Tag Archives: Christianity

How I Deal With Doubt

Seminary has been a strange place for me thus far. For most it seems to be a place where they are encouraged and their faith is strengthened as they pursue whatever ministry God has called them to, but this has not been my experience thus far. It seems as though I’ve spent the majority of my time being tempted in the wilderness rather than receiving or honing a ministry vision. That is, I’ve spent so much time resisting Satan and his attempts to pull me away from seminary that I haven’t had any time left to devote to discerning where God is calling me to serve once I am done with seminary.

While there is certainly much that I could say about my experience thus far in seminary in this post I thought that I would share one of the things that I have learned during my spiritual battles this semester. Or more accurately, share one of the things that the Holy Spirit has shown me that has proven to be effective for me against the attacks of Satan.

Don’t Overlook the Obvious.

Don’t get so lost in all the details and technicalities of life (and explanations or philosophical systems about life) that you forget what is right in front of your face all the time.There are two obvious things that I keep coming back to:

The existence of males and females. That there are two separate and distinct genders and yet each one needs the other not only for reproductive purposes, but also for relational purposes as well (generally speaking). For me there is a mystery here that just absolutely fascinates me and suggests a Designer of life.

You didn’t choose to be born. No one brought themselves into existence. Someone (or at the very least something) brought you into existence; you didn’t have a choice in the matter. This suggests to me that whoever, or whatever, is responsible for my existence has a claim on my life and how I choose to live it.

These two things certainly don’t require Christianity as an answer to them, but I think they do at least require Theism, which keeps me from embracing Atheism. But how do these things keep me aligned to Christianity instead of some other form of theism? Well, to put it simply, I am convinced of the truthfulness of the Bible, the God it portrays, and the teaching of the catholic (universal) church concerning the previous two matters. Thus being convinced of theism naturally leads me to being convinced of Christianity.

Doubt is a serious and complex matter and I can hardly hope to cover it completely in a blog post since each situation is different, but hopefully this will be at least a little helpful to those who may be struggling with doubt.


What Jesus Prayed For: John 17

While I was on vacation over New Year’s I had the privilege to lead a Bible study on John 17. What follows is a summary of what was taught and discussed.

Essentially Jesus’ prayer for us can be summed up in the concept of abiding in him and in the image of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches (John 15.1-17). Abiding in Christ means following his commands (1 John 2.5-6; 3.4-10), which flows out of love for God (John 14.15, 21, 23; 15.10, 14; 1 John 5.2-3), which begins with believing that Jesus is the Christ (promised in Genesis 3.15) who has restored access to the Father (1 John 1.5; 2.24) and receiving the Holy Spirit who enables us to keep God’s commands.

So then, Jesus’ prayer for us is this: that we would recognize that we are separated from the Father and can only have access to him through Jesus. Once this is truly believed one will then love God and obey His commands, through the help of the Holy Spirit, thus abiding in Him.

This abiding achieves the unity amongst believers (vv. 11, 21), protection from the evil one (v. 15), and the sanctification that Jesus prayed for (v. 17). The unity because all believers are united to the Father through Jesus who is the only way to the Father (John 14.6; Remember also the vine imagery). The protection because all believers will be in the hands of the Father and none can snatch them out of the Father’s hand (John 10.29). The sanctification because all believers obedience to God’s commands results in the purifying of their souls (1 Peter 1.22-23).

We can see the results of our submission to this abiding process in Jesus’ prayer for himself in vv. 1-5, which was for God to be glorified despite knowing that it would entail his own death (see Matthew 16.21, 17.23, 20.19; Luke 9.22, 18.33; Mark 8.31, 9.31, 10.32-34; John 2.19-21; 12.24). The laying down of our own lives for our friends is the greatest expression of love (John 15.13) and evidences that the love with which the Father loves Jesus is in us (v. 26).

I think it is important to realize that ultimately Jesus prayed for us to abide in him. This is a simple yet hard thing to do, but it is all he wants us to do. He wants us to follow him and trust his leading. He is the good shepherd and we are his sheep (10.7-17). He will take care of us and wants us to trust him to do it (Matthew 6.25-34).

For more on this concept read and study 1 John.

