Category Archives: God

Your relationship with God

There is nothing that will prepare you for a real, effective, healthy, productive, successful, and meaningful counseling ministry as much as developing a real and personal relationship with the Lord. Your strength will come from Him. Your wisdom and discernment, without which you are of no use to anyone at all, will come from Him. Those times of rest, when counseling drains you to your very soul, comes from Him. He is your all in all, and there will never be a substitute.

The question then is, “How do I develop this real and personal relationship?”

Make a decision, before you start counseling, or as of this very this moment, if you already have been counseling, that God will get all the credit for all the success you will ever achieve as a counselor. That will mean, from now on, that your counseling and therapeutic skills and abilities will be completely dependent upon Him. If this becomes true. Then you must let Him guide your development as a counselor. This means that you constantly look back the His Word for further guidance. That you do not allow what you believe to be true, right, correct, fair, or the best, interfere with His teaching and principles.

God chooses certain people to become His counselors. One of the traits that Christian counselors have, for the most part, is the uncanny ability to persuade people with just their words. There are many people in life that use the words of their mouths to make a living. Car salesmen and other salespeople depend strongly on their natural abilities to use words to persuade customers to buy their products. God has gifted these people with this ability. It is up to the person to use His abilities for the work of the Lord. You were chosen by God for several reasons, some I will be able to identify for you, but others may be so specific for you that I would have to know you personally to get to know what they may be. I am able to discern these traits because I am also one of those who have been called by God to counsel.

He sees something special in you that even you may not see. As I mentioned above one of those traits is the ability to persuade others with just our words. In the Christian world, we find many of these people in the roles of pastor, leader, teacher, evangelist, apostle, and so forth.  When the Scriptures say that many are called but few are chosen, it is not kidding. You are among those few. And because you have this ability to persuade others with your very words, you are also held to a higher standard of responsibility and accountability by God. God expects that, besides earning a living, you must also use your ability for His glory. He will not force you to do His will, but He will also not release you from your responsibility just because you will not meet your obligation to Him. Because you have this gift, you have noticed that often you were able to gain personally from this gift. Whether through the subtleness of your words others felt they should “repay” you for your seeming generosity to them, or because you strongly implied an obligation on their part and they gave to you from that, or because you obviously used your gift to manipulate some type of personal gain, it is all the same. You are either just using this gift for your gain, or you will choose to use this gift for His glory.

God has no problem that you must use your personal skills to earn a living. On the contrary, He wants you to do so and is ready to bless you further, but he just wants you to also use them for His purposes. He wants you to want to use your skills for Him. To accomplish what He believes is the more important use of your talents. He wants you to see your ministry in that manner.  You can gain that perspective. You can gain it by working harder on your personal relationship with Him. Whether or not you feel strong, confident, able, and so forth, choose instead to seek His strength instead. Seek His counsel, even when you already know what to do. Show Him that you need Him, even when you don’t really feel it. Even when your wisdom and discernment tell you that you have identified the root of the problem of that client of yours, still ask Him what He thinks about the whole thing.

Make time to just sit in His presence, saying and thinking nothing. Just basking in His presence. This is the place where you will find peace and rest. You need those times to recharge your counseling “battery” to be ready for the next case that will always come along. You don’t ever have to worry that people may not come to you, your “worry” (if I may call it that) is whether you will make time to go to your Lord and Savior.  Make time for prayer. Even when you really don’t feel like it. If you are a parent, then you know how it feels when your children don’t spend time with you. Worse yet if they don’t want to spend time with you. I have two grown sons, and there are times when neither one makes even a short time to just sit with me. Those times are lonely times for me. Well, God feels the same way. He wants you to spend time with Him. He waits for those times with anticipation.

He wants you to want to be with Him, and not just because you have to, or should.

When you pray. Drop the religious stuff once in a while and just speak with Him in your natural words. Treat Him like He is really there. Speak to Him and not at Him. He cares to hear what you have to say. He does not want you to try to impress Him with how many “hallelujahs,” or “Praise the Lords” you can say in a minute. Leave the big impressive religious sounding prayer language to us Pastors and such, since we have too often prayed in public and they expect that kind of thing from us. No, in your personal time with Him, be for real, be natural, and be there because you want. Your relationship with God will help you through some of those difficult times when you feel like you have to go to a counselor yourself, but are just too proud to even really consider it.

In your counseling ministry, you will be tempted to do wrong, say the wrong things, behave questionably, and sometimes maybe even lash out at those difficult clients. It is in these times of weakness, that your relationship with Him will make you strong. As I mentioned before, your family life is way more important than your counseling ministry, but your relationship with the Lord is most important in your life. Do not confuse them.

What Does Love Feel Like?

While sitting through the movie, “The Shack,” along with my wife, I was struck with an odd idea. Well, to be honest, odd to me. The main character was going through a dilemma which tore at his very soul. On the one hand, he blamed himself for the death of his daughter, and on the other hand, he was angry with God for not saving her life. The main point, I think, at least regarding him, was that he was blinded to what he was really struggling with because his anger and bitterness kept getting in the way. The “odd” idea which came to me was whether I was going through something similar.

At the age of 3, I remember playing in the living room of our West Dallas project’s apartment in which we lived at the time. Movement caught my attention, and I turned to the window and saw my father looking in as though he was looking for something. I walked over to the window and stood there looking up at him. After a while, he turned away and I never saw him again for the rest of my life. The point here is that the one thing which has stayed with me for over 62 years is that he never looked down at me, as though I wasn’t even there.

When I was around 5 years old, my mother had a “nervous breakdown,” whatever that is. I think she just became so angry at the world that she introverted herself, and dove wildly into an emotional depression. The result was that we (my brothers and I) were taken into custody by the state and placed in a foster home. I have no memory of being transported to the foster home, which gives me the idea that we may have been asleep at the time. I do remember the abuse we suffered at the hands of those people. During the whole time we were there, we lived in constant fear. And, to myself at least, it seemed we were there forever. Those foster “parents” should never have been allowed to get near children. Their treatment of my brothers and I was atrocious. I, as the oldest of the three, was the butt of their attacks. At least to the best of my memory, it seemed they enjoyed making me suffer. I remember them laughing at me, calling me names, and to scare me even more, they would mistreat my brothers in front of me to cause me even more fear. At one point, my youngest brother, George, pooped on himself, and the foster “parents” found it hilarious when they forced me to eat some of it because I had not taken care of him. I learned to hate while in that house. I learned to hate, and I learned well.

One day, after what seemed years (which was probably only a few months), we were cleaned up and dressed nicely. We were going to have visitors. Actually, two ladies arrived. One seemed familiar, but the second was completely unknown to me. I could tell that something was different from normal, the foster “parents” were behaving like nice people. That only made me more apprehensive, as I was expecting some sort of abuse to occur at any moment. I remember the three of us brothers standing together, huddled, and afraid. One of the ladies, the one that did not seem familiar to me, began speaking to us. She was speaking in English and I did not fully understand her. I could tell by her hand motions that she wanted us to come to her and the other lady, the familiar one. Our response was to huddle even closer. One of the foster “parents” came to us and grabbed my arm, and gently (but forcefully) pulled me forward to the ladies. My brothers came along with me. The first lady spoke again and said, “Mama,” as she pointed to the other lady. I looked at the first lady, then I looked at the second lady, and back to the first. I did not know what was happening, but I was beginning to catch on that she was trying to tell us that this was our mother.

That is my brother Joe on the left, then me, and George is in our mother’s arms.

Our mother smiled and called to us in Spanish. My young mind struggled to bring to memory her picture in my head. The abuse we suffered at that home left me confused and fearful. A part of my mind told me that we were being fooled again. She seemed confused that we did not just run up to her immediately. She stepped forward and reached out to us. I tried to back away, but the grip of the foster “parent” was stronger. “Soy tu mamá,” she said (I am your mother), and she knelt before us. It was then that I remembered her. My mother, the one we loved. The one we missed so terribly during those torturous months in that hell house. The one who sent us there. The one who was responsible for all we had suffered at the hands of those evil people. All of my fears, anger, and hate swelled up in me. I felt as though I was going to explode. “I hate you!” I screamed at her, “I hate you. I hate you.” I finally had the chance to release all that pent up fear. I was staring straight at the person who was responsible. I hated her so very, very, much.

