Browsing: Christianity

To know God.  That is the full measure and purpose of the Christian life.  We know God in many ways, both by searching out and listening to what He has revealed to us about Himself, and by experiencing Him through relationship, by abiding in Him through obedience, by interacting with Him through prayer.

In the last article, we spoke of God’s eternal nature.  In this article I want to talk about His unchanging or immutable nature. The fact that God is unchanging provides the christian with a number of important guarantees, not the least of which is confidence that God’s promises will be kept, for a God who cannot change is a God who will not go back on His word.

To know God.  That is the full measure and purpose of the Christian life.  We know God in many ways, both by searching out and listening to what He has revealed to us about Himself, and by experiencing Him through relationship, by abiding in Him through obedience, by interacting with Him through prayer.

We began this series by asking what God is.  We talked about His triune nature and what each of the three members of the Godhead are.  In this article, we will begin to discuss more of His nature, specifically, how He is eternal and why that matters.

To know God.  That is the full measure and purpose of the Christian life.  We know God in many ways, both by searching out and listening to what He has revealed to us about Himself, and by experiencing Him through relationship, by abiding in Him through obedience, by interacting with Him through prayer.

The purpose of the following series of articles is to take a broad view of what God has revealed to us about Himself, to get a more complete picture of His attributes and qualities.  I will attempt to tie together what these mean to us and how the attributes of God help us understand not just who He is, but why who He is matters.  Many of the hard questions and struggles we face as Christians are framed by our understanding of who God is, and a good understanding of Him helps us to put our circumstances into perspective.

The following series of posts are not intended to be exhaustive. This subject is too large for me to cover extensively, and better men and women have written books that delve more deeply, but I do want to try and capture the some important elements and offer some of the insights I have gleaned as I have come to know Him.

The posts will follow a question and answer format, asking then answering to the best of my ability a series of questions about who He is.

It has been a long year, this 2016. This election cycle and its results and plenty of painful challenges at work have left me a little ragged and feeling tired and worn out. It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve learned a lot, both from the election and the many conversations that it has provoked, and from the challenges at work that have provided areas of growth I might not have heeded otherwise. And I have been surrounded by a rich group of really good friends and family that have encouraged and counselled me, and for that I am profoundly grateful.

A big theme this year has been trust. Do I trust God? Am I willing to let Him do with my life as He pleases? Am I comfortable letting go of control, willing to be happy in spite of circumstances that don’t line up with my expectations? The verse from Job, where he cries out and says, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him” has been a recurring thought.

Psalm 1 has much to offer in the way of perspective on living, and how to be successful.  For the Christian, it distills the basic ethos of our philosophy, to know Him and by knowing to love Him.  The psalm does not promise a specific level of blessing, but rather a way of living that improves life.  Below are my thoughts, broken down by verse.

What does it mean to be “blessed”?

The Hebrew word (H835) is “esher” and is derived from (H833) “ashar” which means to “be straight”.  When used figuratively, “ashar” means to go forward (because the way is straight), and thus “esher” means to prosper, to increase, and to reap the joy of prosperity and increase.  This declaration should be taken generally, not specifically.  How much prosperity or increase is not stated, only that by being blessed, we are better off than we were before.

A testimony of how God transformed how I deal with fear

I’ve been a Christian since 1984, growing up in a loving home with two amazing parents. For as long as I could remember God was as real to me as the sun and the moon. That changed six years ago, when I went through a crisis of faith followed by a series of severe anxiety attacks. Those anxiety attacks taught me some valuable lessons and I wanted to take some time to talk about what happened, to explain some of what I learned about fear, about identity and purpose and how God intends for us to live in relationship with Him

Fear is a symptom. Like pain, its purpose is to warn and prepare your body and mind to deal with dangers in your environment. When your mind detects that something you value has been threatened, it alerts the amygdala which starts producing hormones to give you energy and focus so you can deal with the present danger quickly and without distraction.

