7/7/11

Two Things Satan Tries To Make Us Forget And One Verse To Ensure That Never Happens

Although I've known Jesus since I was a boy, I mark the beginning of a real relationship with Him in college. Since then, I have ridden a wave of guilt and joy and duty and praise - just trying to figure out how I am supposed to approach my relationship with Him and my responsibility as a Christian. Although I would consider myself a toddler in the faith, I feel confident in two very simple, yet important lessons from God. Two lessons that Satan wishes we didn't know, but is powerless against.

The first lesson is that God is most clear through His word. 

Let me explain this very simple statement. I watch a lot of sermons. And I'm probably responsible for several hundred visits to the many John Piper, Francis Chan and Andy Stanley videos on YouTube. I've learned so much from them. I also love books about Christian living. Honestly, most days, I'd much rather read a book about the Bible than the Bible.

But as great as those pastors and books are at communicating the truth, no voice is clearer than the voice of Jesus. And we should be careful to substitute a sermon or a blog or a book in place of a deep dive into the scriptures. When I sit down and read my Bible, with a desire to listen to God, I learn more in ten minutes than I do from watching ten sermons. And Satan hates that.

His lie is that if we're not reading twenty-nine chapters a day, we're not good Christians. But I've learned that when I read even just one verse, out loud, slowly, and repeatedly, God's voice becomes clear through His word. And this, to me, should be the goal of our relationship with Him.

The second lesson is that we have to ask God to give us joy in our salvation.

Notice what I said above - that I learn so much from reading my Bible when I have a desire to listen to God. That desire is hard to maintain, especially when the evil one is poking and prodding us with every temptation imaginable. Satan is a master at making Christianity seem boring and joyless. As a result, you and I often lose the joy that comes from the salvation of Jesus.

It's important to be aware of this tactic, and to know that this happens to us all. But it's even more important that we fight this by asking God for joy in Him. One verse that every Christian should commit to memory, and plead to God everyday, is David's Psalm 51:12:

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit." 

We must ask God to help us want to trust Him, want to learn from Him, want to be like Him. Because most days, we're indifferent. Most days, I'd rather write a blog post or read the news than read the words of our Creator.

Don't let the seriousness of this post trigger any guilt or sarcasm in your minds. But ask God to give you a willing spirit for obedience and joy in his salvation.

I regret to tell you that this is my last post until August. As most of you know, the bar exam is closing in, and as much as I love to write, I need to focus on my studies. And, if God wills it, I'll pass this dreadful exam. 

6/28/11

Does Jesus Always Forgive?

It seems strange to ask this question. Of course Jesus always forgives. It's what He does. It's who He is. Who is Jesus without forgiveness? This is what we're taught as children - that when we sin, we can ask Jesus to forgive us, and He will separate us from our sins.

It's hard to think about how many times Jesus has forgiven humans. It's like thinking about God having no beginning. But as many times as he has forgiven our sins, the question remains: does he always forgive? Always?

Honestly, I wish I had not found the following verse, but it's there, in probably the most famous sermon ever preached - the sermon on the mount.

"But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matt. 6:15)

Read that verse again. Let it invade the way you think of your relationship with Jesus.

Now ask yourself another question: who have you not forgiven?

This post is probably as much fun to read as it was for me to write. One of the most amplified parts of my sin nature is my unwillingness to forgive others. And now I'm told that the longer I hold onto their sins, the longer Jesus withholds his forgiveness of mine.

This doesn't sound right. Your internal reader may be disturbed by the sentence above. But is that not what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6:15? That if I don't truly forgive others, He will not forgive me of my sins? I can read it no other way.

Father, give us the strength and humility to forgive, because you have commanded this of us, and so that you will forgive our sins.

6/16/11

1 Rule Every Christian Should Follow On Twitter

I was going to entitle this post, "How Jesus Would Use Twitter," but everyone knows that speaking for Jesus about things that aren't in the Bible is a Christian blog fail. And as hard as I tried to find some hidden message about Twitter in one of Jesus' parables, I was unsuccessful.

