Archive for the ‘Personal Enlightenment’ Category

I grew up in the church and always considered myself a Christian. All through high school and college, I knew that I was a sinner and that Christ was the only one who could save me. I could not save myself. I knew this in my mind. However, I never felt affection for God, especially not over my affection for things in the world, like videogames and girlfriends. I lived a moral life, by human standards. My friends deemed me gentle, considerate, and loyal. All my classmates and teachers held me in high esteem. But the status of my salvation was always uncertain to me. I never rested in the assurance of faith.

At the end of my sophomore year at BGSU in 2007, I learned about the concept of predestination. It threw me into despair because I felt utterly powerless in my salvation. This, along with atheist literature, eventually spurred me to reject God. I decided to openly abandon my faith. I lived as I wanted, striving after the impulses and desires of my heart, caught up in the affairs of the world. I flaunted intellectual objections to Christianity and religion, but I still favored my reputation as a gentle and loyal human being.

After about a year of reading atheist and Christian arguments, I returned to God in my mind. With a refreshing change of perspective, I discovered that Christianity had the answers to the big questions in life. I even found it more reasonable intellectually than the atheist arguments against it. Over the next three years up to the present day, God has drawn me closer to Him so that I acknowledge Him in my heart, not just my mind. At first, I followed Him because it made sense. But the more I learn about Him from His Word, the more I recognize my need for Him, the more I genuinely love Him and desire to glorify Him and obey Him.

God has now given me grace to look at my past and see it with clarity. Prior to 2007, I did not have a change of heart. I did not live in a lot of sin, but I counted that as my own self-righteousness. I never had much affection for God because I gave myself my worth. In my eyes, God saved me because He saw value that I had apart from Him. That is to say, I didn’t need Him entirely. This is exactly the kind of belief that would not renew my mind, would not lead to repentance or self-denial, would not humble me, would not let me trust or love God, and would not produce authentic good works pleasing in His sight. It would send me to hell.

So it was God’s glorious will that I be exposed to the concept of predestination (the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election,) that would show me that I really was completely devoid of any good or value. In that summer, I felt so helpless and powerless to attain my own salvation, and that was the right way to feel. That is exactly what leads me now to throw myself on the ground before Him who is my only hope and salvation. It is my joy to fear the God who can destroy my body and soul in hell, who loved me despite my utter lack of loveliness, who came Himself down into the world to save it, who crushed Himself whom He loved so that sinners could be justified and His wrath satisfied, who has all authority on earth and in heaven. Glory be to God!

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Madre mía, for the last three days, there’s been a mighty storm blowing around in my head. This semester, I am student teaching. I was teaching my classes on Wednesday, and one of my activities went badly. The students had been complaining about their grades (some were just a couple points away from a higher letter grade.) I wasn’t prepared to receive that negative reaction from them, so it brought my enthusiasm down a little bit.

It came time to introduce the game I wanted them to play, but I had a hard time getting them set up. I found the directions hard to explain, and they didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped they would. It was just an all-around bad activity.

But it was just one day. I could easily have just moved on and let it go. But I couldn’t. I expressed my worry to my mentor, and from that point on, I could think of absolutely nothing except terrible, negative thoughts about myself as a teacher. Satan got into my head, and helped me to blow my worries way out of proportion.

My mentor stayed after school with me for three hours to help me plan, and we hardly got anything done. I just could not focus. I called off work that night and planned out my next day as best I could, focusing mainly on those classes where my activity had gone wrong.

I prayed to God a little bit throughout that time, but mostly I was just thinking and worrying about myself. Throughout Thursday and Friday, I had lost all confidence. The students could see my insecurity, which made it hard for them to focus on what it was they were supposed to be learning.

I finally turned completely back to God after school on Friday. It felt weird, because God has been leading and teaching me so much about Him this whole semester. He’s really felt like my best friend in the world. And as soon as that one day happened, I cut off all real contact with Him for about 60 hours. Only 60 hours: 2.5 days. But when I at long last started listening to Him again, it felt as if I hadn’t hung out with Him for weeks and weeks! I had just been so caught up in myself and my demons.

I praised Him and asked for Him to have a hand in my planning for the next week. I told Him I knew that if I had faith He would help me, He would. Rachel and John came over that night, and we ate supper. They were going to the Souled Out service that night. I was tempted to not go and instead focus on my teaching. But I felt God pushing me to go, because it was just my worldly desires and Satan that were holding me back – to keep fueling those worries.

Turns out that was true! When I completely let my teaching go and turned to Him with all of my heart and thoughts, He poured into me some awesome teaching ideas! He showed me that teaching isn’t so complicated as I’ve been making it out to be. I can have security, confidence, and joy in what I’ve been called to do!

