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: Proximity and Relationship: A Personal Story – Michael Kimpan – Red Letter Christians

The very doctrine of the incarnation contains at its heart the divine welcoming of the Other; embodying that same welcome is at the heart of our own obedience to God’s grace.

via Proximity and Relationship: A Personal Story – Michael Kimpan – Red Letter Christians.

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.

Questions

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it. But I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.” – Anonymous

Weekend Faith Renewal: I’m a privileged Christian

Worship

Over the weekend, I packed away all my Bibles and religious ‘stuff’. The idea was to get some insight into what the daily lives of many Christians who are persecuted for their faith must be like.

What I learned was that I’m privileged. I knew this before, but I didn’t really know it, you know? I’m privileged to live in a place where I can collect so much religion-related clutter that the suitcase I packed it all into was too heavy to move afterwards, let alone hide. It spent the entire weekend sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor. Hardly stealth deluxe.

I’m privileged that I get to take my access to other Christians, in person and via social networking sites, for granted. I’m so privileged, in fact, that it never even occurred to me to bar myself from the Internet for the weekend. I’m privileged that faith is so much a part of my daily routine that I haven’t noticed before how much time I spend immersed in it—reading the Bible, forwarding prayer messages, reading Christian blogs and chatting to God, often out loud.

I’m privileged that I get to study theology. I’m privileged that I got to complain about having to summarise a chapter of Leviticus. I’m privileged to have my Bible within easy reach, a Bible with my name scrawled inside, without having to worry that this will get me thrown into prison.

I’m privileged that I missed church to go bridesmaid dress shopping. What difference does another Sunday make? I can always go next week, or the week after that, or the week after that.

I’m privileged to serve God, to love Him, to praise Him, to expect His return. Only, you probably wouldn’t say so by looking at my life.

That’s why every persecuted Christian is more privileged than me.

Also see:

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:

REBLOG: Twitter and Micro-prophesying « life and building

Publish glad tidings through Twitter.

This is fascinating. Read more: Twitter and Micro-prophesying « life and building.

Also this picture:

Risky ministry

When the focus of the church is on its own maintenance, rather than on living according to the values of the kingdom, it is unable to foster genuine community within its own ranks or engage in ministry to others. Such churches become self-defensive, safe, cultural “holy clubs” rather than engaging in demanding, loving and risky ministry. The church becomes a social club, promoting “get togethers”, where members talk only to each other, not caring for strangers, sinners, or those in need.

Ethics and Spirituality by L Kretzschmar.

Jesus was not a fan of the comfort zone. At one point He said, “I’ve come to disrupt and confront!” An idea foreign to most Christians today. Most Christians today have an “us” mentality, which is ironic considering that Jesus spent so much time with “them”: the sinners, losers and weirdos.

So how do we shake off the bake sale committees and return to ‘risky ministry’?

Hospitality

There were two messages about how the groups understood mission. First, mission meant an incarnational presence in the everyday life of the community. Second, mission meant engaging with residents to restore their capacity to act, to articulate needs and to seek to have those needs met.

Hospitality was the main means by which this presence and engagement was offered. Two groups ran cafes and three others had a house in which people could gather. Hospitality created the sense of belonging together which made it possible to raise questions of belief.

(via tallskinnykiwi, via cuf.)

Maybe it’s because one of my subjects this semester deals specifically with the introduction of Christianity into seventeenth century Africa, but when I think about ‘mission’, the first thing that pops into my head is

This!

And also this, but it's more PG13.

I thought of mission as something ‘outside’, something far off…

The capitol of Naboo.

So the concept of ‘mission’ as something as simple as hospitality…hello, blown mind of mine. This is becoming a habit.