Friday, September 27, 2013

Problems, Prayer, and Healing



As I was driving home from a recovery group, I suddenly pulled over my car and wrote this in a notebook on my front seat: The world around me has given me every reason imaginable to be utterly and completely skeptical. I have been given every reason under the sun to trust nothing and no one. My family collapsed around me, I have been scammed, abused, tricked, lied to, conned by people and politicians alike, I've been raped, beaten, and abused emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I felt very, very justified to believe in nothing and trust in nothing. But when I was brought so low I had nothing else period, I called out to an old recollection, a childhood myth named Jesus Christ. And the consciousness of that reality came to me as I saw my entire life transformed.

That was today.  But a few days ago I was thinking that I am the perfect person to be writing this blog.  Why?  Because I have more problems, issues, addictions, and troubles that I can count.  I started this blog at the beginning of my conversion, shortly after my baptism.  Why is that a perfect situation?  Because I share on here, every problem I face along the way, and every solution that God puts in front of me.  And I can share that.  I have very little to offer you on my own, but if I can ask God to speak through me on these, then hopefully some truth can get through.  

It was like he was preparing me.  Because ever since I was a kid I was utterly obsessed with writing.  I literally wrote all the time, about everything.  I explored and wrote in every style from prose to novels.  I worked as a journalist for six years, studied creative writing in college, and self published six books.  Rather vigorous preparation, but I enjoyed every minute of the writing.  I enjoy it today too.  So thank you Father.  And thank you for being here :)

 I don't know where that thought came from exactly, when I was driving home today.  I had just come from a very powerful group get together, with some close friends and comrades in the battle for the hearts and minds of God's people.  I was driving back home listening to talks by Ravi Zacharias.  And naturally as always my head was spinning thoughts and ideas, reflecting on the path behind me, incorporating knowledge of God found through scripture and interpretations of scripture.  I was pondering why it took me so long to come to the realization of God, or more to the point, to call out for help to a higher power.  I was also pondering the relation of the failure of the United States churches to stay relevant to the cultural shifts going on in the country.  North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing, but in fact declining.  I was pondering all of this, and boom, the idea of skepticism and my own inability to trust came into my head.  At that moment I pulled over to the side of the road, where an old man was mowing his lawn and started writing.  

I digress, as I was saying... I have more issues than most I'm sure.  And as I pray for answers, God puts them in my path.  I asked God to help me intellectualize my faith, boom, I was watching live stream for Liberty University (the college I attend) and a speech Dr. Zacharias made at spring graduation last year popped up.  I watched it, and started watching as many talks as I could.  God answers prayers, and sometimes sooner than I would think.

I recall the process I would go through before I had the prayer option in front of me.  I would get a problem, and I wouldn't know the solution.  I was depressed, but I didn't know why.  And I would just think and think and think myself into utter confusion.  Was it my childhood?  Was it recent events?  Was it because I was single?  Was it because I missed my family?  If so how do I work on it?  Where is the healing?  And on and on and on.  Getting nowhere, eventually feeling this deep, ugly dread in my gut...  And I would give up.  I just can't figure it out.  And I'd go on, feeling a new sense of doom, as well as the depression.

Now, when I have a shuttering problem I immediately take a course of action that surprises me with it's effectiveness every time.  I pray.  In fact my old thought process sometimes wins out over me and it spins in my head.  And then suddenly I realize, oh yes Justin, you need to pray.  And as I talk to God about it, usually sitting on the steps in my front yard, watching the trees and the sky, I start to feel that relief.  I have a power in my life that I can take the confusion to.  And he sorts it out for me.  He puts the answer in my path.  I don't have to feel misery when I don't know.  

My favorite time to pray is at night.  I'll go outside and let my dog wander around the front yard.  And I'll stand on my front porch with my hands folded and look up at the stars.  They are so bright out here in the country.  It's true what scripture says, the heavens declare the glory of the Lord.  I'm filled with a sense of awe as I stare upward, coming to realize just how big my Father is.  Try it sometime!  

Unfortunately winter is coming up soon here, so I'll have to throw on a jacket and hat before I go out.  Won't be able to stand there in my pajamas anymore!  Haha.  I know, I'm such a dignified Pastor.  But really, there is no image here.  People can't stand that fake preacher mask, and they can smell it a mile away.  Why try to fake something?  Why fail to dig deep into my past?  Why fail to disclose?  Because I'm going to scare off some traditionalist Christians?  I can live with that.  I'm writing this to present Jesus Christ to everyday people and to declare his work in my life, not to project an image of myself as some holier-than-thou fuddy duddy.  No thanks, you traditionalists keep trying that in your churches if you like, but better, get real with your congregations.  Start loving the lost, and you'll see some powerful growth.  

If you know intimately my failings, and how deep they go, and that Christ's love was enough for a screw up like me; then you know Christ's love is more than enough for you!  

I'm working on a variety of issues within myself at this moment.  After entering recovery and getting clean and working out some issues from my past, well, it's not even close to done.  I have issues with codependency, intimacy, depression, anxiety, sleep, and so on and so forth.  So I prayed on some of those things.  God put some books on my lap, and I'm halfway through the first one so far.  It's called "Pain and Pretending" by Rich Buhler.  It's really all about coming to terms with your past.  It goes to the roots of issues in the present, by reaching back into childhood.  It combines therapy techniques with Christian methods of healing to bring in the best techniques for healing.  As I was reading the first twenty-five pages I started to tear up.  And I could feel healing taking place.  That's powerful to me.  That's more important then every episode of Star Trek Voyager or Battlestar Galactica put together!  I know, I'm a nerd.  Don't judge!

Later on in the book I read something that made me tear up again.  It said something to the effect of.. Many people who endured childhood abuse block out entire periods of their childhood.  Many assume it's normal to not remember huge chunks of your childhood.  But it indicates severe trauma and abuse.  And as I thought to myself, and thought back, I realized I hardly remembered my elementary school years, or anything before that, or much of my junior high or senior high experiences.  That's when I teared up.

And people can draw a lot of judgments from me disclosing that.  But it doesn't matter to me what those people think.  What matters to me, is that a few people will read this and think to themselves.. you know, I have some of the same issues.  Maybe there are solutions out there.  And they'll start researching, praying, reading books, and healing.  One person having some healing from my words, is more important to me than a thousand who laugh and smirk, and judge.  

I thought I'd close with a page from one of my daily meditation books called "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young.  I highly recommend it, if you're looking for a quality morning meditation book.  It translates scripture as if Jesus were talking directly to you!  Check it out:

September 27th

RELAX IN MY EVERLASTING ARMS.  Your weakness is an opportunity to grow strong in awareness of My Almighty Presence.  When your energy fails you, do not look inward and lament the lack you find there.  Look to Me and My sufficiency; rejoice in My radiant riches that are abundantly available to help you.