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
(Romans 12.1 ESV)

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
(Matthew 6.25-34 ESV)

At first glance these passages may not seem to be relevant to each other, but they are in fact inseparable for living the Christian life. In the first passage we are commanded to be living sacrifices; to offer all of ourselves in the service of Christ; to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22.37; Mark 12.30; Luke 10.27). Jesus called this the “great and first commandment” (Matthew 22.38 ESV); “first” because it is the most important commandment and “great” because it is the furthest outside humanity’s ability to keep in our own strength.

The reason for humanity’s difficulty in keeping this commandment is that every human, even Christians, possess a sinful nature that is sometimes referred to as the “flesh” (See Romans 6-7; James 4.1-17; Galatians 5.16,17). Basically this nature opposes God and seeks either its own will or the will of Satan (this topic is deserving of further explanation, but such an explanation would make this post obscenely long). Since all possess a nature that inclines them towards fulfilling their own desires instead of God’s, and since humanity is naturally inclined to follow it, it is much more familiar and comfortable than following the Holy Spirit.

However if you are going to follow God you must begin to follow the Spirit and not satisfy the desires of the flesh. It is impossible to serve both God and the flesh (Matthew 6.24; Luke 16.13). So what happens when you start trying to live a way that is unfamiliar to you and you put your trust in someone that you cannot see? Well, you become anxious. Hence the teaching of Jesus in the second passage.

Jesus sees us as we really are, Fallen nature and all. He knows that when we begin to trust in him and follow the Spirit that we will become anxious because we have left our familiar and comfortable way of doing things. This is why he taught us to not be anxious. And because he knew that there was no way for us to leave our comfortable, sinful, and Fallen way of living life in our own strength he became human, died, and rose in order to pay our debt and make it possible for us to leave our selfish way of living behind and live for Christ instead.

These two passage are like peanut butter and jelly: they complement each other. Offer all of yourself for the service of Christ and don’t be anxious when you do it because you have left your familiar ways of doing things. You are more valuable than the birds and plants whom God takes care of, so he will certainly take care of you as well.

Two Great Spiritual Weapons: Chocolate and Popcorn

I was doing some thinking (big surprise) lately on one of the ironies of life as a seminarian: how you can be in a place where you are constantly learning about God and studying the Bible, but yet can (potentially) grow further apart from God rather than closer. How is it possible that seminary could potentially kill your spiritual life rather than strengthen it? Surely if God founded a seminary his students would not have to balance working, studies, relationships (including family), local church commitments, and their spiritual life! They would have all their needs provided for without having to work for them; would be able to handle their assignments with relative ease; their relationships would be supportive and spiritually beneficial; and since the rest of their life would be stress free their local church commitments and spiritual life would seem like blessings rather than burdens! This would no doubt be a better way to strengthen their faith and prepare them for ministry rather than the way our present seminaries do.

As I thought about this more though I realized that God would not run his seminary in the way I would have expected (see above paragraph). First of all, God does give his followers easy lives. Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and many other devoted followers did not live easy lives. Furthermore, many present day Christians do not live easy lives either (e.g. those living in Islamic countries in the Middle East). Secondly, trials refine us and strengthen our faith (James 1.2-4; 1 Peter 4.12-13), not comfort.

If God is indeed sovereign over all creation and more powerful than any heavenly being then why does he seemingly punish those who follow him rather than reward them? What is the point of doing things in this manner? How does having to balance a million different things help prepare someone for ministry?

While I do not know the full answer to these questions recently I have realized part of it. Seminary is preparation for ministry in our crazy, messed up and Fallen world. And in this world we will have to balance our family obligations, ministry work, and studies all while maintaining a close walk with God so that we can be faithful ministers to the people whom God has given us, just like we are doing now at seminary. I think of seminary as preparation for the front lines of war. In order to survive we must know how to overcome and manage the obstacles and hardships that we will encounter there.

While the classic (and certainly essential) tactics for negotiating the spiritual battlefield are probably well known to most seminarians (prayer, bible reading/devotions, fasting, etc) there is a new tactic that I’ve encountered recently. Not new in the sense that it is innovative and has never been used previously, but new in the sense that it is so under utilized human forgetfulness erases all memory of it before it is encountered a second time.

