What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

There are many answers for what it means to be a Christian: following the teachings of Christ as taught in the Bible, following the Holy Spirit, or loving others. All these are true, but these can be simplified even further: being a Christian means experiencing God’s love for you.

God calls us to Him. All have fallen away from God and need to be saved by Jesus to return to Him. (Romans 3:23). For some of us, this is a new idea, but others have heard this their entire life. Whether you grew up in church and know all the answers to every Bible trivia question ever asked, or if you are hearing these ideas expressed this way for the first time, the truth is the same for each of us. We need to experience the love of God in our lives everyday.

We need to experience the forgiving love as we repent and turn our lives to Him, each and every time there is a need for repentance. We need to experience His redeeming love as we grow into an understanding of His purpose for our lives. We need to experience His bountiful love as we learn to trust that He provides for us.

As we learn to be more and more aware of His love for us, we can then experience an awareness of God on a deeper level, as God is love. This new awareness transforms our moments, and enlivens our lives as we learn to see things through His perspective. Being a Christian is about walking day in and day out in this awareness. We can fill our days with a fullness of life and the power of God based on knowing Him more.

Part of this process of growing more aware of His love is learning to believe what He says about us. God says we are loved, we are valuable, we are precious, and we are eternal. Not only do we believe this about ourselves, but when we look at others, we should believe in their value as well.

When we see God’s love and experience how it flows from Him to everyone, we see their value and we know that we are all children of God, equal before Him. He shows no favorites; He loves all of us.

Where Do I Serve?

When we think of serving, we often think of missions in far off places with grueling surroundings. Serving at its core, however, is simply being useful. We don’t need to be in any particular place or doing any particular thing. We need to be useful wherever we are.

Service to your Family

Our usefulness starts at home. It wasn’t just a coincidence that honoring your father and your mother was a part of the original ten commandments God gave to His children. Service to the world at large is wonderful, but falls short if you aren’t useful to the family God put you in.

Service to your Church

The next family God put you in is a church family. Being helpful to your church family is the next place to focus on being useful. Community is vital to a healthy life and supporting our community is how we can contribute to the health of our immediate surroundings. The church is there to help protect and serve others that we can’t reach on our own or who don’t have a family to help them. Serving at our church is the best way we have to create a connected environment for everyone.

Service to your Neighborhood

The phrase, “Location, location, location!” is usually referring to real estate and the prime locations that go for lots of money. Our location, where we live and where we spend our time, impacts our friendships and relationships. Being useful in our neighborhood allows us to connect and support the people we spend the most time around.

It is good to support friends and family that live far away; however, supporting those in our immediate surroundings help us build  strong connections that return and support us when we are in need.

Service to the World

After our local connections, we can offer support to the world. This is usually done by connecting with a large mission or service organization that allows us to contribute to causes around the world. Sometimes this is in person with skills or labor, but often this is with money.

We can feel connected with others at a global level when we offer this kind of service. Seeing the goodness and blessings that are being worked out all over the planet can help us remember how big God’s power and plan are.

It is important to remember, though, that this kind of service isn’t a replacement for being involved locally. God put us where we are for a reason of His own; let’s build up our community within the circles of people that God has placed us in.

Who Do I Love?

God wants us to love everybody. Easier said than done, and what even are we saying? Loving your neighbor is a foundational truth of Christianity, so how do we practice being aware of our love for them?

Love is the connection that brings us together. Love lifts us up and builds us up with strength and joy. We see our love in how others respond to our words, our actions, and even our presence.

Seeing Love

We know when we feel loved. We feel connected, important and supported. It is much more difficult to know if other people feel loved by us. Each person needs to be loved in slightly different ways. How they feel most supported  is different for each person in our life, just as we are different in what we need. The more deeply we know someone, the more deeply we can express our love for them. We can speak to them with our actions, (the loudest way to speak to someone), and they can understand our care for them.

Love comes in so many forms that it can be difficult sometimes to see it as love. We might call it politeness or being a good neighbor. Sometimes it’s civic duty or being a responsible citizen. All the ways  we live and act to benefit others, individual or groups is love. Even being a good worker and honoring your boss is an act that supports and lifts up; it’s an act of love.

Love doesn’t have to mushy, gushy and make someone cry. Love can be anything that supports and helps. It builds connections and creates bridges between people.

Practicing Love

To fully love others, we must consciously practice love, both in our actions and in our thoughts. Focusing our thoughts on building others up, on supporting the community that is around us, makes love a priority in our lives.