Go gently through this day, leaning on Me and enjoying My presence.  Thank Me for your neediness, which is building trust-bonds between us.  If you look back on your journey thus far, you can see that days of extreme weakness have been some of your most precious times.  Memories of these days are richly interwoven with golden strands of My intimate presence. 

Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 27:13-14
-excerpt from "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Human Hunger for Two Fundamentals: Love and Truth

May the uncharacteristic love of Jesus Christ be fluent and powerfully working in your life.   It's certainly been working in mine, when I get my ego out of the way.  That's how people will know us friends, by our love for one another.  When we stand on a pedestal and judge, or coldly turns those in need away, we do not represent Christ in the world...  We represent self righteousness in the world, and we have enough of that in the secular world.

I'd like to tell you that I love you :)  And for no particular reason.  Just because you're human and you're reading this, and you're you.  You're my sister, my brother, and my friend on this journey called life.  

I want to encourage you to pray for the Father to change your heart.  That is often part of my ardent prayers.  "Please Father, change my heart."  I have a heart conditioned to love the things of the world.  Jesus Christ freed me from alcohol and drug dependency, but there is still a world of desire in my head.  I want this, I want that, and I want it now

 
Your allegiance to God will be tested today and everyday my friends, by an onslaught of desires and beautiful distractions. Hold strong and pray hard!

Phili. 4:6-8 ESV do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

How do we as Christians combat temptation? 

Prayer is good.  Bible study is good.  Attending a God honoring church is good.  Those are all maintenance steps.  We can consciously cut back on indulging our desires.  When we do that, we can see them start to diminish and eventually disappear.  There is also a clue in the above passage.  What is true?  What is honorable?  What is just?  What is pure?  What is lovely?  What is commendable?  What is excellent?  What is worthy of praise?  Think about these things.  Think about them.  As we focus on the positive, as we focus on honorable and good things, our thinking process changes as a result over time.  This requires us to challenge negative thoughts, but eventually we are focusing on positive and righteous things.  And you know what?  Then we start becoming those things.  We stop constantly thinking about our wants, our desires, women, men, alcohol, drugs, cars, tv shows, sex, and all of that.  Because we have actively attempted to alter our thinking in a healthy way.  Naturally, it's easier said than done, but it can be effectively produced over time.  Remember it's not a race.  Just patiently adjust day by day.  In months, years, you'll see incredible results. 

We know this Christian journey isn't particularly easy.  In fact we come against trials and troubles that most wouldn't normally come against.  If we're actually sharing our faith actively with those around us, be become a target for spiritual warfare, as well as ridicule.  But we can do this.  I'm telling you the truth, we can.  But we've got the share our faith.  We've got share love and compassion utterly and completely.  And we will, yes will be cut down, hurt, bruised, verbally attacked, and even physically attacked.  Show love and compassion anyway.  Complete and utterly uncharacteristic love, compassion, and support.  Long term!  We're in for the long haul.  But if we could just get vocal and public about this love, and learn to apply it everywhere all the time (a tall order) we can change the world. 



I've experienced the kind of anguish and sadness and isolation many of us know quite well.  I've been shunned by many who used to be my friends.  I wasn't trying to push my faith on them, but I would offer encouragement.  Some people don't want to hear it.  We're also faced with the task of attempting to share joy and wisdom with others.  Again and again, endlessly, I have seen so many people walk away from the possibility of a better life.

Many of the people I know and talk to are active drug abusers and alcoholics.  To the very breaking of my heart, virtually none of them have any interest in getting better through recovery.  They choose their addictions and can hear nothing I say about recovery or 12 step work.  There is no interest in anything better, despite constant griping of their ugly situations.

But how can I fault them?  For years and years I was impervious to any encouragement or information on recovery.  I just didn't care.  There was nothing more or less to it.  I was simply not willing to do the work required to get clean and stay clean.

It was the same with Christianity.  For the longest time I was simply not interested in God or faith.  Occasionally I'd read a bit or look into it, but it always sort of faded into the background.

How can I expect all those around me to suddenly jump on the band wagon because I did?  Perhaps I cannot tolerate their apathy because the thought of my own past apathy is so repulsive to me. 

That is our calling, to vocally and publicly share our faith in any and all ways we can.  We will feel the pain and shout to God "who has heard our message?"  And God will calmly reply, "All who I want to receive it, have and will receive it."  God is a calming force in our lives.  Remember that.  I was not raised on that kind of God.  I was raised on a fear invoking God.  But that isn't the true God.  I read something recently, and it was so simple, but so powerful in it's implications.  It said, "Relax in his presence."  Just relax and be in the moment with God!  I try to think of that line when I start getting upset about the sins that linger in my life.  Relax, keep learning, keep growing, these sins are temporary. God will help me at the appropriate times.  Don't worry, have faith.

 "Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell"  -Charles Thomas Studd  

It's isolating, and let me tell you, that has been bothering me lately.  I've learned to not mention that I'm in college at all anymore.  Because when I mention I'm in college, the question that immediately follows is invariably, "What's your major?"  And then I say, "Religion."  And then the conversation dies.  It dies so quickly...  For several months I tried to figure out what to say instead of "Religion" without outright lying, but I couldn't figure anything out.  If anyone has any ideas about this one, please leave a comment with a suggestion.  God forbid anyone find out I'm studying to be a Pastor.  I've seen the look when I say that one!  Like a deer in the headlights, like I'd suddenly become a mind reader capable of seeing right through them to their worst deeds.  Have past church leaders been so traumatizing to these people in the message?  I'm guessing the answer to that is "yes."  Sad, but true. 

Oh well, what can I do, what can we do, but continue ardently serving the Father?  Unending service, day by day, and try to survive that.  The louder we become about it, the bigger the target on our backs gets.  Spiritual warfare is very real.  I've seen church planters literally so sick they can hardly converse, not sleeping for weeks, discouraged and troubled. 

2 Cor. 9:8 ESV And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency£ in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 

Don't fool yourself.  This stuff is real.  Jesus was a real flesh and blood human being born and lived, two thousand years ago.  This is considered historical fact.  The scientific method is incapable of proving or disproving Christianity.  So don't let anyone fool you on that one.  The scientific method itself is incapable all together, because it relies on the ability to reproduce and examine.  History cannot be reproduced.  It's interesting to note that Napoleon or Washington cannot be "proven" by the scientific method, but history's method proves their existence to the best extent we know how.  You may find this interesting, that a noted applied mathematics professor once stated and I'm paraphrasing, that the possibility of the enzyme in human DNA forming by chance is 10 to the 40,000th power.  Do you know what that comes out to?  It's more than all the atoms in all the galaxies of the known universe.  This mathematician concluded that it is mathematically impossible for the human enzyme to have come about by chance.  If you have further questions, consider reading Darwin on Trial by Philip E. Johnson, or The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins (head of the human gnome project.)