I have noticed that Twitter has become like a diary, where we impulsively display our thoughts - ironically oftentimes without much thought. But unlike a diary, we display it for the world. In one of my past tweets, I wrote, "Just went to Little Caesar's for a hot-n-ready. Got a hot-n-ready in 5 min, instead." In another tweet, I wrote, "Two people have told me something similar to this today - 'He was a little guy. Just a little bigger than you.' #beamingwithself-confidence."

What's wrong with these tweets? Not much, I guess. We should be able to use Twitter in any way we choose. But as a Christian, I wonder if Twitter and Facebook and any other way we communicate with the world should be more positive, more strategic. In last week's post, I wrote about my timidity to share the gospel. As God works on that, and as I am reminded that "the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline," I am also reminded that our behavior - the things we do that nonbelievers watch so closely - extends to Twitter. While I may not make the best of opportunities to share the gospel in person, my message is loud and clear when I'm careless on Twitter.

I'm reluctant to write posts like this. I don't want to sound legalistic. But what if we Christians followed this one rule on Twitter?

#1 - No Negative Tweets
Although it may not seem like that big of an issue, when Christians are negative on Twitter, we are telling the world that our joy from God can be overcome by our complaints about life. Our negative tweet may seem relevant, and potentially amusing, but to your followers, it just sounds whiny. And though it will be drowned by other tweets in minutes, your boss, your friends or any other follower has a permanent database to review your negative thoughts.

I'm not suggesting that we send out regular fake, happy tweets. Maybe just cut the ones that don't help the kingdom. As Paul teaches us in Ephesians, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Eph. 4:29).

What are some more rules that Christians should follow on Twitter?

6/9/11

Are You Awkward Around Christianity?

If I were a Christian living just after Jesus died, I'd be one that didn't want to spread the word to the Gentiles. Not because I'd believe the gift didn't extend to them. But because it would be less burdensome to make disciples out of the Jews. Though they may not have been "Christians," they would  at least be familiar with and believe in God. It's much easier to talk to people about Christianity when they have a base.

I've found that I have more courage to talk with someone about my faith when I've been given some indicator that they are, at the very least, semi-religious. It happened to me the other day. I was in the car with a coworker. After a few seconds, I realized that KLOVE was playing on the radio, and immediately I said, "it's good to be working with a fellow believer." And the discussion began.

See how easy that was? I worked up enough courage to talk to a Christian about my Christian faith. The world needs more Christians as brave as me.

But seriously, if we're called to "go and make disciples of all nations," why am I so scared to do it? Why do I get so awkward when I even think about mentioning the God who has saved me from eternal suffering? Am I alone in this?

Talking to people about Jesus has become what awkward Christians do. Cool Christians don't want other people to think they're not cool, so they don't even try. I'm in that camp. I want people to think I'm cool, so I witness by behaving in public. I justify that mindset by telling myself that I can have just as much impact by being a good person around others, and by waiting for the right time. After all, I don't want to turn people away. And that may be true. But when I look at the New Testament church, I see that Peter and the rest of the disciples made the right time. They didn't wait for someone to ask about Jesus. It was urgent to them, and important enough to die for.

Are you awkward around Christianity? Or is it just me?

6/2/11

When Big Things Come

If you read my post from a few weeks ago, you already know that I have been on a long road of career uncertainty. I graduated on May 21, and at that point, I still did not have a job. Over the past few months, however, my relationship with God has been more intimate, more real than ever before. I've heard people say that, and it makes sense. When we want something only God can provide, we cling to Him. But what about when the big thing comes? What do we do when God answers that big prayer?

I am happy to say that God has done that for me and my family. Just days after graduation, He provided an amazing job, one that I could not be more thankful for. As I look back over the past few months and the countless times I heard the words, "we're not hiring," He has given me the clarity that only comes from his timing. 

But I wonder - how will this affect our relationship? Can I maintain this intimacy with Him? I've learned through all of this that God wants us all in one place: dependent on Him. So when He provides the job or the husband or the house or the baby, find another way to be dependent on Him.

5/19/11

What's Your Love Language?

