How to Know God

How to Know God

Are you certain you know God?

Belief and faith are extremely important in our life in God, but perhaps there is a deeper understanding to be had in order to know Him.

What does it mean “to know” the Lord?

Belief

that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. – John 3:15

 

Faith

But without faith it is impossible to please Him. – Hebrews 11:6a

 

Knowledge

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; – Deuteronomy 7:9a

What does it mean to believe?

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. – John 3:18

The Greek word used in this verse is πιστεύω, pronounced pisteuō. It is defined this way: to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in

Its Hebrew counterpart is אָמַן, which is where the word amen comes from. It means:to stand firm, to trust, to be certain, to believe in.

So our first step is to believe. We recognize that there is Someone who is behind all that is. We understand that this visible world is not all there is. It is the “aha!” moment when our perspective changes and we move from unbelief into believe.

However, this is only the first step. Remember, even the demons believe!  James 2:19 uses the exact same word for believe, pisteuō.

We cannot stay here. This believe drives us forward into the next step, faith.

We move from mere belief to faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

The Greek word used in this verse isπίστις, pronounced pē’-stēsIt is defined this way:a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we

obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God

Its Hebrew counterpart is אֱמוּנָה, which means:literally firmness; figuratively security; morally fidelity.

Having believed that there is God in heaven, we begin to wrestle with what that means. As we seek God’s face, He promises that He will be found (Jeremiah 29:13). When He is found, we see that we are hopelessly lost from Him, but our hearts yearn toward Him, longing to be in relationship with Him.

That’s why Jesus came. Why He died. Why we can now live. We pledge our fidelity to Him and become children of God (John 1:12).

Like our own children, we must learn to know.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. – John 17:3

The Greek word used in this verse is γινώσκω, pronounced ginōskōIt is defined this way:to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel. As a Jewish idiom, to know is to have sexual intercourse.

Its Hebrew counterpart is יָדַע,  which means: to perceive and see, find out and discern, be revealed, to join together.

Like children, we progressively come to know God through the work of His Holy Spirit, whom He sent.

We start by acquiring knowledge, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In the Bible, knowing always involves relationship and commitment. It is a “joining together” of two to become one. You see a temporal illustration in marriage, where physical intimacy is described as “knowing” (Genesis 4:1). But it is so much more than that! It implies taking something (or someone) to oneself to possess it.

Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:5 wanted to “know” good and evil. Knowledge in itself is not bad, but in the biblical sense, it means to become one with it. What we take unto ourselves becomes a part of who we are, and separation requires as it were a “ripping apart,” a “tearing asunder” (Mark 10:9). This is one reason that God forbids sex before marriage. A bond is formed that renders real, permanent harm to both parties when the relationship is broken.

In Amos chapter 3 God declares “you only have I known.” Naturally, He knows every person on earth, not just one family, but He had created a relationship between Himself and Israel. It was a deep, physicla, mental, emotional, and spiritual knowing that set Israel apart as God’s own.

So returning to John 17:3, do we know God in the biblical sense? Have we joined together with Him and have we created a relationship that will last through eternity with Him?

What God has joined together… God does the joining in our relationship with Him. We become His own.

Do you truly know God… in the biblical sense?

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Do You Suffer From Spiritual Light Sensitivity?

Do You Suffer From Spiritual Light Sensitivity?

For weeks now, I have been struggling with light sensitivity.

Yes, I have very blue eyes and a bad habit of squinting against the light instead of putting on my sunglasses. Some days, I feel like I need them even indoors!

My doctor tells me that most people in Texas—where I live—have vitamin D3 deficiency. That’s crazy, when we know that only sunlight produces that vitamin in our bodies. You can get small amounts from eating things like mushrooms, but not nearly as much as your body needs. With the abundance of sunlight in Texas, you’d think we’d be the least likely people to develop this deficiency.

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A study at Stanford

In a recent study at Stanford University, researchers found that women who spend at least 30-45 minutes in the sun everyday live longer and have less frequent breast cancers. Yet we’ve been told over and again to avoid the sun! And so we ask, what are we to do? (I’ll come back to that in a minute.)

Of even graver concern is the lack of spiritual light.

If avoiding the sun can cause physical problems in our bodies, imagine how avoiding God’s light can affect our spirits!

Consider the case of the New Testament Apostle Paul. Even though he wrote most of the New Testament, he had not always been a champion of the faith. Indeed, he had letters from the religious authorities to put in jail those who were following the Way. He was on the road to Damascus to do just that when something startling happened.

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do (Acts9:3-6).”

Blinded by the light, his whole sense of who he was and who God was, was challenged. He had to be led into the city because he was totally blind.

But blind to what?