I have scattered memories of abuses and violence which we suffered, too many of those memories are of things which happened to me personally. The way my mother handled all of that was with lots of screaming and yelling on her part. She had a mean streak. She blamed us for everything that went wrong in her life. Her favorite attacks were when she would scream “Hijos de su p**che padre (sons of your f***ing father). I had no idea what she would go on about, but I quickly learned that she hated that man. I have yet to learn the truth about all that happened between them, but I no longer care. At the time, though, it was her ammunition against us. He left her, and she was angry, and she was going to punish us for it. I especially took the brunt of much of her anger, because I was the oldest and was supposed to “know better.”

In those years I sort of remember trying to love her. I mean, come on, what other choice did we have? We were as stuck with her as much as she was with us, and she did not make that easy. My memory of her, during that time, was that she was mean. Her anger was her most obvious quality to me. Like her, my anger was my most familiar companion as well.

The trauma and abuse I (and my brothers) suffered at the hands of an angry mother, and a coward of a father who abandoned his children, left me scarred with an emptiness of the heart, and blindness of the soul, that to a point still haunts me to this day.

So, what is love? I have learned to rationalize things in my life. I compartmentalize, put things into separate “boxes” and learn to keep each thing in its place. I have specific rules I follow, which guide me in how to act and react to situations and circumstances in my life. The Bible teaches me that if I love someone I will do what is best for them, even if it means they must suffer consequences for their actions and choices. I understand that, I understand pain and punishment, so “suffering the consequences” of my actions and choices is not something altogether strange to me. Since I was little, I have known that when you do something that displeases those in control, they will make you suffer for it. I learned to accept that as a truth of life. So, when I first read in the Word of God that he punishes His children (Hebrews 12), I rolled with the punch and accepted that for what it says. I began my “walk” with God understanding that He was the Lord. By “Lord” I mean the Boss, the one in charge, the controller of my life. This meant to me that He can do whatever He wants with my life, and that there is nothing I can do about it. It means that He can choose for me to go through hard and difficult things, situations, and circumstances, and that I am supposed to just “grin and bear” it.

I first came to know “God” as my new owner. I was “owned” before by the hatred, fear, and bitterness which permeated every pore of my body, all the way down to my soul. Love had no place in my life. I want to believe that there must have been someone in my young life who actually loved me, but if there were, no real evidence comes to my mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, and misunderstand my words, I believe that there were people who “cared.” I know that I cared for my brothers and sisters, in fact I still do. I hope they cared about me as well, but when we were younger, all of us, brothers and sisters, suffered our own demons in various ways. None of us “children” of that woman came away unscathed. For many years, and maybe even to some point up until now, we drifted apart and dealt with our own separate lives. I, along with my brothers, Joe and George, tended to spend more time with each other. My brothers, Larry and Rick (sons of a different father), were often left to themselves. My sisters, Connie and Diana (from still another father), tended to spend more time with each other, and later on, with my youngest brother, Don, who had the same father as my sisters. We all care about each other, at least to the best that we are able while dealing with the traumas and emotional damage we suffered as children.

So, what is love? I know one thing clearly and without any doubt, before turning my life over to Christ, I had no earthly idea what is was. And, now as a Christian of about 35 years, I am still working on it. As I said I have learned to rationalize love. When I have been asked to define love, I always revert to my standard answer, “The Bible teaches that love is what we do.” I have always given that answer, because it works with my understanding of what I perceive love as being. But, what I rationalize and what the Bible actually says, may not be the same. The verse which always comes to mind is John 14:15 (NASB), “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” It does not say, “Keeping my commandments is HOW you love me.” It says, If you love me…” If you “love” me. “Love.” I have always seen this verse differently. To me it always read, “Obedience is love.” So, I committed myself to doing what God wanted so that I could thereby prove my love. The way I interpreted the instruction was that I did not have to concern myself with feelings, but only with doing something. So, I gave in to God, as He started working on me, out of obedience. I conceded to changes in my character, out of obedience. I responded to God’s call on my life for the ministry, out of obedience. I tithed and gave offering faithfully, out of obedience. I prayed for people, counseled people, and pastored people, out of obedience. I have lived a life of service to others for all of my Christian life, out of obedience. Why? Because this is how I have always understood love. Love is obedience, and obedience is love. This way I was never expected to feel anything, I was expected to obey, and that I could do without too much trouble.

Again, do not misunderstand my argument here. I am not speaking out against just obeying God for the sake of obedience. There are many benefits from that kind of response to the Lord. And, remember when I use the word “Lord,” I am speaking about the Boss, the controller of our lives. I am referring to the part of God that expects all of His children to do what He says regardless of how they feel about His orders. He wants done what He wants done, and He does doesn’t want us to do differently. When you do obey Him, the biggest perk is that He will bless (reward) you for your obedience. There will never be a time when you obey Him and He will not bless you for it. Why? Because that is one way He shapes your life, and mine. When we obey, He blesses us, so because we liked getting blessed we will obey Him again, and, every time we obey we change a bit more. So, because we change a bit more, we want to obey Him a bit more, and we will, which will result in Him blessing us again. Get it? It is not a matter of how we feel, but whether we obey. The benefits to seeing your relationship with God in this manner are obvious, when you think about it. On the other hand, it is also a great way to avoid having to deal with feelings.

So, what is love? The Bible clearly states that God is love, but is love God? I don’t know the answer to that one. I am also not one of those people who just accepts some nice sounding words, act like I actually understand them, and then start spouting them out of my mouth. To me love is still not what I feel, it is what I do. But, that should not be interpreted as though I am saying I am not open to learning the truth, if I am in error as to the truth. Though, I still want whomever it may be to use language (when explaining “love”), that is not just a bunch of emotionally meaningless terms and expect me to understand. Truth does not hide behind vague emotional drivel, though I will admit that “love” may not fully be explained with logical, rational, terms which have clear meaning. I am willing to listen to some emotional terms, as long as that is not to whole of the explanation. For example, the Bible teaches on many concepts and ideas. Thankfully, the Lord did not resort to using only ambiguous terms and language. Even the most difficult themes and arguments in the Scriptures can be studied and understood with time and effort. The reason being that God provides enough logic, rationale, reason, and evidence, along with the “touchy feely” parts of the Word of God.

The dictionary defines the word “love” as, “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Yea, that really makes it clear right? First of all, what is meant by “intense” and “deep?” And, tell me this, how does one “love” God “intensely” and/or “deeply?” These two words are subjective, in other words dependent on the feelings of each person as to how they would define them. The dictionary is of little help, you see it defines “intense” as, either (1) of extreme force, degree, or strength, or (2) having or showing strong feelings or opinions; extremely earnest or serious. The second definition may be closer to what we are trying to understand, but still we just have more adjectives to work with, and we are no closer to a clear understanding. So, let’s instead look at the word “affection,” in the definition. It means, “A gentle feeling of fondness or liking.” Gentle? What happened to “intense?” I’ve decided the dictionary is of no real help.

So, what is Love? Let’s turn to the Bible as our source for trying to get a clear understanding of this elusive word. The Scripture teaches that:

  1. It is as strong as death. (Song of Solomon 8:6)
  2. It is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 14:15)
  3. It is patient, kind, and is not jealous; it does not brag and is not arrogant, it does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not (easily) provoked, it does not take into account a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
  4. Greater than faith and hope. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
  5. The fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22)
  6. The perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:14)
  7. It is from God. (1 John 4:7)
  8. It casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
  9. “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” (2 John 1:6)

If I use only the above references from the Bible as my basis for deciding what love is, I have to conclude that it does not involve feelings at all. All nine of the references speak of actions and decisions. They speak of what is, not how something feels. None of the nine require a person to feel this way or that. So even by using the Bible as my sole resource for finding the answer to what love is, I still don’t seem to have a clear understanding regarding whether feelings are supposed to be part of the formula. If I follow the teaching from the Word of God, specifically the nine references above, I have to conclude that love is what I decide and choose to do, not how I feel about something. For example, 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” John 14:24 says basically the same, notice, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words…” in other words, those who do “love” Jesus show it by obeying Him, not by how they “feel” about Him. So then if we “love” (obey) Jesus, we have to obey His commandment to “love” one another (John 15:14). It seems to me that it means that we show love to others by obeying the Lord. Hmmm.

So, what is love? It is the decision to treat someone else as more important than yourself. It is the understanding that someone else has priority over you, in this case it would be God, through our Lord, Christ Jesus. It is the decision to do what God has instructed us to do in regards to others, and not allow our feelings to cause us to choose to do differently. It is the decision to obey the Word of God, when our feelings tell us that we should instead do what we believe is right.

