By Glenn Miller
As far as I can tell, after twenty years of experiencing God and life as a "Christian" and after thinking about this experience from several perspectives, a Christian is...
a person who has a personal heart-to-heart relationship with the living God, characterized by warm and active acceptance on God's part, and our honesty and dependence on the activities of Jesus Christ.
Let's look at this a little more closely.
"A personal heart-to-heart relationship":
The point of this is to exclude 'religious' relationships, in which an 'object' is revered 'from afar' but not approached in a personal way. God is indeed an 'awesome entity' but he is nonetheless a Person. A personal relationship is a reciprocal relationship, not a one-way deal. There is real interaction, real disclosure, real closeness that develops. The 'heart-to-heart' aspect intends to convey the honesty and openness of this relationship. There are no 'games' that can be played with an all-knowing God(!), no secrets withheld, no area of life concealed. (The interesting thing about this is that, even though God knows all about an area of our life, we might NEVER open it up to Him in discussion, in our efforts to 'hide' from His feedback!)
I cannot emphasize strongly enough the personal character of this relationship. I see so many aberrations and stunted-growth versions of it. It is not a formal relationship, a primarily legal one, or even simply a 'creature-Creator' relationship. (I find the human tendency to relegate God into a religious icon or image or object to depersonalize the relationship and short-change the possibilities of such a relationship--much as we do in other significant personal relationships in our lives.)
"The living God":
The subject of God is quite a vast one, but the main point here is that He is LIVING. There are feelings, and thoughts, and decisions, and actions, and initiatives, and responses, and values, and commitments... all the aspects of personal existence. He is not a force or an attitude or a "perspective on the universe". We walk around our lives 'face to face' with this One-- even if we ignore Him.
"Characterized by warm and active acceptance on God's part":
From God's side, He accepts us. But this is not merely a 'political' acceptance--it has a warmth and joy to it. He 'smiles' upon us. He delights in us(!). This is more than simply the very important 'peace with God'; it is an active relationship. He gets involved in our lives for good--for our growth, our development, our character, our fulfillment, our stability, our significance in the lives and futures of others. He is always 'glad to see us'.
"Characterized by our honesty and dependence on":
From our side, the relationship is one of honesty about who He is and who we are. We are not 'gods', and as such need our Maker for the realization of the purposes for which we appear in this universe. We are a people dependent on the universe He has produced, and we are people whose goodness has been severely compromised by our regular moral failures and pervasive spiritual apathy.
The main thing in the universe that God the Father loves...is God the Son. When we are honest with the Father about who his Son is, and what he did in history for us, God welcomes us into this warm relationship...We simply have to be honest with Him about his dearly-loved Son.
The second part of this is dependence. We depend on Him for the 'repair' of our relationship WITH Him. He is the active one, coming in history to earth and taking upon Himself the consequences of our moral failure. We simply are honest about those actions/events to the extent that we rely upon those actions/events as an adequate basis for God's warm acceptance of us. In other words, we agree with God that his Son's life and work are sufficient grounds to accept us into this special relationship. It's that simple.
"The activities of Jesus Christ":
The basic 'core' truth of Who he was/is and what he did are simple. He was God the Son, who took on human flesh, lived among us, suffered at the hands of His Father (on the cross) as our substitute, came back to life after his execution, and transported himself 'outside' space-time to 'heaven'. He will return to earth visibly in the future, but for now, He is involved invisibly in the macro-forces of history, and the micro-events of our lives. His death satisfied God the Father's just moral demands upon us, and 'freed' God to lavish his warm acceptance upon us.
This is the beautiful truth of what a Christian is...a beloved child of the living and loving God...and it starts with a simple conversation with God...telling Him that you accept "His version" of who his Son was, and what He did for you...
LET ME PUT IT THIS WAY………This is my second try at describing the most wonderful person I have ever met. The first one ending up sounding like a religious textbook--a little stilted, and probably harsh.
But I've learned a lot in the year since then...and now I know to focus on simply letting you get a glimpse of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ--and not 'hit' you with a lot of religious dogma.
It will still sound "religious" of course, but maybe this time it won't offend you or drive you away or convince you to stop reading this (thinking I'm just another crazy religious fool--Lord knows we have enough of those already!).
Well, here goes...This person Jesus Christ is probably one of the oddest characters in history. This common Jewish carpenter went about his short 33 years of life confronting the religious authorities, calling people to a personal relationship with God (instead of to a religion), even claiming to be God(!), doing good, and doing feats that were remembered as miracles. He was executed as a criminal by the Roman government. His followers claimed that he 'rose from the dead and went to heaven' and the hostile authorities of the day were never able to find his dead body to refute the claim.
His teachings were a strange mix of forgiveness /acceptance for the honest and humble, condemnation for the arrogant and indifferent, and almost outrageous claims about himself and His Father. He brilliantly summarized the entire sacred writings of his nation and extended them to new areas of life and heart. His message centered around God's radical love for mankind, mankind's general failure to respond appropriately to this love, and the actions in history that God undertook to lovingly bring people back to Himself. The most important and strangest act of love was in God sending his Son Jesus to earth.
Jesus Christ was God in human form, and deserved to be worshipped and honored and served above all kings. But he didn't come to earth to be worshipped--he came to help! Listen to his words: "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full" (John 10.10) "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10.45) "For the Son of Man came to seek and to reclaim what was lost" (Luke 19.10) "Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15.13)
My favorite text shows his incredibly beautiful heart, and at the same time offers us some serious relief--Matthew 11.28-30: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." This is a love we can trust--one that demonstrates its commitment by the way it lives and dies. In love, Jesus shared with us the important truths about our world, our God, and ourselves: There is a God and He has a personality. He loves His universe and people intensely; He chooses how He works within history; He grieves over death, pain, and wrongdoing; He gets angry at injustice and evil; He desires to make His creation joyful and fulfilled. He has communicated to man through nature, conscience, moral notions, and especially in a collection of uniquely-produced writings, known as the Bible. "The Lord is a God who knows" (I Samuel 2:3) "The Lord lives" (II Samuel 22:47) "God so loved the world..." (John 3:16) "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made..." (Romans 1:20) "The Lord was grieved because of the calamity..." (II Samuel 24:17) "In the past God spoke through the prophets at different times and in different ways" (Hebrews 1:1) "You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" (Psalm 16.11) "The Lord takes the upright into His confidence" (Proverbs 3.32) "I am the Lord your God. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it" (Psalm 81.10) "The fruit of doing and being right will be peace; and its effects will be quietness and confidence" (Isaiah 32.17)
He created mankind for friendship in an enjoyable and vibrant relationship, but our moral failures, wrongdoing, apathy toward Him have basically separated us from a relationship with Him (and from all the benefits that flow from a healthy, active, and respectful friendship with our Maker -- the very author of true life and joy). "Your wrongdoings have separated you from your God" (Isaiah 59:2) "Evil inevitably produces death-in all its forms" (Romans 6:23) "evil, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:15)
He desired to re-new the relationship with us, but He had to deal with this wrongdoing issue. His perfect character is such that He has to be both loving and just, which means that moral failure cannot be just "over-looked." He must deal with it according to its seriousness (it is the very source of death in our universe--both in relationships, physically, and with eternal dimensions). On the other hand, His love sought a way to deal moral failure its serious consequences (i.e. separation from Him now and after death) and somehow remove us from this stream of consequences. "He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice" (Acts 17:31) "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Hebrews 9:27) "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but those right with God into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46) "For we know that God's judgment is based on truth" (Romans 2:2) "I will sing of Your love and justice" (Psalm 101:1)
He made a way to do this. He sent His Son to earth 2,000 years ago. He was God (perfect, loving, powerful, authoritative, just), took on a human body, lived a perfect life, claimed to be God, and then engineered His own death -- during which He took on Himself the consequences of our moral failure! He basically traded places with us, while His Father poured out on him the just penalty for evil. The "net" is this: He took the penalty for our moral failures, so we wouldn't have to! "God made Christ, who lived a morally perfect life, to 'be' evil for us, so that we might 'be' moral 'right-ness' in Him" (2 Corinthians 5.21) "And He himself bore our wrongdoings in His body on the Cross" (I Peter 2.24) "For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us back to God" (I Peter 3.18) "This is really love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our wrongdoing" (I John 4.10)
He didn't stay dead, but is alive now and offers us a new relationship, a new freedom from guilt, a total pardon from sin's horrible after-death consequences, a new start toward fulfillment and significance, and a new source of positive influence/input into our life. The best part is -- it's free. All He expects of us is to trust Him to do this! (By the way, "trusting Christ" is not another way of saying 'Join a church' or 'become a holy-type person.' It's not a matter of doing good deeds, working in a religion, following rules, etc.--these are simply means to enjoy this free relationship to the full--they don't establish that relationship in any way.) We simply tell Him we believe Him: that He was God-in-flesh who was punished in-our-place. "To everyone who welcomed Him by trusting in who He was and what He did, he granted the right to relate to God as intimate children [and not just creatures or citizens or whatever]" (John 1.12) "I [Jesus] tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life to the full" (John 6:47) "For God loved this world so much that He gave His unique Son, that whoever trusted in that Son would not experience the final consummation of death in all its forms and degrees, but rather have that life which is characterized by stability, fullness, and eternity" (John 3.16)
(You can let this love into your life right now. You can express that trust in him by simply telling him. Maybe a simple prayer like "Lord Jesus, it's still all a little fuzzy to me, but I get the basic idea that because of your love for me, You were punished in my place so I wouldn't have to be--thank You for doing that for me." Do it now--it will have some seriously positive implications in your life--on both sides of physical death.)
Once the relationship is established, you have access to an incredible Person -- who can do for and with you what He is doing for/with others. Talk to him about your challenges (while reading the Psalms, I suggest!), about the limitations you feel (be honest and humble), pay attention to His practical advice (read Proverbs and the New Testament epistles). "Through faith in Him [Jesus] we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (Ephesians 3.12) "These things I have written to you that have put your confidence in the Person and Work of the Son of God, in order that you may have full assurance that you have began a new life that will grow and deepen for all eternity." (I John 5.13) "Therefore, since we have been declared guiltless through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1) "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34.8) "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love to those who honor and relate to Him as God" (Psalm 103.11) "You will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in Me will not be disappointed" (Isaiah 49.23) "Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7)
If you postponed doing this due to procrastination, go back and re-read this until you do it! If you postponed doing this, because of intellectual-type questions ("How can I trust the Bible?", "What about other religions?", etc.), believe me, there are solid and satisfying answers -- the God of truth is not afraid of our questions. I hope the best for you as you go forward and I hope to meet you in eternity, if not before.
When you're ready to take your first step toward God...
This little article is for those, who for one reason or another, feel ready to take their first step toward God, and its simple purpose is to give you some "fellow traveler's advice" about this step and this journey...There are no arguments here for the existence of God or for the basic reliability of the bible or for the uniqueness of this message--these can be found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/. This is rather for those who have somehow arrived at an overall sense that there is a God who is worth approaching...
People come to this "I think I am ready" step for many, many different reasons...
Some are hurting inside, from fear, anxiety, loneliness, alienation, betrayal, and this suffering has somehow convinced them that life is 'deeper' than first appears, and that the spiritual dimension is very, very real. They have become convinced that God is somehow 'out there' and can therefore be approached for help.
Some are facing difficult crises in their lives--illness, family troubles, difficult choices, bereavement--and have somehow sensed their deep need to ask for help, inner strength, and insight. This awareness has somehow brought them to a conviction that the spiritual dimension of life, although often only faintly recognized and more often generally downplayed, is in fact deep and significant. And this awareness has led them to a belief that God is also real, and somehow has resources and wisdom that might be of immense value to them in their crisis.
Some are struggling with guilt or shame, over some act or pattern of moral failure. They have a deep sense of psychological guilt, eating them alive from the inside. This internal urgency has drove them to seek out the spiritual side of life, and has awoken in them an attitude of honesty over both the problem/act itself, and their need for personal acceptance and forgiveness from God and from others.
Some face challenges of addiction to destructive patterns, habits, lifestyles. They have discovered that their "innocent" habit has destructively disturbed their lives, their minds, their families, their careers, and their lives. But, they have also discovered that their attempts to break this slavery have been failures, due to inadequate personal resources. They simply do not have the personal strength, adequate focus/motivation, or perseverance of will to overcome this. The habit has already damaged their abilities to recover, to the point of despair. The depths of the human soul and condition has led them to believe in a deeper reality, and thus they are now open to the reality of God, and the hope of approaching God for help.
