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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Prayer Monday | March 10, 2014

Christ's love

“But how can congregations be brought to that [preaching the Gospel successfully] unless there comes first an entire change in ministers, that they begin to see that the indispensable thing is not preaching, not pastoral visitation, not church work, but fellowship with God in prayer until they are clothed with ‘power from on high’ (Luke 24:49)?”

The Prayer Life by Andrew Murray

In that spirit, here is a prayer for ourselves and our churches (which I’ve pilfered from Ephesians 3 and adapted slightly):

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner beings, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 NIV).

Top Ten Posts for 2013

Welcome to YMHM, where we are finally a mere semester away from an actual, can-you-believe-it degree! “About time!” some would say, and by ‘some’ I mean ‘all’. “All of my family.”

I know my posting lately has been lazy sporadic, so I thought I’d compile a list of YMHM’s top ten posts for 2013. I know the suspense is killing you, but please, try to remain calm:

  1. Grace: one size fits all.
  2. Four degrees of love.
  3. Sixteen fun ideas for attending a new church.
  4. Questions.
  5. Friday Funny for August thirtieth.
  6. Virtues.
  7. The God who is.
  8. God’s joy.
  9. Ruminations from the back pew: happy clappin’.
  10. Good Christians.

If you’re curious about the posts or articles I most enjoyed reading, check out my reblogs tag. You can also take a look at this post, in which I worship at the altar of longform.org. As a bonus it has a super weird graphic, so there’s that to look forward to.

How was your 2013? Personally I am convinced that time is a lie, but you know. I try to be open-minded about these things.

Thank you for skimming reading this blog this year. I truly appreciate every like and every comment, especially those that are not trying to sell me medication for erectile dysfunction.

I wish you and yours a very happy, blessed Christmas. May you not be the biggest screw-up at your family dinner. May the food be good. May your arch-nemesis not attend the Christmas service and if they do, ignore you first.

And remember: keep it classy.

A gif about eating pants.

I just call them “pants” but okay.

Something to think about

Being a Christian is neither here nor there. Christians are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

(Adapted from Matthew 3:7-10 Msg)

Reblog: “I Can’t Feel God Anymore” — The Big Secret of EVERY Christian – J.S. Park

If this is your first time experiencing [spiritual] dryness, then please know that just because you don’t feel God doesn’t make you a bad Christian.  It just makes you an honest one. 

Yup: “I Can’t Feel God Anymore” — The Big Secret of EVERY Christian – J.S. Park.

Reblog: Question: Getting Back The Fire For God « J.S. Park

Remember, you are:

– A work in progress, looking towards the work finished, Jesus.

– Under construction, in a process, two steps forward, one step back.

– On a journey of faith, because faith is not a light-switch.

– A messy, gritty, raw, real, complicated creation called a human being, and no one should ever shame you for being human.  Jesus was one of us, too.

– Not defined by your mood, situation, or circumstance.

– Not defined by the “amount” of your faith, but rather by the perfect author of your faith who receives even your weakest stumbles towards Him.  It’s not about your grip, but rather the strength of the branch that holds you.

– So loved that God preempted your failures with the gift of His Son Jesus, who died to pay your price of Hell and who also died exactly for those times you would feel far from Him.

– Always allowed to approach the throne room of God with all your anxieties and fears and requests, no matter how petty, because God can handle your venting and clenching of teeth and He will not bite your head off.  It’s also His very grace and acceptance that begin to restore the broken pieces back together.

– A Christian, a profoundly broken person who has met Jesus the Messiah, who radically transforms you by being who he is: the Savior, Redeemer, King, Brother, Friend.

If you’re struggling to feel God, read the whole post: Question: Getting Back The Fire For God « J.S. Park.

Reblog: Psalm 61- Breathing Room » The Registered Runaway

(I’m reblogging the whole post. It’s that good.)

I’ve broken up with God more times than I can count.

