My Understanding

A newbie Christian's attempts to understand.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Fellowship

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On Sunday, the 5th of April I went to a new church for the first time. The church is about 7 miles away from me and I get a lift there and back. So now I have a place for regular worship and fellowship with other Christians. Tuesday night I go to check out the Alpha course run by this church. This is a big deal for me and I thought I'd have no problem coming straight online and writing about it. But I delayed, waiting to find a Bible passage to link my experience to (and, if I'm honest, waiting for the motivation to write).

Well I managed to find a verse:
And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence.

(NLT, Ephesians 1:23)
The church - the people, not the building - is filled with Christ. When I meet with Christian friends to worship I can really feel the Spirit in them and among us. It's great that now I can experience this "spiritual top-up" regularly.

I'm still trying to get to grips with the love, generosity and welcoming I've received from the Christian friends I have met. The Spirit I felt in and among these people is probably the single biggest reason I made the decision to follow Christ myself. It just didn't seem normal for people to be so nice. I decided that these people must be on to something and that I would have to look into it further. And now here I am, a Christian.
For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.

(NLT, Matthew 7:8)
I could not have gone on for long the way I was - alone and filled with self-loathing; trying to find happiness, love and fulfillment on my own and without God; growing more and more tired of life after each failure.

Every night and day I thank God for my friends.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

"Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" - Psalm 139

[Read this psalm online at BibleGateway.com.]
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Psalm 139 is so far my favorite Psalm. I find that it really speaks to me. I didn't come across this Psalm in my copy of the Bible - I'm not up to number 139 yet. I came across this while on Online Guidance, and was so struck and moved by the quote from Psalm 139 there.

I have fairly low self-esteem. I tend to talk myself down a lot, to be blind to my talents and gifts and only see my faults. When that happens of course I start talking and thinking about all my faults and then this turns me into my worst enemy. My worst enemy is a guy who follows me around all day, who is always with me, who never has anything nice to say and only mentions my faults, every sentence out of his mouth is an insult to me. My worst enemy is myself whenever I'm feeling low.

The good news though (or maybe that should be "Good News") is that there is Someone Else who follows me around all day, who is always with me. My worst enemy - my low self-esteem - doesn't stand a chance. God, my Father, Savior and Friend is always with me. What's more, He loves me. My God loves me even though He knows everything about me, He has seen all my faults and failures and He still thinks I am worthwhile. My God thinks I am worth suffering and dying for.

My God made me. Before I was born He knew exactly how my life would turn out. I like the idea that God thought to Himself that the world should have someone like me in it. God was with me in the womb and He will be with me, and still loving me, when I die.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.
(NIV - Psalm 139:14)

I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God. God planned this whole thing, He knew that I would be shy, introverted and quiet, that is the way My Father made me. His works are wonderful. God has a special purpose for me, I hope to realise what this is and accomplish it by living and following, as best I can, in the path of Jesus and trusting in God. My "worst enemy" can shut up!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Change

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I've decided to change how this journal is written. It will still be a journal of my thoughts and feelings as I grow as a Christian and read the Bible and Christian literature. I just think that it will be hard for me to write about every chapter of every book I read in the Bible without it turning into some kind of chore where I just summarise what I've read. I want to write about how I feel, not just to summarise. Some chapters in the Bible really blow me away with how they speak to me, others simply tell me things, they still speak to me but it's harder for me to take something personal from them. Also, sometimes I like to read more than just one chapter and I don't want to have a big write-up hanging over my head when I do this. I don't want to turn Bible reading into something I end up putting off because I'm too tired or busy to write about it all afterwards. I will continue to write about my growth and experiences and I will still reference the Bible. I can still feel myself being changed as I grow as a Christian and that is a wonderful thing. My life is really starting to change and that excites me and makes me want to write.

So since I last wrote I have celebrated Easter with my new brothers and sisters. This is the first time in my life I've really celebrated Easter, not the chocolate this time but Jesus rising from the dead. I find that God is cutting me a lot of slack in some areas of my new found Way. Christianity is hard but I just feel that a lot of the time I'm being given a helping hand. I desperately wanted to celebrate Easter with my friends and I was invited, without mentioning this, to join them at their church and stay at their house. It was wonderful.