Even after writing almost 3800 words in this article, I still don’t understand love as a feeling. The idea of it is foreign to me. I understand hate, anger, rage, bitterness, frustration, depression, and vengeance. I understand those words, and I even have a personal knowledge of how they feel. I can stir up anger in milliseconds, and can feel the rage flow through me. I have lived with those feelings for so long in my life that I have an intimate acquaintance with each of them, but “love,” I have no concept of how that feels.

I love my wife. That means I make her my priority, treat her as more important than myself, and will always choose behavior and actions which will benefit her and not damage her. I will obey God, and His Word, in regards to what I will or will not do with or to her, or allow in our lives, regardless of how she feels. Her feelings cannot ever override the instructions of the Lord in my life. If I let that happen, then, according to my understanding of “love,” I will prove I don’t “love” her. The concept is a logical and calculated one. It is practical and clear. There is no ambiguity in that form of love.

When she is not around me, I miss her. If she were to die before I do, I would want to die as well. I know that this world means nothing to me if she is not here to share it with me. Because of her I want to be a better man. I treat others better because she has taught me how through her sacrifices and actions in my life. I have learned how to submit to God because she has taught me how through her submission to me. I want her to always be with me, and I am not as happy when she is not around. She makes my eyes to smile when I see her. She makes my heart feel better just because she is alive. I thank our Lord with all of my heart for allowing me to have her in my life.

But, my “feelings” of “love” for her are flawed. I sometimes don’t like her, just as she sometimes does not like me. We sometimes hurt each other’s feelings. We don’t always agree. There are many things we both like similarly, and there are other things we like differently. I talk more than she does, but I don’t listen as well as she does. I am more educated, but she tends to be wiser. I know she loves me, but I know this by her actions, choices, and decisions. I don’t always know how she feels about me, but I am aware of her behavior and I see her decisions in action. These two things prove to me that she loves me.

I may never learn how to love someone else by feelings alone, and I don’t know if that is really necessary. Throughout my whole life, my feelings have neither hurt nor benefitted anyone else, but my decisions, actions, and behavior have. No one has ever told me that they know I love them because they can tell how I feel about them, but many times I have been told by someone that they knew I loved them because of what I did, or did not do, to or for them. I guess I will leave things the way they are. I will probably have to wait until I get to heaven to “feel” love, and that is okay with me.

 

 

Do you REALLY take time to pray?

The question of prayer has long been an obstacle over which I have had to prevail. No, not that I have had problems with whether we should pray or not, that has been made clear in the Bible. We are instructed to pray always (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and for everything (1 Timothy 6:17). The problem I struggled with for many years is that of when, how, for how long, and for what to pray. You may not have struggled with this, and think I am being silly. Because of my character, I tend to do better when I have rules to follow, than when I am supposed to freelance it. For example, if the Bible were to tell me that I was supposed to pray, and give no instructions on what is to be expected of me, I would become confused and frustrated. This would only result in my praying less often, and for smaller amounts of time. It definitely would not be one of my favorite things to do.

Early on in my walk with God, I learned several truths about the Lord that has formed my understanding of my God since. For God to be a true God (at least in my opinion), four things, at minimum, must be true:

  1. God must be omnipotent (all powerful – Matthew 19:26, Ephesians 3:20).
  2. God must be omniscient (all knowing – John 3:10).
  3. God must be omnipresent (able to be anywhere and everywhere, at the same time).
  4. God must be perfect (incapable of error or failure – Matthew 5:48).

If even just one of the above were not true of our Lord, then he would not be God. In this case, though, as the above Scriptural references will sustain, He is definitely the One True God. But, it was the second point above which threw the proverbial wrench into the works for me. If God knows everything, then why must I tell Him again what He already knows? Of course, that also created a conundrum for me. Watch this, since God knows everything, this means He knows what I am going to say before I say it, right? (Matthew 6:32 and Luke 12:30) So if I don’t pray, because I believe He already knows what I am going to say, then He also knows I didn’t say it, because I didn’t pray. But, if I pray so that I actually say it, then I know He already knew what I was going to say which means I did not have to say it to begin with, right? It is confusing at times.

Secondly, His omniscience means He already knows everything going on in my life. Since this is true, then why must I have to tell Him about it? The Bible teaches that God loves me (John 3:16), and that He wants me to live in joy (John 16:24). It even emphasizes that nothing is impossible for God (Mark 10:27), so then why doesn’t God just meet those specific needs, without us having to pray for them specifically? Is there something inherent in praying, or does He like hearing us ask Him for things, or what? Since God already knows everything, and He knows the desires of our heart (Psalms 37:4), why doesn’t He just meet those needs to begin with? This way we could cut out all that begging and crying on our part (this was said “tongue-in-cheek”).

As a believer, I know that God meets all my “needs.” This means that whatever God decides are my “needs,” He will meet those “needs”. This does not mean that He will necessarily meet my perceived (from my perspective) needs. Let’s say I ask God for money for some expense or desire (telling myself that it is a “need”), and hoping He will agree with me, and give me the money. God will, for example, instead, and without question, meet the need of my learning patience by putting me through a series of situations and circumstances which will result in my learning the characteristic. In God’s eyes, I need to learn patience (Hebrews 10:35-36), so that is a need He will supply whether I ask for it or not. I may or may not get the money I asked for, that will depend on whether He decides if indeed it is a need.

On the other hand, Scripture says we “do not have” because we “do not ask” (James 4:2). But, then when we do ask for what we think we want, we are told that we do not receive because we ask with wrong motives (James 4:3). Yet, the Scriptures do not go into detail as to what is specifically considered “right” or “wrong” motives. Remember, all humans are selfish. We were born that way. It is our nature. That is the way God created us. Why do you think Adam chose to disobey God? Our sinful (selfish) nature. So, with that in mind, everything and anything we want will be tarnished by our selfish nature. Even when we convince ourselves that we are being selfless, there will still be some inner, unspoken, selfish motivation. The truth is that nobody does anything for nothing, we always have some personally satisfying motive for what we do, even if it is just that we feel good about what we have, or are doing. That is our nature.

So, even if we play like God does not already know what we are going to pray about, there are certainly some “rules” we have to follow when praying!? And, I thought I would just be able to open my mouth and start spewing out all of my requests and demands (just kidding). Nevertheless, there should be no argument that there are “rules” which must be followed.  To begin with there are two from the James verses above:

  1. Ask or you may not get anything.
  2. Ask with the “right” motive.”

Then, we run across Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24, they tell us that we have to “believe” that we are going to get what we pray. And, what does the word “believe” mean in that verse? Does it mean that we are to know we are going to get that for which we prayed? How can someone know that something is going to happen when it is dependent on someone else (like God) doing it according to their own opinion and perspective? Have you ever prayed for something that you never got? I have. Maybe I was asking in the “wrong” way (there, that’s one way to make excuses for prayers that fail).

On the other hand, some people do pray in “wrong” way. Matthew 6:5 basically states that some people like praying in public (that probably means where people can hear and see you praying, like in church [??] for instance). Instead, the next verse (v.6) instructs us to pray privately (uh, does that mean not to pray at church either?). Likely not. Still, we are told to pray privately. In fact, we are told to go into our “Prayer closet” and pray there (I guess that could mean that someone has a private room in which they normally pray). It goes on to say, “And your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Does that mean our prayer are to be secrets, or that we should pray secretly?

If that was so, then why would our Lord, Jesus, publically teach the disciples how to pray? In the books of Matthew, verses 9-13, and Luke 11:2-4) He gave them a pattern by which they could pray. Still, I will agree that He did not tell them to pray publically at that time either. I was about to write that Jesus often prayed around His disciples, but then remembered that He would walk away from them to be alone and pray (for example, Luke 22:41). On the other hand, James 5:14 tells the sick to call on the elders of the church to come and anoint them and pray over them. This obviously cannot be done in “secret.” The “secret prayer will not have the intended result, that of comforting the sick person, and them hearing that their sins have been forgiven.

Besides all of the above, there seem to be a couple more “rules.” It seems that the disciples, at least at times, had trouble staying awake during prayer time. In the book of Luke (18:1), our Lord had to get onto the disciples for falling asleep during prayer time. Have you ever fallen asleep during prayer time? I have. Lots of times over my 33 years as a Christian. There were those times when I was praying along just fine, and ran into a block. What I mean by this is sort of like a “writer’s block.” That means that someone is writing a book, or novel, or something like that, and they come to a point where they suddenly cannot think of the next word they need to write. They might be having a problem with where to head the story, what problems to create for the protagonist, or whatever. The point is that they hit a mental wall, a block. I have had many of these in my prayers. I suddenly just stop and try to come up with something else I am supposed to say, but cannot think of anything. Some of those times, I fell asleep thinking of what I was supposed to be saying.