Fear then has a valuable purpose, but like pain, it can grow out of control if underlying issues are present, becoming persistent and debilitating, preventing you from enjoying the full measure of joy that God intended.

Also, I do understand that sometimes there are medical conditions that can cause psychological problems involving fear and anxiety, and this discussion isn’t intended to address those situations.  It is possible what I’ve learned may be helpful, but I do not intend for this to be a substitute for medical care if that is needed.

This brings us to the question, what causes fear and how do I deal with it?

It isn’t enough to ask God to do a thing, like restore your soul or reframe your heart or desire, or to help you do a thing He has asked you to do. Part of making this stuff work is proceeding to act as though He has done it once you have asked. We operate as Christians using faith to confirm the receipt of what we ask for. Ask, then act as though your prayer is answered. for if He has asked it of you, He will follow through.

These are some notes I wanted to get on paper, as a way to remind myself of things to remember. Thoughts and conclusions I’ve come to from leading music at my church for the last 6 years.

  • First and foremost, understand that your job is not to train, it is to minister.
  • The congregation isn’t a choir. Your job isn’t to train them to sing well, or to teach them technical aspects of music. It is to lead them to worship and praise by example and entreaty.
  • Ask, never tell.
  • Repeat the song # at least twice, preferably 3 times. Once to begin, and again after a small pause. Most people, if they don’t hear the first one its because of a distraction. They’ll need a little time to allow the distraction to pass before hearing it again.
  • Avoid too much introduction and talking during the service. Its ok, even beneficial to give some introduction, or to occasionally remark on an observation, but your primary purpose isn’t to preach, it is to lead in music.
  • If you are going to try something different, explain first what you are going to do, and offer the reason why. Its good for the congregation to understand the purpose, making it feel less like they are being manipulated, and making it easier to follow your lead.
  • When doing something new, take the attitude that you are going and here is why, not they should go here and this is the reason why. Lead don’t command.
  • The Pianist will follow your hand if you are reliable. The congregation follows the piano mostly, but cue’s more from your body language than your hand. So be obvious and sure about when you start and when you stop. Feel free to exaggerate your body language a little. (e.g. take an exaggerated breath before starting a verse.)
  • Be aware of the context of the church, where its going, what the emphasis is, the season, the holidays, the tenor of the pastors messages. These things will feed the direction of the music, not always directly, but indirectly. Watch the pastor. He is who God will lead the church through, so cue from him.
    Sometimes its good to be playful. :)
  • Even if you don’t feel it, try to convey that you are happy to there. This doesn’t always mean you have a huge smile of your face, but it does mean conveying how much you value and honor the privilege to serve them in this manner. Because to lead in worship is a great privilege.
  • Be sensitive to God’s direction and leading. Pray before picking out the music, ask God to guide your heart and mind to pick out the music He want’s be sung that day.
  • Humble yourself. Be aware that you are being used. as a servant. That the congregation is whats important. that God is the focus. This isn’t an opportunity to demonstrate your chops in music, its a chance to use your talents to glorify God and help others do so by example.

I’ve been reading a couple books that look into Saint Patrick’s mission to Ireland and its affect on Europe. These books led me to lookup some of the few writings penned by Patrick himself. These two quotes stood out.

And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.

Through the course of living and relating to God, God teaches you things. Lately, He has been teaching me about Himself, teaching me to view Him as a Person not a Concept. In the course of this post I’d like to try and explain why this concept is important to me, and some of the impact it has on life as a Christian.

The principle is that you have to approach your relationship with God much like you approach relationships with other people. It is a concept I knew but didn’t, and still don’t to some degree, fully understand. When you relate to God as a person, obedience becomes something you do for Him, because you want Him to be pleased with it, and because the sacrifice is pleasant because it’s for Him.