Some have been pondering the 'tough' questions of life and history that we explore on the Thinktank (www.Christian-thinktank.com). They have reviewed the arguments, looked at the data, heard both sides of the interpretation, and have decided that the Christian understanding of the life of Jesus, the reality of the spiritual, and the basic historical trustworthiness of the message of the bible is (at least slightly) better supported by the evidence. They don't have all the answers to all the questions, but the answers they DO have are adequate enough for them to feel justified in believing in the God who revealed himself in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. Given this, they feel that they can take this step in personal and intellectual integrity (not requiring the certitude of basic mathematics, but only the practical peace of mind about decisions in personal relationships), and in fact, anticipate getting to know the God who "stooped to earth" to establish a warm and robust relationship with us.
Some have seen and known those extraordinary people who are true followers of Jesus Christ. They have been up close to lives that exude the qualities that Jesus seems to grow in His more humble followers throughout the ages--selfless love, gentleness, vibrancy, peace and stability in the midst of life's challenges, enduring commitments to others, patience in dealing with people, honest work habits, warmth and joy. They now want those qualities in THEIR lives. That want what those others 'have'--and the others all point them to Jesus, and to taking this first step...
Some were raised in other religious traditions, and have finally made an independent study of the person of Jesus Christ. They have looked at his life and words, and have come away with a sense of his uniqueness in history. They have seen the blend of strong personal integrity and forgiveness of others, the mix of compassion for the needy and rebuke for the self-righteous, the combination of human humility and divine authority--all in this one Person. They have come to believe that he was truly one of us, yet that he also claimed to be uniquely the very presence of God in human form. They have sensed his 'Other-ness' and come seeking a relationship with the One who embraced suffering and yet promised freedom of spirit to others--through the very act of His suffering.
Some come with a sense of danger about what might happen to them after death. Through circumstances, reading, or simply some inner warning sense, they perceive that the nature of life after death may indeed have elements of moral justice in it. They are honest enough about the details and motivations of their past choices (and non-choices) to have some anxiety about their particular future, and seek to respectfully approach God for a 'pardon'--a hope for a clean slate in the moral universe.
And some have heard about Jesus all their lives (maybe even raised in a Christian home or school), but only recently have decided to approach him as an individual, and as a personal relationship--regardless of environment or situation. They have sensed His reality all their lives, but only now has the issue of starting a heart-to-heart relationship with Him become urgent in their thinking.
Many of us, of course, come with more than one of the above, and often these various elements have come in and out of our lives like the strains in a tapestry, bringing us to this point.
...But so much of our mind-set is similar among us at this point:
We all (that is, those of us who think we are ready for this step) somehow sense that God is "there", and even "close", and that He is open to our approaching Him;
We all sense that God has enough resources to somehow "change things" in our lives and in our futures, all toward good goals of wellness, renewal, significance, freedom of spirit, peace of mind, growth, love, and joy;
We all sense that our lives are a mixture of good and bad choices, habits, and attitudes, and that even though God is much more morally aware than we humans are, this somehow doesn't stop God from letting us approach;
We all seem to understand that somehow Jesus' coming to earth, living among us, and dying as a criminal is central and focal to our approach to God--indeed, it seems that God insists that we approach Him through Jesus. [But we are a little confused about why this is important, and the details of it may escape us entirely];
We all are generally somewhat confused about what God 'requires of us'. We have likely been somehow conditioned to believe that He would make excessive demands on our lives, relative to behavior, associations, habits, religious activities, and the like, but we are altogether unsure of our preconceptions in this area.
We all have some level of confidence that the basic message about God's view of Jesus' life and death in the bible is a reliable enough guide to follow, as we try to clearly understand what God would have us do.
So, what does this message in the bible tell us about how God sees this?
Probably the clearest expression comes from the lips of Jesus' himself:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10.45)
And this was an allusion to something said by a prophet in the bible centuries earlier, who foretold of Jesus:
"All we, like sheep, have wandered away from our Good Shepherd; we have each acted selfishly on the basis of 'convenient morals' of our own choosing at times, and the Lord God has transferred to Him (the foretold One) these moral failures and these destructive acts...He (the Foretold One) deliberately accepted responsibility and the just consequences for our moral crimes, both large and small, and He appealed to God on our behalf." (Isaiah 53.6,12b expanded paraphrase)
Purely and simply, what this means for you at this point is that Jesus became a 'substitute' for you, standing in your place before God for the moral wrong you have done in your life (and bearing the spiritual consequences of that for you), and then clearing the way to God for you. This removes the obstacles to approaching God. The judicial issues were resolved by Christ's self-sacrifice to God on the Cross. His moral integrity insured that it was acceptable to God, and his incredible love insured that you were included its scope. [Jesus' body did not stay in the grave, but was transformed into a more advanced one, and He lives today in the spiritual dimension called 'heaven', and interacts with us from there.]
One very practical (and for many of us, comforting) implication of this is that our past is no longer an issue with Him...The issue now is whether you will agree with Him about this act of love by His Son Jesus...
So, where do you go from here?
If our past is no longer an issue, then what is?
Literally nothing stands between you and Jesus Christ.
Access to the Father is through Him:
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14.6)
And welcoming Him into your life as the answer for your past, and as a kind mentor, intimate friend, and wise director concerning your future, creates a permanent and intimate relationship with the God of the universe:
Yet to all who welcomed Him for who He was, to those who trusted His credentials, character, and achievements, He gave the right to become children of God (John 1.12)
The Father wants us to simply trust His Son...to depend on Him for our ultimate well-being in the future, to trust in His work on the Cross for our past, to be open to His good-hearted and wise input in our present...to respect His authority, to count on His forgiveness, and to relax in His warm-hearted acceptance of us...
The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever trusts in the Son enters into a relationship with God that lasts forever and is characterized by wellness, growth, love, and loyalty, but whoever rejects the Son will not experience this at all..." (John 3.35f)
And so, the "First step" is simply a heart-to-heart with Jesus...
The simple beauty of the awesome work of Jesus on the Cross is that your step toward God can be so "un-awesome"...a simple opening your life up to Jesus in confidence of His goodness and His efforts on your behalf...
A simple admission to Him (heart-to-heart) of welcome and confidence is all it takes:
"Jesus, I don't understand all of the depths of this now, but it IS clear to me that You love me, that you were my substitute on the Cross, that you cleared the way to spiritual life for me, and that you are willing to take an active, intimate, and gentle role in my life going forward. In recognition of your proven love for me, and of your authority and power evidenced in your words, life, and in your resurrection, I welcome you into my life. I trust your abilities and your love for me to help me with my future. Thank you for what you have done and for Who you are. And guide me to realize what I can do now to begin seeing progress in the areas of dysfunction, insensitivity, or difficulty in my life."
That's it. That's the first (and only) step to God...You can't skip that one, for every exploration of this new relationship with Christ is based on this simple act of trust and this simple recognition of His smiling and warm love for you...Look at the paragraph above a couple of times, and then simply read it to Him aloud...or say it in your own words to Him in quietness...but go ahead and take that step, friend...[I'll wait for you here...(smile)]
Did you hear the explosion or see the fireworks when you took that step?
Probably not. [If you didn't take the step, go back to the previous topic... (smile).]
Some people do, though. Some have emotional sensations of guilt-release. Some feel a sense of un-burdening. Some sense a loss of appetite for an addiction. A few get the giggles. Some get a new sense of internal strength for a challenge they are facing. Quite a number feel nothing, but sense somehow that something has changed...They cannot put their finger on that intuition, but they sense something is different.
But most 'feel' nothing, to the extent that many think "It didn't take", like it was a vaccination or something! Some doubt that they were 'sincere enough' and they repeat the paragraph out loud over and over (never realizing that their sincerity was probably obvious to God from their repeated attempts!).
But this first step is not an emotional transaction--it is the establishment of a personal relationship with the living God. [We normally don't want to just "feel better"--we want to actually "GET better"!] And, as with many personal relationships, it takes time and interaction and shared experiences to grow the emotional consequences of a relationship. So don't let a "I didn't feel anything" lead you to make the illogical jump to "therefore, nothing happened" or "therefore, God did not pay attention" or "therefore, God did not accept me"...Believe me, the God who went to the painful lengths of the Cross will not let your step toward Him be ineffective...
Hey, I did feel something, but it was negative!
That's pretty normal.
As soon as you take this step, your whole person gets involved--and I do mean your "whole" person! Part of our human condition is that we have conflicting tendencies within us. For example, when you make a tough moral choice, part of you says 'good job', part of you says 'you idiot', part of you says 'you could have done better', part of you says 'you should have waited', etc.
It's no different with this choice...You can expect the "you finally became insane", the "you just became a brainless religious fanatic", the "this story simply cannot be true", and the "you need to think this over a bit more carefully"...etc., etc., etc. Don't take the mixed responses of the "peanut gallery" too seriously. If you came to this personal decision with a sense that you were doing the right thing, leave it at that. The reasons you arrived at the "I think I am ready" step (above) are still just as valid as they were when you begin this process....
So, now that I have taken that step, what's next?
I might suggest four things:
1. Relax in the freedom of knowing you are welcome with God and can draw upon His resources and wisdom as His child;
2. Reflect upon the fact that the step you just took will have deep and positive consequences for the rest of your life...
3. And obviously, read on....
4. Start looking for small changes in attitudes, situations, insights, relationships, perspectives, values...they will come.
Further Thoughts On The Meaning Of life And Christian Themes
Further Thoughts On The Meaning Of life And Christian Themes
As a business executive, I travel over 200,000 miles per year and stay in a lot of different places but I probably don't know you, have probably never met you, and will probably never meet you, unless...
Unless you hunt me down sometime in the next million years or so because this little pamphlet helped you in some small way in that strange area of our lives we call 'spiritual.'
This 'spiritual area' is incredibly confusing for modern man. I am consistently amazed at the foggy notions of "God" and "Heaven" and "Salvation" that people have today, not to mention the 'weirdness' of the cults, religious fanatics, some TV preachers, "get-rich-through-religion" movements, etc.
You, like most people, probably have a sense that "there's probably something to all this stuff," but also probably don't have a clue as to how to cut through all the clutter, fog, denominations, bizarre terminology to get at "what's real". Not only this, but you probably know people who have been deeply enriched by it, and people who have negatively "mutated" due to it as well! Indeed, you, like me, may even have had bad experiences yourself, with religious militants or high-pressure religious 'salesmen' or early church rituals or obnoxious holier-than-thou associates. Coupled with the obvious time pressures placed on us by 20th century life, chances are good that you have never had the opportunity to consider this in a non-threatening, clear, 'net,' and balanced way.
Another obvious problem is that it's sometimes hard to tell the quacks from those who really have significant experience and wisdom in this area. And even when we do find a sincere and knowledgeable person in this area, often they are not able to explain what the real issues and options are in everyday terms. Instead they use terms like 'redemption' and 'Savior' and 'heaven' and 'Ask Jesus into your heart' and 'open the door of your life to God'...and expect us to know what they mean (and then to believe it).
Now don't get me wrong--many of these people are right on target--they have established a relationship with God, He is quietly at work in their lives, they generally have the right perspectives, they struggle with moral issues daily, and they really care deeply for others--but often they do not know how to communicate--to people like us--the 'what, why, and how' of their worldview /experience, as wonderful as it is.
In fact, I am one of these people (as if you hadn't already guessed that by now!) but I came into this 'too late.' I didn't discover this option and take advantage of the opportunity until a senior in college, over 25 years ago. I didn't have a religious background that used those terms, so I was confused for the first few years until I learned the new 'language.'
The result was that I had to work extra hard to understand what I began to experience in my daily life. And, fortunately or unfortunately, I just could not learn the lingo blindly; I was too 'intellectual' back in those days.
Again, don't get me wrong. I'm not any more "dumb" now than I was then (although the older I get, the less prepared I often feel for life's complexity and challenges).
In all honesty, I've had to read and study and agonize (and even pray!) over questions of philosophy, history, science, archeology, world religions, etc.--to make sure I could trust (and enjoy) my God with a clear heart and conscience.
