Keeping the Faith

Keep_FaithKeeping the Faith” is a nationally syndicated newspaper and internet column. If you are interested in syndicating the column in your newspaper or website please contact me. You can always read the weekly edition of “Keeping the Faith” below.

Redemption

rachel-cook-2313Years ago dear friends of mine took a vacation to the Pacific coastal town of Zihuatanejo. Now, if Zihuatanejo rings a bell, it should. It was the Shangri-La described in “The Shawshank Redemption,” the ultimate destination for the film’s protagonist, Andy Dufresne, when he escaped prison. 

“It’s in Mexico,” Andy said. “A little place on the Pacific Ocean. Mexicans say the Pacific has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.” Eventually, Andy made it there, and the cultural reference opened Zihuatanejo up to unprecedented tourism – including my friends.

On that vacation they stumbled one Sunday into a English-speaking church service where an American expatriate was preaching: Pastor John Sullivan. They all became fast friends, and Pastor John found a new circle of enthusiastic supporters here in the United States.

When I met John for the first time, not long ago, it was over a Philly cheesesteak – a culinary wonder his wife Beti (whom he met and married in Mexico nearly two decades ago) had never experienced – a “sorpresa” for sure. I asked John, “How did you end up with Andy Dufresne in Zihuatanejo?” He answered without hesitation: “I started going there in the 1980s, when I was a cocaine smuggler.”

That was not exactly what I expected to hear, but John went on to describe his amazing journey, from a bantamweight prize fighter boxing all over the country, to a successful business owner, to fronting drug shipments for the Mexican cartels, to a years-long prison sentence in a federal penitentiary.

But while running on the prison exercise track one morning, he says God spoke to him. “You’re going to give me your life,” the voice seemed to say. It was shattering. So, John stopped, fell to his knees on the asphalt, and in surrender, “turned his will and life over to the care of God.” 

When he finished his prison sentence, like Andy Dufresne set free, he made for Zihuatanejo – not as a smuggler – but as a preacher. He was ultimately ordained by the Foursquare Christian Church, started a mission to minister to prisoners, has founded a school, takes in kids from the street, sponsors multiple soccer teams, provides wheelchairs for the disabled, has helped start multiple churches, and works directly with the poorest of the poor who live in his city’s landfill.

Into his seventh decade now, but with the boundless energy of a man half his age and the precociousness of a child, he can’t stop sharing, living, and proclaiming, “Good News to the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed,” for he has experienced these graces himself.

An admitted “ex-fighter, ex-con, but striving to never be an ex-Christian,” Pastor John Sullivan simply wants people to be free – physically, spiritually – completely. His is a story of true redemption, and while the Pacific may have no memory, his life will not be quickly forgotten.

(Photo by Rachel Cook)

Holy Curiosity

emily-morter-188019Author Walter Isaacson has been a chronicler of some of the world’s greatest minds. He has written extensively about Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and most recently about Leonardo da Vinci. Per Isaacson, the true masterminds of this world have one characteristic that sets them apart: Relentless, unquenchable, curiosity.

Yes, curiosity may have “killed the cat,” but it is good for our brains, though a study was hardly needed to confirm this fact. Ask any Algebra student how well he or she is retaining the information received in class. Usually, it’s held only long enough for the test and then discarded. It’s not because the average student is obtuse. He or she is simply uninterested.

But those students with a spark of curiosity, who are investigators, have greater success – so do the brilliant adults they become. The unending questions, the seeking, and the incessant searching leads to the extraordinary. Back to Isaacson’s conclusions: He believes that Leonardo should not have succeeded. He was born illegitimate in a time that scorned such paternity. He was left-handed (a sign of mental disability in the middle ages). He was poor.

Likewise, Steve Jobs was a college dropout. He was fired from the company he started. He could be a colossal jerk. He rarely bathed and didn’t care for personal hygiene. And Einstein, where to begin? He didn’t know how to dress or manage money. His early teachers considered him unteachable. As an adult he was “relationship challenged,” and couldn’t stay faithful to one woman.

In all cases, others were smarter, better equipped, had better minds, greater resources, more prestigious education, and greater opportunity. But none were more curious. These men were driven to search, to wonder, to question, and to seek.

Faith is no different. Faith is far more satisfying for those who ask questions, even questions without clear answers; those who won’t settle for cookie-cutter responses; that don’t accept “the way it is” until they have reviewed the way it really is. They keep reaching to scratch that elusive itch within their hearts and minds.

Jesus supported such actions, inviting some of his first followers, “To come and see.” Amazingly, tragic really, those who claim Jesus’ name are not always interested in fostering healthy, inquisitive curiosity. Rather than answering questions with, “Come and see,” many robe-clad clergy respond, “Sit down and shut up.” Yet, few people begin the life of faith in a blinding flash of conversion, hearing angels and voices from heaven. Most people get started when a tiny seed is planted deep within, a seed that when given time, space, warmth, and air to breath, can grow into something remarkable.

Here are Albert Einstein’s own words: “One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. Try to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” Amen to that, for a faith that loses its curiosity, is hardly a faith worth keeping.

(Photo by Emily Morter)

Road Trip: Session One Available

ROAD-TRIPEach winter Ronnie leads an extended Bible study, and the 2018 sessions began last night!

The study is entitled, “Road Trip: A Journey Through the Bible.” It is a survey of the Old and New Testaments.

The audio and study notes from Session One are now online, here at Ronnie’s Audio Page.