A noted atheist and post modernist died, and her extensive journals were auctioned off. Among her writings, in the margin three separate times was this phrase: "Would somebody, somewhere, please love me."  Love is our default as humans.  We want and need to be loved.  However, no human love seems to complete us (those of us who are married can attest to that) no matter how great, something is always missing.  If not God, then what?

You will discover in your journeys that atheists are not intellectually rejecting Christianity, so much as morally rejecting Christianity.  There is a lifestyle there that they are simply not willing to change.  No matter what argument, no matter how convincing, most ardent atheists would not convert.  Well why doesn't God just show himself in a dream or vision?  Well let's really think about that one.  Can we really say they would believe?  So Jesus shows up in a vision and says here I am, I'm God.  Well, then time starts going by.  And the individual starts to wonder, was it real?  Maybe I was over tired.  Maybe I had food poisoning.  Maybe it was just a delusion.  In a few months, the person in question is probably back at square one, complete disbelief.  See what I mean?

I'm not trying to demonize atheists here.  I love seekers, more importantly, Jesus loves seekers.  But if we're truly seeking, we must seek unbiasedly.  Otherwise we're just looking for what we want to see.  I have little respect for jaded and angry "seekers" full of arrogance and denying all contraries to their well established systems of blindness.  

Jesus said it best in John 8:42 (NIV)

42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? 47 He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." 

Why is it that they cannot believe? Their ears cannot bear to hear the truth. So much said, in so few words. That's why I love the Bible.  You can tell Jesus was upset.  He desperately wanted them to know the truth and accept it.  I remember the scene from the movie The Gospel of John, and the dialogue in the movie is straight from the Bible word for word, and Jesus is preaching in the crowd and they just aren't receiving his message.  He pauses for a second saying to himself, "Why can you not hear my message?"  As if talking to himself, and then he looked around, and burst out "You are the children of your Father the devil!"  One of my favorite scenes from that movie.  Obviously it's just an attempted depiction, but it seemed to sit right with my heart.  It was as if Jesus was scanning their hearts, upset, searching for the reason for their rejection of his simple message.

As I have said, I love seekers.  I love political activists.  I love people fighting for truth.  I love seekers.  I believe that at the heart of every true libertarian, anon, occupier, intellectual, and seeker is one thing: A desperate desire, and more so, need, for one thing: the truth.   

It's that search that compels us forward.  Whether exposing media blackouts, gathering to protest, hacking into government data to expose corruption, studying books in a college library, or quietly searching out for a primary purpose in life... The search is absolutely insatiable.  I love these types.  They love truth, pure, powerful truth.  They can smell disingenuous motives from a mile way, and they check their sources.   Some have become jaded, but others have starry eyes, as they find nugget after nugget, progressing forward to the one truth that binds all man kind.  I do love them so.  They are so rare, so beautiful to watch, so incredibly vital and necessary.  And for the greatest part of them, they are completely sincere in their desire for that one thing, complete truth!  God bless these men and women.  God bless them and keep them, until they reach the point where you show yourself to them in a powerful way.  On that day I hope and pray, that their hearts will receive Jesus Christ as an inescapable reality that is both tangible and utterly undeniable to their minds and hearts.  

Prov. 1:5 ESV Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance

To me, such people are so rare, so beautiful, so creative, so incredible, so wise, so stunning, so bright to the eyes of a gray world that I must and absolutely must, must, must, bring them to eternal life in anyway I can.  I wish to God I had the perfect words to explain it to every one of them.  The loss of such souls would be an unspeakable crime against all being and existence.  I point to the path, that they might choose to walk it and see for themselves just what truth, justice, morality, peace, and liberty really mean.   

James 1:5-6 ESV 5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

 

I pray that when I die, all of hell will rejoice that I am no longer in the fight. -Charles Thomas Studd

In closing, I'd like to suggest to those who still have questions or are uncertain about this God thing: Ask God.  He will show himself to you, just remember to be patient and open to the process of awakening.  It will happen.  All of those who call out to God in times of trouble are delivered.  For those who have trouble intellectualizing their faith, and let me tell you I was one of them, try listening to one of my favorite speakers, Ravi Zacharias.  If you search youtube for his videos you'll find lots of his talks.  He's gone all over the world, spoken all over the world, and has gone to campuses like Princeton to field questions from atheists and agnostics on Christianity.  His arguments literally changed my world.  He has several wonderful books as well.  I'm still in the process of reading them.  If it's more about experience and the heart for you, ask God to show himself, and start watching for experiential evidence of his existence. 

And to all the Christian brothers and sisters reading this, I'd like to thank you for what you do everyday for Jesus and his kingdom.  You do not work for nothing friends, in fact you work for everything.  You are my spiritual family, the family I was adopted into just a year ago.  I encourage you to start actively sharing your faith in any and all ways you can.  You'll know what to do, God will guide you.  Let me leave you with this statement made by Ravi Zacharias regarding apologetics and intellectual defense of the Bible.  He was holding a Bible as he spoke, and when he says "this" hes referring to the Bible in his hand.

"If the world wants to believe a noble lie, and we believe that this (the Bible) is the truth, and this is the word that defines reality, there is only one question for you and me to answer in this apologetic conflict: Why do we believe this to be true? When was the last time you walked into a church and heard a sermon on why the Bible is true? This is our problem. Our young people want to believe this. But they're not getting answers on why this is true. We tell people they are framing their lives by a lie, we have followed the truth, and the biggest question in our churches is why is this the truth? Why have you traded your life for what genesis 1-12 says here, and the rest of it? If this is true then we better tell our young people why it is true because they can't go into their colleges and universities and just say "the Bible says" We tell them they are living by a lie and we tell them we are living by the truth and they wanna know who says so! The biggest failure we are doing as Christian leaders to our young people is that we have not taught them how to defend this. That is the failure of the apologetic movement over the last 20-30 years." - Ravi Zacharias


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Academic Paper: Basics of the Faith, Book of Romans