Of course, another question is, “Are we supposed to do all the talking during prayer? You know, non-stop? I mean, it’s not like we get an audible response from God right? Or, at least, I never have. I think if I did, I would faint from fright, and my prayers would end there anyway. Of course though, regardless of what obstacles we do encounter during prayer, we are urged not to give up praying (Luke 18:1). Just because we often cannot think of the next word, this does not mean to pray less. Instead, we are also urged to lean on the Holy Spirit for His support. Romans 8:26 and 27 speak of the way the Holy Spirit will help us when we are having trouble praying. Since God’s Spirit lives in us, then His Spirit in us (who knows all of our thoughts and desires) speaks to the Father directly and prays on our behalf. At those times, we may start speaking in a language that we do not understand, but since the Father and His Holy Spirit do understand each other, they know what is being said. I have found that when I run into these prayer blocks, it is easier for me to begin speaking in tongues, and turn the prayer over to the Holy Spirit and let Him speak for me. He has a better grasp on this prayer thing than I ever will.

One more important point, and that is that we are supposed to be praying directly to the Father. Jesus plainly says this in John 16 verses 23-24. I think He is trying to get us to concentrate on our relationship with the Father as being the primary source of meeting our needs. As a father myself, I love it when my sons come to me for help, as well as them just spending some time with me. Often, just helping them meets a need in me. If the Father is in any way like that, I would say He longs to bless His children, for two wonderful reasons:

  1. Because He loves us.
  2. Because He wants us to hurry back and spend time with Him (and He doesn’t mind “bribing” us with blessings).

Truly there are some “rules” which are to be applied to our prayer life. The following are some I have identified in this article:

  1. Ask, or you may not get anything.
  2. Ask with the “right” motive.”
  3. Don’t pray just to impress
  4. Pray in secret, unless you are praying for a person in need.
  5. Follow the prayer pattern which Jesus taught.
  6. Don’t ever give up praying.
  7. Don’t fall asleep while praying.
  8. Allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for you, when necessary, by praying in tongues.
  9. Direct all your prayers to the Father, He wants to hear from you directly.

Please don’t decide that I am being religious about these “rules.” I believe that God is more interested in you just making the time to spend with Him, than He would care about all the “rules” together. On the other hand, our Lord is a God of order. He created overall plans for creation, set them in order, and enforces the rules which keep His plans furthering towards the intended goals. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you spend lots of time with Him asking Him about all of this J.

So, I go back to my initial question, “Do you REALLY take time to pray?” After writing this article, I will confess something to you. I pray, not only because we are supposed to, and but also because I love it when God blesses me. I have a great big, selfish, desire, for more, and more, of whatever God wants to bless me with. Let it rain down on me, Lord!

Life Sucks and Then You Die!

Great title, right? It got your attention. But more important than that, to many people that is the truth. Life has not been good for many thousands, if not millions or people worldwide. All that anyone has to do is turn on the news channel and you will hear of atrocities, death, violence, war, terrorism, and so on. Bullying is rampant in American schools. The suicide rate among teenagers is high. Husbands batter and abuse their wives. The war of drugs is losing. The President of the United States, in my opinion, is a racist. Neither the Republican Party, nor the left-wing liars of the Democratic Party have real answers. Criminals use guns to kill people, and the gun-haters want to take weapons away from those who obey the law. A single court (the Supreme Court) overthrows the votes of many millions of voters and stuffs an undesired lifestyle down their throats. The police are seen as the enemy and criminals are defended by the public. And that is just some of what is happening today. Other than all of that, life is great!

violenceNo wonder anxiety and stress is becoming a growing problem. A person who walks into a building full of children and kills many of them is the symptom of a real and mostly ignored problem in these United States. We quickly excuse the situation as that of mental illness, evil, terrorism, and other such terms. The problem is that we ignore the most likely reason: frustration.

It is one thing to demand something you have never had, it is another to lose something you have always had. The political climate in the United States, at present, lends itself to the manifestations of violence and further acts of aggression. As long as we continue to ignore the truth, we will be condemned to suffer the consequences. People who find no recourse for their frustrations will too many times take aggressive steps, which could include violence, to vent their sentiments.

The recent shooting of the reporter, cameraman, and guest on live television is just one more example. The talking heads on the news channels spouted words like, “crazy,” “evil,” and “deranged,” when speaking of the murderer, but seemed completely clueless of the real and underlining possibility for the motivation of the killer. Regardless of the fact that his actions were wrong and disastrous, the bits of information which started coming out about him pointed in the same direction: frustration.

Humans are selfish. We were born that way. It is in our nature to look out for ourselves. It is only by maturity that people learn little-by-little to become more selfless. Selfishness has its positive side. Due to that we care for ourselves. We eat what we enjoy, we make time for ourselves, we strive for happiness, we care for those we love, and so forth. This level of selfishness is good and produces positive and healthy results. It is when selfishness is carried to the extreme that it becomes something ugly. When we are willing to benefit from something to the point that others lose or get hurt is when selfishness becomes dangerous and hurtful.

[In their minds, there was no other recourse, to them, they had tried what they could to get their point across and show why they were right and others were wrong.]

The dictionary gives one definition of selfish as: (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. In the context of the first part of the definition, selfish means that someone who is being selfish does not care that others may be harmed as a result of his or her actions. But, if we take the second context and carefully look at it, we can see that someone may be act in their own favor without necessarily harming others in any way. For example, if I decide to eat two hamburgers today, instead of maybe sharing one of them with someone else, I am harming no one, nor am I necessarily being inconsiderate. As well, what if I am a rich man, and want to share my money with others, but I want to benefit from sharing with them? I am being selfish, and still benefitting others.

In this last context, God is selfish. He wants things His way. He will not allow exceptions, things must be done His way, and if we choose not to do things His way, He will exert His power to ensure that His will is done regardless. He has His plans, and He will not permit them to be changed, modified, or stopped. God wants what God wants, and He will do everything according to what He thinks is best, without considering anyone else’s opinion. Notice Ephesians 1: 4 and 11.

We are like God in this aspect. We want things to be the way we want things to be. This is just human nature. It does not either make us bad or good. We work things to our own “good” throughout our lives. Our goal (selfish or selfless) is to “live long and prosper” as a character in the popular television series “Star Trek,” once said. We want to be happy, we want those we love to be happy, and we don’t want anything to change that, especially not something which would harm us in any way. But, what happens when something does harm us, when we unfairly lose something we have always had, or when we are deprived of something that is supposed to be our right? Well, we become angry.

Desperate BusinessmanFrustration leads to anger. It is the direct result of this sense of unfairness which is the result when we have no recourse to release frustrations. The murder of those people on live television is but a tiny example of what is happening in the world today. The earth is pregnant with the frustration of unfairness. Take for example, the Middle East. The little country of Israel is surrounded by large Islamic countries. Their hatred of Israel is based on their perspective that the Israelites are occupiers of stolen land. The Palestinians are the best example in this mess, from their point of view, something that they have always had was taken from them to be given to those who did not already have it. The wants of the few outweighed the needs of the many. To make matters worse for them, the United Nations, with the United States and England primarily endorsing the effort, their country gets chopped up into pieces and the “invaders” are supported by the world powers. Instead of defending the Palestinians from invasion and occupation, the very resource which should have been there to help countries from such an invasion, aligned instead with the invaders. Then, when Iraq invades Kuwait, those same powers come out in force to defend the small country and repels the invaders. From the point of view of the Palestinians, where is the justice and fairness? What are they told to do? Accept it.

[Nothing that you read in this article should be understood as me excusing, justifying, or condoning anyone’s illegal behavior or actions. My goal is to present an argument for understanding the growing problems associated with frustration in our society.]

Frustration has been evident in many of the shootings and criminal actions of late. Blacks rioted in Ferguson and destroyed their own community; the result of lingering frustration. The shooters at Columbine had reportedly been the victims of bullying, and in their frustration chose to use violence as the only recourse for them. Any search of the internet will produce many cases of people returning to their last place of employment and killing fellow employees. Why? Frustration. In their minds, there was no other recourse, to them, they had tried what they could to get their point across and show why they were right and others were wrong. The question here is not whether they were in actuality right or wrong, the question is what can we do about their frustrations?