 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

(James 2:15-16 ESV)

I’m going to call this “new” tactic Tangible Acts of Encouragement. With this tactic instead of saying something merely along the lines of “I’ll pray for you” you actually do something tangible to encourage the person. This can be done regardless of whether or not the person displays a need for encouragement. If they like a certain restaurant buy them dinner there (or a gift card). If they like a certain movie watch it with them. If they need a break at work give it to them. If they need someone to talk to listen to them (I mean really listen and remember what they said, not just nod your head and say “yes”). If they need a coat to stay warm give them one. If they need food to eat give them some. With this tactic you go beyond mere encouraging words (though they should definitely be there), which too often seem like a cop-out to someone who is feeling down, and into acting on those words.

You’d be surprised how often you can employ this tactic. Even in a situation where words and prayers seem like the only thing you can offer for encouragement, such as when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, you can do something tangible for them. A cup of coffee, an attentive ear, and an encouraging tongue can do more to encourage that person that a million prayers they never hear you pray.

Don’t over or under utilize this tactic though, otherwise your recipient will be inclined to doubt your sincerity.

I was recently the recipient of a Tangible Act of Encouragement from my mother. Two of my favorite foods are chocolate and popcorn and my mom recently sent me a package filled with them. It was one of the best encouragements I’ve received so far in seminary and it didn’t require a single word. Thanks mom!

Picture of care package from my mother containing chcolate and popcorn

These are a few of my favorite things…

So don’t forget to encourage your local clergy (and seminarians) in tangible and appropriate ways. If you are a layman in your local church they are the ones who are (or will be) shepherding you on the front lines of the spiritual war raging all around us. They are human just like you are and need encouragement just like you do, though it may not obvious when they are struggling and need it. It is to your benefit and theirs that they remain spiritually strong and Tangible Acts of Encouragement are highly effective in this endeavor.

Now I had not been busy and frustrated with trying to balance all the things in my life I would not have realized just how effective this tactic could be. Thus I would not have been able to share it with all of you, nor would I have been able to use it myself in order to encourage my brothers and sisters who are struggling with me for the cause of Christ. The stress that comes with seminary is indeed an essential part of ministry preparation.

What is the Church?

I am the vine; you are the branches.
(John 15:5)

One of the tasks during my first semester here in Dallas has been to find a church home. Since I wasn’t raised in any particular Christian tradition or denomination I’ve also taken this opportunity to evaluate various traditions and denominations with the goal of possibly joining one of them.

Background Info: I grew up in independent churches, all of which were orthodox and Protestant. I have no doctrinal dispute of any significance with any of the churches I attended during my childhood and adolescence. Over time however I became increasingly dissatisfied with these churches. Or to state it metaphorically: I began to feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole (the specific reasons for this are another subject entirely and I won’t go into them in this post).

What is the Church? One of the books I have (finally) started reading as a part of my evaluation of the various Christian traditions and denominations is An Outline of an Anglican Life by Louis Tarsitano (McGrath’s Christian Theology has also been very helpful). In the first chapter Tarsitano presents a view of the Church that I agree with very much and think the rest of Christendom would do well to not merely intellectually assent to, but to actually live their lives, conduct their worship services in light of, and guide their flocks by.

One of the things that breaks my heart about modern Christianity are the divisions that exist within it. While I think that distinct styles of worship and disagreements are inevitable I do not think that these differences should lead to divisions within the Body of Christ so that certain denominations/churches absolutely refuse to work with other denominations/churches in spreading the Gospel.

When divisions go this deep I think the leader of the church has been forgotten, if he was ever acknowledged in the first place. Christ is the head of the church, not a man or a council of men (Ephesians 1.22; 4.15; 5.23; Colossians 1.18). Furthermore Christ is the one who chooses who constitutes the church, not us (John 13.18; 15.16, 19). While most Christians would agree with these statements it seems to me that these statements have little effect on relations between different churches and denominations.

Christ is the vine and we are the branches. There are not multiple vines, but only one: Christ. The branches are connected to the vine and are to bear fruit. If we could truly recognize that this, that Christ is the only vine and the different denominations/traditions are merely branches connected to the vine I think it would go a long way towards achieving the unity that has been lacking for so long within Christendom.