Romans is a systematic presentation of what it means to be a Christian. Romans was written by Paul during his stay at Corinth, to the early church forming in Rome. Romans chapters 1 through 8 has a lot to say about the natural world, human identity, relationships, culture, and civilization. A basis is described for a firm foundation in Christianity, which goes to why the book is popular and widely interpreted. Romans 1-8 deeply affects my worldview and how I act and think.
Romans teaches a great deal about the natural world. Romans 1:20 (NLT) states "20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God." This indicates that the natural world is a physical display of who God is. In addition, the natural world is direct evidence for the existence of God. The sky is beautiful, the earth is amazing, and these are two qualities God has in abundance. When I first started to seek God, it was the beauty of his creation that first opened my mind to it. Instead of seeing the world as a random gathering of evolution, I see Earth as a temporary construct, and a fallen planet riddled with sin. I also see the beauty and majesty of the mind of my creator. Sometimes it's hard to see the world so starkly, but in the end the peace God gives is greater than my own fear.
Romans teaches that every individual's identity is with God, through Christ. Romans teaches that we are all sinners and deserve death (Romans 3:10). There is no way humanity can earn eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift from Jesus Christ, through our faith in him (Romans 3:22). Humanity could not fulfill the requirement of the law and all fall short of God's standard (Romans 3:23). All humans are sinners in identity, but find true identity through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:21). Before I had my identity in Christ, I considered what the world said about me. The world constantly told me I wasn't attractive enough. It told me I needed more money, more stuff, and more power. Now I understand that I have great value through the eyes of my God. I am chosen, loved, and protected by the living God.
According to Romans 4:13 (NLT) "13 Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith." Romans teaches that our righteousness with God is predicated on our relationship with him and our trust in him. A close relationship with God is only possible through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:2). Humans are relationally slaves to that which they serve, which makes those saved, slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). When Adam sinned, all humanity received the curse of death. My worldview on people is that they all fall short of God's perfection. At first this gave me a very negative view of people around me. But knowing that I'm not any better, I come to love those around me, and want them to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Romans says quite a bit about human culture. As far as Jews are concerned, the law of Moses had become a huge part of their culture. Unfortunately Jews had gotten too far into the letter of the law, without obeying the spirit of the law (Romans 7:6). They were arrogant about their position in relation to God, and had begun to see themselves as better than gentiles. This caused them to set a poor example for gentiles, and then gentiles would speak poorly of God as well. The law of Moses could not save the Jews, because of sin's power (Romans 8:3). Due to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, there is now no condemnation for those who belong to him (Romans 8:1). Jew and Gentile alike can now receive the free gift of eternal life. This affects my world view in that I don't need to feel utterly defeated when I'm not living up to the ten commandments. The law of Moses simple displays that I am a sinner. It also reminds me that all have the offer of salvation through Christ. Every person in every country on the planet has this possibility in front of them. I am unable to discriminate, even if I don't like someone.
Romans 8:19-21 (NLT) says " For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay." This is a powerful statement on the path of civilization itself. All of creation awaits the return of Jesus Christ. The entire path of civilization is relational to God. It all draws from the sin of Adam, that lead to the curse of sin being placed on all mankind (Romans 5:12). This curse of sin is why there is so much suffering and disaster in the world. Civilization crumbles due to it's own sin. Jesus Christ performed an act of righteousness by his sinless life and allowed for humanity to have a right relationship with their creator (Romans 5:18). Those who belong to Jesus Christ have received a spirit which they obey, which leads to good deeds and actions (Romans 8:6). Thanks to Jesus Christ, there is now nothing that separate God's children from the love of God (Romans 8:39). This affects my worldview in about a million ways, but I'll just go into a few examples. I understand that I'm a sinner, and that I must avoid listening to that part of myself. I need to listen to the holy spirit within me, and let it convict me to do right. There is a lot of peace in waiting for the return of Jesus Christ.
I learned a lot from the teachings in Romans, chapters 1 through 8. My worldview has changed drastically from when I was an unbeliever to right now. I can have hope, and greater than hope, assurance that I am saved and will live on. Love and compassion for others is my creed, and the course of civilization and culture speak to the truth that I am a child of the living God.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Practical Process for Inner Transformation




A lifestyle of peace is an inward change before it ever shows in our actions.  Naturally it will show in our actions.  I'd be utterly derelict of my duties if I didn't share with you my dear friends a practical and simple approach for inner transformation.  Of course this isn't something I came up with on my own, but a tried and true method developed in 1939 and perpetuated by 300 or so 12 step programs across the entire planet with millions of members in their various areas of focus (depression, overeating, gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, life, etc).

 I'd like to share this process with you, in the hopes that it will assist you in the revolutionary way it did with me.

This process is simple and straight forward, it's practical application of scripture in fact.  These are the twelve steps and their Biblical comparisons:

THE TWELVE STEPS
AND THEIR BIBLICAL COMPARISONS

1) We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors. That our lives had become unmanageable.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18)

2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1)

4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:40)

5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

7) Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

9) Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out.
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3:16a)

12) Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and practice these principles in all our affairs.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

[source: Celebrate Recovery]

The process of these steps is incredibly powerful.  The process of thoroughly working these steps has changed countless lives.  Naturally I can't force you to go through this process.  But I can explain it briefly, in the hopes that some knowledge of it will provoke action.

If you have deep resentments, trouble with negative thinking, depression, or you just don't feel happy inside your own head, then this process will assist with that.  If not, that's awesome.  But if you know someone who does, then share this process with them!

For most of us Christians, we've been through the first three steps.  The first step is surrendering to a higher power, and that means God, through Jesus Christ.  We admit that we can't take on life alone, it didn't work for us that way.  So we surrender, and ask God to guide our actions.  Step one is just admitting that life us unmanageable apart from God.  That one was easy for me.  Step two is really the process so many beautiful and courageous seekers are in right now.  

I love seekers, and Jesus really loved seekers.  People who are earnestly seeking some sort of higher power or understanding of spirituality.  They desperately want to know the truth and they desperately want to find a way to be good people.  That is a beautiful thing to see, someone out there researching, learning, listening, and studying.  I love love love seekers.  Perhaps because I used to be one.

Step three for me was realizing that there was a God and he was the only one hands down who could help me through life.  Specifically for me, God was the only one who could help me out of my depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, and constant tendency to make poor decisions.  My case was and is extreme, but for many of us, we grew up knowing we needed God and always stayed with him.  High five if that's you, but for some of us raised outside the established church, or coming from condemning churches, we had to seek it out in the world.  That isn't all that fun, yet, it was so very intriguing at the same time.  

Steps four through seven are the ones I'd like to tell you about.  Let me say now, I don't claim to be part of any particular fellowship, and I don't claim to be an authority on the 12 steps or God.  I'm just a guy, trying to share something that helped him.  

Step four is: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 
Link to a worksheet for step four: Step four pdf

Christianity is really all about living out the mind of Christ.  Too many, far, far too many Christians are living as a poor representation of the faith.  And as we see, when we fail to live the example day by day no one takes any interest.  Our neighbors don't convert as we seem just as miserable and jaded as ever.  This is dereliction of duty.  I can hardly fault people for failing to live out the mind of Christ though, as so many preachers have abdicated their duty to preach a practical message.