I’ve experienced that kind of feeling when doing things for people I care about, giving gifts, doing favors. Many times, especially in the recent past, with God, obeying Him felt like something I was doing for me, as a way of improving my character or becoming a better person. And so, when my feelings would change, obedience would become less important, because the motivation for obedience had become self improvement, not pleasing someone I loved, in this case God.

God (though not all the time since I’ve known Him) sometimes feels more like a concept I hold than a person I Know. With people there is mystery, hidden parts of them to discover, unknowns. The unknowns are important because they give rise to hope. Hope in new pleasures to be had with someone, new things to learn about them, new ways to share and demonstrate affection and love. I can plan a gift and enjoy the giving, partly because I know the likes and dislikes of the person, but partly because I’m not sure how much they will like it. The anticipation of a person’s response is important, and can’t be had without mystery. Concepts hold little mystery, but people hold much mystery, because People change, they grow, they add knowledge and experience to who they are.

Though God doesn’t change, there is still mystery, because the depth of His Personhood is so great, no man could ever hope to plumb it in a lifetime.

So I have been struggling to turn my concept of God into a Person, and in the process of doing that, it became harder to live with sin and it became harder to continue the kind of relationship I currently had with him. So I became pensive, because as God became more of a person in my mind, I wanted to talk to Him less and less, knowing I was walking on His feelings. This, in a weird way, is actually a good thing, because a wall is breaking, and now I’m feeling consequences I hadn’t felt before.

There now exists a battle in my soul, the kind spoken of by Paul in Romans 7. Like Paul, there is no doubt in my mind which side will win. I should note that the battle existed before, but always there existed a lie, that I could play both sides, and the consequences wouldn’t be too great to bear. The pain of existing in my previous state of tension was not great enough to demand change. I could maintain a relationship with God that was nominal, and still sin some, and the emotional consequence of that was bearable, at least, it was less painful to bear than the effort required leaving the sin completely.

Now, the pain of continuing hurts more, the battle is more distinct. The value of God, and having Him as a friend I know and relate to, like I sometimes relate to my roommate, or sometimes relate to my father, or pastor, or brother. Knowing my actions impact His feelings, provides a strong reason to act, to obey, to give Him presents, to make my loyalty and devotion evident.

Concepts provide no such reasons, no such motivations.

Strategy #1 – Avoidance

Don’t let your mind think about it. The moment it pops in your head, frantically think of something else… anything else. I call this avoidance… and cite Phil. 4:8-9 as scriptural reference. Avoidance works best if you combine it with Strategy #2.

Strategy #2 – Turning the Tables

This strategy is really just a derivation of Avoidance. But when you are accosted by thoughts or desires for sinful things, sometimes the source of these actions come from outside yourself. To turn the tables, you follow the Avoidance strategy. When a temptation pops into your head, immediately revert to some sort of spiritual activity, i.e. Meditation or Prayer. This takes the Avoidance Strategy and gives it a beneficial twist. Two things may then happen. First, if the temptation is coming from outside yourself, then whatever the demon had hoped to accomplish will be avoided, and your action will provoke a favorable spiritual response, making it dangerous for him to tempt you again for fear that it will only make you pray or meditate harder, and the last thing Satan wants for you to do is pray and meditate on God’s word.

Strategy #3 – Counting the Costs

Sometimes you don’t have the will to practice avoidance and turning the tables. Often I find myself in the position of wanting to dwell on the sinful habit/thought and can’t stop thinking about it. This leads inevitably to purposing to commit the action. When this happens you’re in a tight spot. Few things at this point will turn you back. In this case, you might try Counting the Costs.

Tell yourself that you are going to do it, but that you want to try a hypothetical first (I tell myself that I’m going to do it to deflect myself from coming up with reasons to not do the cost/benefit analysis). Mentally do a cost/benefit analysis of the action. List all the benefits, and be honest. Then list all the costs, being honest. The goal here isn’t to avoid the sin, and this is key. The goal of this exercise is to understand fully what it is going to cost. The decision to not follow through is simply a byproduct of the fact that sin always take you farther than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and costs more than you want to pay.