I've started reading Acts lately and to me Acts seems to say a lot about the changes that the Holy Spirit makes in people. We see Peter, who had previously denied being a follower of Jesus when Jesus was captured and questioned, now full of the Holy Spirit, preaching publicly and boldly. We see them jailed for their preaching, released with a warning to stop and yet they continue to preach. In acts I also see the great transformation of Saul from a man on the rampage to stamp out Christianity and throw its followers in jail, to God's chosen instrument to spread his message.

I'm naturally very shy (no matter how many times I've tried to kid myself about this) so to read of this great courage and strength that the Holy Spirit can give me really speaks to me. I'm still shy but I'm already noticing greater courage. I have told members of my family that I am a Christian and I have begun to write this journal online for all to see. I pray that my shyness will go away and maybe next time I'm at my friends' church I'll be able to forget my shyness and sing along with everyone else when they sing to praise God. One day I will sing, it might not sound so great but it will happen, of that I am sure.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

John 15

[Read this chapter online at BibleGateway.com.]
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In John 15, Jesus refers to Himself as the True Vine and to God as the Gardener. People are represented as branches, those that turn from Jesus cannot produce fruit and are thrown away. Those that belong to Jesus produce fruit and are pruned so they can produce even more fruit. God does the pruning, God helps us to produce more fruit. Now, I'm not certain what the fruit is. Since becoming a Christian though, I have noticed I have a deeper happiness in my life, I think that this is part of the fruit - the benefits of being a Christian. As we continue as Christians God will prune us so that we can experience more of this happiness and joy of belonging to Jesus.

I think fruit also means the things that we produce - the things that we do - in Jesus' name. If we help people, if we love people, if we spread the Word of Christ to other people we are producing fruit. This is hard work. It's hard to be a good Christian. It's hard to produce fruit. But with God everything is possible. He is the Gardener, He tends to us and prunes us so we can produce more and more fruit.

Jesus refers to His followers in this chapter as His friends (John 15:14-15, NLT). This shows the love Jesus has for us. He died for His friends. Jesus believes in us, He loves us and He will help us because He is Our Friend. Jesus also says that His followers didn't choose Him, He chose them. Jesus chooses His followers, He chose you and me, He thinks we're worthy of this, He loves us despite all of our faults and He wants us to follow him. Jesus wants us to be His friends.

Later in this chapter, Jesus talks of the worlds hatred. Jesus reminds us that the world hated Him too (John 15:18, NLT). In the previous chapters Jesus refers to Satan as the prince of this world. By this He means that the world is full of evil, it goes against God. Following Jesus is going against the world, it is not always cool and is often very hard. Christians who are open about their faith will probably be mocked and jeered, I know I expect some people will give me a hard time about it. I will still be getting off easy if the worst that happens to me is that I am seen as uncool or laughed at. Some people die because of their faith. Christ himself was tortured and crucified. But Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to be with us (John 15:26, NLT). The word Jesus uses here is translated into English as "Counselor" but is written as "Parakletos" in the original Greek. "Parakletos" also means "Comforter", "Encourager" or "Advocate". We can get comfort and encouragement from the Holy Spirit when the world jeers and hates us.

John 14

[Read this chapter online at BibleGateway.com.]
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In this chapter Jesus tells His followers that when He goes away He will prepare a place for them in heaven, and when everything is ready He will come back and get His followers so that they will always be with Him. Jesus has come and gotten me and now He is always with me. Jesus repeats this point in John 14:20: "When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." (John 14:20, NLT)

Jesus emphasises His divinity in John 14:9-11 and later in the chapter promises that He will send the Holy Spirit to be with His followers always and will never leave them. The Holy Spirit will move in and start making changes in us when we follow Jesus. This is the progress we make as Christians, we will be changed by the Holy Spirit living in us and making us more and more like Christ until we go to join Him in His Father's house.

When I became a Christian (which was only just over a month ago at the time of writing this) I felt I had a lot of work to do to bring me up to speed with everything so I could catch up with my Christian friends. I was worrying about my "progress" as a Christian and often if I found that if I couldn't get my head around a particular theological concept I was very upset with myself. I felt, in a way, that I had failed to be a good Christian because I couldn't see the meaning behind something. I thought that progress as a Christian meant learning as much as I could as fast as I could to catch up with the rest of the class, so to speak.