I mentioned the decision by the Supreme Court above, and I want to touch on that subject again as another example. Millions of people in several states voted against same-sex marriage. This has been a hot issue for many years, it is something extremely important and personal to many citizens of these United States. It is possible that with time, these very same citizens would have voted for same-sex marriage, but not today. Along with this, there is an underlining belief that the vote of the American citizen is sacred and valuable, and a right which cannot be taken away. The decision by the Supreme Court violated that right. It did away with the legitimate votes of millions with just one simple declaration. What all Americans have always had (the right to have the vote of the majority win), has been displaced and removed. We all know now, from that fateful day and on, that the legal vote of the majority of the citizenry can be ignored if someone with enough power dos not like it. What we have always had (the sanctity of marriage) has been taken away from us, and what others never had (the legal right to marry) has been given to them in disregard of the majority’s opinion. And, to make matter worse, we can do nothing legal about it. How frustrating!

As a counselor, I encounter this anger all the time. People are frustrated because of circumstances in their lives. Wives complain of husbands who do not keep their word. Husbands complain of wives who “want to change” them. Church members complain of pastors who “lord it over” them. Children complain of parents who exasperate them. Adult children complain that their parents love the other adult child more. People complain that God should have done this or not done that. Many clients have high expectations of what life should have been like, only to realize that life “sucks” for everyone. The Victim Mentality is prevalent in our society, and it shows no possibility of lessening. The politically-correct mentality infringes on the healthier way of managing our lives and relationships, producing less healthy, co-dependent, weaklings who want life to conform to their standards. “Life,” as such, conforms to no one. We either will take responsibility for ourselves, or we will suffer the consequences: frustration.

As a counselor, my job is to help someone find answers which will work in their life, to resolve, and hopefully eliminate, their immediate and long-term problems. To accomplish this, I need to understand the problem. I have always believed that the answer to any problem will be found in the problem itself. The better I understand what the problem is, the closer I am to a solution. When it comes to frustration, though, there seems to be an added challenge; the answer may not be available.

The “answer” for the Middle East “problem” is the removal of Israel, and elimination of all interference by foreign powers regarding the progress of Islamic countries. That is a solution which will not be forthcoming. The West, especially the United States, will not turn its back on Israel. It is has great strategic value to the US, besides the treaty we have with them (I support Israel, by the way). So the result for the Moslems is frustration, and the result of that frustration is anger.

Oftentimes, clients will hide their frustration. The result will be pent up anger, which they will disguise as victimization. They are so frustrated with circumstances (a misbehaving husband or wife, for instance) that they view the problem as one of injustice (I am being treated unfairly), so they respond as victims (something must be done about this), and when they have tried “everything” they will have only two options: accept defeat or fight back.

For those of you, dear readers, who argue that someone just has to accept what they cannot change and go on with their lives, consider this scenario.

One day foreign forces invade and occupy a US territory, let’s say Hawaii. The invading army takes control of the state government and imposes martial law, effectively stripping every Hawaiian of their legal rights. The Hawaiians have two choices: 1) Accept that they are now governed by a foreign power, and go about their business as an occupied people, or 2) Fight for their freedom. Which would you want these people, the Hawaiians, our fellow citizens, to do?

WarAfter a truncated effort by the United States government to demand that the invading force remove its army, we would launch such an attack which would likely leave the world spinning its head with the rapidity of our response. Violence would be the answer to the frustration produced by the actions of a foreign power.

One of my research studies, that of the behavior of men who physically abuse their wives, produced several interesting points of consideration. My main focus was on why these men chose to be violent with these women they allegedly loved. You would imagine that they would instead choose to keep their arguments limited to words rather than opting to attack their spouse. My research included myself. For the first six years of my marriage to my wife, I physically (as well as emotionally) abused her.

Without justifying anything, I asked the right question, “What was at the core of this behavior?” Why was it that these men resorted to violence? As I studied and researched, and better understood the problem, I came to some conclusions.

First, let me share what is not the answer: labeling. Resorting to labeling the men as abusers, crazies, evil, batterers, sick, and so on, helped in no manner, and only served to cloud the issue. Labelling people puts them into a category, and doing so helps others to just cast them away as useless. Indeed, some men who are violent are crazy, some are mentally unstable, and some are just plain confused about how to deal with any relationship, so they choose violence. But, the greater number are not such, these men are those who reached a point of frustration which tells them they have no other option but violence. In their minds they have “tried everything,” and it didn’t work, so they resorted to violence. The sad thing is that the violence actually works, to a point.

[Of course, the better answer is for people to learn to “accept those things we cannot change,” as the Serenity Prayer goes, but that does not help with the problem in any manner. Why? Because some things should not be accepted.]

Take Julio for example, Julio and Rosa got married on their 20th birthdate. Yes, they have the same birthdate, year and everything, but he is four hours older. Rosa was the youngest of four kids, and Julio was the oldest of three. Rosa’s parents fought often and separated at least three times according to her memory, and Julio’s dad died when he was 11, from a car accident.

When Rosa was 10 years old, her uncle started molesting her and this lasted for almost three years. When she told her mother that her uncle (the mom’s brother) was molesting her, the mom punished her for “lying,” and told her never to mention that again. Julio grew up with the knowledge that you could easily lose the people close to you, so he developed the need to try to control those around him. When he could do that, he felt safer.

By the time that they got married, Rosa had develop a need to have males approve her, which made her a target for men who took advantage of her at times. Julio, on the other hand, grew to learn that even the threat of violence was enough to get people to comply.

Julio and Rosa fell “in love,” and decided to get married. Julio could find no fault in Rosa, and she saw only strength in him. The very things that drew them together were the things that started to divide them.

Rosa’s neediness made her clingy and codependent on Julio, and his defensiveness pushed her away. The more she wanted from him, the more fearful he became because he did not know how to handle her neediness. She would make demands on him, and he would scream at her to back off. The more he insisted that she back off, the needier she felt and the greater the demands.

Julio’s mind told him that she was not listening to him, because if she was she would understand and agree with him. At first he would just argue with her, later he started yelling at her, and after a time, he started threatening her. Her lack of expected response created in Julio a frustration as he had not experienced before. His mind told him that what he was doing was not only not working, but that it would never succeed. During one of their more spirited arguments, he snapped and hit Rosa. The lie he believed was that he had no other option, because he “had tried everything.”

Most men who physically abuse their wives fall into this category (if you like) of why they use violence against their spouses. In their minds, they believe that they have run out of options.

Again, this does not excuse them, but it can help us to understand the dynamics of frustration.

In his book, “Understanding Conflict And War: Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective, Chapter 3 – Frustration, Deprivation, Aggression, And The Conflict Helix,” R. J. Rummel says, “Moreover, we are often unable to satisfy our desires or accomplish our goals. Sometimes our ambitions exceed our abilities, or we misperceive the possibilities. But sometimes we are blocked by an external barrier that precludes gratification. This may be a traffic jam preventing us from reaching an appointment, a college rule prohibiting us from taking a particular course, an amorous neighborhood tom cat interrupting our sleep, or our race restricting professional advancement. Whatever the barrier, we are frustrated. All of us are so frustrated from time to time.”

“In addition, we all have experienced irritation and anger at some frustrations. A long line preventing us from seeing an eagerly awaited movie, a crush of shoppers hindering the purchase of some simple necessities, a slow driver obstructing a narrow road, probably have aroused in all of us that familiar flush of annoyance, even anger. That frustration of our desires and goals occasionally leads to anger is a commonplace. It is subjectively unquestionable — a fact of our existence.”

We get frustrated because we get stuck. We cannot move forward, and we cannot change things. We feel deprived, and that only emphasizes the unfairness of the situation.

Of course, the better answer is for people to learn to “accept those things we cannot change,” as the Serenity Prayer goes, but that does not help with the problem in any manner. Why? Because some things should not be accepted. Racism, violence, injustice, and other similar things should never be acceptable under any guise. Those things are wrong and must be eliminated, or at least suppressed. In those cases aggression is understood, if not actually condoned. But, what usually results is that those who witness such aggression, as in the case of the shooter of the television crew, refuse to consider the possibility that it was simple frustration which may have prompted the killer. To consider that his motive, distorted as it may have been, was that he became frustrated because he believed that the system failed him. In his own mind, he may have reached the point where he had no other option available to him that seemed as though it would help him achieve his goal.

[“The anger induced by frustration, however, is a motivating force that disposes men to aggression, irrespective of its instrumentalities. If frustrations are sufficiently prolonged or sharply felt, aggression is quite likely, if not certain, to occur.”]

Many of my clients, in these 28 years of counseling, have been at that same point. They may not have decided that killing someone else was the answer, but many of them were at their wits end when they came to see me. In many cases, I strongly believe, many of them were able to come to an acceptable acceptance of their circumstances. I was able to help them find another answer, not the one they believed to be the fairest, just, or correct one, but one they decided to live with.