There's this book called The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. It hasn't done that well (only about 5,000,000 copies sold), but it's one of my favorite books. I love learning how people think, and what motivates them. And like most people, if they're honest, I love to learn about myself. After reading that book, I learned that I can't resist a good compliment in words. Words of affirmation, as Chapman calls it.

My listening skills aren't perfect; okay, they're terrible. Rachel can ask me to get 3 things from the grocery store and I'll forget something by the time I leave the house. But when she compliments me, my mind becomes a steel trap. And I can access those compliments as fast as Rain Man can count toothpicks. I'm so far in the words of affirmation camp that I've even created a file for encouraging emails.

Is this weird?
Wait, you don't have an encouragement email file like this one? Oh, me neither. I just got that screen shot from some loser off of Flickr. 

If you haven't read The Five Love Languages, you need to make that happen.  It will help you understand the way you give and receive love, and it will make you a better spouse. But for now, take the love language test. 

If you have read it, what's your love language? 

5/14/11

4 Things To Think About When God Isn't Answering Your Prayer

A few weeks ago, I called twenty-seven law firms in one day - twenty-seven! I graduate from law school in less than two weeks, and I've spoken with only a handful of firms that are actually hiring. And those that are keep reminding me that I'm not licensed yet - a requirement for their associate position.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated. I've had many conversations with God that sound like a child in Walmart, screaming because he can't have a toy. I don't have a job yet, but here are 4 things I've learned about God's timing during my search:

1) God's timing is ruthless. 

You've thought it; I'm saying it. Who of us, at some point, has not looked up to heaven and pleaded for an answer, a sign - anything? Whether it's a parking place or a pregnancy, we've all had a prayer that, for some reason, God seems to hold on to. God's timing is ruthless because it's unstoppable. His resolve is like a train, and we would be foolish to try and stand in His way.

2) God's timing is the story.

People don't like stories without conflict. Think about it. The protagonist in every great book, movie or play experiences great conflict. The more conflict a story has, the more interesting the story. Why does this matter? Because God uses people's stories to bring him glory.  I don't know when I'll get a job, but I do know that God is using this time to embrace and teach me. And when the resolution comes - when his "plans to prosper" me come, I'll have a story that God will use to bring glory to his name.

3) God's timing is prosperous. 

I'm bad about believing God's "plans to prosper" me are in the future. If I can just get out of law school and get a job, then He's kept up his end of the deal. But what if I'm wrong? When I think about my life, and what I've been blessed with already, it's clear that his plans are happening now. I'm prosperous because I have a beautiful wife who loves and supports me. I'm prosperous because God gave us a son. I'm prosperous because I have money to eat. I'm not saying that you should stop dreaming, or stop desiring good things for your life. But it does help to count your blessings.

4) God's timing is perfect. 

This post would not be complete without me telling you that God's timing is perfect. But not in the stereotypical naive Christian - everything will be alright - kind of way. His timing is perfect because it actually is a part of his plan for your life, along with the promotion or your new baby. As Job said, should we accept blessings from God, but not adversity?

You may have a pending prayer - one that God has chosen not to answer right away. And although mine may not be the same as yours, we all have one. I hope this post has encouraged you to search for God's lessons in waiting.

What have you learned from God's timing in your life?

4/22/11

God And His Teenage Son.

Sometimes my relationship with God resembles a father's relationship with his sixteen-year-old son. Some days I'm a good kid; I do my chores and come home before my curfew. But other days I get spiritually hormonal, and I just need some gas money.

I've tried to figure this out. I've even discussed it with God: "God, why am I completely obedient and on fire for you one day, and then the... wait, I'm getting a text. Oh! My friends are going to see Fast and Furious 10. Later, Dad."

But still He loves us. Still, He cares and knows about every single detail of our lives. If you've ever treated God like this... if you've ever wondered why you are capable of week-long spiritual highs, only to plunge back into your sin nature, it may be because you actually are that sixteen-year-old son or daughter, spiritually.

Don't feel bad about this; realize it. Let it be your motivation to let God grow you up. "God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness." (Heb. 12:10). God's discipline is love.