In my personal experiences, I’ve found that once I’ve gone through the costs, I don’t feel inclined to do said action as much. The key here is activating the conscious mind and dull the memory. Emotions will tend to overwhelm logical thought, but an active mind will push the body in the background giving you room to make decisions with the will instead of your flesh.

Strategy #4 – Living in the Present

This strategy works very well with Counting the Costs. You might think the two titles would indicate that they are antithetical and opposites, but its not true.

Too often we become overwhelmed by how hard something appears to be. A task, and in the specific context, refusing temptation, is always harder when viewed from the beginning. We tend to not look at refusing a single temptation but try to look out and gauge how hard it would be to refuse all the temptations for the rest of our life. Of course, that’s really hard, or seems to be when you’re looking at it from now.

The trick here is to stop borrowing trouble from tomorrow and simply deal with the trouble that faces you right at this moment. Living in the Present means not becoming depressed at what has happened in the past (you’ve been forgiving those sins) or becoming proud in past accomplishments (Christ enabled you anyway and deserves the glory), nor does it mean becoming discouraged at what may happen in the future (God has that under control, it isn’t your problem). Living in the Present means dealing with just what you need to deal with to get through the next 5 minutes.

A note: This strategy doesn’t mean you should make plans for the future, or prepare taking into consideration the past. These are important parts of counting the costs, and being wise with resources. What it does mean is not dwelling on the past or future. Deal with the present.

Observations on the Enemy’s Battle Strategy

Here is the problem. Sin is devastatingly expensive. But the costs are rarely presented up front. Basically, Sin has really good marketing and Satan has been at the game for a very long time. If you look at the costs and benefits of sin vs. sacrifice, sacrifice will beat out sin every time. But that analysis is rarely performed. In the middle of temptation, sin appeals very strongly to your emotions. It knows how to key your body up to make your emotions volatile. It uses this volatile emotional state to skew your perception of reality, making the prospect of sacrifice so difficult and so hard that it seems impossible.

Sin uses two basic emotions to get at you, Fear and Desire. Desire is familiar, it uses this to make its product look better, enlarging the pleasures to exaggerated proportions. But fear is the more dangerous. Sin uses fear to keep you from experimenting or trying something new. Fear tells you that it may not be worth the sacrifice to maintain purity. Fear says, “its hard”, and this is true and lends credence to what comes next, Fear then tells you that, “the reward isn’t worth it, and takes to long to get here”. And that is where the lie is. Truth is, the reward is so great it isn’t even worthy to be compared to what will come, and no wait is too long. But we can’t see it because we are blinded by desire and fear.

Broader Strategies For Maintaining Freedom

Sin is always easiest to avoid if it unknown. In this, fear works for you, because is general, the human mind is most comfortable in the places it knows best. This means that the best way to avoid addiction is to never get involved with addicting substances or actions.

When you get caught up in an addiction, getting free means doing some work. When you fall into addiction, certain lies get embedded in your soul. The lies work themselves into all parts of your thinking. We call these lies strongholds. If you picture your soul as a country, then an addiction stands like an enemy’s castle inside your borders. Its hard to defend against his attacks because he attacks from within. The solution to the problem is to run him out of his castle. But this is only half the solution, because he might come back, and he might bring friends, and the ensuing battle you fight next will be much harder than the first. No, you have to run him and, then tear down his castle, and build one of your own to take its place. We call these new bases of strength, Towers of Truth. Towers of Truth are specific truths that you have studied, applied and setup to combat specific dangers in your life. They are a great asset and are vital parts of wisdom.