I am aware of one client, many years ago, who even after counseling with me, and another qualified counselor, still succumbed to his frustrations and he killed his wife in front of their children.

Pay attention to the news, the people in your life, and those nearest to you, and you will find examples of people struggling with frustrations.

Further in his writing, R. J. Rummel, said this, “It is remarkable that those who are most deprived, most oppressed, most in need, are not those who usually violently rebel. Of course there have been food riots and peasant uprisings, but most often revolutions and violence have occurred when conditions are better or have been improving, and among those who are not the most deprived.

Explanations vary but generally focus on two propositions. First, deprivation is subjective, a function of a person’s perception, needs, and knowledge. To nail deprivation to an objective or absolute lack of something such as freedom, equality, or sustenance, is to ignore that definitions of these shift according to historical period, culture, society, position, and person.”

“However, some internal norms or standards, some benchmarks, against which to assess deprivation are still required. The second proposition, therefore, deals with these norms. It asserts that we take our presently perceived or expected position, achievements, gratifications, or capabilities as a base of comparison against our wants or needs, or what we feel we ought to have. The gap between wants or oughts and gratifications or capabilities is then our deprivation, or relative deprivation in the sense that it depends on our base of comparison.”

In other words, just because someone else is able to brush off an injustice or mistreatment, and “bury the hatchet,” is no indication that it is the norm. We, each of us, decides in our own minds what is acceptable and unacceptable in our lives. One person may accept slavery, and the next one will fight it with all their might. One person may accept racism, and the other will openly demonstrate aggression against it. One person may accept that they have been rejected, and the other will go into a building full of children and kill as many as he can.

Another writer put it this way. “In summary, the primary source of the human capacity for violence appears to be the frustration-aggression mechanism. Frustration does not necessarily lead to violence, and violence for some men is motivated by expectations of gain. The anger induced by frustration, however, is a motivating force that disposes men to aggression, irrespective of its instrumentalities. If frustrations are sufficiently prolonged or sharply felt, aggression is quite likely, if not certain, to occur. To conclude that the relationship is not relevant to individual or collective violence is akin to the assertion that the law of gravitation is irrelevant to the theory of flight because not everything that goes up falls back to earth in accord with the basic gravitational principle. The frustration-aggression mechanism is in this sense analogous to the law of gravity: men who are frustrated have an innate disposition to do violence to its source in proportion to the intensity of their frustrations ….” – Gurr, 1970:36-37.

Change The Way You Think, And You Change The Way You live

Romans 12:2 (NASB)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:2 (NLT)

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Romans 12:2 (AMP)

Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

Romans 12:2 (MSG)

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Regardless of which version you read, there is one thing that is very real about all of them; you must be transformed to “know,” “prove,” “readily recognize,” “learn to know” (NLT), (and other similar terms of other versions), the perfect and good will of God for your life. Therefore, if one is not transformed, then they cannot know (or the other above words) the perfect and good will of God for their lives. If this is true, and I believe that it is, then when we interpret the Word of God, with the goal of understanding what it is actually teaching or saying, whether we are transformed or not will influence what we understand.

Before we start to consider what it means to be transformed, we need to explore what it means not to be transformed. I like the way the (MSG) version puts it: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” The words “well-adjusted to your culture” are so right on. The idea behind these words is that the person (maybe you or me) reacts and/or responds according to the pattern we have already developed over our lifetime. That includes both the “good” behavior, as well as the “bad.” Patterns are develop mostly from reactions we have to certain stimuli; that is, some things cause us to react in specific ways, the more often we react the same way the more quickly it becomes the permanent way we will continue to react in the same manner. After a time, it becomes normal for us to react as we do; to the point that it starts to feels natural. We stop noticing that we are actually reacting, and now believe that it is just who we are, and that this is why we do what we do. It is at this point that we have become “well-adjusted to our culture.”

You have heard people say, “I can’t just change, this is just who I am.” The problem with this is that it does seem to be true. We realize that we keep doing the same types of things, so we assume that it is just us doing what is natural. Part of this is true, we are doing what is natural, but the lie is that we cannot change. Consider this, people are not born with all those “good” and “bad” habits that we have. As we grow, we encounter good times and bad, celebrations and traumas, and blessings and abuses. Any and/or all of these have the potential to impact our lives in such a way as to cause us to react to the situation, circumstance or behavior. For example, one little girl is sexually abused, and the other one is not. They will not both develop the same reactions to other people. One may become fearful of, and angry with, others, while the other may feel safe and comfortable around people. This will only be one of the characteristics she will include in her life pattern.

Every time something happens in our life it affects us, we tend to either consciously choose not to respond to the circumstance, or we unconsciously allow it to force a reaction on us. We will not be aware that we were just changed a bit. In fact it may be such a small change that we may never come to recognize how we were changed. In either case, we are no longer the same person we were before the event happened. Our pattern was changed, even if slightly.

As Christians, we recognize that we can read something from the Word of God early in our walk with God, and understand it in a specific way. Then, later on in our walk, because of experience, better interpretation skills, and maturity we can read the same verses or passages and come to a better understanding. Why? Because we have changed. Our pattern has changed just enough for us to react to things differently, we are beginning to learn how to respond instead of react.

It is the very act of responding as compared to reacting that causes us to see (or understand) things differently. The fact that we can choose to respond (the act of choosing what actions we will take when things happen) helps us to realize that we don’t have to react (the act of doing something only as a result of what has happened, and often unconsciously). This concept alone can change who we are by our choosing to do something because that is what we want to do, and not because “it is just the way we are.”

The fact that we are instructed not to be conformed implies that we can change those things to which we have “conformed” ourselves. The only way we can change what we are conformed to is by changing our life pattern. But, let’s take a moment and look at this word “conformed.”  

Conformed

It seems, according to the above verse, that we are going to be conformed to something whether we like it or not. The only question seems to be whether it will be to the “world,” or by being transformed. Being conformed to this world means that we continue to react to stimuli (circumstances, situations, etc.) in the manner we have done all of our lives. Many Christians still react to stimuli in their lives as though they were not Christians. They still blow up in rage, lose control of themselves, behave unseemly and fearfully, doubt themselves, gossip, mistreat others, and on and on. They hear and/or read what the Bible teaches should be real about them now that they are Christians, but they don’t believe much of it. They tell themselves that they really want those things to be true in their lives, but refuse start living according to the Word. And, remember, that it is what we repeat over and over that becomes part of our pattern. It is this pattern that is the real measure of who we are, our character.

Life Pattern

We call it a pattern because it is behavior that we keep repeating over and over. It is a Life Pattern because we have many behaviors that we repeat over and over throughout our lives. It is our character because our character is who we are. And, who we are decides what we do. If we can change who we are (our life pattern) we can change our character, and then we can change what we do. This is true because who we are decides what we do, what we do does not decide who we are. Let me restate it this way, we can choose to behave this way or that if we want. This only means that we are making a conscious decision (a choice) to act in a specific way. It does not mean that it is a natural reaction on our part. So if we choose to behave in some way, it does not prove that we are either this or that because of the behavior. On the other hand, whatever our nature is (our character) will always dictate what our response or reaction will be. For example, if a person’s character is such that they are willing to deceive others, then lying and fooling people will be natural for them. They will not have to try to be that way, they will just do it. They will believe simply that they are liars and that they will never change. They will keep lying.

If the liar were to change his character (life pattern) then he would find it awkward to lie. He would not find it natural. He could still lie, but his inclination would be to want to be truthful in comparison. His nature, due to a changed character (life pattern) would produce newer different responses to what used to be only reactions.

Character

So, if the above is correct, the verse is teaching is that what we should do is to change our character. I like using a funny but poignant analogy. If you take a pig out of the slop, wash him down, comb his little pig hairs, and dress him in a tuxedo, what will he do when he gets put back on the ground? Right, he will head back to the slop. Why? Because he is a pig. Even if were to put a saddle on the pig, he still would not be a horse. Pigs act like pigs, because it is natural. Horses act like horses, because it is just as natural to them. A pig will never act like a horse, and a horse will never act like a pig. We are not horses or pigs, we can choose to behave differently than what we are; on the other hand, we will always act according to our nature.

So, then, if you naturally act in some specific way, this will prove who you believe yourself to be. I am not saying that it will prove what you tell yourself is true about you. Too many people tell themselves that they are this way or that. They have an image in their minds of what they want to be real about themselves. The problem is that they start to believe the lie that the image represents. They see themselves from the perspective of what the image represents. The sad truth is that then the person is obligated to maintain this image by living up to the lies. The person does this by pretending to be what the image implies. They know that they are not really what the image implies, but their real lives are not as good as what the image portrays. They live in hypocrisy; pretending to be something they are not, while feeling condemned for failing to live up to the image. They prefer the false image to the truth, because they are not happy with who they really are.

