Tips for new Christians

You have joyfully given your heart to God. Now what?

ONE: Pray, like, all the time.

When you’re just starting out, it’s tempting to throw yourself head first into all the ‘stuff’ of religion: Christianity, more than being a Christian. It’s understandable, you’re late to a party that’s been going on for two thousand years. It never works, though, and has the added kicker of distracting you from how much it isn’t working because you’re so busy being religious.

The most important thing about Christianity and being a Christian is having a relationship with God, and relationships take work. You can’t know the Creator if you don’t talk to him. Don’t fret too much about how to pray, the mechanics of it, or about intercession or the like. Praying is just talking to God. So talk to him! Get to know each other. God’s there all the time anyway and, would you believe it, he actually likes hearing from you?

There aren’t any ‘off-limit’ feelings or topics when it comes to praying. Just look at the Bible, God’s seen it all before. You can pray while doing anything. It shouldn’t just be a slot in your day, you know, right after you’ve read your Bible or just before you fall asleep. It’s basically a never-ending text conversation. Some days it will feel like God’s all ears; at other times, it will feel like you’re having a conversation with a cactus. That’s what feelings do: they change. But God is constant, and he gets your messages even when it feels like they aren’t going through.

TWO: Get a good Bible.

There’s a lot of debate (scholarly and otherwise) about just what a ‘good’ Bible is. My advice is to ignore all of it. Don’t worry too much about theology and translation, just choose a Bible that resonates with you. A big part of having a good relationship with God is having a positive relationship with his Word. So while that big ESV Study Bible may impress the hell out of everyone, if reading it makes you want to throw yourself into a waterhole, that just misses the point entirely. A study Bible is a good investment, but reading the Bible shouldn’t be a chore, so for now just find a Bible version that communicates God’s story to you clearly.

Don’t try to ‘stuff it all in’ at once, either, which is tempting when Newbie you joins a study group of people who have been doing this God thing for years. Bible study is a lifelong thing, and the stories, themes and theology contained in the Bible are vast. You don’t need to ‘earn’ salvation by being able to answer a pop quiz on the Old Testament. Reading the Bible isn’t so much a history lesson as it is a journey. And lucky us, we’ve got a companion in the form of the Holy Spirit. All you need to do is show up and read.

THREE: Find a church, join a church.

Most people assume that you come to God via the church and for a large chunk of the population, sure, that’s true. But in a post-Christian world (which is a really pretentious way of saying that the days of ‘assumed Christianity’ are behind us and that our society is increasingly plural and secular), more and more people are coming to God—or coming back to God—in ways that often circumvent churches entirely. The Internet and social media play a large part in this: there are countless devotional websites, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, blogs, tumblrs, Pinterest boards, daily prayer and devotional e-mails, Bible and Bible-reading apps, podcasts, and television shows, all which can make you feel ‘plugged into’ Christianity as a whole.

On the downside, it often means that, post-conversion, people aren’t ‘plugged into’ local bodies of worship. Initially it may not be a problem—there is a lot of material you can burn through on your own—but eventually, usually around the time you hit your first hurdle as a new (or renewed) believer, the lack of a physical support group can hit you pretty hard. It’s a nasty come-down from the first few months of that ‘spiritual high’ and, unsupported, could take a chunk out of your faith life.

This, of course, is where a church and church family come in handy. It’s pretty intimidating, especially if you’ve been unreligious for a while, or if it’s all new to you, but just go. Find a place where you are comfortable and the people are friendly. You might have to ‘shop around’ for a church. Don’t feel too bad about it. Look, no church is perfect and never will be—it is, after all, by definition a gathering of sinners—but it’s important that you find a place that clicks. Trust your gut on this one.

This might just be the Methodist in me, but a great thing to do when you’ve found a church is to join a Bible study group. There’s no quicker or surer way to get to know a church and its people, and from there it’s short work to join in on other activities.

FOUR: Christianity is actually pretty hard.

There’s a tendency, when you first convert and the Holy Spirit is just flow, flow, flowing, to assume that that feeling is going to last. The good news is that it doesn’t: after a reasonable amount of time, God cuts back on the high and the harder work begins. The journey is different for everyone, but just know that it is a road we all travel, and the road leads to spiritual maturation. It’s like taking the training wheels off your bike so you can cycle faster and more freely.

It’s just not always easy to be a Christian. You will doubt whether there is a God. Others will doubt you, and whether you can really do this ‘Christian’ thing (or if you should). You often lose people. You often lose your sense of self. Saying goodbye to old you isn’t going to be a clean break. It costs a lot of re-evaluation, repentance and downright scary change, and you aren’t always going to be sure that it’s worth it.

Spoiler alert: it is. Even a pretty bad day with Jesus is better than a good one without him.

FIVE: You are going to mess up so, so badly.

Old you is the worst kind of ex. Old you is not going to leave you alone. You are going to take old you back sometimes, and you are going to regret it. Old you will still visit, call, poke you on Facebook, and generally be a pain in the behind. Old you will sometimes be very reasonable, even persuasive—after all, old you likes all the same things you did.

The thing is, there’s no way to get rid of old you entirely while you are still on earth, so it is always going to be a struggle. Always. Some days will be easy, very easy; others, not so much. What I don’t want you to do is sweat it. You are going to mess up, so very badly. You are going to be the Worst Christian Ever. Fine, alright. What you do need to do is go back to God each and every time. He hasn’t gone anywhere while you were off with old you. He’s kept the lights on, waiting for you to come back home. Go back in. Repent. Be loved. Start all over again. Grace will heal the stubbed shins that come from bumping around in the world.

Do you have any advice for new Christians? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were just starting out?