I discovered, soon after I set out on this quest for truth, that the God of truth was not afraid of my questions. (I often was afraid of the 'tough questions', and to make sure I faced up to those, "by coincidence" a steady stream of people over the years would pop into my life, ask me those questions, and then disappear--no escape for me!) I don't have all the answers, to be sure, but I have satisfying (intellectually and emotionally) answers to most of them. I get new ones every year (and many good ones from my kids and business associates) and maybe you will even send me a tough one!
I've run at the mouth (or keyboard) enough about my background and motives, I guess, so let me get on with it. What I would like to do for you, my friend, is to try to capsulize what I've learned--in ordinary terms--so you can evaluate its truth-claims and use that data in your search for significance and fulfillment. But let me warn you--as you probably know by now, with every opportunity comes a challenge. If you do come 'face-to-face' with a truth here, your challenge will be to deal with it honestly and in some cases, humbly. Truth and reality have a strange way of holding us accountable for how we deal with it...in our personal, professional, and social lives.
What I learned in the second twenty-five years of my life:
1. There is something 'beyond' the physical universe -- something that 'caused' this one.
The vast, vast majority of the human race has believed this since our beginnings. Since the day we began to write down our thoughts some six to eight millennia ago, we have shown that two things have dominated our thinking from Day One: God and money! Our earliest records of civilization document extensive economic systems and elaborate and well-developed religious beliefs. Long before religion was discovered by the power elite to be useful for social control, kings quailed before the gods and spirits of their lands and the lands of others. The concept of a god was not the invention of the powerful, to control the weak--it was somehow embedded in our thinking from our inception. Even what little data we have before the invention of writing shows depictions of 'supernatural' creatures and pre-historic burial practices evidence a belief in a 'life beyond this one' for our companions. The earliest records we have of religious systems show varied, robust, fanciful and often vain concepts of this 'beyond', but they uniformly point out that we have always believed in something powerful 'beyond' this physical universe.
The situation at the close of the twentieth century is not radically different. The vast majority of humans believe in some 'beyond' reality, which is somehow involved in the events or character of the physical universe. The vast majority of the western world is theistic or supernaturalistic, as are the basic majority of scientists and a sizable portion of philosophers (as shown by polls and membership in related professional organizations). The conceptions of this "beyond" vary widely, of course, but the fact of 'beyondness' is quite widely accepted.
And, I might add, the statistical trend toward belief in a 'beyond' is increasing. While some speculated fifty years ago that "science" would somehow remove all the 'gaps' and mysteries out of the universe (somehow assuming that belief in God's existence was somehow dependent on His/Her/Its/Their usefulness as a premise in a scientific theory!), the reverse has actually happened. Science has actually found some 'beyondness' right under our noses, some very real 'holes' in our physical universe! As
I write this, the science of human consciousness has essentially called for a new paradigm of reality, to allow for the 'beyond' elements of consciousness; particle and quantum physicists have become convinced that a few types of elemental physical particles pop in and out of existence, from some virtual universe 'below the threshold of existence' (!), mathematicians and philosophers are talking about the non-physical "existence" of 'abstract entities' and 'ideals', and the astrophysicists of the Big Bang camp are staring "creation out of nothing" and "intelligent design" in the face and waxing mystical...
Now, I know that you don't normally arrive at truth by counting noses, and I can already hear in my head my mother, saying the familiar "Well, if everyone jumped off a cliff, Glenn..." Yet when faced with this almost uniform collective belief (of the entire human race) in a 'beyond', I also remember my dad offering the wisdom of "If you find yourself driving facing heavy traffic coming your way on both sides of your car--you are probably on a one-way street, headed the wrong direction!"
At a minimum, this argues that it would be very unwise to dismiss belief in some type of "beyond" out of hand. This is certainly enough data to make the reality of some "beyond" at least possible and maybe even probable.
But even my own simple experience supports the notion of some causal "beyond". As an executive, I know you don't make quality products out of nothing and without massive forethought, labor, and oversight. I know products don't create themselves and that manufacturing plants do not unfold smoothly by themselves from the basic laws of physics(!). Every tangible thing I have ever seen has been an 'effect' which was somehow distinct from, yet a result of, a 'cause'. Even these cause and effect relationships show the core meaning of "beyond" because a cause is somehow 'beyond' its effect, and the effect is somehow 'dependent' on its cause. "Beyondness" could simply be some kind of causal priority, causal 'distance', or even separateness. So, this notion seems reasonably intuitive to me.
And, as problematic as it might seem at first philosophically, the notion of a First Cause (to start the whole thing) that is itself "un-caused" seems much less problematic than some "infinite regress" chain of causes extending infinitely backward--but never having something to actually start it (entirely apart from the implications of Big Bang cosmology of an actual beginning of the universe).
As I write this at the keyboard, I may even be an analog of this notion. According to much current thinking in consciousness studies, my consciousness has elements in it that are 'beyond' the physical universe as we have historically considered it. And this 'beyond' agency is somehow influencing the physical nexus of my brain, and then my fingers, and then these keys, to produce this sentence. This seems reasonable enough and clear enough of a notion for me.
he level of precision of this concept of "beyondness" is somewhat lacking, but doesn't seem to be any worse that everyday concepts like "person," "volition," "cause," "despair," "logic," "wisdom," "good," "individual," "force," "field," "light," and so on. The fact that I cannot give really precise definitions for many, many of the basic elements of life, science, and experience in no way counts against their reality! And most 'important' words are almost impossible to define precisely without apparent contradictions (e.g. "light," "existence," "life") or circularity (e.g., "force" and "matter," "essence" and "attributes").
Accordingly, even before I get to any possible historical evidences of this 'beyond' and the scores of philosophical arguments for the existence of a "beyond"(and the endless debates about these!), it seems that a simple belief in some kind of 'beyond' is quite reasonable. This belief seems to be part of our thinking (evidenced by its trans-cultural ubiquity in human history), one that is still growing in influence, and one with concepts that find general illustration and practical support within our experience (i.e., "beyondness," First Cause, causality, dependency).
2. This 'cause' has to be at-least-as-complex as this universe. The most complex unit that appears in this universe is the human personality. The 'cause' must therefore be at-least-as-personal as we are.
3. This 'person' [hereafter referred to as "Person" -- since this One is obviously superior to us in created power (and, to use a philosophical term, in "non-derivative existence"--see, aren't my word choices infinitely clearer than the religious guy?!!)] created a universe/reality that has an incredible amount of diversity and beauty in it. This Person could have made a world without color, without music, without the explosive variety of tastes, of flowers, of life forms, and of people (imagine New York City with only one type of face!).
4. This Person created us to have hopes, dreams, fears, and to constantly question "why am I here?", "what's the point of it all?", "how can I be happy?", "how can I make a difference?", etc.
5. Correspondingly, this Person made humanity with the ability to impact his world--for good or ill. So, we have the works of mankind in such far reaching extremes as Charlemagne, Albert Schweitzer, Adolf Hitler, Shakespeare, De Sade, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Florence Nightengale, Lenin, Joan of Arc, Beethoven, Torquemada, Augustine, Genghis Khan, Booker T. Washington, Mao. Man has left his marks on the world-- both good and bad.
6. We have left these marks -- both good and bad -- on everything. We have left them on ourselves (we are able to grow and develop, but we never seem to reach our true potential), on our relationships (we are able to start, maintain, and enjoy personal relationships generally, but they never seem to reach their true potential -- and they take an incredible amount of work just to keep them healthy at all!), on our world (do we need to talk about pollution here?!), and on our relationship to this 'Person' (we often experience estrangement, indifference, or even hostility toward this One--we certainly don't naturally have an enjoyable and vibrant relation with Him, to say the least!).
7. The result of this 'mixed character' of our universe becomes apparent as soon as we try to find some "How Do I get Out of This Mess" data. All we can glean from it about this 'Person' is 1) that there 'is' One; 2) that this Person is complex and at-least-as-personal as we are; and 3) that we are somehow restless and wondering about our place in the universe and in history. It quickly becomes clear that we are not able to 'figure out' how to repair all the relationships, as well as our own characters, to an optimal state.
8. So we need one thing for sure, and one other thing, possibly. We definitely need reliable, clear, and sufficient information on 'what to do.' And...we may need assistance on 'doing it'--whatever 'it' is-- to complete the repair process.
9. Let's start with the information requirements--"reliable, clear, and sufficient." We cannot figure it out from the scant data by ourselves--either individually or in groups. We can form guesses, universities can form 'educated' guesses, and religious groups can come up with 'pious' guesses. The problem is that the opinions come in all sizes, flavors, persuasions, and conclusions! (The history of philosophy, by the way, has shown us repeatedly that starting with the finite, we never get to the infinite!).
10. We are therefore critically dependent on some communication/instruction from the "Person Outside." Socrates put this need quite clearly on his deathbed: "All the wisdom of this world is but a tiny raft upon which we must set sail when we leave this earth. If only there was a firmer foundation upon which to sail, perhaps some divine word."
Or more recently, Sigmund Freud... "The meager satisfaction that man can extract from reality leaves him starving."
11. What would this communication 'look like'? It would have to be in history (for us to have access to it at all), recorded (for us to have access to it regardless of our place in time), linguistic and translatable (for us to have access to it regardless of our language), and in 'everyday' language (for it to have 'more objectivity' than, say, art and for it to be able to talk about global issues--like death, despair, hope, faith, peace, alienation, lack of purpose, self-limitations, forgiveness--as opposed to more 'precise' languages like math or logic with their more restricted vocabularies). It would probably NOT be trusted to simple oral transmission but would be written down and archived as it was communicated. Since it would deal with the 'tough' issues like our moral failures or our post-death experiences, it would probably show up in those areas of life typically called 'religious.' Additionally, it would probably make some bizarre and incredible claims ("this writing is from the Person 'outside' the universe"--as opposed to the wisdom from some meditating monk or something) and would probably offer some evidence or data to support these unusual (to say the least!) claims. If it were motivated by a real concern to communicate important and/or 'urgent' information, it would probably bear an authoritative tone (perhaps even an exclusive one). Finally, a true 'message from this Person' might affect us strongly -- quotations from it may anger our pride, make us very uncomfortable and nervous, or calm our fears.
12. My studies and experiences over the past 25+ years have led me to the inescapable conclusion that just such a communication has occurred--and not just at one point in time but over a period of thousands of years. This Person interfaced into history at a number of points of time and in many varied ways. Much of this communication was written down and we have it in a 'religious' book called the Judeo- Christian Scriptures.
(By the way, it has always fascinated me how people 'evaluate' that Book. The vast majority of people have almost no first-hand knowledge of where it came from, how its transmission was protected, how its historical accuracy has been consistently verified, how alleged 'errors and contradictions' have evaporated over the last six decades of research, and what its basic teachings are. But...too many of these people do not consider it accurate, relevant, in-date, or of value to their search for meaning! It's the old "No, I've never evaluated it carefully or first-hand, but I know it cannot possibly be right!").
13. In rummaging through the many and varied religious "classics" that were candidates for being this communication, I have found this very strange book to differ from the others in numerous ways. First, it claims hundreds and hundreds of times to be the "Word of God." It doesn't soft- pedal this bizarre claim at all. It never claims to be 'a consensus of humanity's most noble and sublime thoughts.' It never claims to be the 'insights' of a religiously privileged character or race. This book is either totally deceptive, totally deranged, or totally divine--there is no third option like 'a very good and insightful book'!
Second, it strikes fear into most people's hearts! Quotations from the Bible abound in great literature, but taken into a religious conversation with a friend, makes us nervous! (Even later in this document, when I cite some data from it, chances are that you, the reader, will respond emotionally to it with either nervousness, nausea, or both--you watch.)
Third, it manifests and offers unique evidence for its 'Other-worldy' origin. This book has hundreds and hundreds of predictions of future events--some general in terms, but many very detailed with places and dates. To the best of scholarly knowledge today, not a single one of these has failed to happen. This is just not your basic human accuracy! It has survived the many major attempts to eradicate it, from the repressive attempts of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) before the times of Jesus to the imperial decrees to burn all copies under Roman emperors. In spite of cultural, economic, and political pressures toward polytheism and syncretism during its writing and collection over centuries and centuries, it maintains a common theme of strict monotheism. It also has an almost confrontational character to it--what you might expect from a perfect 'Person.' It does not 'coddle' us--it calls us to accept responsibility for our personal failures. But it does not overwhelm us with them either. It communicates care and concern for our plight (without being overly melodramatic or compromising its ethical standards), and documents both its provisions for this plight and the steps necessary to 'repair' the situation.