Renewing your Mind

So you may ask, “What does one have to do to stop trying to live up to the false image and start living what is true?” The answer is found in John 8:32 (NASB) “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The problem with truth is that sometimes it is cold and hard. Too many persons avoid the truth because they don’t want to accept, much less believe, it. Many non-Christians have the concept that truth is whatever truth is to them. In their minds there is no arguing about what the truth is, and don’t even show them the facts or proof, they know what they want to believe and they are not going to change their minds.

Other people have a different problem, they have looked the data over, made conclusions and decided what the truth is. It is not that they did not reason out their conclusions, the problem is often that because of their life experiences, traumas, abuses, or other fears, some people’s perspectives are already distorted, resulting in faulty ideas of the truth. In fact most humans are this way, they evaluate what is truth with the measuring stick of their past experiences and life pattern. Because they suffered this or experienced that, they believe that they have a clear understanding of the truth as compared to those around them. If you present truth to them, they will consider it from that distorted perspective and argue with you that you are incapable of understanding the truth correctly because you have not experienced the same as them.

Still there are others who base truth on their feelings. If they disagree something because they feel it is wrong, then to them it is wrong. Your arguments will have no effect on their reasoning because you are excluding what they depend on the most to reach conclusions on truth: their feelings. For example, these people will argue that when God tells us to love our enemy that He is saying we should have good and happy feelings toward them. They will not only ignore passages from the Bible where God speaks of punishing and disciplining those that are His children, but they will tell you that there is something wrong with you. They are those who will read a verse like Luke 14:26 (NASB), “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple,” and will tell you it is a misprint or a bad translation. It does not matter to them whether the Lord actually said these words or not, they will not accept this part of the Scriptures because it does not line up with their feelings about love and hate.

Renewing our minds is an interesting concept. The best way I can understand it is to use the analogy of a computer. You can have an operating system installed on it and after a time it could become corrupted and start causing problems. The best solution is to completely erase the computer hard drive and reinstall the operating system again. The new fresh installation of the operating system will cause the computer to behave like it’s new. In the same way, I believe, we can renew our minds.

However, I will admit that it is not just as easy as the above analogy, because we cannot simply erase our memories entirely. The better example in the case would be to say that instead of just erasing the entire hard disk, we erase parts of it at a time, while replacing the space with new information. For example, again using the computer; when someone deletes something on their computer it goes to the “recycle bin.” It is not completely erased yet; it is marked as though it is erased. Once you start writing new information to the hard drive, it uses this space marked as though it is erased and writes over that information. When that happens, the old information is really erased and the new data is now in the place that the old used to be. The result is that you end up with new information; in a sense, a new computer system.

While we would have obvious problems with applying the first computer analogy, the second one is workable. We can get “rid” of the old data in our minds (mark it as erasable) by choosing to learn new and different information which counters or disproves the original old information. As we learn the truth about something, the old “truth” (which were really lies) starts to get replaced by the real truth as we apply the truth in our lives. The principle here is: People do what they do because they believe what they believe. Or, in other words, whatever you choose to believe is the truth is also what you will choose to practice in your life. And, whatever you practice in your life will be the proof of what you actually believe. So, practice the truth and you will eliminate lies from your life. The more one does this, the more they renew their minds. The more they renew their minds the more they become transformed. And, once they become transformed, they will “know,” “prove,” “readily recognize,” “learn to know” (NLT), (and other similar terms of other versions), “that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Transformation is the key. We want this transformation for two reasons: (1) because God wants it for us, and (2) because it means we will know His will for us. If we know what His will is for us, “that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” then at least we have the option of living in that manner. Presently we may want to know His will, even want it to actually happen in our lives, but if we do not know it, how can we choose to do it? Therefore be transformed, my brother or sister, and know God’s will for your life.

Proof That God Exists.

I have been a Christian for about 33 years, and I have had the question asked of me many times. What is the proof that God exists? I have heard many variations of the same question as well. All the variations have the same idea in mind, when asked by certain questioners. The argument is usually that there is no valid proof of the existence of God.

One of those times that I was asked whether I could prove God’s existence, I answered that I could. The gentleman who asked the question almost rolled his eyes at me, but instead smirked and challenged me to prove God to him. I smile at him for a moment, and told him that he was confused. I explained that I said I could prove the existence of God, not that I could prove the existence of God to others. He argued that I knew what he was asking, but I argued that I could not read his mind any better than he could read mine.

The real question of proving God’s existence, at least in my own opinion, has more to do with whether the believer himself or herself can explain what proves God’s reality to them, not others. Though we are exhorted in the Scriptures to share “the word with others.” There is no part of the Bible that obligates believers to prove the existence of God to those same people, or anyone else for that matter.

People who will not believe in God will believe no proof presented to them anyway. The Lord could appear to each of them, heal people, walk on water, turn water into wine, and they would explain all of that away. The people weren’t actually ill, they just believed they were, and Jesus just coaxed them into thinking they had been healed. They would claim it was a “mind over matter” situation. As for walking on water, they would point out that Criss Angel, the magician, did the same thing on YouTube, and that he is no God. As far as the turning water into wine, they will argue that slight-of-hand was probably the real culprit there. There are some magicians who are so proficient in their craft that they can do their magic in front of you, and sometimes even slowly, and you will have real trouble proving that it was not real.

We live in a wondrous time, especially when it comes to special effects in movies, television shows, and then there’s Photoshop. We have flat panel computer and TV screens, just years ago, that was something fantastic. I am old enough to know that if someone had shown me a device, when I was nine years old, which could make phone calls, play music, show movies and TV programs, be used as a flashlight, and could guide me through the streets as I searched for an address, I would have thought your cell phone was a miracle. Now, with all of that said, try convincing people that someone is God because they can do this or that.

I have no interest in even trying to prove God to anyone. The real question, concerning His existence, is whether I can prove Him to myself. Is there proof that God exists? Yes. The problem, though, is deciding what the evidence will be that will be acceptable as solid proof.

Scientists used certain standards for establishing acceptable and valid proof or reality. Common sense, which is one of the Christian standards for proving God’s existence, is not an acceptable standard. Why? Well, common sense depends on certain things, which can change depending on the perspective of the person, circumstances in his or her life, the culture they come from, the color of their skin, whether they are male or female, and so on. Common sense is supposed to be that which is understood similarly by all people. For example, we all “know” the world is round, but from the view of a person standing on the ground, it can seem flat. We all know that the earth rotates around also circles the sun, but from an earth point of view, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. We all “know” that the earth spins at over 1000 miles per hour, but for the average person the earth seems not to move at all. All of these things are why common sense is not a good measure of proof.

On the other hand, science uses what is referred to as “evidence for the unobservable via inference.” (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/sciproof.html) This is where they “demonstrate the existence of phenomena that cannot be observed directly.” In other words, they believe that they can prove that something exists, even though it cannot be seen directly. One can argue that many of the most important scientific discoveries were “inferred” using this method. For example, humans cannot actually see a black hole. This is a phenomenon that supposedly exists in the center of galaxies (like our own (Milky Way Galaxy), which suck everything into themselves. The scientists say they know that a black hole is there because they can see the stars and planets which circle the black hole, as they slowly are drawn into it. The argument is that you can prove something by using merely the symptoms or causes of the thing. I believe that I can prove that God exists, using the same method, at least to me. I do not have to prove God to anyone else, but I can share with you what I believe does prove God exists to me.

I once was eating lunch at one of my jobs, and I was reading my Bible at the time. A lady I had seen in another department, asked me if she could sit at the table I was at. I said sure. She prepared her lunch, and raised her sandwich to bite it, when she asked me a question. “You do realize that the Bible was written by men, right?” I looked up, smiled and said, “Of course.” “That means,” she went on, “that it could have errors and just be wrong.” I pondered her statement for a moment, and asked, “Have you ever been to Hawaii?” She wrinkled her brow and answered, “No.” “How do you know it exists,” I asked. She smirked and said, “It’s clearly on the map of the world.” I smiled and said, “And, who drew up the maps we see, monkeys or humans?” “It’s not the same thing,” she complained. I smiled and continued, “So you are saying that if men write the Bible then it must have errors and possibly be wrong, but if men make maps they never err and would never lie to us about places that might or might not exist?” She did not say anything, so I continued, “The question is not who wrote the Bible, the question is does it work the way it says it does.”