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Reblog: Teaching children the Bible | The Resurgence

When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done.

via Teaching children the Bible | The Resurgence.

Easter

Easter eggs

In my Bible, up to about chapter twenty-six of Matthew, there’s a lot of underlining and many brackets and hearts and crosses and sticky notes in the margins. But from chapter twenty-six till the end the pages are bare, like they’ve been struck dumb by the words on them. Here is no pithy wisdom to highlight. Here are no neat parables to break into smaller pieces, intending to chew at them throughout the day. These last few chapters are the brutal, beautiful climax in a story that was eternity in the making.

And it’s a love story.

Have a blessed Easter,

Liana xx

Weekend Faith Renewal: Hide Your Bibles

Bible

In North Korea, you and your family can be tortured and/or executed if just one of you owns a Bible (Pegues 2006:150). Let that sink in for a second. Think about all the Bibles and other religious stuff you have lying around your house. On your bedside table or on dusty shelves or in jumble drawers underneath Chinese take-out menus. In another country, your pretty crucifix or multi-coloured WWJD bracelet could literally get you killed.

Those of us in free, democratic countries love to cry foul when other religions are granted the same rights we have; we call it ‘persecution.’ I wonder what someone from Nigeria, for example—where people are routinely shot or blown up at church services—would say when we complain about religious persecution? When we can freely attend church services and hold Bible studies and worship our God…all without being martyred for our efforts?

We can’t really imagine what that’s like, but we can try.

This weekend, hide your Bibles. All of them. Treat them as you would water when you’re thirsty in a country where liquid is illegal. Hide all the religious paraphernalia: the jewellery and the faith wear and the DVDs and the worship music and the glossy magazines. Put it in a box under a bed. Tape it to the underside of a desk. Bury it in the back garden. Remember that at any time people could come stampeding into your home to search it, and if they find these things, you lose everything.

When you go to church on Sunday, imagine that you’re afraid. You go anyway. While the minister is talking, expect the doors to fly open at any second, and armed men to come storming in. Feel the air shatter around you as an explosive detonates. Imagine getting dragged, punched and beaten and thrown into the back of a van that smells like sweat and fear; being separated from your family, not knowing whether you’ll ever see them again.

Imagine still wanting to call yourself a Christian. Imagine still believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer; God as Almighty; the Holy Spirit as friend and confidant.

Just this weekend, pretend that this is your daily life. Now look to God. Now pray to Him. What has our privilege of worship been hiding from us?

It's just as well I'm not burying my stash. I'd need a trench!

It’s just as well I’m not burying my stash. I’d need a trench!

Further resources:

You: loved and dearly prized

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.” ~ John 3:16 AMP ~

Reblog: Christianity and Creativity | Justin Hiebert

I am firmly convinced that we as Christians have become far too comfortable with the Bible. It rarely challenges us, doesn’t move us and in all honesty has very little shaping in our day to day lives. We know what we believe and then find Bible passages to support that belief.

But when I read the Bible I see a God that is constantly shaping, challenging, confronting, calling out and directing his people.

via Christianity and Creativity | Justin Hiebert.

Reblog: I love the Bible « Rachel Held Evans

I love the Bible more now than ever before because I have finally surrendered to God’s stories.

God’s long, strange, beautiful stories.

We asked questions.

God told stories.

We demanded answers.

God told stories.

We argued theology.

God told stories.

And when those stories weren’t enough, when the words themselves would not suffice, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, laughed among us, wept among us, ate among us, told more stories among us, suffered among us, died among us, and rose among us. The Word entered our story and invited us into His.

Read the whole post here.

Prayer ninjas

I finished YouVersion’s Prayer reading plan a day or so ago. Three things I’ve learned:

1. Prayer goes hand-in-hand with obedience. “God has no use for the prayers of the people who won’t listen to him” (Proverbs 28.9). Not quite sure how I missed this one for as long as I did. The whole act of prayer is essentially a demonstration of your willingness to change; surrendering to God’s will.

2. There is a right way to pray, and that way is simply, gratefully, joyfully, honestly, diligently, determinedly, for everyone and all the time. When I find myself yapping to God, trying to avoid the real issues or making excuses for myself, I stop talking, take a breath, and just spit it out. Trying to hide something from an omniscient God probably isn’t the smartest strategy, anyway :P.

3. God used this plan to bring home for me a point he’s been trying to make for some time, namely fear of Him. Fearing God is not so much being afraid of Him as it is holy reverence: understanding something of His power and majesty. I’ve often bumped God off the to-do list because ‘He’ll forgive me.’ Then He led me to some passages in Malachi…

“Instead of honouring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say ‘Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,’ and when you say ‘I’m bored–this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air–act superior to me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it’s hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is God speaking to you!” (Malachi 1.12-13)

Yeah…priorities reorganized *sheepish*.

I’m looking forward to the next #SheReadsTruth. If you haven’t signed up yet, now is your chance, the next reading plan starts soon!

Reblog: Feminist Christian Socialist: My Bible

The writings of Paul were Paul’s opinions and Paul’s ideas about what God wanted, about what Jesus wanted. Paul was not infallible. Paul was not God. Anyone who takes Paul’s word as God’s word is elevating him to a position above human. I’m not really okay with that. Does that mean there’s nothing to be learned in the letters? No, of course not. Just as I can learn from anyone’s opinions, I can learn from his.

Feminist Christian Socialist: My Bible.

GOD’S WORD TO WOMEN: UNDERSTAND YOUR “MAN”

This pastor’s message, of course, was based on the fallacious assumption that the word “man” in Genesis 1:26 is referring to a male.

GOD’S WORD TO WOMEN: UNDERSTAND YOUR “MAN”.