The Renewing of the Mind?

If I am subconsciously telling you these stories about my day because I want you to think that I am a good Christian, then woe to me. If I bring them only to bring up a point, then by the grace of God, let this point be made.

Yesterday, I resolved that my life was going to change for real. I thought that actually talking to people about God might be a start. So I found a plastic crate, printed up a sign reading “Free Christian Books,” and I took my little box of free Christian books to school with me. It was easier to brave the traffic with the knowledge that my day had a worthwhile goal. So at lunch time I sat and waited. The Lord pitied my pathetic efforts. Instead of being mocked and ignored like I probably deserved, something a little different happened. 

First, two very nice and bubbly blonde girls started talking to me. They weren’t interested in the books because they were already Christian. 

Then, a presumably homeless woman entered the scene. This poor soul had a purse and about six grocery bags containing all her possessions. I didn’t know what to say to her. I even dropped a book because I was so nervous. Not because I was afraid she was going to gouge out my eyes or throw cats at me, it’s just that with social anxiety it’s hard to talk to anyone, let alone someone difficult to relate to. Eventually, she sat down with me and the two blonde girls. My, what an odd bunch we were.

I awkwardly invited her to lunch. I mean, it was really awkward. But thanks to food allergies and demons (she was afraid of going into the food court because she felt a dark presence there), that did not happen. I feel bad though, the lady deserved some food.

This woman, whom I will refer to as E, is Jewish, but she believes in Jesus. She seemed nice in a sort of quiet way, and was only a little batty. Probably much more normal than me since I was acting like an idiot a lot of the time. Some parts of our conversation were fine, but sometimes I just didn’t know what to talk about. I was so afraid of offending her, and as a result, I’m sure I did. I realized that a lot of what we talk about is sort of material and superficial. We talk about our gadgets, our favorite TV shows, our cars, homes and clothes… so what do you talk about with someone who doesn’t have any of that? Even food seemed like a touchy subject. Still, I found myself talking about my petty health problems and various little annoyances, but I realized just how trivial they seemed as I mentioned them.

I’m sure a more gifted conversationalist would have no trouble at all with a homeless person, but then again, I am not a more gifted conversationalist. I don’t know if E liked my very much. 

What is the moral of this story? The moral is that I clearly have a lot to learn. If I am letting worldly barriers get in the way of God’s will, there is something wrong. There is something wrong when I can only relate to people through the material world. 

And you know what else is wrong? My whole attitude. Like I’m doing E a big favor just by talking to her. And maybe telling people about Jesus is helping them, but it is really God who is doing the helping, and it is not our place to get all uppety. How dare I talk down to these people, my fellow creatures? “Oh, look at me, I’m talking to a homeless person.” That’s not true love. Get a clue, self! And the ironic thing is, E is probably a few sandwiches closer to a picnic than I am. 

I must admit, though, I did feel a little different today. Not necessarily better in every way, but different, not quite like myself. I was thinking more spiritually. At times, I was trying way too hard to be spiritual, but I did feel different, maybe a little less materialistic. I felt so detached from the rest of the world all day (probably because I was acting so weird and everyone could tell), and what’s more, I almost felt as if the rest of the world didn’t matter. Could this be the first stage of the renewing of the mind that I had prayed for? Or am I fooling myself again? 

Please say a prayer for E, friends. 

 

 

 

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The Kingdom of Heaven: No Requirements, No Prior Knowledge Assumed

A common misconception about Christianity is that there is some kind of list of requirements. Of course, Christians frequently try to debunk this myth, and I’m sure that few beleivers have been ridiculous enough to openly suggest it. And yet, the idea still gets around, and it’s probably Christians’ fault for propagating it.

So, like many others have before me, I am here to say that it is NOT true at all. Who did Jesus associate with? Tax collectors (considered very immoral), adulterers, lunatics, and all the others that decent Jews shunned.

You don’t need to be rich to be a Christian. I think that one is obvious, but I thought I would say it just in case you saw televangelists and got the wrong idea. If you are poor, God can provide for you.

You don’t need to be poor to be a Christian. God will humble you and be your All in All.

You don’t need to be a happy medium or somewhere in the middle to be cherished by the Lord of Lords

You don’t need to be a “good person.” In the Lord, you will bear truly good fruits in due time.

You don’t need to be popular or well-liked. The Lord will be your friend and comfort.

You don’t need to be a hermit. If God wills it, you will bring your friends with you into the glorious light.

You don’t need to be “beautiful,” true beauty is within.

You don’t need to be plain, the Lord will set a mirror before your soul.

You don’t need to be sober, for true sobriety comes only from God.

You don’t need to be chaste, passion can only be tamed by divine intervention.