I read Matthew 6:25 and it fit my situation so perfectly, praise the LORD.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink (or what you will TEACH,) nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food? (Is not life more than TEACHING?), and the body more than clothing?”

It’s one thing to be commanded what NOT to do. But how can I make myself stop worrying? What can I do proactively? Verse 33 goes on to tell me exactly what I should do instead of worrying: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

I have to actually stop addressing my own problems – shun them completely! Seek God first – Him and Him only, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me to stop thinking about the situation at hand. And then God will guide me through that situation at hand.

Here’s some other sweet verses God showed me, praise Him!

“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” Proverbs 20:29

John had a good story that went with this, from when he was a kid.
He said: “Mom, I’m not strong, but God’s strong. And God’s in me, so me and God are the same strong!”


“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” Proverbs 29:25

I was afraid of my own students, so of course I was bound to stumble!

“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Proverbs 29:23

This fits my situation in a cool way too: I thought I was being humble by talking with my students about my circumstances and apologizing for the day before. But really, it was just another form of pride. It’s okay to be open, but you have to be open in a selfless way. God showed me that my being open with my students was complete selfishness. It really wasn’t relevant to their lives at all. They didn’t need to hear any of what I said: it only confused them or made them uncomfortable.

I wasn’t thinking about them in my openness; I was still just thinking about me!

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m not ashamed of my insecurities, because we all have them. May the world see how weak and foolish I am! How easily I am tossed and blown around by this world! Praise the LORD for the solid rock that He is.

-hasta pronto

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Thanks to my fellow man Andrew Bruner, who introduced me to the Relevant magazine, I went to their website and stumbled upon this article. It talks about how our digital world makes it very hard for us to keep our attention on one thing for an extended period of time.

With cell phones and computers, the internet is so accessible and communication is so easy. There always seems to be something to do, be it necessary or not. These technologies just ask to be used at any moment of slight inactivity. It’s rare that one finds themselves with the time – or rather, the capacity, – to just sit and think, reflect on life. Social networking websites like Facebook don’t improve the situation, either. I myself join in the throngs of college students who check Facebook religiously every day.

Speaking of short attention spans, I was listening to iTunes while I read the article, and it took me much longer than it should have to finish because I couldn’t help but to constantly switch between the two windows. Brett McCracken, the author of the article, puts it into perspective thus.

The thought of sitting still and doing nothing is unfathomable.

Indeed. It reminded me of an experience that some of the members of my church had over the summer. During Leadership Training, they were instructed to go out and spend some alone time with God for two hours. Lots of them were planning on bringing their Bibles with them, but they were told to go empty-handed and empty-headed. They couldn’t talk or read. They were not to pray or even think! They were to just sit and imagine God sitting next to them.

In the end, some say it was one of the most enlightening, satisfying, and powerful experiences of their lives. Just hearing about it inspired me. Too often I pray that God gives me genuine direction and wisdom in my life, and I expect to just run into it as I go about my regular day. But it isn’t a stretch to realize I might have to go out of my way and strive to gain that insight.

Between classes, work, homework, and spending time with friends, our schedules are usually full from head to tail. The situation looks even worse when you think of all the various hobbies you prefer to spend time doing. In addition to all my daily obligations, I’m always looking to do more blogging, pleasure reading, chess and guitar-playing. That leaves very little time for reflection!

I challenge myself and others to spend a couple hours this week by ourselves, listening to God and reflecting on life.

-hasta pronto

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Here’s something that’s been worrying me. I remembered reading somewhere that man, by himself, is not only a sinner, but can do nothing but sin. Everything he does, even his most righteous acts are like dirty rags to God. It took some searching, but I found it to be from Isaiah 64:6:

“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.” (NLT)

At first, this made sense to me. If I were not a Christian, and I went out of my way to help a stranger in need, my reasons for doing so would be mostly selfish. Knowing that I would get nothing in return, I would probably just be doing it for the good feeling that comes from helping others, or for my reputation in front of those around me.

It made sense to me why God would see this deed as filthy, since it was so selfish. Then, once a person was saved, their reasons for doing acts like these would be to honor God, rather than themselves. And so it’s only once we are dead and Christ begins to live through us that our deeds can be righteous to God.

Anyway, I worried about this, because I thought of all the things I still do to honor myself. For example, learning a secular song on guitar could only bring glory to myself. And just the other day, I wrote a funny note for people to read on Facebook. I began to wonder if doing things like these, which don’t really honor God, would be considered wrong, or even sins. If, by being saved, it’s as if I’m dead and Jesus lives through me, why should I continue doing things that Jesus wouldn’t have wasted his time doing?