Tell me if this was your experience at church, because wow it was quite certainly mine.  I was told over and over what I ought to be like, holy, loving, caring, forgiving, moral, supporting, and evangelical.  Unfortunately, I was never told how to be that.  And I imagine a lot just stop there, and assume that there must be something wrong with them, that they aren't measuring up to being a Christian.  So they just leave church, because it's too hard.  Their heart aches as the minister shouts and provokes them to be better than they are, but for some reason they can't seem to see that change happen.  They know who they ought to be, but the minister skipped such a vital step: self examination.  We must inwardly change before we can even hope to outwardly change anything effectively.

A moral inventory is a very simple thing.  Is it particularly easy?  I'm not going to say that it is.  This involves a process of looking through ourselves, and seeing where we need changes made.  Many would rather face misery and destruction then look honestly inward.  I'm asking you today, to be brave in this process.  Get a mentality of whatever it takes to serve God.  Ask God to help you through the process.  Ask him to place it on your heart until it's done. 


How It's Done:
We make four lists of highly personal information: resentments, fears, harms to others, and sexual harms.  Intense right?  I know!  I love how intense it is.  True change is facilitated by utter honesty and willingness.

Here is what it looks like, make five columns:

1:Resentment                   2:the cause                     3:instinct                  4:What did I do?      5:Defect


Put on a sheet of paper these five columns.  I'll explain them.  First column will be the resentment in question, or the fear, or the harm I caused, or the sexual harm.  Say I have a resentment against my dad, I would put "my dad" in the first column, and it's as simple as that.  A resentment is really a thought that I have over and over about someone, like my dad, because I'm mad or sad about he treated me in the past.  Every time I replay that resentment it causes pain in my spirit, and that's no good, I need to get that out of there so it can be replaced with love and compassion.  God does so much of his communication with us humans within our minds and thoughts, and if we have all that garbage in our heads, he can't communicate effectively with us.

Column two is the cause of my resentment, or the cause of my fear, or for harms or sexual harms it would be what I did to harm the individual.  So if in column one I put "my dad" in column two I would write out what is in my head that's upsetting me about what he did.  So I might put something like "he didn't spend enough time with me when I was younger."  And it's as simple as that.

Column three is called "instinct" or "the instinct that it affects."  Bill Wilson, the creator of these twelve steps indicated in his writings that humans operate on three basic instincts of life.  These basic instincts are called the security instinct, the social instinct, and the sexual instinct.  The security instinct refers to caring for myself.  My security instinct includes my need for safety, my need for shelter, my need for food, really the basic needs of human survival.  My social instinct refers to my interactions with others.  My social instinct is really the instinct I have to have friends, to be in communion with family, to be around other human beings.  My sexual instinct is my desire for companionship with a female, including physical pleasure, intimate connection, and procreation.  Bill Wilson indicates that we all tend to operate by attempting to fulfill our needs in each of these categories.  I search desperately for a job when I'm unemployed because it threatens my security instinct.  I maintain my friendships because I have a craving that is basic, my social instinct.  I search relentlessly for the one true love of my life because I'm attempting to fulfill my need for female companionship, the sexual instinct.  We can break down all of our actions, and at the core is one of these three instincts.  These instincts are good and right, and God-given writes Bill Wilson, but when one of them gets out of whack, we act out and trouble in our lives and the lives of others is the inevitable result.  So with "my dad" being in the first column, and "because he didn't spend enough time with when I was younger" is in the second column, what would I put for the instinct that is adversely affected?  Well that thought, resentment, affects my social instinct.  So I would put "social" or "soc."  I'm not done there though, because this resentment also affects my security instinct, as such a thought affects my self esteem.  So I would put "soc, sec" in column three.

Column four is the big one.  What did I do?  As I replayed that resentment over and over in my head, over the years I've changed and altered it.  That's completely normal for us as humans to do.  We slowly alter the resentment so that it seems like we didn't even do anything to cause it, and play up the part the other person did.  So what did I do to get the ball rolling in this resentment against my dad?  Well I never really tried to make time to spend with my dad, and that pattern has continued over the years.  We didn't really have much in common anyway.  He was very busy with work a lot of the time.  I'm not a judge, I can't sit back and say this is the exact amount of time a dad should spend with his kid.  He was doing the best he could.  You see how through this process we can start to see the truth of situations and resentments in our lives?  In the fourth column that resentment or fear tends to begin to disappear.  By seeing it plain and simple on paper we start to see what's really going on.  We start to replace angry memories with compassion and understanding.

Column five is the tool that helps us to break the pattern of resentment, fear and harm.  Column five is called "defect" or "character defect."  There is no need to beat up on ourselves for having a defect.  All that matters is that we can now remove it.  We don't have to shout from the roof tops, "look at me with this defect!"  But we can change it inwardly.  And that's a brave process to go through.  It's an honorable and God honoring process to go through.  Column five is where we put what character defect is holding us back from God's best.  The primary defects that Bill Wilson lists are: selfishness, self seeking and frightened, inconsiderate, and dishonest.  "self seeking and frightened" refers to attempting to gain something due to fear, in a wrongful manner. 
There are many others that we can list as well like "pride, greed, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, impatience, self pity, suspicion, etc.  For my dad, and my resentment regarding not receiving enough attention, which affects my social and security instincts, the defects involved here I'll put down will probably be: self seeking and frightened (wanting affection, adjusting the resentment over time), selfishness (holding onto the resentment for years damaged my relationship with my father, thats just selfish) and I could also put dishonest and inconsiderate. 

This simple process of five columns, and seeing that we were doing is incredibly profound.  Resentments, fear, and harms that have held us back for years in our thoughts, things that have dogged us day and night can be removed and diminished so very simply.  You know it's of God when it's infinitely simple, yet powerfully complex and wonderful in it's results!  I beg you to try this.  Think about what's holding you back.  What goes on in your mind?  I know a lot of the resentments that we put down, we will feel like we didn't do anything and that we're justified in holding on to them.  Well, when it first happened it was very hurtful and they did hurt us.  But when we replay it in our own head, we're hurting ourselves.  And maybe we want to hold onto these resentments and problems because then we can use the resentment as justification for a poor situation.  Well if you truly want to honor God and you truly want to have a lifestyle of peace, this is a powerful and simple way.  Just try it.  I think you'll be astounded by the results. 