Saul was the young Pharisee who held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He was passionate for what he saw as the only way to worship God. But the Pharisees had put so many stumbling blocks in the way of the faithful that no one could be assured of not offending them.

However, God was offended by the Pharisees!

He knew that no one could follow the law perfectly. Not even pious Saul. So He enacted the solution He had prepared even before the beginning of time itself. He sent Jesus into the world, to live the life we should have lived. He did that perfectly. Then, He took on himself the penalty for every sin ever committed, past, present and even future. He paid the penalty and bought our freedom and forgiveness.

 

He became the light.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).

 

When Jesus showed people the way, those who believed Him still struggled with believing. At one point, the boldest Apostle in the group, Simon Peter, denied he even knew Jesus.

Much later, when the beloved apostle, John, wrote in his letters, he made it abundantly clear who the light is.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:5-9).

This may be my favorite verse in the whole Bible. I love the light, because that’s where Jesus is.

But it is definitely not always easy.

I suffer from chronic depression. If you think Christians shouldn’t have depression, then you must also think they shouldn’t have diabetes, or heart disease, or any of a plethora of illnesses that are a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, until Jesus returns and make all things new, we live in a fallen and decaying world. One day soon, He will return and restore everything to the way He made it in the beginning, before the fall. (For more information on being a Christian with mental illness, see Amy Simpson’s Blog. You can also read my testimony about depression here.)

We have a worthy adversary—the devil. The word tells us that

he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8.).”

Do you know what that means? It means he is LOUD! He is ROARING his message of lies to us. But he is also a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44).

The enemy roars his lies.

In our ears, in the mirror, in our jobs and our families and even in our churches. That is why it is crucial that we stay in the light. When the light is shining, nothing is hidden. If we believe the lies the enemy roars at us (I’m unloveable; I’m a failure; I’m not pretty; I can’t do anything right.) then we are committing Peter’s sin.

We’re denying that we know Jesus Christ.

I’ve just come through one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve ever experienced. I tried walking backwards in the light, but all I saw were the shadows that I, myself, was casting. I heard the enemy’s lies, and I listened. Fortunately, I have people around me who saw what was happening and rushed to my aid.

Now I’m wearing an elastic band around my wrist. It says “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Even though it’s a good reminder, that’s not why I’m wearing it. Every time I hear the enemy’s lies in my mind, I snap that plastic band. Then I counter the lie with the truth of Jesus. I am loved. I am succeeding in my adventure with God. I’m beautiful because God says I am. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

One day soon I’m going to publish my testimony on this website. It’s kind of long, so it will be on a page of its own and you’ll never have to look there if you don’t want to. It isn’t a pretty story, but it is a story of victory!

So how do we balance our need for light?

In the physical, we need 30-45 minutes in the sun every day to produce enough vitamin D3. But NEVER without sunscreen! And I know it’s hot and we would rather sit in the air-conditioned room than walk around the block in the heat of the day. But doing something good for yourself means you’re doing something good for the people you love, too.

And what about spiritually?

Fully live your Life in the Light!

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How to Choose the Right Bible for You

How to Choose the Right Bible for You

How to choose the right Bible for you.

It seems to me that with the advent of global shopping online, the brick and mortar Christian bookstores where I worked and learned the difference between Bibles have gone the way of the dinosaur. Sure, there are loads of choices on the internet, many more, in fact, than any local bookstore or chain could carry. And it also seems like the sheer number of Bibles in new and exciting categories is growing by the day. So what do you do when you want a new Bible but aren’t sure where to turn? Well, for my friends, I have developed a method for you to weigh all the options available to you. Just click on the image to the right!

What’s the difference between not just translations, but types of Bibles? Is a Reference Bible better than a Study Bible? What qualifies as a Journaling Bible? And aren’t there specialty Bibles for just about every interest and need? Yes, there are, and what I’ve tried to do for you is put it all in a chart to help you make the choice that’s right for you.

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But first, some definitions.

Concerning translations, there are actually 3 types you might come across. Verbal Equivalence Bibles (aka Formal Equivalence Bibles) means that the translators have opted to translate word for word. If it is strictly adhered to, it can make reading a bit awkward because there are no strict equivalent words for some Hebrew and Greek words.

The second type is Dynamic Equivalence (aka Functional Equivalence) Bibles. In this translation method, the translator has attempted to convey thought for thought instead of strict word for word. Neither one of these methods is fool-proof, but they are still remarkably accurate when compared to the original manuscripts.

The third type is a Paraphrase, which is not strictly a translation at all. This type takes the meaning of the Scriptures and tries to put it in simple, everyday language. Many people use a Paraphrase Bible for reading, but switch to an actual translation for studying.