4/14/11

The Getting in Giving

One of the toughest parts about being a Christian is that we are called to give. Not just our money, but our time, our love, our gifts. It's unnatural. And lest we think we can hide from that calling, Jesus actually said it. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Dang. The red letters.

If we know anything about Jesus, it's that he doesn't speak in platitudes. His words are deep, and often difficult to understand. Jesus told stories. And he rarely stopped to explain what those stories meant. You either got it or you didn't.

So why is it better to give than to receive?

Because when you give, everyone wins. The paradox of the thing is that by fighting through the sin nature, by giving, with no hidden motives, you get "the feeling." That level of satisfaction that only God can bring.

If the motives are mixed, the giving is not pure. Jesus doesn't say, "give because you'll get." He tells us it's better to give than to receive; it's up to us to figure out why. And when we figure it out. When we give out of love for people, He blesses our giving. He blesses us out of nowhere. Like the $20 you find in that coat pocket the first time you pull it off the hanger for the winter.

What can you give today without expecting to receive? How can you bless someone without them ever knowing it was you?

4/1/11

What My Son Has Taught Me About God

A lot of people don't think about this, but waiting for an adoption to go through is a lot like waiting for a mother to have her baby. People have asked me, "was it weird, just immediately becoming a dad?" I understand the question. And yes, it would be weird if that were the case. But the reality is, I was his father long before we brought him home. Like biological parents, we've had months to plan and prepare for him. To pray for him. To trust that God is in control of his life.

In that time of waiting, I realized so many things that I want to teach him. I have literally daydreamed of teaching him how to treat women; how to throw a baseball; how to play the guitar; how to ride a bike; how to change a tire; and how to pray. But the one thing I never expected was that my son would teach me some things, too.

He has taught me about our role as children of God. He's taught me that my dependence on God is pleasing to Him. He's taught me that God is protecting me.  He's taught me that God's intentions for my life are pure.

I am thankful that He has given me a son that has already taught me more about God's love.

3/9/11

The Creator

Da Vinci. Michelangelo. Raphael.

You know you're good when your name is your resume. And when these men created art, people paid attention. I read that Da Vinci was a chronic procrastinator and only a handful of his paintings have survived. But what about the other stuff? His notes and scratch paper. I bet people would pay for those too. They would pay for scraps because men like Da Vinci were creative geniuses. Anything that came from them was a masterpiece.

And to think, those men came from God.

Perhaps the more encouraging thought is that we came from the creator of all things. And unlike Da Vinci, God doesn't procrastinate. He doesn't make scraps. Every person on this Earth is a masterpiece from His hand, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph. 2:10). Remember that today.

3/2/11

Stubborn, Disobedient, Insecure (And Still Useful)

Like all men, I have my insecurities. Those creeping thoughts that, if not suppressed, keep me from living for Christ. One of my strongest insecurities has always been my limited knowledge of scripture. I write a Christian blog and I've probably only read a sixth of the Bible. When I got married, Satan used this insecurity against me. "How can you call yourself a spiritual leader? Even I know more scripture than you!" He would clang those words into my ears like crashing cymbals.

But last month, the clanging stopped. With fatherhood looming, and my ongoing responsibilities as spiritual leader, I was motivated to buy an audio Bible. I figured out that I spend roughly five to seven hours per week in my car, and that if I spent that time listening to the Bible, I could read it in less than six months.

I began in Genesis and finished the first few chapters of Joshua today. I have laughed, I've cried, but most of all, I've marveled at God's grace and love for such a stubborn people. How much more stubborn and disobedient am I? Yet he trusts me with his work. 

For the husbands and fathers that are reading: it is imperative that we immerse ourselves in God's word. As Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:6-7: 
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 
What is keeping you from being God's man?

2/16/11

Where I've Been And Where I'm Going

I recently finished a month-long writing project. It monopolized my spare time and even became jealous of my other writing interests.  Once I swear I heard voices threatening my hard drive if I even thought about writing a blog post. 

Now that the voices are gone, I've had some time to think about my blog - to really think about what and how often I post. I started this blog to encourage others and to make Christianity easy to discuss. But I often find myself thinking of ways to get more readers or write more posts. Don't get me wrong; I care about getting more readers and writing more posts. If a blogger tells you otherwise, he's lying. The problem is that those motivations fuel my human desires, taking glory from God. 