The resentments sheet, and the fears sheet will look exactly like those five columns, just list them one by one.  Say for my fears sheet, just like the resentments sheet I'd put down a fear, say "of talking to people I don't know."  Next column, "because I don't know them and they might hurt me or be rude".  Third column, "social and security instincts" Fourth column, "because I've been hurt in the past by friends and family, because I tend to see the worst in people, etc."  Fifth column, "self seeking and frightened, fear, self-pity, suspicion."  And it's just that simple, fear by fear, I can clear out a lot of unneeded fear in my life. 

With the harms and sexual harms sheets, the columns will look a little different.  More like this:

1 Who did I harm?   2 How did I harm them?   3 Instinct (soc, sec, sex)  4 Where should I have done?  5 Defect

So the 1st column would be say my friend "John Smith."  The 2nd column would be "I made fun of him to my other friends when he wasn't there."  3rd column, which instinct was out of whack?  My social instinct, and maybe my security instinct, if I did it because of low self esteem.  "Where should I have done?" Well, I should have not been talking behind his back, and I should have come to him directly with any issues I had.  5th column, what was the character defect?  Probably self seeking and frightened.

So that's step four in a nutshell.  Most of us will probably come up with 10-20 pages of stuff, for me it was a lot longer.  Others might only have a few pages.  It all depends on the person.

Step five is:  5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.

By going through this fourth step we've admitted to ourselves our resentments, fears and harms.  Now we take this information to another human being.  For most of us being Christians, this will be our Minister or Pastor.  Confession is a biblical principle, and it's something we have to do.  By going through all of this stuff with someone, we unload it from our spirits.  A great deal is healed from just going over it ourselves, but that just isn't enough.  If you're a member of a church and you wouldn't want the preacher you see daily to know some of these things, then set up an appointment with another minister or a Christian counselor somewhere in your area.  If you have a therapist you see, you could request to do it with them.  If you have a close friend you can also do it with them.  Step five is huge, because it cleans out our spirit.  We've kept many things to ourselves for years, and it's time to unload it from the spirit.  Trust me on this one, it's worth it.


6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Now we're to step six.  What does it mean?  What character defects?  The character defects we wrote down in column five of our moral inventory!  We see we've often been selfish, inconsiderate, prideful, angry, and fearful, among other things.  Are we willing to have these problematic issues removed from our thinking?  That is step six.  How do we become willing if we are not?  We ask God for help.  This is the prayer from 12 step literature:
Dear God, I am ready for Your help in removing from me the defects of character which I now realize are an obstacle to my recovery. Help me to continue being honest with myself & guide me toward spiritual & mental health. (76:1)

Step 7 is:  7) Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. 

We ask God in prayer to remove our shortcomings.  The prayer from 12 step literature is:
"My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good & bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you & my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here to do Your bidding." (76:2)

You can start to see why this process works when many others simply do not.  We rely completely on God to do much of the work within us.  Naturally God won't do for us what we can do for ourselves.  So be mindful after saying these prayers.  After I took the 7th step prayer I noticed how God brought me to books I needed to read, and to conversations where he spoke through the people around me.  Slowly but surely, he was removing my defects.  Another tool for this process is very important.  When we see our defects in the fifth column of step four, we look at them.  Then we try to see what the opposite of that defect is.  Here is a list:

Defect:                                   Asset:
Self seeking & frightened    Serving God courageously
Dishonest                              Honesty
Fear                                        Courage
Pride                                      Humility
Greed                                    Giving & Sharing
Angry                                    Calm
Resentful                              Forgiving  

It's helpful to have a list like this in front of us daily.  That way when we start the day we can think about how we tend to act, and mindfully try to practice the opposite.  So if I'm constantly afraid, I have to start trying to be courageous and figure out what that looks like in practice.  God will help us within our own minds and in messages in the world around us and from people to help us grow in the direction he wants us to.  

I'm just briefly going to talk about the rest of the steps.  I really wanted to share four through seven, as those are really powerful to me in my recovery, and my attempts to grow as a Christian.  I think you'll find it a powerful experience, not necessarily the most comfortable process, but great things happen when we step outside our comfort zone.

Steps eight and nine are about making amends to those we've harmed.  We look at the people and institutions listed in our fourth step under harms and sexual harms.  We then go to those people in person, and apologize for harming them, let them know we are actively seeking to live in a way in which we won't cause further harm to them.  We also offer to make amends to them, like paying back money we owe them, or promising to consider certain needs or spend more time with them.  Naturally we don't do this if it will harm the individual in question, or anyone else.  These two steps are really where a lot of the shame of past wrongs goes away, and self esteem is built.

Steps ten, eleven and twelve are about growth.  We pray and seek God, we continue to take moral inventory when we notice issues popping up, we also continue to make amends when we harm people along the way in this journey.  We practice the principles of a good Christian life in all our affairs, and we try to help others and spread the good message of Jesus Christ.  

By this process we fix the issue of not being able to live out the moral issues of the Biblical message.  We don't have to sit back frustrated that we can't seem to live up to the high standards of the Christian lifestyle.  Naturally we are all sinners and will continue to sin.  We know that.  This is not a perfect solution, and unfortunately we cannot become completely sinless people.  But we can tend to have much less sin in our lives, and feel a great deal more inner peace and serenity.  

When we work through this process of inner change we can then display the true example of Christianity.  With all that garbage removed from us, we feel a much deeper connection to God.  We start to feel his love for us, and start to feel genuine joy.  We start to care for others and we start to love people more completely.  We connect with God and start to think as a true Christian in terms of love, joy, peace, serenity, happiness, compassion, and forgiveness.  

One final note, if you've got some serious hangouts like food addiction, gambling problems, sexual misconduct, abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, or issues of the sort, seek out a twelve step recovery group in your area.  You can usually find listings in the newspaper, or by searching Google for groups in your area.  Sometimes we need the support of a weekly group and fellowship with others to support our recovery and growth as Christians.  Celebrate recovery is a program at many churches that deals with all these areas, and works off the twelve steps.  There are other programs to explore as well. 

Thank you for reading, and God bless you :)  Go in peace and love!

  

Living Intentionally

I love all you guys and gals.  :)  And for no particular reason, I just do.  Living intentionally is very important.  Our mindfulness, what we think about and how we think can easily be altered over time.  Altered if we don't always tend to think positively.  Which I don't always tend to think particularly positively, but I learn and I keep trying.  It's good to push up thoughts and questions in your mind like, how can I be loving right now?  How can I be helpful?  How can I care about someone?  Is there someone in my phone that could use a text of encouragement?  Some of you are really good at this, you're constantly lifting people up and encouraging others.  I love to see that.  Personally, I have some learning to do in that area.  I spent several years quite isolated from my peers, and a lot of this process of growth has been just learning to come out of my shell and help facilitate healthy friendships and family relations. 