Practicing love may look different from person to person because God has given us all different gifts. Some are gifted in words, others in organization and execution, others in celebrating beauty in people and nature. Whatever your gifts are, God has given them to be used to support and build up.

Building Bridges

Love is the force that brings people together. It is the bridge that allows us to connect to others to help and find joy in life together. This connection can only start when one person reaches out. Love flourishes when hearts and minds are open to other people. If you’ve ever felt alone in a crowd, you know the barriers that can be between people. Love breaks those barriers so we can feel connected, whether we’re in a crowd or with an individual, far away from the crowd.

Love is the connection between us that allows support to build up our community. It is so vital to love everyone because anyone in our community that doesn’t feel connected or important is a hole in the cloth that makes up the community God has created for us to live in. Holes create weakness in our world and loss and hurt creep in through these areas.

Let’s work together to create a community of connection and support to everyone that God brings into our lives.

What Is Love?

Love is broadly used in our culture, but not often specifically defined. The Bible tells us that it’s by our love we will be known as Christians (John 13:35). Applying the broad definition of our culture to such a specific Biblical purpose can lead to confusion about how we are supposed to be living. Defining exactly what we mean by love, in the sense of how it defines us as Christians, can be very helpful.

Love Can be an Emotion

Love as an emotion is arguably the most connected form of love. We feel love towards dear people in our lives. We seek out romantic love in a partner. We find material things that we love-our new favorite thing from lip balm to new houses.

All of these  feelings revolve around the emotional sensation of connecting with someone or something. This emotional side of love is a legitimate experience of love, and is important when we need to connect with things and people we value.

Love Can be an Action

Taking action to do something good for another person is also called love. It’s the expression of the emotion that we feel. We feel love toward someone and so we do something good for them, or we help take care of a need they have.

Expressing love as an action is an important part of love because it tests the mettle of our affection and determines how much we mean it. It makes our connection tangible.

The Balance of Love

We walk in love when we keep emotions and actions feeding each other. In some cases, the feeling comes first and the action comes later. Romantic love often, not always, falls into this pattern. Other times, we do what we know we should for others and the action fills us with a feeling of good-will to them. Serving others usually follows this pattern. Both ways are important and living in love means we are experiencing both sides of the love: the action and the emotion.

The Love of Christians

As Christians, there’s more to the love that others should see in us. Most people have love in them, Christian or not. It might be only a small amount of love, it might be highly conditional love, it might be damaged and manipulative love. It’s not that Christians have love and nobody else does; it’s the type of love that Christians have that sets them apart.

The type of love that Christians have is a selfless love. The love we offer others is a love that came to us through God by the sacrifice of Jesus: ultimate selflessness. What sets us apart is that our love doesn’t come from us and fill our needs first. We have a love that starts with the needs of others, not the needs of ourselves.

Being known by our love means we become filled by something so clearly that it becomes what all people see when they encounter us. Our ultimate defining feature should be an overflowing of God’s selfless love for everyone.

Does God’s Word Relate to Today?

The Bible is old. Really old. Scholars estimate that the Bible is between 3,000 and 2,500 years old, give or take a bit. Some of the references are so old we don’t even know what they’re referring to. For example, we don’t know what some precious stones referenced in the Old Testament are in modern names. Some of the cultures that played roles in the stories of the Bible no longer exist; in a few cases, didn’t even leave a trace behind.

Knowing the Bible is that old, it can feel so distant or irrelevant at times. What did these ancient authors know about how it is to live in these modern, technology-driven times?

The first thing to realize about the Bible is that it isn’t meant to be a history book. The Bible is meant to highlight the transformation of people, both individuals and cultures, as they learn to trust and live with the Lord. The Lord is interested in calling His children to Him and the Bible is His guidebook on how we can know Him. God has given us examples of people who have come to know Him and serve Him – not for the purpose of understanding history, but for the purpose of seeing Him more clearly.

God Doesn’t Change

As we read through the Bible, it is important to know that God doesn’t change. He is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, the Bible says (Psalm 90:2). Cultures change and even go away. Languages go extinct; languages change over time. But God, the one that the Bible is about and by, doesn’t change. Today, His business is salvation just as it was from the moment sin entered the world.