You don’t need to be straight, for no man is upright. (Romans 3:10)

You don’t need to be healthy, for the healthy don’t need a Doctor (Matthew 9:12)

You don’t need to be married, but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided… (1 Corinthians 7:33-34)

You don’t need to be single, For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:16)

You don’t need to be unwell, but rejoice in your health!

You don’t need to be sane, this I know for sure

You don’t need to be self-righteous; in fact, you really shouldn’t be

You don’t need to be loving, because God has enough love to go around

You don’t need to put on a good show, God sees what is within as well as what is on the surface

Shall I go on?

You don’t need to be strong, …God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong (1 Corinthians 1:27 NASB)

You don’t need to be weak, for the church needs its pillars

You don’t need to be wise or educated, God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27)

You don’t need to be a fool, but The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10)

Do you get the point yet? Have I included everyone? You don’t need to be self-controlled either. And ladies, you don’t need to be a size 0, okay?

Perhaps this is so hard to understand because almost everything that we want to do or be a part of in life that is “worthwhile” seems to have some prerequisites. Getting a good job, getting into college, being part of an organization or club. We even evaluate others and are evaluated when we are making friends. Not to mention relationships. But to God, worldly merit is nothing. He created all of us, and he knows all of us. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, He knows all the things that we’ve done, and even the things that we ourselves have forgotten about. That doesn’t stop Him from loving us!

And yet, I regret to say that just because there are no prerequisites doesn’t mean that there is nothing at all that we should change about ourselves once we have come to see the Truth. Heaven forbid we should stay the same! This is why people think Christians are self-righteous, prudish, and hypocritical, because we say this. But how can we not say this when it is in our Bible that we profess to believe? How can we not apply this to ourselves and encourage others to do the same? It is not we who made this up, but God.

Yet I am here to say that we should not be striving to fit the mold of our church, of the believers around us. I don’t know about other parts of the world, but America has a long and regrettable tradition of this. Once we have come to know Christ, we should try to fit His mold.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; and behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB

We must put on sincerity and love (this is the theme of 1 Corinthians). The truth is, people will always call us hypocrites, even if we are not being particularly hypocritical. People accused Jesus and John the Baptist of being hypocritical too(Matthew 11:18-19)! But perhaps if we stop caring what other people think, we will become more sincere, and maybe people won’t accuse us so much. Or maybe, feeling threatened, they will accuse us even more. But the good news is that it only matters what God thinks, He is the only judge of the hearts of men and the final judge of our fruits.

 

 

 

 

Pride and Parking Accidents

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If you commute a lot like I do, then it’s possible that you’ve, at times, thought about your own mortality. Or maybe it’s just me. 

I got in a car accident today. Okay, “car accident” is a bit of an exaggeration. What I mean is, while I was parking, I sort of made contact with another car. I would like to say that it was very tiny space in a full parking lot, or that I was parallel parking downtown with people behind me honking, or that I was a little jittery because I was rushing to the hospital with my sick grandmother in the car. I would like to use one of those excuses, but that’s just not what happened. What happened in reality was kind of pathetic. I just felt a little tired and I wasn’t paying attention. I just didn’t turn the wheel enough, I’m not sure how else to explain it. Isn’t that kind of funny? 

I didn’t think so at the time. I was pretty stressed out and shaky. I agonized over the “note.” I was on the phone with my parents, and after talking to them, I only became more frustrated because I felt that they weren’t seeing things in the right way. I was downright mad, not so much because of the “accident,” but because I didn’t see God taking it and making a good thing like I’d hoped He would. All I saw it doing was making me angry and uptight. 

But all this time, in the back of my head, even if the thought didn’t translate into words or actions, I was thinking, “Why is this really a big deal? Okay, so I screwed up a little. So it isn’t going exactly the way I want it to. But what’s the big deal? No one’s hurt. There’s no reason my lack of depth perception didn’t get me into more serious trouble, besides that God is merciful. What are cars? What are insurance rates? What does it matter! I am still alive at this moment! And even if something worse happened, even if I was in a car accident caused by a meteor shower which was so bad that three interstates had to be shut down, awful as that would be, God would still be God! I know it sounds a little callous, but it’s true. Bad things happen in the world, but God is still there. He is always watching. I know it’s easy for me to say. I live in a world where paint scratches are a big deal. It’s not hard to imagine that God sees things like that. What, however, do I know about the deep dark corners of this globe where unspeakable things happen? Where is God during those things? I won’t presume to know why those things are happening. Yet because I have faith, I can say that God is everywhere.

I did find this humbling in a way. I now have a parking phobia, and a heightened sense of my human limitations. Lord, I pray that you would allow this to humble me more. Being too comfortable, being prideful, is always dangerous. Even if it doesn’t have the obvious consequences.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s The Underdog?

