walking with God

the nature of religion

As you may have already guessed, my relationship with God is very important to me. In my opinion, being a Christian is not about a set of rituals you must follow, a set of beliefs you subscribe to, or a bunch of rules to obey.

Christianity is based on the premise that God is knowable and personal, and that he desires to have a relationship with every living person. We live out Christianity by attempting to increase our closeness with God, to know Him more and more intimately, and to understand what plans He has for us. This relationship will result in ever-present joy, inner peace, and a purpose for life.

Because of this relationship, we observe certain rituals that remind us of God's nature or what He has done. We come to believe certain things about the world, about human nature, and about the future. We abide by certain rules; there are some things we no longer engage in, some things we do that we wouldn't have before. But it is important to note that all these things (often called religion) are a result of a relationship.

Without a relationship with a living, loving God, religion is worse than useless. It produces blind followers who are empty and hollow but feel morally superior. It fanatically enforces the letter of the law while entirely missing its spirit. It produces Inquisitions, Holocausts, wars, racism, book burnings, and worse, and stifles creativity and science. I will never advocate such religion. I will advocate getting to know a God who loves you passionately and who wants the best for you.

why I believe

Having said that, there are many that would accuse me of being a Christian because I was raised that way, because I was indoctrinated by some belief system from an early age. This is an unfair accusation.

It is true that I was raised in a Christian home, taken to church every week (though not against my will). My parents modeled a healthy, growing relationship with a loving God. They taught me about God and expected me to believe, and I did. Perhaps through high school my Christianity was more cultural than personal; I was a Christian because it was expected. This is not to say that it was a show or that I was being disingenuous or that there was not real emotion or thought behind my actions. But it was as much a product of my rearing as it was due to any personal choice.

Somewhere around my senior year in high school, there started to be a growing discrepancy between what I said I believed and what my actions showed to be my true core beliefs. I began to be involved in some behaviors which didn't fit with the dos and don'ts of Christianity.

Then, I went to college. As a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, the external and cultural reasons for being Christian were quite suddenly removed. No longer were there parents who would know if I went to church or not. My roommates and classmates didn't care at all if I read my Bible or even if I came home at nights. Plus, the liberal academic environment encouraged all to be rational, skeptics. The "discrepancy" widened, and quickly.

The summer after my freshman year found me living with my parents, in a new town and a new church. About the middle of the summer I attended a youth camp as a chaperone/group leader. In the quiet of the mountains, thinking myself to be a leader, God was finally able to get my attention.

God brought to my attention that my stated beliefs and my actions were far, far apart. He made it clear that He was to be my God, and not just the God of my parents. He showed me that by claiming to be Christian while still engaging in the lifestyle that I had been, I was bringing dishonor to His name, and that that was not acceptable. He commanded me to live as I claimed to believe.

It was during this week that I truly understood what Christianity meant. It is more than just an intellectual assent that "Yes, I understand that Jesus is my Savior." True Christianity is a complete turning over of yourself to His control. It is quite literally selling your soul to Him. There is no revoking the deal, ever. There is no turning back. My soul is freely given to Him; in exchange, I receive abundant and eternal life. The cost is everything: my wants, my desires, my hopes, my dreams, my future. But the price is exquisitely worth it.

"19 You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." -- I Corinthians 6:19-20

Now I can say without reservation that my relationship with God is truly mine. It is not inherited from my parents or conferred from my church. Further, I spent my later years at UT in study of the reasons why Christianity is reasonable. You do not have to commit intellectual suicide in order to believe the Christian message. On the contrary, the more I have studied music, psychology, biology, chemistry, computer science, anthropology, archaeology, history and the Bible, the more I am convinced that Christianity is not merely possible but probable. I think the evidence will never be conclusive, but it is certainly proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

prisoner of God

Well, now that I have this relationship with God, what do I do? The answer is pretty simple: whatever God tells me. If God were to tell me to sacrifice myself in a fiery display, I'd do it (not that He's likely to do so; I'm currently more valuable to Him alive). As the apostle Paul says, I am now a prisoner of Christ. Here's how that plays out right now (the current list of orders):

I should say a bit more about Lakeline Church. Lakeline is an excellent place to come learn more about God, and to find places to "plug in" if you need a outlet for using your gifts for His sake.

Lakeline is especially geared toward younger adults in the Austin area who do not have any previous church experience. We focus on taking the core of Christianity and making it more understandable to the culture we live in. We try to examine all the rituals we participate in and to do away with those that serve no real purpose except to maintain tradition. While there is nothing wrong with tradition, is has no meaning for those who do not have a church background, and therefore is of no benefit. And if doing away with such things makes our church more accessible to the people of this century, then we will do it.