It took me a while to figure out that I had gotten this wrong. Theology's a really interesting subject, but heaven is not just for great theologians. I'm sure as I continue on my Christian path I will gain a deeper understanding of many things that are puzzling me now but even if there are lots of things that I still just don't get, that doesn't matter. My real progress as a Christian are the changes that happen inside me, changes made by the Holy Spirit. I needn't worry about the progress of these changes, I have a guarantee that the Holy Spirit is inside me and the Spirit will change me. I just need to keep following, to pick myself up and dust myself off when I fall and keep following. I will never be left behind. Never.

Friday, March 25, 2005

John 13

[Read this chapter online at BibleGateway.com.]
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In this chapter we read about the last supper. This chapter, for me, is full of Jesus' love for His followers. Jesus washes His disciples' feet showing them great love. Jesus show His followers love so that they will treat each other with love too: "I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you." (John 13:15, NLT).

Jesus loved, and still loves, his followers deeply. He addresses a room full of grown men as "Dear children," (John 13:33, NLT). To love someone as a member of your family like this is a very special kind of love. As followers of Jesus, Christians are members of His family. Jesus then goes on to give us all a new commandment: "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other." Even though Jesus was "in great anguish of spirit"(John, 13:21, NLT) He still made sure that His followers knew how much they were loved my Him and that they must love each other.

I write this on Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus' crucifixion to take away the sins of the world. My reading is not up to this stage in the Gospel of John yet but I have read it in the other Gospels. Jesus suffered and died to take away the sins of the world, not just to save His friends and apostles but to save the world, to save anyone that turns to Jesus and follows Him. He died to save you and me (someone who wouldn't even turn and follow Him until over 2000 years later) as much as He died for each of the great saints. We are members of Jesus' family and He loves us.

John 12

[Read this chapter online at BibleGateway.com.]
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In this chapter Jesus attends a dinner with His disciples, His friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus (who He had just raised from the dead in the previous chapter). People came to see Jesus and to see Lazarus that Jesus had raised from the dead. Many people had begun to follow Jesus because of this miraculous sign. The leading priests, however, instead of following Jesus, now plotted to kill Lazarus too. They had made themselves blind to even this great miracle.

Later in this chapter Jesus predicts His death and says “Father, bring glory to your name.” (John 10:28, NLT). God’s voice responds from heaven saying "I have already brought it glory, and I will do it again." (John 10:28, NLT). God spoke from heaven for all to hear yet some people still said it was only thunder. They had made themselves deaf to the Voice of God.

Later in the Chapter we read that most people did not believe in Jesus. Even though He had performed great miracles and God had spoken to Him out loud so everyone could hear with their own ears, some still found some way to explain away the most obvious and undeniable signs.

C. S. Lewis said it well in The Magician’s Nephew (part of his Chronicles of Narnia series of books for children): “Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you are is that you very often succeed”. As I start out on my life as a Christian one of the first things that puzzled me was how Christians referred to prayer: they said they “speak with God”. I wondered why I couldn’t hear God speak to me when I prayed. It took me a while before I realised (and it has still to fully dawn on me) that God does speak to me. I used to think it’d be much easier for me if I heard a booming Voice from the sky or if Jesus appeared in front of me. In John 12 though, we see people explaining away a Voice from above, a clear and obvious sign if ever there was one. I pray now before I read the Bible. I pray that God will grant me the wisdom to hear Him speak to me, and me specifically, when I read His Word. I pray that I will be able to see how the chapter I’m about to read will be relevant to me. It works! After reading I take up the conversation with God again, because God likes it when we talk to Him. He already knows what we think and what is going on with us but He loves us and wants us to tell Him anyway, in our own words.

I may not have been explaining away a booming Voice from the sky as thunder but I was denying the little signs. It’s hard for little me to fully comprehend that God loves me and is talking to me - me! I’m a pessimist, you see. To me it’s often the case that the glass is not only half empty, but I’ll also probably only spill it anyway so I might as well just go thirsty. It’s hard for me to believe that good things can happen to me. I had tried to explain away the signs. It was an odd set of coincidences that lead me to being a Christian, and landed myself with some of the best Christian guides anyone could ask for as friends, but I still tried to put it down to just coincidence. I’ve stopped trying to make myself stupid now. I’ve opened up.

Now I hear God speak to me when I read the Bible. I pray for things and they come true, not always in the way I expected but God is full of wonderful surprises. I was lonely and God gave me not only new friends but new brothers and sisters who care about me. I see love in my family and friends and God’s beauty in nature. I’ll probably have the bad days when I don’t hear so well but now that I have learned to accept that God is speaking to me and that God loves me, it’s easier to hear.