Fourth, and most important of all, its message is radically different than all other literature (including most 'Christian' literature). It agrees, of course, with most other literature on basic tenets of good living (Ten Commandments and Golden Rule kind of stuff), but takes an unique position on the central problem -- our moral failures and their consequences. Other religious classics assert that the basic method of overcoming our moral failures and their consequences in our relationships (with ourselves, other people, the universe, and this 'Person') is by living better lives, doing good deeds, "walking the religious way", keeping some set of rules, doing your best, thinking positively etc. The main message of the Judeo-Christian Scripture is diametrically opposed to this solution (but not opposed to doing those good things, of course.)
14. Given that I have now found a source of data on the problem, what does this Communication say about the issues? (Get the Maalox/Dramamine ready - I'm going to have to cite some passages from this Book!)
15. There is one other issue that comes up here - the old "you can interpret the Bible anyway you want to" issue. -- Sorry to drag you through so much stuff to get to the results, but as my mother would say "you'll thank me for this later." Without minimizing the difficulty of understanding every point, and every subtlety, and every reference in this very substantial book, the basic themes are really easy to access. (This, of course, would probably fit with the entire notion of why this Person would communicate with us -- it certainly wouldn't be communication if it couldn't be understood.) There are a few points to keep in mind on this issue.
FIRST, there are some passages that totally escape me, and there are some passages that are as clear as the nose on my face. There is a world of difference between trying to understand Ezekiel 1:6-10: Each of them had four faces and four wings. And their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf's hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands, As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle-- compared to John 10:10: I (Jesus) have come that people might have life, and have it to the fullest..
Conclusion: It's a simple exercise in self-discipline to stay with the more obvious passages!
SECOND, there are almost always clues in the passage as to what each piece means (this is true for all great literature as well). Parables are explained later, references to earlier figures are amplified, principles are modeled.
THIRD, the science of interpretation of literature (hermeneutics) has a special area for sacred literature. One of the main principles is to note how the original audience responded. For example, if the people of his day wanted to kill Jesus because he claimed to be the "Son of God", that phrase could not just mean "good man" or "Prophet" or "creature of God" or something else -- it had to be 'blasphemous' by their standards, it had to mean something "more than man".
FOURTH, it has been my experience that some people try to 'hide behind' this issue to avoid confronting some important life-issues. This Work is not transparently clear (no serious world-class literature is), but it is much simpler in the basic areas than most people think.]
16. What information can thus be obtained from the 'more obvious' passages dealing with our situation? (I will state the major point as a thesis and cite some of the more direct textual passages from the Bible. Some of the paraphrases and translations are mine.)
Thesis One: This Person has always desired fulfillment, significance, joy, and the real 'meaty' life for us. It is not a life without some pain or without some challenges, but one in which those occur in the context of growth, development, and achievement--leading to fulfillment. We only realize and enjoy these "benefits" when we are in proper relationships with this Person, with ourselves, and with other persons. You have filled my heart with greater joy (Psalm 4.7) You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand (Psalm 16.11) The Lord takes the upright into His confidence (Proverbs 3.32) I am the Lord your God. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it (Psalm 81.10) The fruit of doing and being right will be peace; and its effects will be quietness and confidence (Isaiah 32.17) I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3)
Thesis Two: Due to moral failures and shortcomings, all of us have separated ourselves from these relationships and their consequent benefits. For all have done wrong and fall short of God's perfection (Romans 3:23) But your wrongdoing and moral failures have separated you from your God (Isaiah 59.2) For there is no one who does no evil (2 Chronicles 6.36) No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure (Psalm 101.5) Your eyes are too pure to accept evil (Habakkuk 1.13)
Thesis Three: This separation is experienced now (e.g. broken relationships, hopelessness, disillusionment) and intensifies through time, before and after physical death. In fact, this separation is itself a kind of 'death.' For the inevitable consequence of wrongdoing is death (Romans 6.23) They 'wasted away' in their failures to do right (Psalm 106.43) Evil results in death (Romans 6.16) The one who sows to his 'bad side' shall reap decay and disintegration (Galatians 6.8) Death spread to all men, because all men did wrong (Romans 5.12) The "Second Death" (the Book of Revelation) You have brought harm to yourselves (Jeremiah 24.7)
Thesis Four: This separation has become part of who we are, and what we do. Any efforts of ours to 'repair' these relationships cannot succeed in restoring the original relationships. We are just not 'big enough' and 'good enough' to undo the damage. The trouble he causes recoils upon himself (Proverbs 7.16) Neither can you perform perfectly pure acts, you who are accustomed to doing wrong or omitting to do right (Jeremiah 13.23) The arrogance of your heart has deceived you (Jeremiah 49.16) Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God (Hosea 5.4)
Thesis Five: If these relationships, especially the foundational one with the Person, is to be 'repaired/restored' it must be done by Him. There are no other options. No man can buy back from death the life of another or give to God a ransom for him--the ransom of a life is costly, no payment is ever enough (Psalm 49.7) When we were completely powerless due to our moral failures... (Ephesians 2.5) Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men! (Isaiah 29.13) It is the gift from God (Ephesians 2.9)
Thesis Six: He doesn't have to intervene at all, but chooses to (this reveals something of His character in the process, by the way). He gave us life, to show the splendor of His gentle kindness (Ephesians 2.5,7) But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us (Ephesians 2.4) We are not consumed, because of His compassion (Lamentations 3.22) For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son...(John 3.16)
Thesis Seven: This 'bridging' between God and Man must do just that--it must join together in significant relationship two complete parties: God and man. In other words, the integrity of three things must be maintained in the transaction (who God is, who man is, what the separation is).
Thesis Eight: His 'solution' to this is take the 'separation' onto Himself, and graft us into another pre-existing 'relationship.'
Thesis Nine: The way this worked out in history is a bit strange (logical, but strange).
A. God the Father has an eternal son, outside of space and time, who shares His nature. Father, honor me in Your presence with the honor I had with you before the world began (John 17.5) Jesus answered "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8.58)
B. This Son has an eternal relationship with the Father that cannot be severed (due to the shared nature). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1.1,14) I and the Father are one (John 10.30) The Father is in me, and I am in the Father (John 10.38; 14.10)
. This Son volunteers (and the Father allows it) to enter the universe and take on the nature and form of a human (in addition to his Other nature) and took the name Jesus, in order to re-unite us with 'life'. I have come that they may have life, and they may have it to the fullest (John 10.10) The Son came to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20.28) Christ existed in the form of God, took on the nature of a servant, and was made into the likeness of man (Philippians 2.5-8) The Son came to find and reclaim that which was lost (Luke 19.10)
D. This Son demonstrates a 'strangeness' similar to that of the Bible. He made exorbitant claims (the natives tried to kill him on numerous occasions), echoed the perspectives of the Communication, showed compassion but did not excuse wrongdoing, and demonstrated a life well 'beyond Man.' (For example, his closest friends lived with Him day and night for 3 years, yet testified that He lived a morally perfect life in every detail!--Imagine what our friends would say about us.) Like the Scripture, we do not have the option of labeling him simply a Prophet or 'good man' or a 'great teacher.' He was either Liar, Lunatic, or Lord! For this reason, therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath [by healing people!], but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5.18)
E. This Son-on-earth takes upon Himself our 'separation' (in a public execution known as crucifixion). God made Christ, who lived a morally perfect life, to 'be' evil for us, so that we might 'be' moral 'right-ness' in Him (2 Corinthians 5.21) And He himself bore our wrongdoings in His body on the Cross... (I Peter 2.24) For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us back to God (I Peter 3.18) This is really love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our wrongdoing (I John 4.10)
F. He did not stay dead (His eternal relationship with the Father produced a resurrection) and He opened up the possibility of 'grafting' us into His eternal relationship with the Father. God raised Him from the dead, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him (Acts 2.24) You killed the Author of life, but God raised him from the dead (Acts 3.15)
G. This allows the Father to not compromise His integrity concerning the separation, and delivers the full consequences of the separation in history (on His Son). He did it [separated Himself from His Son on the Cross] to demonstrate his justice , so as to be just even when announcing that those who have a trust relationship with His Son are now morally correct before Him (Romans 3.26) My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (Mark 15.34)
[By the way, all of this was promised and described in detail over a 3,000-4,000 year period, just so we wouldn't miss it! There were between 100-200 predictions about the entrance of the Son into History--His birthplace, time, circumstances, early residences, characteristics, death, purpose, etc.]
Thesis Ten: The last piece of the puzzle is us. We must enter this relationship as persons, with the first personal act of any positive relationship -- trust. He may get the information to us through literature like this, 'harass' us by sending others of His followers, or drive us to Himself through emptiness or pain, but we must make a personal choice to trust him. We must affirm Who-He-was (the God who took on human flesh) and What-He-did (bore the full consequences our our moral failures in our place).
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul shall live (Isaiah 55.3)
Through faith in Him [Jesus] we may approach God with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3.12)
To everyone who welcomed Him by trusting in who He was and what He did, he granted the right to relate to God as intimate children [and not just creatures or citizens or whatever] (John 1.12)
For God loved this world so much that He gave His unique Son, that whoever trusted in that Son would not experience the final consummation of death in all its forms and degrees, but rather have that life which is characterized by stability, fullness, and eternity (John 3.16)
Thesis Eleven: Once we have understood this and made a conscious choice to depend upon His work to 'bridge the gap,' He then fulfills His commitment by grafting us into His relation with the Father, and beginning the 'benefit stream' to us.
Taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34.8)
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love to those who honor and relate to Him as God (Psalm 103.11)
You will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in Me will not be disappointed (Isaiah 49.23)
He who has the Son has real life and he who doesn't have the Son doesn't have real life (I John 5.12)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation--the old is gone, the new is here! (II Corinthians 5.17)
(It is critically important to understand that this is a personal relationship of trust that we enter into. We trust a Person, because of who He is and what He did. We do not trust an "im-person"--we do not trust our 'trust' or our 'church involvement' or our 'good deeds' or 'good intentions' or volunteer work or donations or 'prayers' or 'positive thinking' or anything less than the God-who-did-His-work-on-earth.' Remember, it is not our 'trust' that grafts us into a new relationship, but the Son.)
Thesis Twelve: You must stop reading this, and make your decision now! (Get nervous now-- I'm going for the close!) If this makes sense to you, it should make even more sense for you to overcome all natural hesitancies and reluctance and uncertainties (they will always be around) and DO IT NOW! It's pitifully simple to do. Simply tell God in your own words that you choose to trust in His Son and in His work to repair the relationship. Don't worry about 'feeling sincere enough' -- we never do. (That's part of our separation from ourselves.) Just tell Him something like this: "God, I am not sure of what all I am doing, but I do choose to trust your Son Jesus to heal our relationship. I believe that He was God who took on flesh like mine, and that He took my guilt and its consequence upon Himself, so I would not have to in the future. Thanks for making it so simple and easy."
(Go ahead, do it now, I'll wait for you...Dum, dum, dum, de dum...Finished? No? Trust me, do it now, I'll wait a little longer--look back at the prayer...Dum, dum, dum, de dum...)
If you did that just then, remember again it's not a prayer or these remarks that graft, it's the Person to whom the remarks are made.
If you have taken this 'step' and made this movement toward God, starting a relationship with Him based upon His efforts, then His favorable attention is upon you as you read this. Consider I John 5.13: These things I have written to you that have put your confidence in the Person and Work of the Son of God, in order that you may have full assurance that you have began a new life that will grow and deepen for all eternity.
So, relax...that issue is now settled--the relationship is created, is eternal, based on that simple act of personal trust (simple, wasn't it?). You have just changed the universe somewhat. The issue now is how to develop this relationship, in order to reach the full potential of your life.
What can you expect now? Like beginning most other personal relationships, you will probably not feel a rush of ecstasy or an emotional "high." God is very quiet in His dealings with man but He is very thorough...He will pursue your good in every area of your life. You will also probably experience a chaos of feelings, thoughts, impressions, doubts, etc. The Scripture uses that peculiar phrase 'new birth' to describe the change that occurred in your life a moment ago. As a 'new life' is generally unfocused, inarticulate, and confused (like infants) so it will take a little while for 'it all to make sense' or for the patterns to become recognizable. And the obvious next step is not even a step at all--it's simply slow growth, as the benefits of this new relationship begin to show up in various areas of your life. You will see some new influences, perspectives, feelings and thoughts in some areas almost immediately--others may take years or even decades.