Lakeline is very casual (many members wear shorts) and modern. Songs are upbeat and excellently performed by the fantastic worship team (guitars, drums, keyboards, vocals). Of course, I'm probably a little biased about that... Messages are practical and understandable. Lakeline Church currently meets on Sunday mornings at 10:30 in Dr. John's Sports Center, which is just off Bagdad Road in Leander, just west of Hwy. 183 and just a bit north of 1431.

I wrote a haiku about Lakeline because I was bored one evening.

Seeking to glorify God
We are Lakeline Church


Below are quotes I've seen that really express my thoughts about God or things I've written myself. Yet more clues into my psyche. For the most part, newer ones are at the top.

If Christians have less trouble and trauma in their lives, it is not because God has promised them an even keel. On the contrary, He promised suffering. The reason why many Christians have on the average better situations is probably only because Christianity, by its very nature, tends to avoid the sort of destructive decisions that plague the rest of mankind.

However, the undeserved traumas, like cancer, car accidents, natural disasters, etc., strike both regenerate and infidel alike with blind abandon.

The only thing that separates in these instances is how the person deals with the situation. The Holy Spirit will bring peace, love, joy, long-suffering and gentleness even when life dumps on you.

From an email exchange with a slashdot reader. The text with ">"s in front is his. Unfortunately, I don't have the text of my original post handy, though I'm sure it's archived on slashdot somewhere.

> I read your post on Slashdot, and found the implication that other
> religions are just religions that you can change at will, but
> "Christianity is a fundamental state of being" to be somewhat offensive.

Upon reflection I can see how you'd get this impression.  Such was certainly
not my intent.

> Perhaps you could explain this better to me?

My point was that from what I know of other religions (probably more than
most "Christians" but less than actual practicioners of those religions)
they make no claim on changing a fundamental state of being.  Buddha never
claimed to be a god; he merely claimed to have found nirvana.  The message
was essentially "if you do this, you will reach that."

This is quite different from Christianity's claim that becoming a Christian
results in a real, metaphysical change in one's nature of completely
external origin (i.e. God does the work, not the recipient of the change).
The claim is quite literally a permanent "demon possession" if you will,
only the inhabiting spirit is not a minion of Satan but the Holy Spirit, God

Thus Christianity makes a claim about one's fundamental state of being,
while other religions do not, as far as I know.

"People can become moral, thoughtful, disciplined, and dedicated without deeply depending on God. But living without self-protection requires profound trust in Christ." - Dr. Larry Crabb, "Inside Out"

Several tiers below the surface [of the human heart] is a pervasive, integral force that demands the right to avoid pain and experience self-fulfillment. This self-centered energy is the very essence of what the Bible calls "sin." - Harry Schaumberg, "False Intimacy"

Compassion should never determine our beliefs about sin; it should only determine our response to those who struggle with it. - Harry Schaumberg, "False Intimacy"

A legitimate desire becomes an evil desire when we are impatient. Each of us has a disposition that says, "I must have it at once." - Harry Schaumberg, "False Intimacy"

"It is not possible to be 'incidentally a Christian'. The fact of Christianity must be overwhelmingly first or nothing. This suggests a reason for the dislike of Christians by nominal or non-Christians: their lives contain no overwhelming firsts but many balances." - Sheldon Vanauken

I come into His presence simply. No illusions, no masks, no excuses. He knows me piercingly, and nothing is hidden. Yet He loves me without condition or explanation. To know that perfect love, in spite of what we both know I am on the inside, fills me with awe. God is good.

"But I was not obeying the first and greatest commandment - to love God first - nor is it clear that I was obeying the second - to love my neighbour. Hating the oppressors of my neighbour isn't perhaps quite what Christ had in mind." - Sheldon Vanauken

And now abide faith, hope, love: these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Love is ours through Him who is love.
Faith is what overcomes the worry.
Hope in things unseen buoys our spirit.
And biblical hope is not the same as the American hope. The American hope is a wish. "I hope I win the lottery." Our hope is a quiet, calm confidence that He will fulfill His promises.

And does He ever.

Society tends to lengthen adolescence. In the 50's, if you had a high school degree, you were learned enough to get a job at most places. Then as things grew more complicated, they took longer to apprehend. Technical schools maybe were enough. Now we are to the point where anyone without a college degree stands little chance of getting a job. And many fields (say, psychology, linguistics) already 'require' a Ph.D. before you can be reasonably assured of employment. Thus it used to take only sixteen or eighteen years to learn enough to support a family. Now it takes twenty-two or more. Soon, as technology grows more specialized, it make take closer to thirty.

Dating pressures are increased. In the good old days, a boy didn't have to hold out more than a few years after the onset of his hormones before he could get married. Women even less time. But not so today. Yet the biblical requirements for purity do not change.