Just give up, it’s better for everyone


One is the loneliest number…

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about humanity is our propensity to forget things so quickly; I even amaze myself in this area. What is even more amazing is that I even forget my own personal thoughts and words quite often! Remember this post I made about community back in September? Well by the time November rolled around I had already forgotten what I said about community because I had to be reminded of my thoughts by an article in the student paper.

The article was entitled “Forgotten Flowers” and it compared single women with flowers in a field that grow and come into bloom so that they can be enjoyed by someone, but never are and die forgotten. Once I had finished reading I felt sorry for these Forgotten Flowers because their beauty was never enjoyed by anyone and they died unappreciated.

Disclaimer: I am not a woman and I am not looking at the article as I write this post. So if I am inaccurate in what I say following this feel free to correct me.

I also felt convicted that my attitude and outlook on marriage was not inline with God’s view. I am by no means opposed to marriage, but my attitude had shifted from desiring marriage (a few years ago) all the way over to the opposite extreme of desiring to be single because I didn’t want to be burdened with the demands of marriage in ministry. Now singleness is also not wrong by any means either, but what I felt convicted on was not that I wanted to be single, but my reasons for wanting to be single: it was motivated by a selfish desire rather than a God-given calling.

If, as the article seemed to state, that generally speaking marriage is something that women need in order to feel appreciated and part of a community (see disclaimer) then my attitude of wanting to be single because it would inconvenience me is most definitely wrong. If we never give up our desires and put others before ourselves (Philippians 2.3; Ephesians 4.2, 5.21; Romans 12.10) then we have absolutely no hope of achieving any type of community in the Body of Christ. My attitude was one of not willing to give up my own desires in order to benefit others in the Body of Christ and God rightly convicted me of this.

As of right now I do not have any clear direction from God concerning marriage or singleness. Neither has received a definite “yes” and neither has received a definite “no.” Whether God calls me to singleness or marriage I will accept it, but only on the basis that it is what God has called me to. For me cultivating this attitude has been a long and hard journey, but hopefully I am finally nearing the end of it.

I don’t appreciate Jesus

A passage from Hebrews stood out to me recently:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:14-16)

Body of Christ

What stood out to me about these verses was the fact of how little I appreciate this part of Jesus’

ministry, but it was probably one of the most appreciated aspects of Jesus’ ministry for early Christians, especially Jewish Christians. No doubt the need for a priest to mediate between God and man was engrained in the mind of the early Jewish Christians through the requirement of the sacrificial system that the priest present a person’s offering before God in the proper manner. God Himself was the one that instituted this system in the Law, not man, so it was a requirement of God that there be a priest to mediate between Himself and humankind. The Law was not abolished by Jesus, but fulfilled (Matthew 5:17). This being the case then there is still a need for mediator between God and man, a role which every human priest fulfill imperfectly and insufficiently, but a role which Jesus fulfills perfectly and sufficiently.

I admit that I do not appreciate this aspect of Jesus’ ministry and often take it for granted, but I recognize that this should not be my attitude. The need for a mediator can be seen in God’s dealings with the first Exodus generation: He wiped out that entire generation (except for Joshua and Caleb), even Moses, because of their sin. The lesson to be learned from this is that we, like that first Exodus generation, are too sinful, rebellious, and stubborn, or in a word, Fallen, for us to deal directly with God. There must be a mediator between God and us, otherwise we will be destroyed.

God is holy. We are Fallen. These are two simple, foundational truths of the Christian faith that are very hard for us to truly know. Intellectual consent to these beliefs is one thing, but believing them so that they effect how we live your lives is quite another. If I can truly learn these two basic truths then I think I will come to appreciate Jesus’ ministry as high priest the way I should appreciate it.

What is conduct worthy of the Gospel?

I wanted to share a quick thought with you all that I had last week while reading the Scriptures. It comes from Philippians 1:27-30, which says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

(Philippians 1:27-30 ESV)

What occurred to me after reading this is what living in a manner worthy of the Gospel actually entails. In this passage, which is a complete paragraph by the way, what is described is striving side by side with others for the Faith and standing firm against opposition. Suffering for the cause of Christ is also described as an honor. For my part, I find it hard to see this attitude in American Christianity these days. Suffering is at least being talked about these days, at least in some Christian circles, but from my experience it seems to focus mostly on helping people to endure it. And while this is certainly a good thing it doesn’t give suffering the place that Paul bestows on it in this passage, that it is an honor to suffer for the cause of Christ. How transforming would it be not only for us personally, but for American Christianity as a whole, if suffering was elevated to the level of being honorable?