I've prayed that God would speak through my posts. And I believe He holds back when I write for the wrong reasons. So instead of writing two or three posts a week, regardless of the motivation, I've decided to write only when I can put something down that's honest. Something that might encourage others. I pray that I will write more often than not, but only if God wants more use out of me. 

Thanks for reading.

1/19/11

Guessing At God's Plan

As hard as it is to explain the Christian faith, it's harder still to tell someone that you believe what you're doing is a part of God's plan for your life.

"Really?" they ask. "And how do you know this is what God wants you to do?"

No one ever asks that question. At least not where I'm from. It would be completely inappropriate. If someone can look you in the eye and tell you that God wants them to sell everything and move to Africa, you're not in a position to question them. Not because what they're saying isn't crazy. But because they may be right.

No one really knows what God is telling us to do. We can only act on feelings, dreams and an inability to think of anything else. When the proverbial God tug comes, prepare to expend great amounts of energy explaining it to yourself and to others. But spend less time explaining it to others.

One more thing - you'll never be certain. You were never made to be certain. Faith will always be that firm belief in something for which there is little objective proof. Your job is to keep acting on that faith, guessing at God's plan, and enjoying the ride when you get it right.

1/12/11

Noah's Faith

I've always been fascinated by the story of Noah and his ark. I like to think the man had more followers than his family. But I'm probably wrong. I don't remember reading anything about Noah having to turn people away. The town probably thought he was some old drunk with a crazy idea. But we look back on that story and marvel at his faith.

God didn't give him a wimpy canoe to build; He commanded a ship. A big ship. I've read that the ark was over 400 feet in length (longer than a football field) and 45 feet tall (higher than a three-story building).

God chooses ordinary people because he knows of their extraordinary faith. We ask God for peace and strength and blessings. But what if we sincerely asked Him to show the world how big He is through us? Surely, those things would follow.

1/10/11

Once You Decide To Lead

Once you decide to lead - your family, your business, your church - the hardest part is over. But it doesn't feel that way. That's because the decision is not final. Whatever resistance you encounter after that requires you to make another decision to lead. Then another. And another.

Having the guts to make hard decisions is rare. You will screw up. But having the guts to continue after failing is even more rare. And makes a better leader.

Neither you nor I have done anything worse than the most productive characters in the Bible. The difference may be that they continually renewed their decision to lead.

1/7/11

Your Opinion

Look at a person's résumé and you'll learn what they've done, where they've been, and a few of their interests.

Listen to a person's opinion and you'll get so much more. 

The problem is that sharing an opinion can be tough. Others may disagree. But they might also learn. I've a friend who listened to a professor ramble about how ridiculous Christianity is. The professor even misrepresented several parts of the Bible. My friend could have let him ramble. But he didn't. He told the professor what he believed. And offered a few polite corrections to the stories he had told about Jesus. 

Afterward, another student approached my friend. "I'm not a Christian," he said, "but I knew some of that stuff he was saying about Jesus wasn't right." 

I'm not sure that we'll ever know the significance of that conversation, but thanks to my friend, that student knows the real story of Jesus. 

1/5/11

Your God Story

Do you have a God story?

If so, have you shared it? Have you told about the days or weeks or years that you prayed for that one thing? And then God actually answered it?

I would love to hear your story, and if you don't mind, I'd like to write about it on Son in the Faith. You can e-mail me at evancbell@gmail.com. If you have a blog, write about it there and I'll link to it. I don't care where the story is told, let's just get it out.

1/4/11

The Father's Joy

I watched an interesting interaction at church on Sunday. A young boy placed a piece of paper against his knee and began to draw. His dad saw what his son was attempting and passed over his bible to be used as a drawing table. The boy began to draw shapes and faces. It didn't take long for the boy's dad to notice his son's work. The dad sat smiling, watching his son draw. It was easy to see the joy that that little boy gave his father - just from doodling.

I won't make some broad analogy here. I just pray that, at least one time today, I make God feel like that father.