How Do You Know?

One of the aspects of Christianity that I struggle with is that of assurance. In other words, how do I know that God chose me? For me, having been educated in the reformed tradition and being a member of a Presbyterian church, this pertains mostly to the question of election (I feel like I’m chosen, but how do I know?), but I think many of us ponder assurance in a broader sense.

What has been helpful for me is to remember that God through the Holy Spirit changes our hearts, gradually transforming us in this life to more Godly people, and eventually perfecting us in our eternal lives. Indeed, the Apostle Paul writes that the Holy Spirit himself bears witness that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). Paul also writes that we should test ourselves throughout our walk with Christ, to make an honest assessment of where we are versus where we were (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 13:5). Of course, this makes sense but I would caution that if after such an assessment you don’t see any real progress, to first dig deeper; are you more patient, less prone to anger, generally more at peace, more kind towards others, more humble, etc.? These all count! You can be assured that the Spirit is doing a work in you that God will finish (Philippians 1:6). If you still don’t pass the test, don’t worry, go back to God’s Word, speak to your pastor (if you don’t have one, get one) and in get involved Christian community. God is pursuing you, you may just need to be willing to get caught.    

I Will Never Forgive That!

One of God’s commands to us that could be filed under “easier said than done” is that we are to always forgive one another. In Jesus’ Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), he teaches in response to a question from Peter that that we are to essentially forgive unconditionally. In other words, if we are wronged, no matter how serious the offense, we are obligated to forgive.

So why are we to do this very difficult thing (besides the fact that we are commanded by God to do so)? Going back to Jesus’ parable, he tells Peter of a servant who had an insurmountable debt that his master graciously forgave him of. The servant then went out and demanded that a much smaller debt owed to him by one of his peers be paid immediately or he would be thrown into prison. This news got back to the master and he punished the ungrateful servant by forcing him to work of his enormous debt. The point Jesus was trying to make is that God does not put any limits on His forgiveness for our sins, which is way more than any human being deserves  – and He does this out of His love for us. Therefore, we need to keep in mind the scale of God’s grace towards us and our helplessness to rid ourselves of sin, whenever we are confronted with a situation where we need to forgive someone. We should especially be mindful of this the more hurtful and serious the offense is.

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Disclosure: The inspiration for this post came from a wonderful Bible study that I attended at my local church last night. A special thanks to our group leader Brian and for the authors of the study, A Gospel Centered Life, Robert H. Thune and Will Walker.    

Jesus In Disguise

Jesus is God. He came to Earth in human form so that our relationship with Him can be reconciled. So that the penalty for our sins since the fall of mankind would be satisfied; He did this by dying for us on the cross. This is Christianity 101. What may not be so obvious is how deep and thorough the notion of sacrifice is to His character – especially as demonstrated in the person of Christ during his earthly ministry. Though Jesus was the Son of God and the Creator of the Universe, he repeatedly humbled himself and positioned himself as our servant. Doing so showed his followers and anyone else who was paying attention how we should position ourselves toward others.

It is important to note that Jesus served everyone, including and perhaps especially the downtrodden and oppressed. He healed lepers and lame beggars, he offered salvation to prostitutes and criminals. In his eyes, nobody was/is too lowly for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, he specifically instructed his followers to endeavor to see him in the faces of the poor and destitute (Matthew 25:40). A great quote from one of my favorite people, Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta) is, “in the poor, we find Jesus in distressing disguise.” With this in mind, I would challenge anyone reading this to remember Saint Teresa’s words and especially the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and look upon those in need, regardless of our personal feelings, opinions and biases, and simply serve them – even dare to love them.  

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Too Judgey?

One of the biggest turn-offs to the Christian faith is that by many (most) non-believers, we are seen as judgmental and self-righteous – and I think there’s a lot of truth to that; I have certainly been guilty often of this charge. One of the teachings of Christianity, particularly in reformed theology, which has helped me to come down off my pedestal is to remember that the indicative comes before the imperative – I will explain.