Is it the atheists or the Christians? Who’s being persecuted? Who’s really going against the grain? What is the grain? These are questions that, with inspiration from a fellow blogger, I have come to ponder.

The first question I will ask: what is the grain? I suppose you could define the grain as culture, or “human nature,” if you will. What does the grain value? Words that immediately come to mind are money, power, and sex. But what about faith, hope, and love? Can we not say that people often desire higher purpose as well as the most material ones? That they desire harmony, moderation, peace, and community?

Who is really going against the grain more? Is it the Christians who are supposed to be rebelling against the ways of the world? Or is it the atheists who are supposed to be rebelling against the childish and outdated desire for worship, higher purpose and “religion.” I saw a sign the other day which said “atheists against the world” or something like that. But wouldn’t it make more sense if it said “Christians against the world?”

Maybe so.

Of course, this is a very simplistic way of looking at the issue. So far I have assumed that there are only two world views, Christianity and atheism, which of course, is not the case. At this point, let me refine my focus. I will place Christians on one side, and everyone else, whether they be atheist, Buddhist, Muslim Hindu, etc, on the other.

Now if you’re not Christian, I suppose what I will quote next will have little meaning for you. Because how can you completely trust what is, essentially, an imperfect and ancient document that has been translated and translated, butchered and battered so much that it couldn’t resemble the true “word of God” if it tried. But of course, I am speaking in the manner of unbelieving friends.

Matthew 7:13-14

Revised Standard Version (RSV)

The Narrow Gate

13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy,[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few

There you have it; Christianity is the narrow gate. Not that carrying the burden of the world is easy. Not that satisfying the flesh is always a cakewalk. Because, though it brings satisfaction, it also has costs.

But Christianity is the narrow gate because it goes against all the things that Satan has taught us to enjoy over the years. We delight in pride and vanity. We can’t help but abuse our bodies in the name of “fun,” and to strive to gather more possessions and experiences to rival our neighbors. We are versed in deceit from the time we are children; and from adolescence we are inflamed with absurd passions for the opposite (or the same) sex. Sure, we may disapprove of these things from time to time, but how can we really prove that we don’t believe in them when we keep doing them; OVER AND OVER AGAIN! Why then, would we really want to follow a God who condemns all that we know and love, all that we proclaim with our actions?

I do not doubt the plight of atheists. I am sure everyone has a plight. I am sure that everyone feels out of place at times. Let me assure you, Christians are no exception. It is amazing that even when we feel the closest to our Father, we often feel farthest from those around us. Sometimes it seems like the more God loves us, the more the world despises us.

Sometimes, in my humanities class, when the professor talks about the New Testament and reads passages from it, I just want to shout out “amen” or something like that. And when we have discussions, I can’t help but try and defend the book that I am growing to love. I cringe when people deride it, yet I am often afraid to speak out. I fear these people. I fear that they know my secret- that I believe. I wonder if they despise me, if every time I speak they are thinking about how much of a hypocrite I am. I wonder why I am afraid of them. God has will humble them in due time, and the wisdom of the world will pass. Why do I guard my image? And, more importantly, why do I guard my faith? Why do I fear persecution? Persecution is nothing, but the will of God is everything.

So you see, here is one difference between Christians and the rest. We are taught that persecution is acceptable, inevitable, and that we must love those who persecute us. We cannot fight the forces that persecute us, all we can do is struggle along, continuing to do the will of God. It is not our place to defend ourselves, to cry out for our rights, but rather, it is our place to humbly accept the cross that has been laid on our shoulders.

Who’s the underdog?

 

 

 

Why You Shouldn’t Hate Yourself

When I was in seventh grade, I had a teacher who would tell me “Stop ragging on yourself.” 

It has only been recently that I have begun to understand why he was right.

“But it’s better to rag on yourself than other people.”

Okay, instead of trying to dissect that logic, let’s just discuss why you shouldn’t hate yourself, regardless of how bad it is relative to other things, because that is just not relevant.

Why not hate yourself? Because hating yourself is an exercise of the ego. Don’t believe me? Let’s think about it.

Why do we hate ourselves? From my understanding, we hate ourselves because we think that we are extraordinarily deficient in one or more areas. That’s the root of the thing, right? We may think that we’re the meanest, the stupidest, or the awkwardest person who has ever walked the earth. Of course, that’s a very simplistic way of putting it. It sounds so silly when you put it that way. I’m glad I put it that way.

To imagine that you’ve reached a new level of humiliation or immorality is, in a way, arrogant. Don’t we know that there is virtually nothing that we can do that hasn’t been done before, in one form or another? 

Hating yourself is just a hair away from being in love with yourself. This too is contradictory, but true, I believe. The simple fact is, it is really hard to hate yourself all the time. At a certain point, we would lose the will to live. Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe you can be in such a dark place that you are able to despise every fibre of your being at virtually all hours of the day. If you are in that dark place, I’m not sure if I could say anything to make it better. I would leave that to God and His rich love. 