More definitions

In addition to the different translations, there are different types of Bibles as well. The three most commonly read are the Study Bible, which includes study helps and commentaries to try to make the passages clearer; the Reference Bible, which has a column either in the center or along the edge that list other references to the same topic; and there is a growing demand for Journaling Bibles as more people embrace journaling in their Bibles instead of in a separate notebook. And then there are Specialty Bibles that include things like Men’s Bibles, Women’s or Kids’ Bibles, Bibles focusing on architecture, or the work of the Holy Spirit, or even just Topical Bibles.

I’ve tried to give you a good sampling of some of the most popular Bibles; obviously, this post would stretch on to eternity if I tried to cover them all.

I hope the resource is helpful for you the next time you decide to purchase a new one for yourself or as a gift for someone else. The most important thing to remember is that time spent in God’s word is edifying to your spirit and God actually says it is “food for the soul.” Remember, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4, KJV).

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The Problem of "Natural Evil"

The Problem of "Natural Evil"

Photo courtesy of Dmitri Ratushy on Unsplash

In a previous post, I talked about how God could be good and still allow evil. In that post, I explained that evil is not something in and of itself, but the corruption of something good. So now we come to natural evil, such as floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. How do those things fit in with God’s goodness?

The earth is under the curse

Romans 8:19-22 informs us,

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

This Scripture shows us that even nature has been subjected to the curse that originated at Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s will. At the beginning, all things—including weather—worked in harmony. There were no natural disasters before the fall. It’s important to remember that we live in a fallen world.

God is sovereign

Another important point is that God is sovereign. Because He can stand at the beginning and see the end (and we can’t), we often think that He must be capricious, allowing or perhaps even causing natural disasters to befall mankind. After all, He did send the flood, and in Mark 4:9 we see Jesus control the weather with a single word. But that doesn’t make God bad. Just because we cannot understand the reason for things does not mean that God cannot. In His wisdom, He allows things to be as they are for now, to be reconciled to Him in the end days.

Photo courtesy of Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

Bad is sometimes the result of good

For instance, we have earthquakes because we have tectonic plates below the surface. Without the plates, we would not have continents. Without them, the earth could not support life.  Decrying earthquakes because they sometimes cause death is about as sensible as decrying the sun. After all, you can die from sunstroke, too. Once again, just because we do not understand why God allows some natural disasters is not a reason to quit trusting Him. Are you trustworthy to your children even when you allow them to feel the consequences of their behavior or restrict something they want to do? Of course you are. And God can be trusted even if we don’t understand all His reasons.

The worst is yet to come

The whole earth is groaning. It eagerly awaits the coming of God Himself to right all wrongs and reestablish balance in nature. We wait as the children of God for Him to rescue us from the mess that is largely our own doing. If we don’t cause all “natural disasters,” we certainly have a hand in some, such as when entire populations starve due to the evil of their governments who do not allow food to get to them. The earth is plenty capable of feeding the world. It is man who prevents it from happening.

Matthew 24:5-8 tells us what we are currently witnessing.

Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Note that Matthew says these are the beginnings of birth pains.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Ziemanski on Unsplash

We can still rejoice

When you belong to the Lord, you can rest in knowing that He has good things—perfect things—in store for you. Listen to Isaiah 25:8-9:

He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.

If God is REALLY Good, Why Does He Allow Evil?

If God is REALLY Good, Why Does He Allow Evil?

Photo courtesy of Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Defining “good” and “evil”

Many people have given up on God because of the evil in the world. If God were really a loving, good God, He’d stop all the evil. He wouldn’t allow evil to exist at all. In fact, if God created everything, isn’t He actually the creator of evil? To tackle this ticklish issue, we need some good, working definitions. But we can’t just hop to the nearest dictionary to find them.

 

Did God create everything?

The Bible tells us in Genesis 1:31 that not only did He create everything, but that it was all good.

“”And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31, KJV).”

(If you are not comfortable that God created everything, I’ll cover that in another post.) So we can go from here with putting the credit on God for absolutely every single thing that was created.

Then doesn’t that mean that He created evil?

The problem here is why we need definitions. What is good? What is evil? Good is the quality of a thing that conforms to the character of God. Evil is the corruption of good. Evil is not a thing in and of itself. It does not exist as an independent entity. Have you ever walked into a room and seen an evil in it? Think of evil as a weeping wound on a person’s body. The body—the thing that God created that conforms to the quality of good in God—is there. But you cannot have the weeping wound without the body. It is the body that exists. The wound cannot exist without the body. It is the corruption of the good that constitutes evil.

Photo courtesy of Hailey Kean on Unsplash

So why does God allow evil?

The answer to this question is two-fold. I’ll start with the most commonly spoken answer: because of free will. God made us in His image, which makes us free agents of will. We can will to do good or we can will to do bad. We are given great freedom from God to choose His ways or to choose our own, even when those choices lead us into evil. Every person ever born is given the gift of free will. God desires us to choose good because He can stand at the beginning and see the end. He knows what the outcomes and consequences of our choices will be, but He will not stop us from making wrong choices if that is what we have determined in our hearts to do.