But, as in all new relationships, you will need two things: information and interaction. You can get a tremendous amount of information about Him from His Communication, obviously, but there are other sources of data that are important as well. This 'other data' basically comes from interaction with Him and with His 'social circle.'
You will want to make a habit of talking about everything to Him. (It will seem very strange at first, but will become the richest personal experience of your life later!) Ask about this, complain about that, thank Him for these, admit ignorance about whatever, beg Him for that, cry to Him about the pain, pour out your frustrations, open up your fears--everything and anything makes sense in that relationship. As God (in all that this name really means), He knows you so much better than you could ever know yourself--and He knows what will fill your life with richness and fulness and joy and contentment.
Also, please, please, please...remember, relationships require investments of time. (This one takes less, due to the simple fact that He never, ever misunderstands you--He is always patient, firm, wise, kind, gentle, smiling, accepting, and 'on your side' -- but it is impossible to manipulate Him!)
Just as you need to discuss your interests, ambitions, concerns, etc. with Him, you should begin to ask Him about His: what does He care about most in the Universe, what is His view on this event or movement or person? I probably don't need to tell you to not expect an audible reply to such questions, but believe me, He is more that competent enough to make His answers known in your life and experience.
You can also learn a lot about Him from His 'social circles.' Others that have had this relationship for longer than you can function as 'older brothers or sisters' in sharing what they know. Leverage this! (Make sure you get the right crowd, though. You want people who are into 'the relationship,' not into 'religion.' Christianity, not Church-anity.
The next 72 hours will probably be seriously strange! You may feel very silly, very stupid, wonder where your sanity went while you read this booklet(!). You may have negative emotional, personal, or professional experiences that you will be tempted to 'blame' on your decision!
The basic reason for this is our mixed character and how 'both sides' are responding to this decision. What I recommend is to take your feelings with a 'grain of salt' for 72 hours, while reading certain Scripture (not religious literature) as much as possible. I suggest you borrow or buy a modern translation Bible (New International Version or New American Standard) and read the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, and Titus. (You can find the page numbers in the Table of Contents -- all Bibles have one.) Read them over and over until the 'strangeness' wears off. (Again, if you cannot find one, write me and I will send you a paperback one.)
I know it must seem a bit bizarre for me to assert that your life is beginning to change even as you read this. You will start to see new influences, see old things in a new light, have a heightened sense of moral struggle, notice things you never noticed before, find new strength and vision in your life. Friend, it goes on forever like this--forever growing, getting better, stronger, kinder, more gentle, firmer, wiser--more like Him with each new experience (even failures will now play their part in sculpting our characters and destiny--previous failures may have served only to open us up to considering this relationship with God).
I know it sounds terribly trite, but it is the most subtle of wild adventures you can imagine. Write me, if you will, so I can mark the date down...and I'll call you in ten years and you tell me if I wasn't right!
Also, if you do have any questions or need to know of special resources, please feel free to write me and I will respond, by post or phone. There will be a lifetime of questions ahead, many of which are discussed at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/. And after the 72 hours are up, make a copy of this little paper and give it to a friend...and maybe change the universe again.
If you are reading this, then I'm going to assume that you have put your confidence in Jesus Christ as the God who took on flesh and who traded places with us (during His death on the Cross) when God judged and punished our wrongdoings...and that, accordingly, you are related to God in a new way--not as creatures, or as merely citizens---but as "children" (we'll see what that means as we go along).
What we need to do now is to look at four things: 1) what is the character of your new relationship with the living God, 2) what can you expect to happen in your life now, 3) why should you go forward from here in a relationship with God, and 4) what specific attitudes and actions can you initiate to cultivate this relationship, to nurture it, and to develop it to its fullest expression in your life? (We will also look at some of the personal and relational benefits of doing this.)
Your New Relationship to God - What is it?
The most concise statement I can find in the Bible to characterize your new relationship to the Living God is in Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, since we have been declared guiltless through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
There are several important points to notice about this information. First, we are legally guiltless before God (remember, Jesus bore our guilt in our place). It doesn't mean we have not sinned, nor that we will not sin in the future. It means that God doesn't 'charge that sin to our account'; instead it was 'charged' to Christ's account. (2 Corinthians 5:19: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.") The consequence is that we need not worry about ever being separated from God again.
Second, we have peace with God. Because we are legally guiltless, God is at peace with us. He is not hostile, or aloof, or angry, or resentful, or bitter, or judgmental. His heart is at peace with us. We are accepted by Him. The relationship is not characterized by tension or uneasiness (at least not from His side--you may be a little uncomfortable at first, but it will pass as you begin to realize the depth of His loving acceptance of who you are).
Third, we 'stand in grace.' Now, grace is a very strange word to the modern world. It actually has a basic meaning of 'undeserved or unearned favor, as a kindness-gift.' The concept is a very active one (unlike 'peace' which is a more passive word). This 'favor' smiles at us, acts on our behalf in history, forms the basis for all of our dealings with our God. It is undeserved in that we could never earn or deserve God's active, positive involvement in our lives, for our good and welfare. It has a warm connotation to it, of kindness and tenderness and loving and gentleness and hearty friendship. It is not a legal term, like 'peace' or 'forgiveness.' It's not like 'doing someone a favor' but rather 'she was favored with beauty and wit, from childhood.' The consequence of this is that we are in a spotlight of God's positive workings in history. We have been singled out as targets for His good and kind working. (You and I will spend many, many millennia exploring this grace...and never fathom the bottom of it!)
The net result of these three pieces (guiltless, at peace, a standing in grace) is a firm relationship with the God of the universe: "In Him (Christ) and through faith in him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (Ephesians 3:12)
We can approach God! Without being blown away?! With 'confidence' approach the One of whom "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" Incredible! "With freedom and confidence"--such are the awesome results of the work of His Son! The bedrock of our relationship is this access to God.
What Can You Expect Now?
Like beginning most other personal relationships, you will probably not feel a rush of ecstasy or an emotional "high." God is generally very quiet in His dealings with man but He is very thorough...He will pursue your good in every area of your life. You will also probably experience a chaos of feelings, thoughts, impressions, doubts, etc. The Scripture uses that peculiar phrase 'new birth' to describe the change that occurred in your life when you put your confidence in Christ. As a 'new life' is generally unfocused, inarticulate, and confused (like infants) so it will take a little while for 'it all to make sense' or for the patterns to become recognizable. And the obvious next step is not even a step at all--it's simply slow growth, as the benefits of this new relationship begin to show up in various areas of your life. You will see some new influences, perspectives, feelings and thoughts in some areas almost immediately--others may take years or even decades.
But, as in all new relationships, you will need two things: information and interaction. You can get a tremendous amount of information about Him from His Communication, obviously, but there are other sources of data that are important as well. This 'other data' basically comes from interaction with Him and with His 'social circle.'
The first few days of this new relationship can be seriously strange! You may feel very silly, very stupid, wonder where your sanity went while you made a 'religious decision!' You may even have negative emotional, personal, or professional experiences that you will be tempted to 'blame' on your decision!
The basic reason for this is our mixed character and how 'both sides of us' are responding to this decision. What I recommend is to take your feelings with a 'grain of salt' for a few days, while you start on the action items in the section "How to Go Forward From Here...".
At the moment you first put your faith in Christ, something actually changed inside you. The Scripture is very specific in saying that God created a new influence inside you: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17) "And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Colossians 3:10)
(This is also called the New Birth ("born again") and the New Man--we'll discuss what actually transpired in creating that 'new influence' in a later booklet.)
What this means to you now is that you will experience a more active conscience in day-to-day events, due to this 'influence.' You will develop a heightened sense of right and wrong, although the things you think are wrong might not be so. (Our consciences are not perfect--they were developed during childhood without any serious Quality Control programs! Under God's tutelage over the decades, they will get better, more sensitive, and more accurate. But for now, they will just become more active.)
This influence will prove to be an extremely valuable asset down the road.
Why Go Forward From Here...
"For the natural output of the work of God's Spirit in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control" (Galatians 5:22,23)
"The fruit of doing and being right will be peace; and its effects will be quietness and confidence" (Isaiah 32:17)
Think what our lives, our relationships, our fulfillment, our sense of significance would be like if these qualities filled our lives! Need we say more?!
How to Go Forward From Here
OK. So, we have this spiritual influence somewhere in us, producing a new 'self' that needs to grow and develop. How can we, as spiritual 'newborns,' grow and develop into healthy and robust people? Answer: in the same way physical infants do--they eat, wiggle, and watch! That's all they ever do! And yet...they grow, learn language, develop complex reasoning skills, etc. They all started by eating, wiggling (exercising), and watching.
The scripture also approaches it from the same model. Consider these passages:
Eat: "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your deliverance from evil's destructive effects" (1 Peter 2:2)
Wiggle: "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not familiar with the basics of right living. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:13-14)
Watch: "We with open faces, all contemplate the Lord's glorious character, are being transformed into his likeness" (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Let's Talk About Eating. In the life of a physical infant, the first six months are the most critical in its life--the formative months. Likewise, it is critically important to your success in this endeavor to consume as much of God's communication to man as possible during your first weeks and months. You need to get a good translation Bible, read the easiest-to-digest-books, and begin interacting with it.
A Good Translation. I recommend the NIV (New International Version) or NAS (New American Standard). Both are accurate and easy-to-read for English-speaking readers. For the first several months you will need at least the New Testament, the Psalms (in the Old Testament) and Proverbs (in the Old Testament)--if you can't afford an entire Bible. [If you honestly cannot even afford a New Testament etc., write me and I'll send you one.]
The Easiest-to-Digest Books. The Bible is a wonderfully complex and panoramic work of God, done through many authors, through many centuries, and through many ways. Much of the scripture deals with God's special relationship with historic Israel; a smaller portion deals directly with believers today. All of it is profitable for us to pay attention to, but the easiest to 'process' quickly is that part written by those sent out from Jesus to the whole world--the Apostles. I recommend for 'mass consumption' that you read the New Testament "epistles" first (the books from Romans through Jude--just look in the Bible's table of contents), then the Psalms, and then the Proverbs. Then repeat the process as much, and as often as you can. The first time through, read for speed and 'immersion'--the second and subsequent times, read with interaction.
Begin Interacting with It. This is the easy part, because it means keeping a log of the things you don't understand, the things you disagree with (!), and the things that really 'nail you.' I use a spiral-type notebook with 4 columns: date, scripture passage address, the question/ issue/ message, and one for later answers. As you read the Bible, make entries in this log. At the end of each reading session, read them out loud to God and ask for Him to guide you into the answers. Some answers will come in days, some in weeks, some in years, some in decades, and maybe even some only after death. But you will be amazed over time how faithful God is to those who seek the truth. Remember, the God of Truth is not afraid of our questions!
As you read through a passage, feel free to mark it up with a good pen. Circle words that are repeated often, draw lines between phrases that are related, and especially note the connective words (e.g. for, in, through, because, therefore, in order that, so that, without, unless, if-then) and try to understand why they are there. Constantly ask God to show you the 'so what' and 'what now' implications of each passage. Note these as action items to do or concepts to think about. This will form an important skill set for the rest of your earthly life.
Once you have gone through the process about four or five times, you can develop a steady 'diet' at a steady pace. The Psalms have 150 chapters (5 per day for a month, but do the long Psalm 119 separately). There are 31 chapters in Proverbs (one per day, right?!). There are 44 chapters in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians (a subset of the New Testament Epistles), or one and a-half chapters per day. (At some point you will want to get a "One Year Bible" with the entire Bible divided into daily readings. My kids and I really enjoy having it in 'bite-size chunks.')
The New Testament Epistles will contain important information as to what resources are available to you, what hidden elements exist in our worldview, what attitudes you can expect to develop, and what major challenges will confront you as you make progress. The Proverbs will teach you to be practical, shrewd (in a positive sense), and to learn from other peoples' mistakes rather than your own! The Psalms will teach you to carry every problem, every worry, every success, every failure, every positive and negative emotion to the Lord in prayer. You will see your life completely reflected in the experiences of the writer. It's incredible--every situation I can think of in life: elation, treachery, rejection, envy, promotion, etc., can be found in this book of the Bible. It will become a major, major source of comfort, strength, and even companionship in a sense, as you began to work this new life out into your experience.