Also, being conflicted between continuing to live in the flesh and departing to be with Christ (the “conflict” in the last sentence; see Philippians 1:18-26) should be expected. Do we have this attitude? Do we experience this conflict frequently in our lives? I know that I don’t, but I also know that I would like to.

This is conduct worthy of the Gospel, how does it compare with what you have been taught is conduct worthy of the Gospel?

Sorry honey we can’t go out tonight, we have to pay our iPhone bill

I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal recently that reported Americans are paying so much for their smartphones (iPhones, Droids, etc) that they are having to cut back in other areas, most notably in dining out. I thought to myself, this is a perfect illustration of one of the major problems in America: spending quality time with others is not highly valued in America. One of the best things that could happen to America from a relational standpoint would be for all our smartphones to cease from operating and never work again.

Some of the best times that I have had in my life from a relational (and spiritual) perspective have been on church mission trips where I had no (or very limited) access to any type of cellphone or Internet service. It wasn’t just unplugging from the Internet and the rest of the world that was beneficial, but that there was a group of people that was also unplugged from the Internet with me and we were all in the same situation. There was nothing that we could retreat into to avoid spending time with each other; it was our only option aside from sitting in the corner in silence.

I think that everybody wants close relationships with other humans, but when we spend our free time with our phones, tablets, and computers instead of those whom we want to establish close relationships with we end up shooting ourselves in the foot. If Americans are indeed more dissatisfied with life compared to other nations one of the likely causes is that apparently we would rather spend time with our phones and computers rather than our friends.

Some people believe that technology will save us, but I do not. If anything technology (in the context I have mentioned here) will drive us to isolation and loneliness and be our destruction rather than our salvation. Our problem is our heart, our internal state, not our external state or life. Jesus is our salvation, not technology.

Reflection: Community

I recently came to what you could call an epiphany concerning what community entails, so I figured I would share it with you all.

I’ve always been puzzled by the inability of people to establish community with one another, even among Christians. Some do indeed succeed in this area, but it seems that most groups of people fail to establish community for one reason or another. I’ve wondered why this is and yesterday it occurred to me what the reason for this might be: the failure to realize that each individual must make contributions to the group if community is to be established. A community is not a place that you take from because you need something from the other members, it is a place where you give yourself because the other members need something from you, and where the other members give themselves because you need something from them.

David and Jonathan

David and Jonathan

Everybody comes to a community needing just that, community. Community is something that has to be created though, which means that materials need to be contributed and fashioned in order for community to take shape. The basic material that needs to be contributed is love for the other members of the community. I think it is a very rare occurrence for someone to come to a community and naturally have love for the other members of the community, so usually this love must be established somehow. This love for others can be established simply by making an investment in their life. This doesn’t need to involve something huge, or even involve them, it can be something little, like praying for them,  asking them how a project at work or school turned out that they previously mentioned, or having a conversation with them watching a game. You don’t have to feel the desire to do these things at first, in fact you probably won’t. But if you force yourself to do them eventually you will come to genuinely love the others and will no longer need to force yourself to do these things.

The point is that everyone needs community, but you cannot gain what you need from community by taking from others, because what you need is to be part of a community and this will not happen until you contribute to the others in the community by loving them. You are only a part of something so long as you contribute to its benefit, otherwise you are a leech. Others need community just as much as you do, if they give themselves and you do not there is nothing for them to receive and you and them will both no longer have community. If everyone gives themselves everyone will get what they desire in community. As long as this is done the community will endure, when this is no longer practiced is when the community will fail.

The lesson for me in this is to share my thoughts, feelings, desires, etc with the people around me and not just keep them to myself and force myself to take an interest in their life, even if I don’t feel like it at first (probably a consequence of being an introvert) because they need them, and I need their thoughts, feelings, love, etc. This is God’s design for us to be in community and help each other because He saw that it was not good for man to be alone and He made a helper suitable for him.