You may not be aware of how often God actually intervenes in your life to prevent something that would take your life or even worse, steal your faith. But He doesn’t violate your free will.

Yes, it’s true that He could have simply made us love him. But then is that really, truly love? Do you want your kids to love you because you make them? Is it even possible to make someone love you? You can see the difficulty here.

 

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

(Matthew 13:24-30) Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

If you are a believer in Christ, you are the wheat in this story. Those who do not follow the Lord are the tares. The field is the world and the sower is God. Although there are tares (weeds) in the field, the Sower decides not to remove them before the harvest, lest the wheat gets damaged in the process. So as contradictory as it seems, it is for our own sake that He does not simply remove evil right now. When the harvest time comes at the end of the age, everything will be harvested, but the tares will be burned and the wheat will be saved.

“Isaiah 46:10 (KJV) tells us plainly: Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”

 

God is good all the time

There is never a day that God is not good. He cannot not be good because that is His character and nature. And when we choose evil (the corruption of what He created to be good), it grieves His heart.

Next time we’ll talk about natural evil. Stay tuned.

Finding the Safe Space Within

Finding the Safe Space Within

Our world is in turmoil, and the United States is no exception. One response to this turbulence is to retreat to a safe space, which is defined as “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.” In other words, a place to withdraw from the world.

Our universities, which should be preparing students to thrive on this bumpy journey we call life, are fragmenting. They are becoming ideological ghettos that have been carved out of what one writer said should be a vibrant academic community. 

I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, these safe spaces are dividing our college and university students by race, religion, creed, political affiliation, or coveted cause. America was designed to unify people with these diverse characteristics, to build strength from our differences. Yet, there is a safe space where you are not affected by hatred, bigotry, or irrational thought. That place is within you. You carry it with you to every meeting, job, and human interaction you face throughout the day. Here’s how to find it and live within its protected boundaries.

Realize that you are loved.

Yes, loved. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34).”

Those quoting this scripture usually emphasize the commandment to love one another. But before you can do that, you must receive the love that Christ gives to those who follow Him. When you are filled with the love of God—and you know it—then and only then are you able to love others.

Working from a position of being loved removes your anxiety about being discriminated against, treated unfairly, or hated.  It becomes your strength to work from your internal safe space.

Abide in love.

Jesus further tells us to abide in His love.

Just as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. So abide in my love (John 15:9).

 

Receive His peace.

 

It isn’t enough to feel His love; you must remain in it, regardless of what is happening around you. Only when you truly know you are loved can you obey this precept. If you don’t really believe you are loved, you won’t have anything to give anyone else. You will find yourself constantly at odds with the violent world in which we live. No wonder, then, that people seek a safe place.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).

Jesus knew that His own would experience trials and tribulations, but He encouraged them to remain true to His call on them to love one another. His commandment that they not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by fear was the key to finding peace in the midst of the storm.

The Bible provides a year-long devotional on fear, saying more than 365 times, “Do not be afraid.” It also reminds us that

“perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).

 Those who have discovered the power of love are not afraid.

Released from insecurity.

Author and minister Joyce Meyer says on her website, “We have an epidemic of insecure people in our society today. Many people have an identity crisis because they don’t really know who they are. They base their worth and value on all the wrong things – what they do, what they look like, who they know, what they know or what they own.”

Security and safety are in the Christian’s DNA.  

Photo courtesy of Norman Toth on Unsplash

Isaiah 54:17 assures us,  “But no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall show to be in the wrong.

This [peace, righteousness, security, triumph over opposition] is the heritage of the servants of the Lord….” With this promise from God, should we still seek safe spaces that insulate us from the “weapons formed against us”? There is no reason to be insecure in God’s economy.

So what’s the secret to an internal safe place?

The secret to being secure in Christ is knowing that you are in Christ. He has promised never to leave or forsake you. Therefore, in the midst of the turmoil that defines your day, your life will be a reflection of your position in Christ.

Where is your refuge?

In the Old Testament, Isaiah foretells that a King will come who will be a refuge for His people.

And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land (Isaiah 32:3).

This “man” will be the safe place for those who put their trust in Him.
Jesus has already come. He has fulfilled most of the prophecies about Him already. Those who have believed in Him shall find their hiding place in Him.

Are you being persecuted?

If the world around you has frightened you and you feel like you need someplace safe to avoid the persecution you feel, remember this.  Jesus has overcome the world. He takes up residence in you, and you can retreat into Him at any time. But if you seclude yourself in physical safe places, how then will you shine His light? 

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lamp stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:15-16).”