A Starter-Kit on How to Study the Bible. There are many excellent books that can help you learn to study the Bible effectively. [For example, two I recommend are Living by the Book by Hendricks and Hendricks (Moody Press, 1991) and Dynamic Personal Bible Study by Barber (Loizeaux Brothers, 1981)]. But let me give you a 'five-minute' starter-kit for your first use. The basic method is two-fold: answer the "W"-questions and then construct a word-by-word 'test' for students. The "W"-questions are simple--we learned these back in elementary school. Read the passage and answer the basics: who, what, where, how, when, why, why not, wherefore, and 'so what?' These are especially useful for historical passages such as the Gospels, Acts, and much of the Old Testament. Often you will need to construct the questions in more detail, such as in the account of the Widow's Offering in Luke 21:1-4: As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on ."
Let's list all the "W"-questions we can come up with. (We may not have enough data to answer them from the passage or from the surrounding context, but the exercise of asking will make us more sensitive to the details of the story.) Who was watching? Who was being watched? Who else? Who does Jesus say this to? What did the widow do? What were the copper coins worth? Where did this take place? When in Jesus' life did this occur? When in the day and in which month? How many coins did the widow put in? Why did the widow give all she had? Why did Jesus point this out? What is the basic message of the story? So what does that mean to me, concerning my attitude toward any gifts I give to the Lord's work?
The second part is to build a word-for-word 'test' from the passage. This works especially well on paragraph-sized chunks from the New Testament Epistles. Look at Ephesians 5:1. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children
What we do now is to pretend we are a teacher designing a 'comprehension test' to build skills in our students. We will try to make a question out of each word in the passage. Examples: Is "be" a command word? What are we supposed to be? Who are we supposed to imitate? What is the 'therefore' referring to (you have to check the context for this question) What kind of imitation are we to do? (as children or as actors, etc.) Do we imitate as estranged children or as loved children? Are we just creatures (or children)? Are we just regular children (or loved children)? Are we just regularly-loved children (or dearly loved)?
In this process of asking questions of the passage, you will begin to notice details and connections that will be used of God over time in bringing you to fulfillment.
Let's Talk about Wiggling. Wiggling in the life of an infant is fascinating to watch and to think about. They are subtly obeying an ancient, in-built command of God to 'subdue the earth and rule over it' (Genesis 1-2). The first part of the 'earth' an infant has to rule is his or her little body. The wiggling is simply 'practicing until you get it right.' For people just beginning to grow in their spiritual life, this amounts to practicing the basics of a personal relationship with the Father, without understanding all of how it works, or where it's going, or even how it's possible. It's learning how to talk to God, how to 'look for' God in the day-to-day, how to develop spiritual skills.
The most important one of these skills to develop quickly is that of prayer, or talking to God.
What does one talk to God about, actually? Let's look at some examples and instructions from the Scripture. "I pour out my complaint before Him; before Him I tell my trouble" (Psalm 142.2) "You are my God, and I will give you thanks." (Psalm 118.28) "Cast all your anxiety on him, because He cares for you"(I Peter 5:7) "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not hide my evil. I said 'I will confess my wrongdoing to the Lord'--and You forgave the guilt of my sin.'" (Psalm 32.5) "Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition (while giving thanks), present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6)
We see everything from complaining to thanking, confession to requesting...all from a child to the Father. Anything is fair game! It's an open, honest relationship ("access with freedom and confidence" remember?). Let's look a little closer at each of these.
Complaining. As long as it's done in respect, complaining is on-target. Throughout the scripture, God's people often complained of sickness, political and military enemies, domestic problems, financial woes, love troubles, persecution, rejection, betrayal, misjudgment, 'bad luck', and the seeming inequities in life. It was all done respectfully, as a child might ask a Father to help him out with a local bully or a onerous math assignment or a frustrating social situation. "Pour out your heart to him at all times" -- the image of a hot, steaming, bubbling cauldron of trouble (does this describe your life ever?) poured out on the ground before the Lord for inspection! (Psalm 62.8) Nothing is too big or small, but do it often and with awe (remember Who you're talking too).
Thanks. This is so essential to a joyous life. If God were just a cold creator who made us just to 'show off' His power, then our fundamental relationship to Him would be obedience. But...God created us to 'show off' His kindness(!), and our fundamental relationship is to be that of thankfulness! (Not a bad deal for us, eh?!) The Bible talks about thanks over 150 times! Compare Psalm 50:23: "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the deliverance of God."
Our dear Father focuses on the heart that gives thanks, and He delights in involving Himself in that life ("show him the deliverance of God"!)
But giving thanks is not just a 'feeling good' experience. The scripture is clear that we are to thank God (in an attitude of trusting Him) for everything in our lives, even the unpleasant, the debilitating, and the difficult. "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (I Thess 5:18)
We'll see later that nothing happens by accident in the life of one of God's children, but that everything is somehow calculated to produce a stronger character, a more gentle and kinder spirit, a wiser and more gracious heart, a more committed will, and a greater potential for enjoyment and significance. (We just don't know very often how it all fits together, on this side of death!) To see how clear the scripture is on this, look up and study (using the above techniques) James 1:2-4; Isaiah 48:10; I Peter 1:7.
Sometimes the difficulties are 'spankings' to keep us from playing with the stovetop: "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Sometimes the hardships are more like an obstacle course or a difficult exercise regimen: "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)
There are other reasons for hardships in the lives of His children, but in any event, GIVE THANKS! He knows so much more about us and what we really need, than we ever possibly could--trust Him!
The Psalmist knew this well: "It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your laws" (Psalm 119:71)
Confession. (Sounds threatening, doesn't it--but it shouldn't be if you understand what's going on when you do it...) Confession between a child and his father is nothing more than a reverse "I told you so"--a "You told me so". Confession in the Bible literally means "to say the same thing as"--to agree with. When we do wrong, we simply tell God that we did wrong, and that the wrong was destructive (like He told us). It's not a matter of 'whipping up enough sorrow' or some weirdness like that --it is a matter of 'whipping up some honesty' about the wrongdoing. It's being honest that this sin has no place in our lives, that it always further complicates matters(!), that its pleasure is outweighed by its consequences and cost, and that it took the death of Jesus Christ to cover its legal penalty.
You see, when someone in the universe does evil, there are always two aspects--the legal and the natural. The legal is the 'justice' part of it; the natural is the 'damages' part of it. When a murderer kills someone, there are legal results (he is guilty and should be punished accordingly) and there are natural results (a person is dead). The legal results can be 'undone' (he may be pardoned), but the natural results are almost never 100% reversible (the person does not come back to life).
When a believer sins, there are only natural consequences, because the legal aspects were taken care of by Christ on the cross. He took our legal consequences in full. The result is that when a child of God sins, what needs to be dealt with are the destructive forces unleashed by that act.
These destructive forces have two directions in which they move--internal within ourselves--and external--into our relationships with others. The internal damages typically show up in weaker wills, more prone to 'sin again' in the future, decreasing sensitivity to the real horror of sin, complacency, compromise, etc. The external damages vary considerably: mistrust, rejection, rebellion, apathy, hostility, damaged reputations, etc.
The cure for the internal is very easy--I John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all moral blemishes"
Notice that it's 'confess', not 'agonize over' or 'confess over and over again' or anything like that. It is a simple Father-child conversation: "I did X, and I agree with you that it was wrong. Stop the damages in my life--don't let it weaken/overpower me. And show me how to minimize the damages in the lives of others. Thanks you for taking care of the legal aspects through the death of your Son Jesus."
The external consequences, if reversible at all, must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Scripture gives several examples of what might be needed to fix the outside results: restoration of property with penalty, public apology to someone, a gift, etc.
The critical element in confession is to deal with wrongdoing quickly! When you sin, don't let it work for a long time like yeast. Stop the internal weakening (through confession to God) as quickly as possible. And then...start the strengthening spiral again (eating and watching).
Requesting. This is what most people think about when they think of prayer--approaching God with a grocery list of things they want to have. But the scripture paints a much richer and warmer picture of what we are to pray for. We ask God for our daily necessities, like food and clothing. (Matthew 6:6) We ask God to guide our governments. (I Timothy 2:1-2) We pray for those who have not trusted Christ as their substitute. (Romans 10:1) Pray that you won't be put into morally awkward situations (Matthew 26:41) Pray for health (James 5:16; 3 John 1:2) Pray for people to know God better. (Ephesians 1.17) Pray for other believers to share their faith more (Philemon 1:6) Pray for anything you might worry about! (Philippians 4:6) Pray for your enemies. (Matthew 5:44)
And many, many more...But can He meet those needs, if it makes sense for our true welfare? "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or even imagine..." (Ephesians 3:20). Does that clear it up?!
The issue is never can He, but will He. Many of our requests will be answered "no," but not because He cannot do them. Answers of "No" can be because it is simply not in His best plan for our lives (2 Corinthians 12:8, Exodus 33:20). And sometimes a "No" only means "Not Yet." But a definite "Absolutely Not" is most often due to our failures to approach the matter correctly. Use your Bible study skills and look at these passages: I Samuel 14:37; Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 1:28; Proverbs 21:13; Proverbs 28:9; Micah 3:4; Zechariah 7:13; James 4:3. You'll find reasons like selfishness, or apathy toward His communication, or stubbornness--things that interfere with all personal relationships and communication.
One thing I have learned over the years is that God delights in showing His children how faithful, loyal, kind, and active He is. The people of Israel kept a record of God's special intervention in their history and celebrated it in church regularly. I have used a similar approach for the last 20 years -- the "I ask, He answers" Log. What you do is get a notebook or 3-ring binder. You take some notebook paper and draw a line down the middle. Then label the left side at the top "I Ask" (or "We Ask" if you do this as a family) and the right side "He Answers." Then, over the years, you record your requests (with the date) on the left side, and as He answers them (even with "No's") you make the entry on the right. This "Audit Trail of Grace" can be used at special times of thanksgiving and honor to reflect upon His demonstrated and active involvement in our lives. It will also encourage you in dark times. Whenever I get overwhelmed by a problem in the family or at work, I simply go back in the Logbook to the last jam He got me through--and I calm down a little, and trust Him a little more! If you do this, make the entries as specific and measurable as possible ('3 Christian books read by Christmas' vs. 'More Reading'). Some answers will come in days, some in months, some in decades--but the steady stream always continues!
Another thing I have to do sometimes (when the challenges I face either are too numerous or too powerful) is to 'cast them' upon the Lord. I Peter 5:7 says "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." I use a technique of doing this that probably originated with a Jewish king in 700 B.C. Israel was being attacked from the east by an overwhelming army (the "hopeless battle against impossible odds" kind of army) and the enemy commander writes a letter telling what destruction he is about to do to Jerusalem, how the people should not trust God, how other nations' gods did not deliver them. Talk about anxiety! But King Hezekiah 'turned it over' to God: "Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord..."
He basically took his 'anxiety list' and laid it out before God. In today's world, we can do something very similar. I remember the first time someone showed me how to do this. You simply take a sheet of paper and list on one side everything you worry about--big, little, immediate, in the future, etc. And then you 'spread it out before the Lord' -- you write "I Peter 5:7" and then the verse in big bold letters on top of the worry list. Then tear it to little shreds. You 'cast them' upon Him, because He cares for you. Talk to him about the worries, how they got there, specifically what it is you fear the most, what are the possible outcomes that you can think of (He can think of more, in most cases!). Lift the bills up to Him, the grades, the medical report, the eviction notice, the pink-slip, the IRS notice, the legal document, the orders to move, the 'downsized' headcount number for your department. I use this often and I have two phrases I consistently say: "See this, Lord?" and "HELP!" (He's your Father, remember--and a good one at that).
Committing. This is one surprisingly few people do (and often their results show it ). Proverbs 16:3 says "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."
This 'commit' means something different than the 'commit' in 'commit sin.' In this case it means to 'entrust.' We formulate our plans, goals, targets, etc. and then 'entrust' them to God to "see them through." We entrust the plans--they are still our plans--to God. We then, with a calm confidence in His Omni-Competence, diligently proceed with the work. This promise guarantees us success (assuming that we have picked a worthy goal, of course).
