Tag Archives: spirituality

The Sun Shines Even in the Cold

There’s a weather phenomenon that I’ve become familiar with since moving to Texas: sunny and cold. To a native Floridian like myself it seems quite strange that it could be sunny and yet the surrounding air feel cold at the same time. These two things should not go together. The sun is warm. It produces heat and makes things warm. How could the sun be brightly shining and yet the air around me be cold? Is the sun somehow defective?

There’s a spiritual phenomenon that I’ve become familiar with during my life: sunny and cold. To a life-long Christian like myself it seems quite strange to have fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet for them to feel distant at the same time. These two things should not go together. God indwells me. God is near me. How can God indwell me and yet feel distant? Is God somehow defective?

In reality I know that the sun is not defective; it is producing as much heat as it always has. Yet this does not make me feel any warmer.

In reality I know that God is not distant from me; He is as close as He always has been. Yet this does not make Him feel any closer.

If I put on a coat I will feel warmer, but this will not change the fact that the air around me feels cold.

If I spend time praying, reading Scripture, worshiping with others, and fellowshiping with others I will feel encouraged and persevere in my faith, but this will not change the fact that God feels distant.

I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and the air around me feels warm once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.

I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and God feels near to me once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.

When winter comes around again, and you are huddled around the dying fire of your faith, clinging desperately to every scrap of warmth, wondering why things are not the way they seem like they should be, take note of those around you because they have passed the test. The spiritual winters in our lives, those times when God feels distant and we struggle with our faith, are tests not only for those of us who are in the midst them, but also for our Christian brethren who see us in the midst of them.

The sun does not cease to shine during winter.

God does not cease to be near us during our winters.

We should not cease to be near our Christian brethren in their winters. They are not expecting us to bring about spring. They just don’t want to be alone during the winter. Do not merely pray for them, but huddle with them around their dying fire, however low it may be. God has not abandoned either of you and will see both of you through. Spring will come, and it will be evident then that God is in you because you have loved as God loves.

What is a Holy Life?

What does it mean to live a holy life? Living a holy life should be the goal of any Christian, but how do we know if we are doing this? Certainly we will never live a perfectly holy life, but we can never even attempt to live it if we don’t know what it looks like. During the course of my studies this semester I came across what I consider to be the two aspects of a perfectly holy life: (1) sinlessness and (2) obedience to God.

Sinlessness. This means, as you might expect, a life without sin. Anytime you do something that God has declared wrong or commanded not be done, like lust, lie, or covet for example you have committed a sin. Even the greatest most perfect Christian on the planet sins multiple times per day; it is so embedded in our nature that we will cannot but help but commit it.

Obedience. This means doing the things that God has commanded to be done, like loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself. This also includes things that God may have commanded you personally to do, such as taking a certain job or preparing to enter a certain vocation.

While in theory these two aspects can be separated out into neat definitions this isn’t so easy to do in reality. In reality these two aspects are so intertwined that they are inseparable. The more you sin the greater its influence becomes over your thoughts and actions. The less you sin the less its influence becomes. However it is not enough to simply not sin. Something must take the place of sin’s influence otherwise all you are doing is striving for a moral purity which you will soon cease striving for as you will quickly realize that moral purity by itself is quite pointless.

The counter to the influence of sin is the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is where obedience comes in. When we are obedient to the commands of God we become more sanctified (that is, more like Christ) than we were previously. To be sure, obedience is not simply mere external actions, but is internal as well. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their disobedience, which ironically stemmed for their striving to be obedient, because even though outwardly they were doing everything that God required they were doing it for the praise of men and not the praise of God.

So, in short, living a holy life involves not only sinning less, but also being obedient to God’s commands. As Christians we are called to live a holy life (Leviticus 11.44; 1 Thessalonians 4.7). The Hebrew word for “holiness” means “to cut off” or “mark off.” We are called to live a life that is marked off for God. We cannot be ministers for a holy God if we ourselves are not pursuing holiness. If we are content as we are we will never minister God, but only ourselves. If we want to minister God we must mark ourselves off for him so that we will become more like him and it will become evident to others that we are serving him and not ourselves.

Holiness does not merely involve a life free from sin. It also involves a life lived in obedience to God. We can see this most clearly in the life of Christ. Not only did Jesus not sin, but he was also obedient to the Father’s will, even to dying on a cross.

In closing I will note that pursuing a holy life doesn’t mean that everyone will like you. Hopefully your Christian brethren will appreciate you, but I think that those outside the Christian faith will most likely despise you. God’s holiness reveals just how depraved and sinful we are (see Isaiah 6) and that causes one of two responses in people: (1) they recognize and lament their sinful state, or (2) they despise God. If God’s holiness is seen in a sinful human person (though certainly to a far lesser extent than in God himself) I think we can expect the same. After all, Jesus perfectly revealed (ministered) the Father to Israel and they did not accept his testimony, but instead ascribed his power to Satan and crucified him.

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.