Honestly, it's been exceedingly difficult for me.  I'm the kind of guy who walks around with a lot of fear in social situations.  That's slowly changing, but it's something I've dealt with my entire life.  A couple months of attempting to adjust my thinking isn't going to produce a complete and permanent adjustment.  Do you know what I mean?  These are deeply imbedded learned behavior.  And if you often happen to be an individual who's kind of a perfectionist, then it's easy to get frustrated with slow progress. 

Here's something I learned in recovery: I'm exactly where I'm suppose to be right at this exact moment.  I don't need to be exhausting myself during my down time constantly yearning for changes and growth.  This kind of growth develops over time.  Patience, right?  Long perseverance and endurance in this storm of life. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Recovering Consumer & Self Righteous Intellectual



Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.

We are all born with and continue on in our lives with eternity planted on our souls.  We all know inwardly that we are created by a God.  Naturally we are lead to believe otherwise in very,very powerful ways.  Every emotion and impulse, every thought is directed in the opposite direction by the world.  The indoctrination by society is powerful and relentless, add to that, that we do not tend to look at it from that kind of angle.  Taboos are created in all directions to discourage and "snap shut" the mind from even the mere possibility of a God.  

We are raised up to be self sufficient.  We are raised on evolution.  We are raised on believing only what we can tangibly see.  We are raised to consume.  We are raised to fulfill our wants and desires.  We are told to make a life for ourselves.  We are bombarded, daily, with advertisements for every product and service imaginable.  Think I'm wrong?  How many name brands or companies can you name off the top of your head?  I could make a list very long.. lets see, Mcdonalds, burger king, snickers, microsoft, best buy, kraft, febreze, target, goodwill, walgreens, ibm, family video, toys r us, beanie babies, mobile, exxon, wal mart, green bay packers, etc.  I'm sure all, not just some, but every single one of us reading this could name many, many, many more.  Now, name the twelve apostles.  ... See what I mean?  

So we've got a world very much in our faces constantly, blasting us on all sides.  And we have constant desires, pulling us in all directions.  Sometimes less than helpful parents.  Television screens, phone screens, and computer screens to mesmorize us more than we might imagine, into a state of blank thoughtless gazing.  I'm not trying to sound like a conspiracy theorist here, I'm just saying there is an incredible amount of stimuli in the world pushing us in negative directions.

Compounding this already powerfully difficult situation, the few of us legitimately exposed to religion, spirituality, whatever you want to call it, probably had a negative experience with it.  If you didn't, awesome, good for you, I'd love to hear about your church, because I was not exposed to a true Christian message.  I was exposed to a Catholic message.  Now I'm not saying all Catholics are bad, or that Catholic churches as a whole are bad, I'm saying mine, and many others experience with it is not positive. 

This is what I encountered being raised at my particular Catholic church:  I was faced with constant criticism.  I was scared of God, because we kept having to ask him to have mercy on us.  He seemed like a big scary bearded man in the clouds.  The sermons seemed old, and out of date, and I took little to nothing away from the sermons that was at all applicable to modern life.  If that wasn't enough, the sermons also lacked practical application of any kind.  "Be holy!" Well, how do I be holy?  What's the practical application?  So I assumed, because I wasn't being holy, that I just couldn't be holy.  I wasn't told there were methods and practical ways to develop a lifestyle of connection to God.  On top of that, masses were very boring, old out of tune organ, robes, candles, lots of things I didn't understand.  

So that became my conception of religion, an old, out of date, one hour a week ceremonial ritual that seemed to have little relevance to my life in a fast paced technologically advanced society.  And that was that, I didn't know there was any other way.  So naturally I left frustrated.  Thought details may be different in many of our cases, haven't many of us experiences such issues with "organized religion"?

If the scientific indoctrination, wild consumer society, constant impulse stimuli, and under-relevant hypocritical modern Catholic church weren't enough to push me in the opposite direction from God, I didn't WANT there to be a God.  Then I would have to be accountable for my actions.  Bummer!  Add to that, the media playing Christianity as backwards in the spotlight, not to mention the media promoting sin celebration (chasing money, chasing jobs, chasing styles, chasing sex, chasing drugs, etc) and diverting my attention elsewhere.

So theres the one end of the spectrum.  It's no wonder, even when people are placed with compelling experiential and physical evidence of the existence of a God, and a savior, that they simply refuse to believe anyway.

On the opposite end, well, after all of that I still had eternity placed on my soul.  And it wasn't going anywhere.  That's where that insatiable curiosity comes from, to understand what life is, why life is, and how life is.  After all that stuff, I still was curious about the possibility of an all loving God.  The trouble with that eternity on the soul is that it requires filling.  Satisfying my desires day by day, for alcohol, for escape, for fun, for adventure, for studying, for learning, for friendships, for relationships, none of it provided a fill.  As soon as I dumped it into the eternity spot on my soul, it was empty again the next day.  

That's how and why we hear about the old cliche, a young man gets married, has kids, buys a house, nice car, picket fence, power lawnmower, and one day sitting in his arm chair a middle age man, realizes he has all of this but isn't happy.  Vala, middle life crisis.  

1 Timothy 6:9 (GWT) But people who want to get rich keep falling into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful desires which drown them in destruction and ruin.


Sadly that wasn't enough for me to take a hard look at the God question.  It was enough for me to invent my own God-less spirituality however.  Then I still wasn't accountable to anyone, but I could fantasize and make up my own spiritual world with telepathy, speaking to the dead, spirit guides, and all kinds of nonsense I read in bogus esoteric books.  Naturally, that didn't lead anywhere.  It wasn't real, it was a vague sort of spiritual conception that lended itself no concrete results as far as inner growth or solid lasting change.

With that plant of eternity on my soul, I had another desire: to save the world.  I wanted to help people.  I wanted to see the world restored to right and just law and liberty.  I wanted to be the chivalrous knight, the honorable mysterious warrior, the Jedi knight standing against evil and darkness.  I've always wondered if that's everyones experience or just mine.

Naturally as I've explained before, that wasn't enough for me either, and it took my life becoming a complete mess, and then a complete and utter disaster of wreckage and pain and misery before I truly called out to Jesus for help.

Romans 10:13 (LV) Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.    