I need to digress here for a moment and deal with an issue. What I basically said above was to "entrust it to the Lord" and then to 'get busy doing it.' And when the success comes, there are skeptics who will say that it was 'you and not the Lord' that made it happen. This is a rather naive position to take on any significant set of plans. The number of things that can go wrong (outside of the plan itself) is astronomically high: power outages, deaths in the family, sickness, changed economic situations, natural disasters, memory slips, transcription errors, traffic jams, priority shuffles--tons and tons of variables are caught up in every thing we set out to do. (How He invisibly orchestrates these things in history, I will not know for probably another 30-40 years, if then, but He just does it.) When I finish a big project at the office, I give thanks!
This also applies to goals. I do 6 month, 1 year, and 3 year goals. And I write them up while talking to God. At the end, when I have asked Him for sensitivity to His priority scheme, I write Proverbs 16:3 on the top of the sheet. I save these in a file folder, for later reflection and appreciation of His working behind-the-scenes.
There is one other 'wiggling' habit that is a good one to develop--a 'quiet time.' This is a period of time set apart for spending one-on-one with God, in a very quiet setting. Most people set aside a few minutes in the morning before their day 'cranks up the volume' to talk to God, give thanks, plan the day out before Him in prayer, and read His word. Other people prefer bedtime for this, focusing on the next day. It makes no difference--the issue is daily (or as close as you can come to it). It is important to get as isolated as possible to concentrate on Him, His goodness, His directives for your life, and to pay attention to the scripture with as little distraction as possible. Their is no magic formula or set agenda for this (remember, it's a relationship not a religion!), but most people find it helpful to start with confession, then go to thanks, then to Bible study, on to 'requesting', and finally to planning the day while praying about it. Some people can do this in 10-15 minutes; others take 1-2 hours! Make sure you start with something that is reasonable for you!
Let's Talk About Watching. It's really fascinating to watch babies grow up. As their little personalities begin to unfold, mannerisms and characteristics of Mom and Dad (good, bad, and indifferent!) begin to show up. They are imitative by nature, and they imitate what they see Mommy do, big brother do, the TV character do, etc. If their parents are always angry around them, guess what they grow up to be like. If their parents are always gentle around them, guess what they grow up to be like. We are built to become like those we interact significantly with.
(There is a reason for this. Without getting too far into theology, the human race is patterned after the Trinity. There is one God and He has three separate personalities: The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit. They all 'look' identical. How many times did Jesus say things like "He who has seen Me has seen the Father.?" Plenty. The human race was created in that 'plural' image. We are different persons, united by a common nature. As such, we tend to 'gravitate' to becoming like the other 'persons' with that nature--after the model of the Trinity. Babies are very quick at this, but everyone is subject to these influences.)
The Scripture points out that this imitation can be for good or bad: "He who walks with the wise will grow wise" (Proverbs 13:20) "Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared." (Proverbs 22:24-25) "Bad company corrupts good character" (I Corinthians 15:33)
The message is clear: to grow more like our Father, we have to "watch Him" more. We have to 'hang out' with Him in the garage, go to the store with Him, listen to Him tell His stories, think about His comments on the news, and on and on...we need to look at Him and watch Him.
OK. How do we 'watch' God?
The first answer is both easy and obvious. We pay attention to the Bible--what it tells us about God. What does He like? What does He hate? What does He love most in the universe? Why does He do some things and not others? Why does He work in our lives at the rate He does? What characteristic of God is prominent in this passage? Ask every passage "what are you telling me about my Father?"
The second answer takes time for people to develop, but start practising now. It is seeing His work in the events and circumstances of your life. (This is called Providence.) You may have already seen His work in however you came to trust His Son and start the relationship with him. Make a habit of going over each day and asking Him to show you His working. At first it may be difficult to see any patterns, but over the years you will begin to see unmistakable 'fingerprints' in the "statistically improbable" circumstances of your life. Write them down.
The third answer is obvious, but may not be easy--depending on your personal situation. It is to watch Him in the lives of others who have grown to be like Him. Just as a younger kid can learn from an older sister what Mom is like, so also can we see the Lord in the lives of mature and solid followers of our Lord. We can see their gentleness, kindness, and firmness. We can see them forgive others and bear witness in difficult circumstances. We can see the image of the Father as reflected in their lives.
The reason this can be difficult at this stage is that finding these individuals may be hard. You may not have enough data or experience yet to distinguish between the 'wheat and the chaff.' There are many people who do religious things (some very impressive--cf. Matthew 7:22,23!) but who do not know God. Indeed, there is much material in the New Testament letters devoted to helping Christians distinguish between good and bad leaders.
The fastest way to do this from scratch is through the local church. I always start at the Yellow Pages under "Independent, Non-denominational" (I'm just more familiar with that 'brand' than with the mainline denominations). Then pick the 5-8 closest to you and call and ask them to send you their doctrinal statement ("what our church believes..."). When you get these, weed out those that don't talk much about Jesus paying for sin, or about the Bible being God's truthful Word. If the statement talks more about the Holy Spirit than about Jesus, dismiss it as well (John 15:26; 16:14). [If you cannot find anything, write me with your area and zip-code and I'll try to send you some names/numbers.]
At this point you are ready to visit the churches. I recommend 'scanning the crowd' before you actually go in. If a good number of the people are carrying Bibles into the church, it's a good sign--the preacher may be Bible-centered. [Some churches keep bibles inside the church, though, so just because no one IS carrying a bible, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are not bible-centered.] If they don't use/interact with the Bible in the service (e.g. bibles in the pews, or significant bible reading sections in the bulletin/service)--don't waste your time--try another one.
If you do attend the church service, and it seems to line up with what you know to be the case (and hopefully the preacher showed you in the Bible), then you are ready for the next step. At this point, you want to find an elder, deacon, pastor, or usher and ask them this question: "I'm a new believer and I'm looking for a lay person in your church here to help me learn to share my faith and witness. Can you recommend a church member who regularly leads people to Christ?"
You may have to ask two or three of these 'officials' to be sure, but if nobody knows even one, give it up--something is wrong with that church. If they do give you a name, write it down for later, and start attending the church. Later, you can look that person up and ask for some names of people who you could meet with, to learn from their Christian experience.
Once you begin associating with these folks, your learning will greatly accelerate. With this comes a danger of accepting everything a godly man says as true. Develop the habit early of "Test everything. Hold on to the good." (I Thessalonians 5:21). But...make sure your 'testing' is done with graciousness: "Thanks for that, Bob. Now, if I had to teach that to someone else, which two or three scripture passages would be the best to use?" If they have no clear passages, then suspend judgement on that teaching until you can get more information.
The other thing to find within the church is a weekly Bible study. Good churches (of both mainstream denominations and of non-denominational varieties) will always have a small group Bible study somewhere. This will be an important source of both Bible teaching, as well as a source of like-minded friends that are serious about growing their relationships with God. Find one and plug in quickly--it will provide many dividends in the future.
Make sure you Read-out instead of Read-in. In your experiences of 'watching' for God in your life, you will learn over time what He is like, how He operates, what His priorities are, and so on. At the beginning, you will bring assumptions (read: "baggage") with you in your expectations of what He is like. You (like everyone) will have a backdrop against which you will interpret and understand His actions. Sometimes we bring the backdrop of our earthly fathers, or of a godly teacher, or a wise friend. This can sometimes be good and sometimes be bad. For example, if our earthly father was harsh or distant or week-kneed or violent, we will be tempted to see God as this kind of person, initially. It is as important to focus on what God is not like, as it is what He is like. (This can sometimes be dealt with by thinking about any negative characteristics in your "father-type" role models and thanking God that He does not have these limitations.) You will need to consciously practise this at first, but over time His character will become clearer in your mind.
A helpful starting point in this 'correction process' (which we all have to go through continually) is a study of the attitudes/qualities of God. While reading your Bible, jot down in a journal all the verses that tell you something about what God likes, hates, loves, gets angry at, grieves over, gets excited about, smiles at, etc. This will greatly facilitate forming an accurate view of the One who loves you beyond comprehension. (I'll start you off--What do you think He loves/delights in most in the universe?! And is also incredibly proud of?! -- My guess is His Son Jesus! Check it out--Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 9:25; John 3:35; 5:23) A Closer Look at the Dynamics of Growth
A relationship between persons can only be as deep and as vibrant as the persons are themselves. This means that for our relationship with our Lord to grow, we must grow as persons. (He obviously doesn't need to grow, since God is 'fully grown' already.) We've already looked at what we must do to grow, and now we need to understand better the nature of that growth.
Growth is change and transformation. At its core, growth is change from within, from some 'blueprint' inside us. Consider these bits of data: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12.2) "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (Ephesians 4:23) "...and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Colossians 3:10) "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18)
There is a definite emphasis on 'mental renewal' in these verses. Seeing things as He does, thinking about things He does, loving the things He loves are the central means of change and transformation. When you start thinking the 'old things' or the 'old way,' quickly confess it and 'put on' the new viewpoint toward those things (as best you know how at this stage). If you don't know the 'new view,' just abandon the old and postpone thinking about the issue (but ask God to teach you over time the correct view). Then ask someone older in the Lord how they deal with the issue. Sometimes they may have some insight which will help. But transform, transform, transform.
Growth is temporary imbalance. Pre-schoolers and adolescents are often good examples of this principle. Precious growth in one area is often out of balance with the other areas of a person's life. They are in disequilibrium. There are 'growing pains' and embarrassing moments of awkwardness. This is normal. In a Christian's life, this might show up as someone who has rapidly learned alot about the Bible, but who doesn't share their faith much yet. Or a person who is a prayer 'warrior' but who shows little compassion for hurting believers. Or people who tell everybody they meet about Jesus, but who have not learned to enjoy Him in praise or singing. Be patient, God will grow them in those other areas too (Philippians 1.9). And be patient with yourself, too! Stretch yourself, reach for growth, reach for maturity, but expect the disequilibrium of growth. (Actually, rejoice--it's proof of His work in your life!!) There are also stages of growth (I John 2.12-14)--a never ending adventure of achievement and self-realization!
Growth is like compound interest. Growth (both positive and negative) is like a spiral--the more you 'do,' the easier it is to 'do' the next level. For example, Galatians 5:22-23, teaches us that self-control is one of the results of 'saying no' to evil desires in our lives. As we fight temptation and win, we 'grow' the ability to fight and win farther. Conversely, when we choose the way of moral failure, our wills weaken and we become more likely to fail again (Galatians 6:8). The implication of this is clear: we need for our positive 'spiral' to outrun any negative 'spiral' we start. In other words, we need a life that is full of quality acts and wise decisions and kind perspectives and frequent 'check-ins' with our Father. Confession of sin stops the destructive spiral, but we immediately need to re-start the positive one. (Actually, we do not re-start at zero every time, because the positive 'spiral' changes our character, and not just our enjoyment of that character.) We can overcome any bad habit in our life over time, by a combination of confession and positive action/attitudes.
(One of the things I do in this area to keep focused may be of value to you. It's a bit simplistic, but it helps me. I keep a journal/diary ["Another journal?! When does this guy have time to work?!"] of what I did each day for the Lord. It is very small, because I only make brief entries. My typical entries include leaving a tract with someone, praying for someone special, writing some on my books, reading some pages in a Christian book, talking to my kids about the Lord, putting a tract in with a bill payment, mailing a Christian book to a friend, extra time in the Word, getting a brief Christian 'twist' into a conversation at the office, going to church, calling another Christian to encourage them, etc. But I look at it every night at bedtime--as a reminder--"what did I do for Him today?")
Problems, Problems, Problems
One of the most profound changes that occurred the moment you put your trust in Jesus Christ is that problems are now constructive, rather than destructive and/or random in your life. They now 'fit' in your life, for your development. Problems do not go away (some do) but they will now be changed into 'challenges' and 'opportunities' and 'exercise.' Even though they are now constructive, they are not 'fun.' Let's look at this very important component of our lives.
The Good News: Their Limitations. The first thing to get down is that the problems (and the inherent temptation to sin by abandoning God's way, compromising standards, reacting in arrogance, etc.) are limited in how powerful they can be. I Corinthians 10:13 is a life-saver here:
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
His faithfulness means that we can always deal with it. It will still be difficult (or else it would not stretch us) but it will not be so intense as to be destructive. To use a weight-lifting metaphor, if you can lift 100 pounds, it will be 120-130, but it will not be 200--which could damage muscle tissue.