I brought it up with my Fusion group at h2o, and they counseled me, saying that not everything we do as Christians has to be about God, but it can still honor Him. As long as my jokes are wholesome, and they don’t attack a certain party or have to do with inappropriate topics, I can honor God with them. The same goes for playing secular songs on my guitar: if the words to the song are appropriate and meaningful, I am honoring God.

Of course, as Christians, God should always be on our minds, and we talk to Him throughout the day. As a result, He should naturally come up in our conversations with people and in the things we do. But to think that we can’t enjoy something just because it doesn’t mention God or doesn’t give glory to Him in any really obvious way isn’t right. After all, God wants us to be joyful and enjoy life.

Now I’m going to go do the laundry! 😀 This consists not only of my own clothes, but also all the dish towels and rags in our kitchen, because they all stink. I only mention this because it goes along well with the theme of this post. heh heh

-hasta pronto

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(continued from the last post)

…So it was by a mix of curiosity and having nothing to lose that I picked up The God Delusion in a London bookstore. Despite the fact that there was an oral presentation I should have been working on all weekend, I spent most of my down time reading the first half of that book. Richard Dawkins declared in the first chapter that he hoped to convert anyone who read his book to atheism, and I could already feel its effects by the sixth chapter.

He moves from the introduction to a general discussion on the different religions of the world, taking a particular amount of time to focus on each of the two testaments of the Bible. During this section, he also spends a large effort making the point that many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were probably more secular than religious, and that the U.S. was not founded on the principles of Christianity, which many people claim today. I haven’t yet done much reading on this besides Dawkins’ work, but the quotes and evidence that he gives are convincing enough, and I have to agree with him on that particular point until I do more thorough research.

One whole chapter is devoted to various “proofs” of God’s existence that he refutes one at a time. Then he goes on with a defense of the theory of evolution and an attempt to reason that there “almost certainly is no God.” When addressed with the question of how life came to be, or why we are here, he says that God is an unsatisfactory answer, because it redoubles the problem. We should then ask, “How did God get here?” This was one of his biggest arguments, as I remember him repeating this several times.

I find myself going into too much detail about this book than I’d like to be, but I just wanted to give an idea of what I was reading that gave me my first taste of an atheistic perspective. From there, I leapt back to the U.S. and did some investigating on various websites to find even more objections to religion and Christianity. I began to look down upon religious people, because I thought they did not question their beliefs enough to find what I’d found.

I told my girlfriend and my parents that I no longer considered myself a Christian, and gave them some of my main doubts that seemed so unanswerable. But to be completely honest, they weren’t the only reasons. There was something about going against the grain of all my Christian friends and family that seemed exciting. I became arrogant. It pleased me to know that I had found questions that most people couldn’t answer. Along these lines, my rejection of Christianity was really more about me and the reputation I wanted than the actual doubts about the religion.

My girlfriend bought me a couple of books, which were targeted at the faithless and doubting audiences, and I agreed to read them. A quote at the beginning of one book was by the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, saying “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” This got me thinking. Were my doubts and questions proof enough to abandon Christianity? I hadn’t ever bothered to try and answer them myself. And I undoubtedly found my current beliefs attractive. I could live how I wanted and liked the glory I felt in “knowing” things others didn’t. Pascal’s quote told me pretty explicitly that my transition wasn’t justified as it went.

So for the next few weeks and months of the summer, I researched many of my questions and found that they didn’t really hold up in the face of the answers. Some of the doubts were based on bad logic; others were resultant of a simple misunderstanding of the nature of God. So He used authors and people who reasoned with the same logic that I had used in my objections to show me that my thinking was wrong.

At first, I turned back to Him only in my head, seeing that it made logical sense. But as weeks and months went by, I learned to pray.  I learned to read the Bible and apply it to every aspect of my life in every hour of my life. God has been letting me discover who He is. And as I learn more about Him, He shows me more and more about myself, and how desperate my situation as a fallen human being is. How much I need Him.

I am proud and selfish.

My motivation is self-seeking, and my actions are self-glorifying.

God created me and loves me, but I hardly give a thought to Him, not even a smidgen of the glory He deserves.

As Paul Washer says in the sermon I mentioned in Part 1, the issue is not that I have sinned. The issue is that I’ve never done anything but sin. Even my very kindest and most loving deeds are just filthy rags, polluted garments, to the LORD.

My situation is desperate. I am worthy of nothing better than eternal death. God saves me because He loves me – NOT because I am worth it.

Jesus dying on the cross doesn’t tell us how much we’re worth. It tells us how dire, how drastic, our situations are that God has to crush his Son.