There were nights when I explicitly spelled out- in all the swear words, why I had enough. Why I no longer believed or was done trying to. He didn’t love me, I muttered, so I wouldn’t love Him back.

There have been months on end that I considered myself closed off from God altogether, even if I didn’t make that directly clear to him.

You don’t need to be in your Bible, listening to worship music, praying out loud to be apart from God. You just need to be reflexively blocking him out of your thoughts and feelings, like He’s not even there.

And I know I’m not alone in that. Believers that hold to an unbreakable life-long consistency are few and far between. We walk away- we walk back, shaking off all the things we didn’t even know were killing us at the time.

On Facebook, God and I have always had an It’s Complicated kind of relationship, because that’s been my journey. I walked away when I was ashamed. I walked back when I hit the floor of my loneliness. I ran far far away when the church folk said I didn’t belong. I went full steam back when a new church held me closer than any had before.

There have been times when my own unkindness toward myself has kept me away from God. I was my own worst enemy and left alone, I could really do a number on myself.

I know that David isn’t talking about this kind of resting place, he’s referencing the shelter of God. But I write in reaction to what I’ve read and this hit on something I had been thinking about.

And what if my walking away is that resting place? What if, when the church becomes too painful, God becomes too confusing and scary, He sets aside a place where I have to face my own reflection and understand how horrible I’ve been to myself? Where I can understand that until I love who I am, the world will still be able to crush me. Where I can understand that even at my very most self-loving frame of mind, it is still incomparable to His adoration for me.

Brennan Manning, the author/speaker/preacher/also the guy that has reunited Christ and I more than anyone in the whole world, gave a series of talks in 1996 at Seattle Pacific University and he spoke on how the greatest evil in our lives is self-rejection. More than greed, lust, every destructive thing relates to this. Nothing separates us more than when we believer we are the bottom of the dumpster. The crap of the creator.

And he quotes something from Paul Tillich. Something that quickened me into a desire to walk, jog, then sprint forward into the story of a Jesus that loves me.

“The beginning of faith is in accepting that you are acceptable.”

Accepting that in my own jadedness, bitterness, cynicism, pet peeves, offensive action, self-condemnation, laziness, busyness, my low and high, my deep and wide Jesus accepts me wholly, loves me fully, madly embarrassingly falling on his face happy in love with me.

Even when I walk away, He’s there, providing a place of rest, a place of renewal.

Reblogged from: Psalm 61- Breathing Room » The Registered Runaway.

Reblog: Trying To Witness Vs. How You Really Are « J.S. Park

But some days — I just want to flip a table and kick a trashcan and race a cop car and jump out a window and tell everyone that I hate my life right now and I don’t really feel like repping Jesus everyday, and that it probably won’t get better if you tell me that I need to be a “better witness.”

I totally get that we’re called to bear fruits and endure patiently and other Christianese things like that, but it sort of shuts down my need to be honest and vulnerable and real with other people.

So then I just fake it, and that’s no good either, and I end up feeling like a failure whenever I read that bumper sticker, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  I mean like jeez, I guess not if you put it that way.

The whole “trying to be a Christian” thing can get pretty exhausting.

I just thank God for people who can handle my insane neurotic twitchy craziness and never flinch at me. Those understanding types know we’re trying to get it right like everyone else, and we can fail at that, and there should be breathing room, and God gave us the biggest breather of all called grace.

Feel like you’re failing at this “witnessing” thing? Read the whole post: Trying To Witness Vs. How You Really Are « J.S. Park.

Friday Funny May 31, 2013

Reblog: Why Missional is so hard « Empowering Missional

When we create churches where people come to ‘see what they can get’ rather than a culture of ‘seeing where they can give’ it makes it hard to empowering people to be missionaries to those around them.

Insightful, and uncomfortably true, not just of churches in America but churches in general. Read the whole post: Why Missional is so hard « Empowering Missional.