People Don’t Change

There’s an old saying: the only thing that never changes is change itself. People are the best example of this kind of fickleness; they change like the wind. People are people and have been for a very long time – ever since our creation, in fact. It’s easy to start seeing the fickleness in God’s word, but what we’re seeing is the trouble that people cause, not a failure of God’s word.

(If you remember, we are choosing to believe in God’s word as a standard of living and our guide for our choices.)

God’s Plan from the Beginning

The plan God has for salvation through Jesus and His return were planned from the beginning (John 1:1). The Bible keeps a reminder before us that God knows what He’s doing and has known forever. Life can feel random and purposeless when only looked at through our own personal frame of reference. When we take a step back and remember the long-term purpose of God, we can reconnect with the joy of living and find peace in finding our own place and purpose in life.

How Do I Read God’s Word?

Before thinking about study plans or anything like that, let’s talk about the mindset that we have coming into reading God’s word. Do you expect to talk to God about what you’re reading, or do you just read what’s on the page and move on? Do you expect to find treasures that will help and support you through the day, or is it just a task to get through? Expecting to get value from reading the Bible will make a huge difference in what you take out of it.

The most important part of our approach should involve talking to God about what we’re reading. If we don’t feel like we can be open with Him about it, it can stifle our ability to learn from the passage or hear what He’s teaching us. It might be easy to talk to Him about passages we like or our favorite verses. But, what about passages we don’t like? What about passages we don’t understand? Are we just as likely to go to Him and talk to him about those?

One temptation that many of us fall into is the idea that we have to either understand or love every passage that we read. There are passages that I read that I don’t love. There are stories that I wonder about and struggle through. I don’t feel bad about that; I acknowledge it to God and we talk about it. Just because I don’t understand it or like it doesn’t change that it’s scripture and that it’s good for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16).

If there’s something I struggle with, I talk to God about it. In some cases, He’s opened my understanding to see what amazing truths there are to apply to my life. Other times, I leave it with a prayer for understanding and trust that His plan for His word is beyond me and good for all of humankind. That’s OK, too.

Worse than pretending we understand or that we  like a passage is our tendency to ignore what we don’t understand. We quote what we know and stand behind what we understand and we don’t try to include anything other than that. All of God’s word is valuable for us. Yes, all of it. Maybe not in the same way, but we can’t ignore what we don’t understand. Trying to work through difficult passages is important to deepening our relationship with the Lord, no matter how difficult it can feel at times.

Reading the scriptures for ourselves is vital. It is so easy to fall into the habit of letting someone else do the work of digging into the scriptures and telling us how it is. There are many amazing teachers and preachers who are very good at this and bring amazing insight into God’s word. We need to be able to have a handle on what the Bible teaches for ourselves. The more you lean on someone else’s insight, the more of a copy of them you become. That may be a good thing in that they are a good starting point, but we are trying to be made into the image of God, not the image of your favorite Bible teacher.

Keep the power of the Word of God close by, doing your own reading of it. Talk to God about it and find your own understanding. Then, the insights brought by others’ teaching will confirm, support and build up the understanding God is working in your heart.

What Is God’s Word?

The Bible is the defining handbook of Christianity. Others may say that they are Christians without believing the Bible, but that is a strange argument. If you don’t agree with the foundational ideas of the book, why do you claim affiliation with it? For many, not all, but many, it’s so they can find all the good and beneficial things and ignore anything they don’t like or find offensive. That’s not really believing the Bible, though. That’s believing yourself and collecting things which agree with you, including a few things from the Bible. It can be difficult to believe in the Bible, especially in today’s doubt filled days.

Let’s start off by defining what we mean when we say “Do you believe in the Bible?” When we say, “Do you believe in Santa Clause?”, we’re asking if you expect to find a jolly man in a red suit living way north in the cold making toys. We’re asking if you believe Santa exists. However, that doesn’t make sense when we think about whether or not we believe in the Bible. Of course it exists. What we’re really asking when we ask about the Bible is, “Do you accept that this is from God and should be used to influence your choices?”

Breaking that question down, it consists of two things: is it from God and should we live by it? The first question is really one of faith. You can use evidence from archaeology or study the prophecies, or any other intellectual pursuit to try to parse out the book. However, in the end, it all boils down to one question, a faith question: Do you believe this book is God’s guidance to us? You have to choose whether or not you think it’s a divinely inspired book of writing or a trumped up book of history.

The second part of the question is whether or not you believe that the Bible should influence you. It’s good to know if you believe it’s from God, but that’s only half the equation. The next piece is are you willing to change based on what you read there? If not, what have you gained by reading it? You may have more understanding about history or religions as a result, but have you changed as a person? If not, then how is that different than any other historical book?