For example, when I was a new believer I was petrified that Satan himself would appear to me in person and overpower my will with his presence, 'forcing' me to do something terribly evil--murder, rape, theft, blasphemy, etc. I did not understand that this would have been a temptation 'beyond what I could bear.' When I learned the truth of this verse, I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that I could trust my Father to keep me safe while He allowed my skill level to be tested.
The Good News: Their Results (when done right). When we keep our calm, our faith, and our actions on target through one of these 'trials,' the result is accelerated growth in our character and relationships. Compare: "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word" (Psalm 119:67) "For our momentary and light troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:17) "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11) "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1.2-3)
Notice that it is 'painful'--it is training. But it produces health, life, growth in us.
The Issue of Doubt. Many new believers agonize over their multitude of doubts about God, Jesus, the Bible, sin--in fact everything! In many cases, they did not even think about these things earlier--much less, have the teeming doubt-life they feel guilty about now!
This too is perfectly natural, and will slowly subside as you grow and get to know Him better. Faith is not an either/or proposition, but rather something that grows from one level to another to another (just like love, patience, joy, self-control): "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1.3) "our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow..." (2 Corinthians 10:15)
The implication is this: be patient with yourself. Rejoice and be thankful that you are as far along as you are, and tell God you're excited about growing more, so that these 'doubts' will occupy less and less of your thought life. Remember, time is on your side!
A Special Case of Doubt: Intellectual Questions. Some people develop a heart for God, but are in a constant state of turmoil because of intellectual questions about the faith. Sometimes these questions come from professors or intelligent friends or literature, but they often cause a lack of peace in one's heart. I experienced this early in my Christian life, especially in University settings. The intellectual strength of the Christian worldview is one of the best-kept secrets in the universe! When I dug into the rational/factual basis for my faith, I was amazed at the 'audit trail' my Father left in the universe--to document His truth.
There are reams and reams of quality material in this area (generally called 'Apologetics') that can be found at most Christian bookstores.
It is important to remember several things when dealing with these kinds of issues: The God of Truth is not afraid of our questions. (We may be, but He is not.) Your Father is God of the whole person: will, emotion, and intellect. You can trust Him to meet your needs in the intellectual arena (note: needs, not wants). He will never support your pride/arrogance with knowledge (or: "He will not help you accumulate ammunition to show off with") He will hold you responsible to use any such answers/ information, in helping others with similar needs. He will answer most of your questions before death: some in hours, some in days, some in weeks, some in years, some in decades. The vast majority of your questions were asked by some other child of His earlier and answered by Him earlier. You do not need to re-invent the wheel. Finding these answers is a lot easier and less stressful than trying to solve each problem over again! For every argument "against the faith" a skeptic can advance, we can produce 20 "for the faith." It is much easier to postpone judgement on the one 'problem' than it is to abandon the faith and then have to 'explain away' our 20!
The God who loves you can be trusted in this area--I have learned this over the last two decades of 'intellectual history.' (Just by way of reference, I am not 'excessively dumb' (!), and I can honestly say that He has answered the vast majority of both my 'bright' questions and my 'stupid' questions--in His own time. I testify that He can be trusted. So, calm down, already!)
Sin and Illusion. We've already talked about how a sin-spiral will weaken you, sap your strength, stunt your growth, rob you of joy and peace, and introduce decay and destructive forces into your relationships. Here I want to focus on another major damage-type: deception. Sin 'tricks' us. It changes our minds and 'tilts' our worldview. It is to be avoided at all costs, for this reason especially. Look at these: "For sin...deceived me" (Romans 7:11) "put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires" (Ephesians 4.22) "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures." (Titus 3.3) "...so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13) "...and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing." (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
The Bad News: The Struggle. One of the most impressive evidences for the serious consequences of sin is the daily struggle within ourselves that we experience as believers. Men and women were created perfect originally, without a 'bent toward' evil. When sin was allowed to break into human history, it introduced disturbances and defects into human nature. We are all descended from those original natures, and sin has taken its toll on our spiritual "DNA"--we now have an aspect of our nature that aggressively tends to evil. The Bible calls this a sin 'nature,' which we do not shed until death. The consequence is that our lives are lived in a constant struggle between this 'old nature' and the 'new nature' which God placed in our hearts/lives when we trusted Him (remember the new influence we talked about earlier?). The scripture is very frank about this: "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want." (Galatians 5:16-17) "...but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." (Romans 7:23)
As you grow in this relationship, your love for Him will increase and increase. The consequence of this is that your moral failures will grieve you more and more intensely over time. The struggle (and our 'losses' therein) could become a major source of discouragement in your walk with the Loving Lord. Let me give you a few things to think about, that may arm you against this.
The best defense is a good offense. The same passage in Galatians begins like this: "live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (5:16). In other words, be so busy doing good, that you do not have time to even notice the temptation to sin! Be constantly thinking about the Lord, His will, His ways, His works, what He wants you to do each minute at your job, and talk to Him, and about Him, and study His word, and be involved in Bible study and share groups and...don't ever even finish this sentence! (But, be careful of burn-out. It can be just as dangerous as being idle.)
See it in perspective. God will use this 'nature' to refine your character, like he will use evil people and evil circumstances. Remember, God is orchestrating all the forces in your life now. That does not mean they are all good, but it does mean that none can ultimately thwart God's purpose for your life. Just as we can thank God for the trials that come from without, we can also thank Him for the trials that come from within.
Don't let it trick you into extended discouragement. When you fall, get up! When it wins and you sin, confess it to the Lord and get back on track. Nip the spiral in the bud. Don't allow yourself the self-indulgence of a 'Pity Party.' Will you fall again? Probably. But, remember Proverbs 24.16: "though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again."
Starve the little sucker! Like all natures, it needs 'food' to maintain its vitality. Spiritually 'starve' it. Stop reading bad and/or questionable material. Screen what TV/movies you watch. Kill thought-life fantasies early. Ignore it whenever possible. Re-configure your social life. Cut down on your drinking. Shorten your periods of arrogance. Avoid people that bring up bad associations or memories. Create new ones. Feed the new nature instead: Bible, singing, friends, church, prayer, a phone-encouragement Christian friend, Christian reading, Classics. "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
Laugh at its mortality! In a million years, you will be around, but it will not. It is a helpless, doomed little thing--Jesus Christ has signed its death warrant on the cross, and has crushed it utterly! It still gasps and twitches and gropes, but in 100 years or less it will be history! Such is the work of our powerful Savior! Recognize it for what it is--a short-term and dying aspect of our existence.
Dealing with the "show-stopper" Problems. Some of us walked into this new Christian experience with some very serious, almost catastrophic problems: failing marriages, substance addiction, legal trouble, financial ruin, medical problems, dysfunctional families, bad business situations, destructive relationships. These have the urgency and capability to distract us, cripple our efforts, and throw us into a pit of discouragement (among other things). There are three pieces of counsel I would offer you, if you find yourself in this kind of a predicament.
First, "pour it out before the Lord." Take a notebook and write a letter to your heavenly Father about the problem. Describe everything you can think of about it on paper: how it started, the course it took, why it happened, what forces make it continue, what consequences you are currently experiencing, what a 'best case' scenario would be, what your role is in it, who else is involved, and what your godly options might be. This is just a starter, but begin to think through (prayerfully, while talking to him) what your options for recovery are. Be totally honest with Him (as if you could fool Him, right?!) and yourself. "Pour it out"--record it all on paper, date it, sign it, address it to Him. Then write the I Peter 5:7 verse on it, and put it away somewhere for safe keeping.
Second, break it down into sub-problems and go for some 'early wins.' Most big problems have lots of little ones hidden inside. Try to identify these and focus on solving the easier ones first. Get a positive 'win' spiral started so some of the benefits will bleed over into the more difficult areas. Fix as many small/easy ones as quickly as you can, to get some 'health forces' working in your life. This will grow your wisdom, insight, and strength and allow you to tackle the next level of difficulty and so on.
Third, do not try to do it all by yourself. Ask for professional, mature help in and through the church, or Christian service organizations. God created the church (a group of people) with different talents, training, and abilities so we would not have to 'know it all.' Get an expert involved.
Take the Longer View of Problems. All problems try to get us to focus only on the next 5 minutes, but the Christian is not limited to this narrow perspective. I try to put my challenges into perspective using a habit I developed based on Psalm 42: 11: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God."
In this Psalm, the psalmist is faced with some kind of problem. But he/she has been through problems before and remembers that God delivered him from those problems. This 'pattern' of problem/deliverance is applied to the then-current problem, and the psalmist expresses confidence that he will 'get through it' ok.
I have adapted this perspective for myself in this way. Whenever I get hit with a big challenge (to the point of being worried or downcast) I get out my daily pocket calendar and find the date exactly 6 months from the current date. Then I write a note to myself on that date to thank God for how He got me through this problem! "I will yet praise Him" in exactly 6 months! He will get me through it--He's done it so many times in 20+ years!
So put problems into the perspective of God's sure deliverance. Begin thanking Him now for how He's going to do it. Look forward to learning more about how He works through this specific experience. Relax and trust His wisdom and careful, tender love for you. He loves you more than you could possibly understand. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:17-19)
A Last Word about the Relationship
I've said several times in this work that "it is a relationship, not a religion." It's a warm, personal relationship, not simply a legal or 'organizational' one. You will tend (like us all) to 'routine-ize' it or let it stagnate in the status-quo mode. You will need to invest time in it, invest new moments of honesty, openness, friendship, and freshness in it. You will need to practice humility before the One who humbled Himself in becoming a man (to die on the cross in your place)--Philippians 2.8!
At the same time, it is important to remember that this relationship is built on trust and confidence. Just as you began your relationship with God by trusting His Son and His work on your behalf, in the same way the relationship will grow--by faith. "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:6-7)
Just as you did not earn His acceptance into His family, so you cannot earn His continued acceptance--both of these were secured for you by Jesus Christ. (You can earn His approval for what you become and for what you do, and can earn His smile and pleasing Him with your life.)
And faith is not something magical or mystical or something we 'close our eyes, grit our teeth, and whip up in our heart.' The scripture has a much calmer and peaceful approach(!): "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11.1) "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11.6)
It is simply a quiet, calm, confidence in an awesome, kind, gracious God.
(Now, to be sure, sometimes we do have to grit our teeth and hold on, like we have to do in human relationships when troubles/ misunderstandings arise. But the majority character of faith is a restful trust in the One who is committed to our welfare, growth, fulfillment, and joy.)
This relationship on earth is so important in history that I highly recommend everyone to 'nail it down for success.' By this I mean to entrust the relationship to His care, to His responsibility. I know better than to trust myself to hold up my end of the relationship (over the remaining years of my life), but I know I can trust Him to make me! (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:12 and Proverbs 28:26). Just as I have entrusted my eternal destination to him, so have I entrusted our historical relationship. I highly suggest you do the same. A simple prayer-blueprint might be like this: "Father, thanks for all you have done and have started in my life. I want our relationship to grow, develop, and be fruitful. But I do not trust myself to accomplish this. I entrust our relationship, especially my part, to Your care. Protect it from outside forces, from inside influences, and from apathy or indifference. Keep it moving and vibrant. Keep me growing. Keep me from actions and attitudes that will retard progress. Thanks."
I have learned over the years what a beautiful, delightful, and enjoyable character is our God. I encourage you to enjoy Him, and delight in Him, and just generally to fall in love with Him. He can make this happen for you, believe me! Compare I Peter 1:8-9: "Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the deliverance and freedom of your souls."
Walk this walk and you will see this in your own life--steady by steady. God will share Himself with you as you grow in your ability and commitment to Him. Personal relationships are based on trust. As we prove trustworthy, friends and partners 'open up' to us and confide in us more. Incredibly, this is also the case with our Great God! "The Lord confides in those who warmly respect Him." (Psalm 25.14) "for the Lord detests a perverse man, but takes the upright into His confidence." (Proverbs 3.32)
I pray for you, my friend, that you will find the incredible Friend and Love that I have found in the arms of our Jesus, and that you would serve Him and enjoy Him forever and ever.
…………………A Friend (Glenn Miller)