Back to the Basics- Reexplaining “Christianity”

Sometimes we forget where we came from, who we are as people, why we’re doing the things that we do and why we feel the way we feel. Christians forget too, but the problem is that we forget who God really is. Even if we have all the right answers. Even if we’re towing the line.

This post is really for anyone. If you’re not a believer, if you are a believer, if you know about the “Christian God,” for lack of a better word, or if you don’t know as much.

Assumption #1- Man is sinful

This is where people often start, and I suppose I’ll start here as well. If you don’t see yourself as sinful… well, that’s a pretty common thing actually. I can see why you would think that. Maybe for now, look around you, at the world you’re living in. Do you see injustice? Do you think there’s something wrong with how we “do life?” Is there? I won’t tell you, I’m just asking you.

Unfortunately, if we can’t agree that man is sinful, then it is difficult to proceed. But let’s keep the assumption that man is sinful.

What then? What are we supposed to do about it? What is sin? How do we stop it?

There is a way to answer this question without including God. You can say that we as people can progress towards a more enlightened existence, that is what a lot of people think.

But my question is: how? If sin is based on what you think is sin, how will you convince others to stop doing what you think is wrong? What if they don’t think it’s wrong? What makes you right above others, if there is no objective truth? What is to stop people from acting from self-interest? What if jail time is worth breaking the law to some people?

You can say that there is a universal human code of conduct. A cosmic bro code, if you will. So I don’t expect you to convert to Christianity based on the logic I’ve just presented because I am not the first to put it that way, but if it did make you think…

Let’s go in a different direction, shall we? Let’s make one more assumption.

Assumption #2 The God of the Hebrew Bible is the true God, and Jesus is the Messiah

What goes with assumption #2? That a man named Jesus came into this world oh, around the beginning of the common era, and taught a new and radical way of living. He taught that you should love your enemies and help the poor. He taught that money isn’t important, and he died to show us what is important.

Which is…

Eternal life through the forgiveness of sins.

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Lord instituted a holiday called Passover. The Passover celebrates how the Israelites were led out of Egypt and how God “passed over” them when he was inflicting punishment on the Egyptians. To this day, Jews celebrate the festival by slaughtering a lamb.

Jesus became a Passover lamb for us. He had compassion on us, on our plight and our rut. He sacrificed himself so God would pass over us too.

If we believe, of course. Belief is where it all begins and ends. Belief engenders love and trust. Belief inspires action.

Matthew 16:16 (RSV)

16 Simon Peter replied [to Jesus], “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

1 Corinthians 15:3 

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast.

Romans 3:21-26

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

John 10:11

[Jesus says] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

 

Lately, I haven’t been feeling the belief as strongly. I’ve been trying to do things. I’ve been trying to move forward, but I keep feeling Satan holding me back. I’ve been introspective, reluctant, and confused. I haven’t laid it all down before the Lord’s throne. I’ve been wondering what I would do without my burdens. I’ve been wondering how much work I would be doing (because, usually, you can’t just sit there and wait for God to move your limbs) and how much credit I would receive if I just let God do everything.

But really, it’s so simple that it seems like rocket science. I just have to believe in the Lord Jesus and love Him. I just have to do His work. I just have to become attuned to Him, and when I become attuned to Him, I won’t feel the urge to sin… as strongly. And when I become attuned to Him, I will know what to do. Right?

Yes, right. I will have faith. Because with faith…

Matthew 17:20

So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief;[a] for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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God: Questions, Answers, and Perplexity

Why are there so many religions?

I don’t know… I guess you could say it’s like a game of telephone. People kept entering the circle, the message kept changing

What hard evidence is there that your God is the true God? And don’t just tell me to look outside at the friggen trees or into the eyes of a baby. And no circumstantial evidence, please.

Next to none.

Then why do you believe it?

Because it’s the truth.

How do you know it’s the truth?

I couldn’t easily explain why.

Answer this question: What happens to one-week old babies who die? And people who’ve never seen a Bible in their life?

I don’t know.

What do you mean you don’t know? Why are you being so indecisive?

Because I don’t have all the answers. It’s enough that God knows.

Then why should I believe you? Why should anyone believe in this?

You don’t have to believe me to believe in God.

Tell me this; who is God? What is this mysterious thing that you Christians call the trinity?

I can’t be sure, precisely.

Then what do you know? Let’s start there.

Okay. Well, I am sure that God created everything. I am sure that he sent his son to this earth so I could be forgiven. I am sure that Jesus rose on the third day. And if he didn’t rise, Christianity is dead. Jesus will give the Holy Spirit to whoever asks, this I believe. I know that we must die to ourselves and live to God; that eternal life exists. I know that my life hasn’t been the same since I started believing in all this. My faith is the only thing keeping me alive, and I am sure that it is not in vain.