Here's a message I got a while back. I saved my reply if you'd like to see it.

> I would like to have information on the views Christians have about
> spanking and child abuse.  I need this by next Tuesday, November 19,
> 1996.  If you could send this to me soon it would be greatly
> appreciated.  Thank you for your time,

"Heaven will not be filled with innocent people, running around saying, 'Oh, was there another way? I guess I never noticed.' Rather they will say, 'You bet there were other options that begged to control me. By God's grace and my struggle, Jesus is my Lord.'" - Rebecca Manley Pippert

You have given me the ability to love people despite what they have on the inside. This is your love. Without apology. You are calling me to apply that love to those who are even harder for me (us) to love. My heart burns within me. How, Lord? Show me what you would have me to do for your glory; what you require of me.

Worship is unparalleled devotion. It is an outpouring of your very soul in an act of devotion to God. Withholding nothing.

"You want to hold the intangible, to fashion the dark into familiar shapes. To see with your eyes, know with your mind. O ye of so little faith." - Susan Ashton

American society does not know how to deal with transgressions. We would imprison men for doing wrong, and that without even any sense of restitution, leaving victims still bitter. And such imprisonment serves only, like the prison planet of the Sardaukar, to create hardened warriors. Thus we are in effect making men. (Notice that the idea of imprisonment as a valid disciplinary tool extends even into child rearing with 'time out'.)
However, our own professional attempts to make men still fall short. The military faintly echoes God's technique: break a man - rebuild him from scratch. Yet, as the efforts of men often do, even military training does not produce a perfect man. Even the best officer may not have love, or mercy, or joy, and almost always does have an inflamed sense of pride. Only something which is more than a man can make a perfect man. That is, humans can train up the perfect dog, or cat. But alone we can not raise up a perfect child, for we ourselves are imperfect. We must appeal to something greater. And He is willing and able to help us, if we will let Him. God is still in the business of making men.

"Though we're strangers, still I love you. And I love you more than your mask." - Rich Mullins

There are many reasons why God warns us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. In today's culture, one such reason (for girls): godly girls who are dating not-so-godly guys. By the nature of the flesh, these girls often get physically involved in such a relationship. Often, they are convicted (and rightly so) that such involvement outside the bounds of marriage is sin and try to stop. If the guy is "nice", he will likely respect the girl's decision in the sense that he will not force himself upon her. However, as he does not understand or agree with the decision, he will equally freely restore the physical part of the relationship when the girl is tempted. Only a truly godly man would be convicted as well, and would lend his strength to keep them both pure. The difference is conviction. No matter how nice or understanding, a man who is not walking by God's guidelines will not be convicted against doing such things, even when the girl is.
(Of course, the opposite situation, where the guy is convicted and the girl is not can also happen, though it is less common.)

The Three-Personal God, so to speak, sees before Him in fact a self-centred, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says "Let us pretend that this is not a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ in so far as it is a Man, for He became Man. Let us pretend that it is also like Him in Spirit. Let us treat it as if it were what in fact is it not. Let us pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality." - C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity"

We get dressed up for church for the same reasons we get dressed up for our wife. Because He is holy. Because He is worthy. Because we love Him.
"Hey, hey, baby; don't put my love on no shelf" - God

Alcohol should be avoided if only for the reason that it taxes our already bankrupt virtue.
"When interest and opportunity coincide, virtue is seldom to be relied upon."

"Christianity isn't a narcotic that dulls you into obedience. It involves battle -- it's excruciating to give up control." - Rebecca Manley Pippert

It is common that the world commends barely controlled excess of most vices while young. But soon that vice will have you in its grip.
"I can drink a quart of monkey and still stand still." - MCA
Ironically, though, self-control to the point of avoiding those vices altogether is frowned upon.
Corporations specialize in profiting on vice. Gambling, sex, alcohol. How does society's opinion differ on vices which can't be profited upon? Which are they?

Most Christian religions have members who get it and those who don't. The nature of the error varies with the group, and it is (possibly) often these errors which different denominations pick on.

Many people think that in order to be believable, theology must be very simple. However, notice that government is complicated. For example, here's a test question from one of my government exams in college:

"Often people argue whether the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were democrats or elitists -- as though the question were simply whether they accepted or rejected what we've called the Representation Thesis. However, the Representation Thesis maintains that all governmental officials should be chosen by direct vote of the majority of eligible citizens. By contrast,

  1. In some contexts most of the delegates seemed to accept the idea that governmental officials should be chosen by the direct vote of the majority of eligible citizens, while in other contexts most of them seemed to reject it; and
  2. They didn't always agree about the contexts in which the idea should be accepted, where it should be rejected, and why."

There is no suspension of reality (it seems) which would prevent theology from being so.

"They come to watch me burn." - Charles Spurgeon