Broader strategies are preventative. The very basis and foundation of Christianity is the relationship a Christian has with his Father. Christ came to provide a way to relate to the Father and it is from that relationship that we gain all the reasons we have for obedience to God’s wishes. We obey Him because we love Him. (we obey him because he first loved us) But relationships are dynamic things. Like a campfire they must be tended. God has provided four basic avenues for relating to us. Now, there are many derivations and variations on these themes, but these are the pillars and the basics and must be pursued. Without them, you will be weak, and your relationship with God will be anemic.

The first is His word. The memorization, meditation, study and reading of God’s word is important because it is our best and clearest view into the mind and character of the Being we Worship. It is how we know what pleases Him. The second and equally important is prayer. Prayer has many forms, and should be constant. It is how we express what we want, and what pleases us and it is how we express our efforts to please Him. Fellowship with other believers serves several purposes. It binds us to God by giving us examples in miniature of God’s character. It gives us a chance to demonstrate on earth the kinds of actions we would show to God if He were here. In many ways, the Body of Christ is the living representation of God today, and as such is the recipient of our efforts to please God because of our love for Him. (They shall know you by your love one for another, and we love because we were first loved.)

The last is the act of sharing our faith. Preaching the gospel should be a natural reaction to the fruits of our relationship with God, and by extension our relationship with other believers as representatives of God on earth. (Whatsoever you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me). A vibrant Christian can no more hide his faith from those around him than a fire can be hid under a bushel. Because when you put things close to fire, they in turn catch flame and burn.

I hate being pulled in several different directions. hate. it. I hate not being able to take advantage of emotional energy to solve problems and overcome challenges and accomplish tasks because I don’t know which challenges, which problems and which tasks to do first. I hate the fact that I usually do know which ones to do first, but don’t want to do them because, though they have highest priority, they do not hold the most value to me. I can’t move, can’t accomplish, can’t resolve this problem.

Have you ever been in love? You know the feeling, the one that grows richer the longer you know the person. How many of you have someone you love very much? Have you ever loved someone that the impact of them on your life was so visibly evident that people noticed? I think that what Paul was talking about when he said to be “filled with the Spirit” was a lot like being in love, truly being in love with Christ. When you love someone deeply and personally in the sense that you might love your wife or husband, or perhaps your mother or father, or a best friend, that love will affect the way you act. It will affect the way you see life, how you make choices, and what you think is important. Being filled with the Spirit is to be so in love with Christ that it changes the way you think about everything. What He thinks matters to you. Does He think you should take this job? Does He think it would be a good idea to do this at work? Would he be pleased with me if I give Him this gift? When you are so full of loving Him that it motivates you in every area of your life, then you are being filled with His Spirit.

Paul tells us not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the spirit. In some ways being drunk with wine is analagous. When you are drunk, the alchohol affects your brain, hindering its ability to think like normal. Your thought and actions are affected. You walk different, drive different, speak different and you feel different when you get up in the morning.

To achieve this filling of God’s Spirit two things must happen. First, one must have God’s Spirit, and the only way to do that is to call upon the name of Jesus Christ and recieve the gift of salvation. The second thing is more involved. You must pursue Christ as a lover pursues the one he cherishes. You must read about Him, think about Him, talk to Him. You need to give Him gifts and spend time with Him. You need trust Him, and you need to show Him you can be trusted. In short, you need to love Him, and that with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. That is the first commandment and one full of promise.

You know how you know when you’re succeeding in being filled with the Spirit? You’ll know if you are full of the Spirit of God when you see fruit, specifically, the Fruit of the Spirit. When your life begins to exhibit gentleness, goodness, longsuffering, temperance, faith, joy, love and peace. That’s how you know your love for Christ is reaching maturity. That’s how you know that you are full of His Spirit. Because His Spirit is evident in you, overflowing from you.

So lets be so in love with Christ that it affects every aspect of how we live our lives. Lets study Him and what He likes and what He wants. Let’s give him gifts, spend time with Him, ask Him things, read about Him, and remember the days that are important to Him. This is Christianity at its core, at its best. Let the love affair begin!