In basic terms, an indicative is a stated truth and an imperative is a call to action; in our lives and in many different faiths, the command comes before the truth. For example, if you do your job, you will be paid, or if you obey, you will be rewarded. In one of the many ways that Christian teaching can seem counter intuitive, the Bible turns this around; we (Christians) are granted eternal life and given God’s righteousness as a free gift from Him. We are made holy because God declares us holy and for no other reason. Along with this status, our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit lives in us. This is where the imperative comes in – because of the vastness of these gifts we are naturally grateful and desire to serve God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into servants of our fellow human beings and not judges of them. Focusing on the scale of these gifts – given to me (of all people) – by the Creator of the Universe, helps me to remember to revere God and to stay humble.

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Talking Snakes and Donkeys

For hundreds and hundreds of years, people have turned away from religion and spirituality over the question of “natural” versus “supernatural”. Tales of miraculous events that can’t be explained in natural, regularly observable and measurable terms have always had their sceptics, perhaps never more so than now. I get that. There was a time when I lined up with the critics and rejected Christianity on the grounds that these events could not have really happened. In my case, God produced an undeniable miracle right in front of me – it was His way of reaching this cynic, but not everyone has been so blessed.

The power of the gospel however, does not lie solely in the veracity of the events documented in the Bible but, more importantly, it’s in the wisdom that God’s word imparts on those who read it. The Bible is the main way that God speaks to us and behind just about every passage, there is a message of profound wisdom that we are meant to absorb. Sometimes, the message is a literal command, more often it is conveyed through a story; either related as an historical account or as allegory – in either case, God is speaking to our hearts, edifying us, transforming us.

As for me, I believe that the Bible is true, though I think that we do not know all we can about how to interpret it. When viewed as God’s wisdom imparted on the reader, the Bible is true – for everyone.  

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Why Worship?

Why are we commanded by God to praise and to worship Him? This very legitimate question is often asked and this topic is often written about and preached on, but I have found in my research for this post that satisfactory answers are hard to come by. I would guess that just about all non-believers, and indeed many believers, struggle with this concept, yet it is clear in God’s word that we are so commanded, so how are we to come to terms with this?

What I found to be the most cogent response to this question was from C.S. Lewis who struggled with this issue himself. Lewis was a devout Christian (a late convert) who believed in the God of the Bible who is omniscient, omnipotent, creator of everything and perfect in every way; nothing else can be compared to Him. Lewis noted that God is not being egotistical when He calls attention to this fact. His call to worship Him is not to stoke His ego, but rather, like everything else He does, is meant for our benefit. Lewis said that when we obey God’s command to praise Him, we assume the proper posture in the creator – creature relationship, but more importantly, we are brought closer to Him, the only perfect being. We are better able to enjoy Him, to feel His undying love for us, to learn how to better love like Him. There is no one else in Heaven or on Earth to whom the most appropriate response is worship and that by doing so, we are swept up in His glory.

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Love? What’s That?

God is love. This truth is often repeated and has been for a very long time almost to the point of sounding trite. Often, the interpretation of this phrase is simplified to mean that God loves everyone and everything, always, no matter what. Though there is some truth in this interpretation, there’s a lot more to God’s love than that.

The forms of love that most of us know are romantic love, love for our families and friends, love of our jobs, hobbies, pets, food, etc.; though there are similarities, these are all somewhat different from God’s love which, as human beings, we can’t fully comprehend. God created us out of love, He desires to be in a special relationship with each of us out of love and ultimately, He gave His life out of His love for us. It’s important to add that, like a good parent, He disciplines us out of love. In addition, He does get angry, but like His love, His anger is different from what we typically know as anger. God’s anger is righteous, it’s about injustice against others and is based solely on His interest in achieving His will for us – which is our best possible outcome.

Though we can’t love exactly like God, He commands us to love others as ourselves and indeed to put their needs ahead of our own. He sent Jesus Christ to live in our hearts and He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us in loving more like God. So speak to God in prayer, listen to His voice by reading His word – the Spirit will move you steadily in the direction of Godly love.