From my experience, after a long day of hating myself, I may be inclined to fall in love with myself a little too much just to balance things out. If hating yourself is caused by an exaggeration of your faults, then wouldn’t you think that a person who hates himself/herself could find it easy to also exaggerate their virtues or “redeeming qualities.” If you think you’re a weirdo, don’t you also think that you’re going to make up for it, one fine day, by being recognized for whatever awesome thing it is that you do? Tell me I’m wrong!

Don’t we see? Self-loathing isn’t just self-loathing, it is self-importance. It is the belief that we are capable of BIG things, whether bad (self-loathing) or good (self-loving). But don’t be depressed! I’m not telling you that you are not capable of big things. I do think that we are all extraordinary. I’m just saying that we must be very careful not to fall into pride. 

You are not nothing, contrary to what you may have been told or what you may tell yourself in your heart. You may even make the world a better place, but I wouldn’t expect to get any credit for it. 

Maybe in some ways we aren’t as extraordinary as we believe we are, while at the same time, we simply have no concept of the extent of our uniqueness.

A closing exhortation: “Stop ragging on yourself!”

 

 

 

 

Jesus is Lord

I wanted to post something so moving, so original, so insightful that you would be absolutely convinced that Jesus is Lord. I came up with this.

Arrogance is dangerous. I often try to compare myself to other people. I over-praise myself when I do the right thing, and am sure to gloss over all the bad. “Well, yeah, I sinned, but at least I didn’t…” In reality I did. Despite what I’ve heard a million times while sitting in a church pew and wearing a starchy white shirt, I still think in terms of what I need to do to get into heaven. And of course, it’s all wrong. Everything we have is just God taking pity on us and throwing us a bone. Don’t we see that? We are the creation, God is the creator. He sent Jesus as an intercessor, to show us some mercy because we screwed up.

So it’s not all about us. Although, we shouldn’t slack off just because the pressure’s off. We may not need to sacrifice lambs or follow a million different rules, but we are supposed to let Christ live in us. Which is not always easy. It is not always easy because it is not easy to let go. It’s not easy to let go because it seems like God is just going to let us die. The going gets rough, and it seems like God is nowhere to be found. The Christian life is pain. It is embarrassment. It is joy. It is apathy. It is feeling low. It is getting back up again. It’s confusion. But in the end, it’s worth it. 

I’ve seen what a life without Christ can do to a person. I know what it does to me when I neglect Him. But other times, when things are running smoothly, we just don’t always see sin, because sin has a way of hiding itself. I know that sometimes I myself wonder if there is really such a thing as sin. But believe me, it’s there. I can’t really deny it. Can you? It’s bitterness. It’s hatred. It’s anger. It’s indulgence. Greed. Arrogance. Jealousy. Bigotry. It’s everything that’s wrong with this world. And you know what? There’s no cure for it besides Jesus. We’ve been trying for thousands of years. Governments, philosophies, religions, cultures… Nope

The world would’t be perfect even if everyone believed into the Lord. But maybe it wouldn’t be quite as bad. I mean come on, could it really be much worse? I guess that’s why Christians have got to step up. The time for hibernation is over. It’s time to show the world what God is.

Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 

-Colossians 1:28

He Who Exalts Himself….

Matthew 23:12

New King James Version (NKJV)

And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

I feel that all my life, I never found a healthy balance when it comes to the way I view myself. It seems that I’m always either tearing myself down to the point where I’m so worthless I might as well be dead, or building myself up to the point where I become some kind of genius who is going to change the world. I suppose I’m just too creative and insane for any kind of moderation in my life.

Yet right now, I know that I real need to humble myself, and do it fast, before God has to do it for me in a painful way. I would rather have it done in a less painful way, thank you very much. No earth-shatttering traumatic events please.

You see, pretty soon, God willing, I will be submitting my play to a competition at the university. Four plays will be selected to be produced. And now I’m going to just have to keep reminding myself that there’s very little chance that I’ll win. Why should I win? I’m not the only person with a modicum of writing talent. Sheesaloo, there’s probably dozens of creative-dorky types just like me submitting to this competition. And do I even want to win? What if my play gets turned into some kind of God-bashing, all-Christians-are-idiots deal? It wouldn’t be hard for them to go that direction. After all, I did write a play about hypocrisy and deceit, sprinkled with a very subtle pinch of good ole fashioned redemption. So it isn’t very preachy, but it could become the opposite of preachy with a little help.

Why should my play get produced? And why would they want to glorify God?

Why should my novels get published? They’re not even that good. Who am I, that I need to be published?

And so, for now at least, Underground Voices remains, in the underground.