-hasta pronto

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Okay, so if I had to start my story somewhere, I’d choose the early summer of 2007, but right now I think I’d rather start with this picture of a squirrel that I took this week. Enjoy.

Anyway, early during the summer in 2007, I met with a good friend of mine from high school. He had studied a lot of theology, and during the drive home from the meal, our conversation turned to Christianity. He brought up Calvinism, of which I had never heard before. Calvinism is particularly known for what it has to say about predestination—that God, as the omniscient and omnipotent creator that He is, has the right to say where each human being will end up at the end of his or her life. At the time, it sounded to me that believing this would be to believe that we, as humans, don’t really have free will. Whoever God created us to be, we’ll be, and wherever He intends for us to go, we’ll go, and there’s nothing we can do about it. This scared me a lot. (I plan on focusing a separate post on this topic of predestination later.)

My friend also recommended a preacher named Paul Washer to me. Brother Paul, as he likes to go by, is a southern Baptist preacher who has gone and started ministries in Eastern Europe and South America, namely Peru. I listened to a sermon he gave at a church camp in Alabama. In this shocking sermon, he told the more than 6,000 listeners that he figured the great majority of them would be in Hell when they died. His main point is that here in America, Christians are taught to believe that as long as they pray “the prayer” and ask Jesus into their heart, He will undoubtedly do so. He takes the verse Matthew 7:20, which says that people are to be identified “by their fruits,” to support the claim that if you’re a Christian, there should be obvious evidence of it. Someone should be able to look at you before the change, and then look at you afterwards, and see a major difference. You should be turning away from your sin and look different than the rest of the world. (Go here to watch the sermon for yourself.)

I listened to this, and realized that all that of which he was accusing the listeners there in Alabama could have been charged against me as well. I admitted to myself then that, according to this man, who I believed (and still do) was speaking the truth, I was not a Christian. You would not see any major difference between how I lived before I became a Christian and afterwards. In the words of Brother Paul, I “looked like the world, smelled like the world, sounded like the world, and loved so much that was in the world.” I could sin again and again without pausing but for a couple of seconds to ask forgiveness, and there were even certain sins where I didn’t even feel any guilt at all.

Pairing this realization up with what I thought I knew about predestination, I came to the following conclusion: not only was I not a Christian, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I was going to Hell when I died. And for some reason, I was okay with this conclusion. For the rest of that summer, and for most of my trip to Spain in the fall, I was a fervent believer in Christianity, but believed myself excluded from the Good News that it preached.

It wasn’t until the end of the year, during my trip to London, where I found a book called The God Delusion by atheist Richard Dawkins, that I began to let my beliefs about Christianity turn negative.

Well folks, I apologize for the bad timing and sudden ending of this story, but I’m tired, and it is simply becoming too long for one post. I will tell the other half next time. (Click here to read it right now) But here, have another squirrel picture. 😀

-hasta pronto

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During my time in agnosticism, I obviously had many different questions and doubts about Christianity. One particular objection that I remember having is one that I find pretty simple to refute now. I chose to start with this objection because it requires no outside research and extra work on my part, which many of the other topics are going to involve.

I remember thinking to myself that the only reason I was ever a Christian was because my parents raised me that way. Most of our family and friends were Christians, and when someone has certain beliefs and values, they tend to pass them on to their children. If I were born in the Middle East, say, odds are that I would be Muslim. Looking back now, I don’t really see why I considered this one of my objections. I guess it just bothered me that one’s religious beliefs seemed partly dependent on the region of the world in which one grew up. The majority of South Americans are Roman Catholic, the Middle East is known for its Muslims, and most Indians are Hindu. So any children born in these places are very likely to be raised with the dominant values and beliefs of that society.

But of course, to believe something just because someone else does or because most people do isn’t a good idea. That would be foolish. I don’t believe the New Testament just because it’s part of the Bible and my pastor tells me to. I believe it because I have seen strong evidence that the books of the New Testament are historically reliable and true. I’m not a Christian because my parents raised me so; I’m a Christian because I’ve realized that I am fallen – I deserve eternal death. But God has forgotten my sins – He’s forgiven them and thrown them out into the depths of the sea so that He doesn’t even remember them anymore! I have faith from Him that He is the only one who can – and does – save me, give me eternal life.  My mom and dad first brought me to church and let me hear about Jesus, but they are not my reason for believing what I believe.

Likewise, people who were raised in other countries can look critically at their own belief systems and decide for themselves whether or not they’re worth believing. I hope they are not content to just take their society’s word for it.

So in the end, what I thought was an objection to Christianity was actually just a general objection to blind beliefs with no basis or regard to other possibilities. Silly me. 😀

-hasta pronto

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