 
I was constantly trying to intellectualize the world around me.  And let me tell you, that is very fun, and it certainly leads to some useful information.  But it didn't lead to a new me that wasn't a screw up.  It didn't lead to the rebirth Jesus told Nicodemus about.  It lead to an arrogant pothead thinking he knew something about the world around him.  Naturally I learned great ideas from Emerson, Thoreau, studied Libertarians political ideas, learned about computers, nature, the weather, and studied writings of Hunter S Thompson, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Madeleine D'Engle, and H.G. Wells to learn my craft of writing, but did I really apply any of it to myself?  Was I really out there making a difference in the world?  Or was I sitting in basements and run-down houses with self-righteous hipsters getting stoned?  Being a Christian I don't really like South Park, but I appreciate the episode when the boys hang out with hippies, talking about stopping the corporations, but every time the boys try to get them to actually take legitimate action, the hippies just sit and keep getting stoned, or at best, throw a festival.  Really at the core of all that drug talk and mindless philosophizing is an attempt to fight the ever-more-present realization that while I claim to care so much for the world and want to see justice done for all, I am, in fact, sitting in a basement hitting a glass pipe everyday as the world goes on around me.  At the heart, utter selfishness so blatant the only way to push it off is to talk about the troubles of the world, very easily blocking out the recollection of my own serious problems and their possible solutions, that might require a bit of ACTION AND SELF DISCIPLINE.  That was too hard.  I wanted to get stoned and complain angrily about issues outside my immediate influence.  So I did.


Colossians 2:8-13 (MSG) Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that's not the way of Christ. 9 Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. 10 When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything. 11 Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It's not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you're already in - insiders - not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin.  (underline and italics added for emphasis)

What I learned from all my intellectualizing was this.. there are so many roads on that path, a billion roads, leading a billion directions, all most intriguing, all quite provoking, but I had missed the reality of it because I could not see it, in my own pride and ego: the greatest challenge is a humble truth hidden from us all in taboos, organized crimes, and assumptions I thought were my own but indeed were taught into me without my knowledge, the hidden truth was that I could not understand the one who created all things, and once my pride was all but washed away, my eyes could see that my trust had to be placed without knowing, and if I took that leap into the dark, despite my pride, I found myself on a path I couldn't have imagined, a true path, made possible by Jesus Christ. Consider this.


Matthew 7:7 (NLT) "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you."
 
And why do so many never receive a connection to God?  Not because he isn't real, but because the process is too hard.  It's too hard to try believing and take a leap of trust.  They don't really care about checking into it, anyway.  And when all of the skepticism is washed away, and they're presented with the raw possibility of a one true God, they simply decline the invitation to that road.  This is an invitation I believe God presents to every single person born from the beginning of time, until the end of it.  He presents the invitation as a raw possibility, worth exploring.  At that moment the individual sees that road, and there is no doubt, that it is at least possible (more will be revealed).  And that person, if they choose to decline that sincere invitation, have no room, no room whatsoever, to claim an unbiased position ever again.  They have made their bias all too clear, by refusing to take a simple walk down the road of possibility.  

Romans 10:16-17 But not everyone who hears the Good News has welcomed it, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed me when I told them?”[b] 17 Yet faith comes from listening to this Good News—the Good News about Christ.
Now, let me insert a disclaimer here (I swear half the time I spend writing about Christianity ends up being disclaimers for things that might "upset" people).  In fact I just thought about adding a disclaimer for the disclaimer, because I don't want to seem rude by putting "upset" in quotations, that might infer sarcasm, let me say now, I'm very sensitive to the difficulty people have with religion and God.  

I'm digressing, the point is, I'm not saying this raw possibility theory is an absolute.  God can offer the possibility several times, a million times, or he can just knock you off a horse and say "Hi I'm Jesus, get with the program." 

So we've got the external forces that draw us away from God nailed down, right there, all consuming, and it is so very very easy to lose ourselves in any one of those things, whether it's alcoholism, television, fashion, even hobbies like boating, fishing, hunting, or eating or gossiping, or talking endlessly about local politics or over-working.  I'm not saying those are bad things as part of a Christian life, but when we fall into them as the center of our life, then we've got a problem.     We've nailed down the fact that seeking a connection to an all loving God is a hard path even to want to choose, much less walk down earnestly. Really a possible and fairly probable conclusion that could be drawn from this is that when humans aren't raised in fair and true Christianity, which in it's true form is an experience of connection, joy, love, peace, and liberty from compulsion and obsession, that it is hard to be open to the idea later in life.  And at this moment, church attendance is at the lowest it's ever been in the United States, 18%.  The results of this decline, whether directly or indirectly, is poor leadership in government, death of morality in the public mind, economic decline, drug use on the rise, and a corresponding increase in everyday misery.  

1 Peter 5:9 (MSG) Keep your guard up. You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith.

Now more than ever in the history of our country, is the time to take on a true evangelical attitude.  Sharing the message, which is harder than it's ever been, because we are often cast out and looked at as "weird bible thumpers" or just "intolerant crackpots."  I'm asking you to take that stand.  Bring the message of evangelism to your churches, if you're reading this message now.  We've got to live out a truly loving attitude, in that way non-Christians cannot ignore us and write us off.  Love, true compassion, and all encompassing forgiveness have a way of shocking people out of disinterest and apathy.  Be that message first, daily, and then share the message, daily, lovingly.  That's my request, and I don't make them often.


Matthew 28:16-20 (MSG) 16-17 Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. 
18-20 Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

And my message to atheists, agnostics, non-Christians, and those who are uninterested, yet somehow ended up reading here, is this: There is a God.  I know, I was surprised too.  And if you were raised on a religion that condemned you, pushed you away, or seemed old and irrelevant, let me tell you now, that isn't Christianity!  Isn't, isn't, isn't.  Christianity is not about keeping the ten commandments, period.  That is not the message at all. 

 Galatians 3:11 (MSG) says "The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: "The person who believes God, is set right by God - and that's the real life."  


This was written less than 100 years after the resurrection of Christ, and somehow the Catholics missed it, evidenced by the ten commandments written in stone above their churches, instead of Jesus command to love God and love others.  


I'm telling you the truth here and now.  There are churches out there where the true message is preached, though they are far between.  At my church is a practical message.  We talk about events in the world and in the local area, and see how they apply to our faith.  There is great encouragement and always something I can take home and apply to my life and growth.  The message is love, forgiveness, salvation, and utter truth.  That is the message.  And such a message is incredibly wonderful to be a part of.  After being alone in the world for so long I was shocked by the loving environment around me.  In fact I was so dead inside, I thought they wanted something from me, they were being so kind.  I realized they wanted something for me, love, happiness, and peace.  I saw my life change in a powerful way, a way I didn't think was possible, by calling out to Jesus Christ for help in my troubles.  Call out to him if you're troubled.  Earnestly call out to him.  The worst that could happen is that you're talking to yourself, the best, you could see the truth, be changed utterly by the truth, and become part of a beautiful family under a loving and forgiving God, that gives great peace amidst this storm of life.  Try it.  Please, try it.  This is the moment, seize it.


Hebrews 11:1 (MSG) The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see.




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