Does that answer your question?

Probably not.

 

 

Jesus Is For The Weak Part 2: Meeting the Mental Illness Stigma in the Middle and Finding Joy

For a long time, mental illness has been haunting me. I feel that I cannot speak openly about it anywhere, or they will bind me in a straight jacket and lock me in a padded cell for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be institutionalized, and I don’t want to eat jello every day. So I want to open up, but not too much. And the reason that I don’t want to open up too much is this. If you yourself are not well and you are reading this, I would not want your condition to be exacerbated. Everyone has enough of their own crazy thoughts. Those are not something that we need to be spreading to our brothers and sisters.

Why hasn’t this problem just disappeared since I started to believe in God? How does this stuff in any way contribute to a Christian lifestyle? Aren’t I a raging hypocrite, a hopeless lunatic? I myself wonder the same thing all the time.

It’s easy to talk about the past, but it’s difficult to talk about the present. Very painful. I can’t help but wonder what you will think of me when you read this. I fear that you will despise me. Nonetheless, I am compelled to go on.

The truth is, Satan often tells me to hurt and destroy, probably because he knows that I am weak mentally and he thinks there’s a chance I’d listen. He wants me to kill myself, and he would prefer it if I took others down with me. I will be no vaguer than that nor more specific.

Jesus was tempted by Satan too, for 40 days in the wilderness. Not that I am sinless like Jesus. Satan told Jesus to jump off the cliff, to turn stones into bread, etc. Satan even used out-of-context Bible verses in his argument. But Jesus always had a relevant come-back line, and he effectively repelled Satan. I wish I was as good at it as Jesus. I am convinced that I am not without sin, even though, apparently, temptation itself does not constitute in sin.

I ask God to heal me. I have done this on many occasions. And it’s true, sometimes this problem does get better. I should be thankful for that. But why has it persisted? And must I continue to torture myself with feelings of guilt? Why do I have to keep guarding this skeleton in my closet?

Should I continue to feel like the scum of the earth? Should I continue in tearing myself down? I feel that I must punish myself in order to justify myself. And yet, however right it feels, however you may agree or disagree, somehow this is not right. We can’t justify ourselves anyway. Only the blood of Christ can.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Revised Standard Version (RSV)

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

What should I do in the mean time? I am afraid of myself. I am afraid of Hell. I am afraid of the truth and freedom of the Lord as well. I feel like a hypocrite almost every moment of every day. I wonder how in the world I have the nerve to judge anyone. And maybe I should wonder this. But I also wonder how in the world I have the nerve to preach the Gospel when I myself am so screwed up. Suddenly I am brought to tears because I am remembering yesterday, and how good I felt.

I was at a church picnic type thing. It was supposed to rain yesterday, and it did, but not hard enough to force anyone to cancel it. And thank God for that. I can’t easily describe to you how it was. If you are not a Christian, or if you are, like me, skeptical at times, you will likely see this as little more than phony, emotional, snake-charming, throw-your-baby-at-the-altar Christianity. Still, I will try to make you understand. I’ve already revealed an embarrassing secret. There’s no sense in stopping now.

It’s cold and windy. We are under a gazebo in some park, our bellies filled with carne asada. There’s people from all around the area here, people of all colors, ages, shapes and sizes, united for the sake of Gospel. And it’s an open microphone share-what’you-learned this-year type deal. It sounds boring, but it really wasn’t, until the end when I got so cold and tired I could hardly concentrate. And young people around my age are sharing things- they are proudly proclaiming their faith, saying the most profound and spiritual things. What stood out to me most was a girl saying, “I am not here because of my love for God, but because of God’s love for us” and someone else saying “The church is not a social organization.” And so many other things that I would love to repeat, but they just sounded so much better in person. It was as honest and genuine as it gets in our world. I’ve been with Christians before, but I’ve never seen anything exactly like this. And for a moment, as I was sitting there, I felt so complete. I knew that this was the real thing. All that I’ve heard about the Bible in college lecture halls, that wasn’t it. All that I’d ever seen on TV, all that I grew up believing, that was a lie, and this church, this body of Christ with all its beautiful members, this was real. It didn’t matter what I’d done in the past. I didn’t matter that I wasn’t perfect or that it was cold outside. My circumstances were good. There was nothing to keep me from proclaiming the Gospel myself. All this I felt, but if I were to have spoken, I’m sure it wouldn’t have come out as eloquently.

