saying back, but other times He comes through loud and clear through things I suddenly realize or things someone says to me for no real reason at all.

When you’re a Christian you try to do the right things but you know that since you’re a human being, you fail a lot. We’re all sinners. However, if you’re a Christian you know that no matter what, if you ask God to forgive you, He will. You can’t earn a pass to get into heaven. You can’t earn it by living a good life. It’s a gift you receive simply by believing. But when you love God, you want to be a good person because you just automatically want to please Him.

Right about now you’ve decided that I was fed Biblical doctrine as a child and I naively accepted it hook, line and sinker.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

By nature, I question things. I was graduated from college with a degree in journalism and I realize that often things aren’t the way they seem, sometimes people are mistaken or lie, and there are usually a couple sides to any conflict.
I definitely try to avoid being gullible.

I’ve given my religion a great deal of thought, and the more I learn about it, the more convinced I am that not only is Jesus God’s son, but he really did come to Earth, died for our sins on the cross, and rose again, and someday I’ll be with Him in heaven.

But I am the first to admit that I don’t know everything there is to know, and the strength of my faith wavers sometimes.

The Bible can be very confusing. It contains a lot of stories that were spread down through generations by word of mouth, and you know how a story can get screwed up that way. The modern Bible was translated from some languages that don’t even exist anymore and written down on scrolls. Think about how bad people’s handwriting is and just look at all the different editions of the Bible that exist, and you can readily see the problem.

The Bible also contains a lot of references to things that aren’t part of modern life, like sacrificing lambs, offering burnt offerings, ripping your clothes, sitting in cinders, etc. The role of women was also much different in Bible times. You just have to muddle through some of it.

Instead of focusing on these things, consider how amazing it is that there are so many consistencies in the Bible despite the varied writers and time spans when they wrote. The main message comes through loud and clear. The fact that so many different writers were adamant about conveying the same stories throughout the Bible is one of the things that help me believe.
Another thing that helps me believe is all the prophesizing that is documented in the Bible. There were all sorts of predictions for many, many years foreshadowing Jesus’s arrival and even what was going to happen to him. It was talked about for centuries before it happened.

There are about 2,000 prophecies in the Old Testament. They were things that were very unlikely to actually happen, and yet they did.
Reports about Jesus show up in other ancient, secular writings that have nothing to do with religion too. There’s actually more evidence that He existed than there is on anything else that is documented in ancient history.

Archeology has also confirmed some things that were written about in the Bible but then forgotten.

Nature also helps me believe God is real. I am no expert on astronomy or other sciences, but nothing in the natural world could have just happened. There is so much evidence of order in nature that it makes me marvel at God’s handiwork. Whether I’m looking at the tide at the seashore or looking at photos of galaxies far away, it helps me believe. Most astronomers believe in God, by the way.

Jesus was not a magician or trickster. He performed a lot of miracles during his time on Earth, and many eyewitnesses saw them. He made the lame walk, the blind see, fed big crowds with just a few loves of bread and some fish, turned water into wine, walked on water, and I could go on and on. There are over 30 miracles that Jesus performed that are documented in the New Testament, and there are quite a few miracles in the Old Testament too. That’s a lot of evidence. When I was starting out as a reporter, my editor only required that I had three sources for something controversial.

Jesus raising people from the dead was obviously a big newsmaker. Jesus did that three times: once with Lazarus, once with the daughter of Jairus, and once for the son of the widow at Nain.

And then of course He rose from the dead himself. Afterwards, he reappeared to not just one or two people, but to about 500 people for more than a month before he went back into heaven to sit on the right hand of God. That’s a lot of witnesses! Most of them became leaders of the early Christian church, even though many of them were tortured because of it. Throughout history there are many cases of people who have died for their convictions, but most people aren’t willing to die for something they don’t believe in.
I wish the early Christians had an easier time of it. I struggled with that for a long time. It seemed to me that God could have given the early Christians a break, since they were trying to build His whole church from scratch.

I finally concluded that God didn’t give them a break in order to give people like me examples of people with amazing faith who persevered despite being tortured. They are certainly hard acts to follow, and I know I don’t have their courage.
Jesus made a really good point in John 20:29 when he said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”

No one knows exactly how it all works.

But I know that I believe, even if I don’t have all the answers.

My faith is a source of inspiration and guidance for how I try to live my life. It’s a great comfort when things go wrong and I face a crisis. It gives me a sense of calmness and hope.

We’re all going to die. I hate pain and I hope to die peacefully, but when my time comes I know I shouldn’t be afraid because the Creator has it handled. I believe there is a heaven and I believe there is a hell, and I know I want to go to heaven. All I have to do is accept Jesus’s gift and believe.

And I do.


Linda Mansfield