That was the question that I had to consider from then on. I still don’t know if Hawaii exists, but I will accept the evidence provided by men in form of maps. As far as God is concerned, that is His existence, I set out to prove it. I asked myself what the evidence standard needed to be. I realized that the implications of the woman’s question were valid, and worthy of healthy argument, but the main problem with her perspective is that it was based on her common sense. H¬er “common sense” was not mine. My common sense was affected by my new epiphany: I was no longer just a human, but I was now a human who had God living inside of him as well. If my understanding of who I now was, was in fact real, then I was not limited to a “common sense” of people who did not have God living in them. Either this was true or it was not. I did not allow any other possibility in the matter. As well, I found that all other persons who also believed that God lived in them tended to have a similar “sense,” therefore, they and I have a more common “common sense.”

From the perspective of people who believe that God lives in them, the impossibility becomes not as impossible. We tend to accept that what we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, are “real,” but that with God in the equation, even these senses can fail to tell us the truth. For example, just because I cannot see God, that does not prove that God does not exist. On the contrary, if I use just the scientific method of using “evidence for the unobservable via inference,” I find tons of proof that God exists. The only question I have to answer is what evidence I will accept as valid.

I cannot see the wind, but I can feel it. It has a physical effect on me. The wind can make me feel cooler than the temperature of the day. So I accept certain evidence as proof that the wind exists:

1. You can physically feel it, but I can take measures to cover myself, and so then I would not feel it.
2. It affects other physical objects, such as trees, though it may not always affect them in the same manner.
3. It can cause me to react to it by responding with shivers, due to the temperature it can affect.
4. If used in a specific manner, I can depend on it to have the desired results. For example, to blow out the candles of a birthday cake, or knock down a building.

If I use just these four criteria as evidence the proof for the wind’s existence, I believe that I can prove to myself that the wind exists, and I have.

Now, let’s apply the same criteria to proving God’s existence.

1. You can physically feel it, but I can take measures to cover myself, and so then I would not feel it.

Many Christian believers give witness to physical sensations when they came to salvation. Some speak of chills they experienced, others claim a sense of peace that engulfed them, and other proclaim other physical manifestations. I did not experience those things at the time I was saved, instead I noticed an emboldening in me. I was suddenly more confident about how I would deal with Christian “truths” that I had seriously doubted before. This confident feeling, or sense, was as real to me, as the wind I could feel.

2. It affects other physical objects, such as trees, though it may not always affect them in the same manner.

One of the practices of Christianity (and maybe all religions) that I had always had a problem with was getting money from the believers. I had told myself before I was a believer that the church was just one giant scam that fooled people out of their money. As a believer, I decided to put the practice to test. The Bible itself urges the test as well (Malachi 3:10), so I did. I started tithing immediately after conversion, and continued.

Just as scientists will repeat an experiment over and over until they are convinced that it either worked or did not, I chose to keep the “experiment” going until I could make a fair and mature judgment. Months later I was driving along and my car broke down. Apparently the strut on the right wheel had finished out its days as a useful part of my car. Due to that, the car was further damaged when the strut broke, and it left my car leaning and not drivable. When I finally got it to the repairman, he told me that I was facing a high charge (about $1,500) for the repairs. I told him to check out the car and to give me a final amount. I knew that I had to get the money either way. Interestingly, I had just gotten my pay check and I seriously considered not tithing that time so I could add the money to the repairs I needed, I told myself that if I did, God would understand.

Later that evening, at church, I decided not to withhold the tithes, and turned them in. I prayed and asked God to show me what I needed to do to bring in the money I needed, without getting further into debt. The next morning the repair guy called me and mentioned that the total cost was actually $1,750. I started to complain that I did not have the money on hand, when he interrupted me to tell me that when he checked with the dealer to get the parts, that he was told that there had been some recall or something like that. They told him that because the part was known to break and cause damage, they would cover the cost of the repair, and that they had no problem with him doing the repairs himself. He finished by telling me the only charge he had for me was for the towing of the car.

I knew at that moment that God had helped me. I believed that He had somehow orchestrated the world of cars, and the manufacture of my specific car, so that I would have the charges covered. Just as the wind can cause something to happen, which will have repercussions much later on, God did the same for me. This was only one situation of this type, it was years later that I came to the conclusion that I arrived at.

3. It can cause me to react to it by responding with shivers due to the temperature it can affect.

When I had been a Christian for about two years, my pastor decided that I should be trained to preach. I responded to the training like a duck reacts to waddling, I just did it. I did so well that during one of our church meetings the pastor announced he would be going on a trip to preach at another church. The date was for two weeks away, and I was chosen to preach both the morning and Sunday evening services.

The next week, at the meeting, the pastor surprised us all by stating that he had come to a new conclusion, regarding practices at our church. He said that from then on he had decided that anyone who preaches there would have to wear a tie. I did not respond well to his decision. I complained that Jesus did not wear a tie, and he told me that if Jesus refused to wear a tie then He would not be preaching there either. I became incensed. We were only two days before the pastor would leave on his trip, and I felt it was unfair that he would suddenly bring up something he already knew I would not receive well. Due to my reaction, he decided to cancel his trip. I became even more angry, I had invested much time and research into preparing the sermon, and he just took my opportunity away so easily.

I complained to my wife, who agreed with me. I searched out the Scriptures for something that would help me argue my point, but instead I found the opposite, Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

The next Sunday I showed up at church, not only with a tie on, but in a coat. I noticed a smile on my pastor’s face. The wind (God in this case) caused me to shiver (react to it) because of temperature change (circumstances that are uncomfortable to me).

4. If used in a specific manner, I can depend on it to have the desired results. For example, to blow out the candles of a birthday cake, or knock down a building.

Throughout the Bible there are many principles. These principles are presented as teachings. These teachings are intended to provide humans with direction for their lives, as well as instructions from God on holy living. All of this is nice, but the question here is do they work? Can we depend on these principles to function as advertised?

I have counseled people for over 27 years, and have seen much success and failure in people’s lives. Over the years I have paid attention to why those who had succeeded did so. Success, as you may agree, is relative. It depends on what the person considers as success. In the case of the individuals and couples I have counseled, the criteria for success was that the problem they came to counseling for was resolved.

To help people resolve issues and make positive changes in their lives, I teach the principles which are found in the Bible, and others which have proven effective for the situations involved. For example, Galatians 6:7 states, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (NASB). Even if you leave the first part out, you are still left with counsel that works. If a man sows potatoes, he will reap potatoes, right? So if the man wants to actually reap potatoes, he knows not to plant yams. Some people will argue that this is so simple that it did not require mentioning, in other words “common sense.”

Counselors anywhere will tell you that it is far from “common” sense. A vast number of people repeat bad behavior, over and over, but keep expecting things to turn out better. Too many times in those people’s minds, they are doing the “right” thing, because they are doing what they want to do. Once these persons come to understand that they are in fact working against themselves, they open to the possibility of change. If they are able to capture the concept the principle teaches, they will start having different results. Therefore, if they realize that repeating bad behavior (sowing) will always have the same bad results (reaping), then they will change their behavior (sowing) and benefit from changed results (reaping).

Therefore, using the scientific “evidence for the unobservable via inference” process, which they say proves that something exists even though it cannot be seen, just because of the evidence available. I have given real evidence, and shown actual results, and have inferred the reason for the results; God.

If you are a believer, this means you have had that epiphany which allows you to have the perspective necessary to recognize the above as evidences which are valid. If you are someone who chooses not to believe, then your perspective will be tainted by the lack of willingness to accept the criteria as I have described above. In either case, we have to agree that any person who looks at the evidence, and is willing to accept the possibilities that the evidence implies, will probably arrive at the same conclusion: it is possible to prove something not observable by the observable evidence via inference.

It is this way that I can prove God exists to myself. I came to the clear and unequivocal conclusion that God exists because His Word works as it is taught in the Scriptures. That is, that when the principles taught in the Bible are applied as intended, they will produce the results which were intended, and that the person applying the principle can depend on the results. If God’s Word works then He exists, to me.

God’s Power Is In His Word.

There is a movement today seeking for the manifestations of God. Speaking in tongues, being “slain in the Spirit,” prophecy (foretelling), “name it and claim it,” and other popular and similar things, draw in large crowds of people to popular churches. Why is this happening? Because people want to experience a “move of God,” His power. The problem is that the search for the power of God is focused in His blessings and personal benefits. Unless those people are being “blessed” (meaning that they get something positive, especially financially), they will not recognize a real “move” (or demonstration of God’s power), even if it happens directly to them. Continue reading