Unfortunately, these feelings pass. They pass faster than the temptations, or bad feelings that I have. But I know that they are “more than a feeling.” I know that that’s a song. I know that just because I feel these things doesn’t mean that they are real. The Kingdom of God exists outside of human feeling. Feeling is only a channel through which this truth passes.

Jesus came for the weak. I am weak. If you’re from a Christian background, you probably get tired of hearing things like that. You get tired of hearing people describe themselves as “broken” but Jesus “saved” them. It all sounds so painfully boring and meaningless sometimes, but I tell you, it’s true.

Some people think that the Bible is dangerous, that it’s a breeding ground for fanaticism. And I tell you, it is fanatical. Maybe not burning-down-hospitals fanatical, that’s Satan’s area of expertise. Yet I believe that if we took what was in the Bible and put it all into practice, the world would be a terrifyingly different and beautiful place. So the Bible is dangerous in a political sense, but in a spiritual sense, in a real sense, the Bible is our only hope, confusing as it may be. If it wasn’t for the love of God, for the blood of Christ, I would probably be dead, dead or eating jello. What meaning would my life have without God? I am weak. I can’t delude myself with high-flown phrases. I can’t subjugate myself to the rules of society, I just can’t force myself to love humanity. I am weak, physically and emotionally. I am a failure. I am socially awkward. I am unwell. I am a worry-wart. I am not a good person. But thank God I am weak, and thank God I find little comfort in the things that pacify most. For if I was strong, if I was “wise” and self-controlled and normal, I wouldn’t have any reason to put all my faith, all my being into a perfect God.

Everyone has weakness and everyone has strength. God will find you in your weakness and He will find you in your strength. He will find You in the lowest depths, He will find you on your highest mountain. He will find you in your humility, He will find you in your pride. He will find you in the margins of society and He will find you in the midst of it. He will find you in the 99% and he will find you in the 1%. There’s no escaping Him. Wherever You are, there He is also, watching. So it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. If He can forgive me, He can forgive you, and now you know that. You know that I am not just some goody-goody. You know that I have no right to look down on you. It doesn’t matter who you are, it matters who God is, and it matters if you want to have anything to do with what God is.

 

Passover- A Symbol and More

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Most of us in the USA probably know that April 15th is tax day, but it is also Passover. Isn’t that a consolation! And the best part is, for Christians everywhere, Passover day is every day.

The story of the Passover and the beginning of the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is found in Exodus. The Passover celebrates “the passing over” of the Israelites during the Final Plague. In other words, the firstborns of all the Egyptians were killed so that the Godless people would see who was boss. But the Israelites were spared.

“You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed down and worshipped.”

Exodus 12:24-27

You may have already known this, but the symbolism of the Passover is woven throughout the Bible. That means you, fellow Gentiles.

Why is the Passover still relevant? For two reasons: 1) God is passing over us 2) unleavened bread is symbolic of genuine, unpretentious faith. These two points are actually very closely related, so we will see both of them in the following passage:

Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
-1 Corinthians 5:6-8 NRSV

Here is a powerful image that explains so much about the Bible. Christ is compared to the Passover lamb! The rituals of the Old Testament still carry meaning. That is why they are God’s Word and that is why we read them, not because we need to learn how to sacrifice livestock and wage war against the Philistines, but because of “aha!” moments like these (there are other reasons to read the OT of course). This is probably one of the reasons God emphasized the Passover so much. That’s right, our God can see the future.

We are supposed to celebrate the sacrifice and give thanks that Christ died for us, in the same way the Israelites celebrated every year because God saved them from the plague. He passed over their bodies; He passes over our sin. They ate the flesh of the lamb. We eat the flesh of the son of the Living God (Matthew 26:26).

The other image that we get is that of unleavened bread, which symbolizes truth. It really is an ingenious metaphor.

Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gatheered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees! Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

-Matthew 16:6:12

My dad and I were just talking about this the other day. Isn’t it amazing that God wanted us to understand Him so much that He handed down parables and symbols? He could have left is as “be the real deal; don’t come up with unnecessary rules and don’t be a hypocrite.” But this makes it more interesting, doesn’t it?

Yeast gives bread its puff, it’s chewiness, its elasticity. It does not change the nutritional value. It is aesthetic and sensory, not substantial. The teaching of the Pharisees was based on rules and earthly authority. It was “puff.” Bread doesn’t need yeast like it needs flour. In the same way, we don’t need yeast in our lives either. Yeast is exaggeration, deciet, worldliness, form-over-substance. But the bread of Christ’s body is unleavened, it is truth.

