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It works for me!

The cross works for good

It has been 49 years since a man asked Glenn Wagner the question, “Why are you a Christian?” He then works years growing in his ability to witness for Jesus.

Michigan Conference Communications

In 1973, as an exchange student at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, I was introduced to my roommate. Afif, a faithful Sunni Moslem, has since become a cherished long-time friend. One of Afif’s first questions after meeting me was, “What is your religion?” His second question followed, “Why are you a Christian?” At the time, I was ill-prepared to answer. 

I changed the subject and asked Afif about his faith. He was ready with a reasoned response about why he is a Moslem. He articulately and confidently introduced me to the Five Pillars of Islam, another monotheistic faith that traces its lineage back through Abraham like Christianity and Judaism.

My fumbled initial response when given an opportunity to share my faith convinced me, at that moment, to grow in my understanding of Christianity and in my ability to witness for Jesus. 

If anyone asks me today, “Glenn, why are you a Christian?” my simple answer is, “Believing in Jesus and living as his disciple works for me. I believe that, for me, following Jesus is better than any of the many other alternatives offered by our world.”

I am a Christian because of … Jesus.

Jesus is history’s most compelling person. We learn about Jesus in the Bible and from what scripture remembers of his life and ministry. Jesus is honored as a worker of miracles. He is a man blessed with courage and wisdom. He continues to be made known globally in art, literature, architecture, through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit and in the life-transforming witness of his disciples everywhere. Christianity teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross is a sacrifice of enduring consequence. Life offers all of us multiple choices about who to believe and how to best invest our energy. We can learn good things from other teachers; many are worthy of respect. But I believe that Jesus is the one guide for living who matters most. 

These seven pillars of my Christian faith support my decision to love and serve Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

  1. Generosity: The consequences of greed in our world are readily visible. So are the fruits of sacrificial generosity by way of contrast. God’s love is a gift. Jesus’ sacrifice is a gift. Salvation is a gift. I have been blessed by the gift of growing in a loving Christian home and community. Jesus’ loving example, as presented in the New Testament, has inspired me to lean my life in the direction of sharing, which seems like a better alternative with better observable outcomes than selfishness and greed.
  2. Forgiveness: I know painfully what the toxic residue of broken relationships feels like. I have lived in places where vengeance against perceived wrongs is culturally ingrained and where automatic weapons and barbed wire fencing are used to enforce the uneasy peace disrupted by acts of terror. Yet, I have also been blessed to experience forgiveness and reconciliation and to live in communities where people willingly work to get along as Jesus commanded. Jesus’ revolutionary teachings about forgiveness align with my preferred experience of growing and sustaining healthy relationships.
  3. Hope: I am well acquainted with the reality of grief and the relentless evidence of our mortality. History and geology help me connect with a past that is far older than I am, and astronomy can prove that the universe continues to expand at the speed of light in billions of galaxies. The eternal hope and purpose offered by Jesus that transcends our mortal frames connect me with a vision of the future that works better for me than depressed and self-absorbed skepticism. According to church tradition, most of Jesus’ closest disciples died violent deaths defending their belief in Jesus’ teaching, lordship, and resurrection. Chuck Colson, sentenced to prison for crimes committed during President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal in 1974, observed after his conversion to Christianity and release that people asked to defend a lie are rarely willing to suffer for a falsehood. Jesus’ disciples maintained their faith in Jesus despite the consequences because of their hope in Jesus as risen Lord that they believed to be a truth they were willing to die to defend.
  4. Community: I have learned in working with suicidal and depressed people in mental health and hospital settings that essential ingredients in a happy, healthy, and productive life are the significant relationships we build in our connections with others. Classmates, family, friends, work colleagues, and parishioners can all be significant contributors to our mental and emotional health. Suicidal and severely depressed people, like a leaf detached from a tree, have lost life-enriching contact in healthy relationships with others. Active participation in faith communities has grown relationships that sustain and enrich my spirit. It has been my experience that many of the great efforts to improve the world by education, science, medicine, community organizing, and relief efforts in times of disaster have been motivated by Jesus’ disciples.
  5. Consequences: I know many extremely profitable and very public businesses prey upon the foolish and the vulnerable, leaving behind a rising mountain of expensive social consequences. My grandparents called these “sin businesses.” I value the disciplines of a United Methodist upbringing that invite life choices as John Wesley encouraged “with a single eye” and striving to give glory and honor to God in all things. I know that churches, like people, can also be guilty of sin, but I have been moved to devote my life to serving with people who are making a difference living out their faith. Loving Jesus helps me say no to personal choices known to lead to destructive ends. I prefer to live so that the small piece of earth I inhabit will be better because I have lived in it as a disciple of Jesus.
  6. Reasonable Boundaries: After a hike to the summit of Mount Sinai in 1993, I spent some private devotional time overlooking the foreboding wilderness. The insight struck me that God’s Ten Commandments reportedly issued to Moses in that location (Exodus 20:2-17) were essential to help mold a disparate group of former slaves into a surviving community. In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his book, Democracy in America, that our democracy depends upon an educated and moral citizenry that has the wisdom to choose the good freely. I value the way the Bible has set moral boundaries and promotes the priority of love for God and neighbor. I believe that loving and serving Jesus outweigh the alternatives in helping to support and sustain healthy community life. I know that respecting faithful boundaries works for me.
  7. A growing awareness of God’s presence in life: I am a beneficiary of medicine, science, technology, and good fortune. My ministry has also made me aware of a deeper spiritual dimension to our existence. I have experienced the healing power of prayer and moments of wonder by being present at the birth of a child, the sudden healing of a seriously ill person, and the death of a loved one. I believe that God has designed the miracle of life into the blueprint for creation, and the joy of learning and discovery helps to give the experience of living sustaining purpose. I am grateful for gifted mentors who have helped me appreciate the Holy Spirit’s working. Loving Jesus has helped me to deepen my appreciation for life.

I agree with historian Jon Meacham who writes, “When I am asked, as I occasionally am, how it is that I can believe in God, I answer as honestly and straightforwardly as I can. I  believe in God on the same evidence that I believe in love. Both are invisible forces with visible effects.” (The Hope of Glory, p. 68-69)

Why are you a Christian? This surprise question from a friend of a different faith has led me to a lifetime quest for understanding.  I pray that similar questions of faith can also be helpful for your spiritual growth.

Prayer:  God, help us learn through our experience what we believe and why we believe it. May our convictions then guide our actions and inform our relationships in line with your highest hopes for each of us. And when our beliefs are out of date with your plans for our future, give us the wisdom to adapt our hearts and habits to your better ways. Please help us to give capable witness to our faith.

Last Updated on February 22, 2022

The Michigan Conference