Just as Jesus brought up, it’s not the bread that is important. It is just an analogy. Eating leavened bread is not a one way ticket to Hell. The important thing is sticking to the truth. It is valuing God’s word above all else, and being wary of things that deviate or detract. The important thing is being grateful for the sacrifice, the most poetic and beautiful human or otherwise sacrifice ever made. Happy Passover!

Image: http://www.theliterates.ca

Dear God

Dear God,

Let me shout the glorious truth for all to hear

Let me collapse joyfully under Your mercy

While my spirit soars

Let me sing without shame

Let me walk without blame

And dedicate my every step to You

Let me out of this rat race to no where

Let me free myself from the world 

The shackles of time

The chain of greed

The weighted ball of sin

Food delays

Wealth corrupts

Drugs destroy

Pride kills

The body decays

Ideas fall away

Buildings are subject to torment

And pleasure is but for a moment

God’s truth lasts forever

His Word is everlasting and precious

While the deeds of man are soon forgotten by the earth

Thank you for buying me back from my old master, O Lord

For He treated me harshly

Happily and humbly I will be Your slave forever

For You alone have won my heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The One Thing You Thought You Could Trust

If you asked me, what is the one thing in the world that I can trust, if I thought about it, I suppose I would say something like God or the Bible.

That’s why I was so depressed this morning to read an article about how many translations of the Bible may not be all that reliable. I would encourage you to look over this article. I won’t say whether this stuff is true or, I have no idea. It seems a little biased, if it is not a complete exaggeration/fabrication.

I asked a friend about this, and she said that she doesn’t think it’s possible that God would allow the Bible, his perfect word, to become corrupted. Maybe this is true. After all, if the Devil is trying to subtly and systematically undermine the true message of the Bible in the most direct way possible, then he isn’t doing a terrific job. Most of the time, the thing that really tears us away from the truth is our own minds, not a faulty translation of the Bible.

Conspiracy or not, people all around the world are still learning about God and believing. That’s powerful. So you couldn’t quench the power of the Lord even if you wanted to. The power of His word will come out. But maybe just to be safe… get the King James!

The Two Edged Sword That is The Truth

“Tell the truth, honest is the best policy,” they say. “The truth will set you free,” they say. Well, who am I to contradict that? But the truth is just not fun. Think about it, why would the truth be pleasant? The things we do aren’t usually good and the things we think aren’t all that noble, so why would anyone want to disclose more embarrassing facts than absoulutely necessary for practicality and sanity? Isn’t one of the basic aims of humanity to make every effort to escape from the crueler realities of life, whether through the bottle, the screen, the crack pipe, or, in some cases, the book?

Don’t deny it. Denying it won’t get you anywhere.

One of the Ten Commandments is you shall not lie. “Fair enough” we think. “Surely no good can come out of lying. But why do I need to tell my neighbor about every skeleton in my closet, every secret fear and agony that haunts my soul?” So most of us don’t attempt to disclose that stuff. Because it’s only true- who really wants to hear all that? No one.

So then we try to be very judicious about what we reveal. Just yesterday I was covering up, oh, a pretty important trespass against someone. I thought it was okay, since I wasn’t really lying, at least a vast majority of the time, just withholding important information, that’s all. But I started to feel really bad about it yesterday. I would deliberate and deliberate in my head, endlessly. I’d come to the decision to keep up the charade, but I never felt good about the decision, so the process just repeated itself. The Golden Rule, that was my justification, the golden rule. It’s amazing how good the enemy is at helping you justify your wrong actions, even when you start to get that “sinking feeling,” which I believe is really God tapping you on the shoulder. So I tried putting myself in the shoes of the trespassee. I thought, “If I were them, would I really want to know?” Wouldn’t it be better if I just fixed it, saving them the heartache? Yet I came to realize the impossibility of rectifying the situation without them knowing about it. I suppose I sort of knew  it from the beginning, I just choose not to acknowledge it, since I was just so focused on trying to save myself. But anyway, back to the narration. So I asked for a sign, and I thought was going to wait a couple more agaonizing, guilt-ridden days. But then I got my sign, much sooner than I thought, which convinced me once and for all that the deception absolutely needed to end. And that was the moment that I came clean.

What can be learned from this story? Not necessarily that you need to tell people everything. Even if you were insane enough to want to do this, come on, you wouldn’t be able to. I suppose the lesson is that you have instincts, as a believer, and as a person. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll regret not listening to instincts (God’s whisperings)  more often than not, impeded my pride, laziness, or a myriad of selfish concerns. And then, you have to just stop beating yourself up.