I would challenge you that authentic Christianity that pursues the truth of God must be changed by the Bible. If you are the same person today that you were before you started studying the Bible, then I would question the depth of your walk, or, if nothing else, the level of understanding. That may sound harsh, but the Bible claims to have life-altering powers if you connect with God. That’s a powerful statement.

If you have read the Bible and say that nothing life-altering happened from it, I return with this: Did you believe it to be the divine word of God, or did you just curiously look at what it said? Take this situation to God and ask Him about it. Expect that He will teach you about His word and how to live it. God is there and real and will help teach you about His Word and its truth.

What Is God?

As suburban American living on the edge of the Bible belt, I find the idea of God so communal that it often goes without deep evaluation. I don’t often take time to think about the basic essence of what God is, but sometimes reviewing our beliefs can be a refreshing way to focus on God.

God Is a Spirit

The Bible says in John 4:24 that God is spirit. God, while he created humanity, is outside of humanity. This doesn’t mean entirely separate from humanity, however, as we are connected to Him. We are flesh, something God became when Jesus came to earth (John 1:14), but we are also spirit and we can connect with Him in that way. Romans 8:16 talks about God’s spirit “bearing witness” that we are His children, or, said another way, God’s spirit is sharing with our spirit to convince us of His truth about us.

God Is a Voice

The idea of God speaking to us today is a bit of a contentious point. Some people teach that there is no way to hear the Lord except through His Word. I do not see this as true or scriptural. God says over and over in His word that He will speak with us, that we have the mind of Christ, even (Isaiah 30:21, 1 Corinthians 2:16).

In addition to God speaking to our heart and mind, God also speaks to us through His Word. It is the standard for all other teachings that we receive and it is the guide for us in this crazy world of too many words. Just because it is the standard bearer for our listening doesn’t mean that God will not speak to your heart to help you understand.

Listening for the Lord is important. Our ability to listen and connect is the power source for our relationship with the Lord. You can have all the pieces for a computer, but unless the power is turned on, it doesn’t help you much. God wants to connect with you and teach you through His Spirit, but you must be listening and willing to hear.

God Is an Emotional Connection/Support

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is the part of God that guides, comforts, and teaches us (John 14:26). We have God with us at all times to give us the knowledge and comfort that we need to make it through our day. People can be up and down, available one day and disappearing the next. God, however, is always there and willing to help us as we emotionally and mental go through our lives.

It is easy to get caught up the “God-ness” of our religious rituals or our buildings. But God is not defined by the external aspects of our Christianity. He is a very real presence and being aware of Him is vital for our personal Christian walk. Being aware of what God is can remind us of how we connect with Him and how important it is to take time to refresh our awareness of Him.

Who is God?

I am God. I am from the beginning and to the end. I am Alpha and Omega. I know all and can be known by all. Come to me and learn.

Today, we hear so much about spirituality and various religions that it can all be confusing. We have different names for if you think we can know if God exists, agnostic, or if you actually don’t think He exists, atheist. On a global level we hear about so many different religions beyond Christianity that claim a god or gods. Where do we start in understanding the Christian idea of God?

There are three points that come under consideration when talking about who God is. Your thoughts and beliefs about these three point define your view not only of God and faith, but also your perspective on the world and often of other people. These three points are:

  • God Exists
  • God’s Nature
  • God Is Involved

God Exists

In order to continue this discussion, the first point that must be settled is that God exists. I believe that God exists and that impacts all the following beliefs that I have. Many of you will have settled this in your mind, but perhaps some of you haven’t. In addition, you never know when you will encounter someone who hasn’t settled this. I promise, no good comes out of a religious debate where halfway through you realize the other person hasn’t firmly settled on their belief in God’s existence.

I live in the Bible belt, or at least on the edge of it, so I do not often encounter many people who do not believe in the existence of God. The next two points, however, are more likely to be up for debate: God’s nature and God’s involvement.

God’s Nature

The Bible says that God is good and kind and loving, among other things. He demands justice, but is merciful. He is all-powerful, but gives choice to people. These kind of nature questions can be difficult to work through, and some we spend the rest of our lives understanding. One common question is, “If God is good, how can he allow bad things to happen to people who follow him?” It’s a difficult question, and one that I won’t dig into right now.

What I do think needs to be settled in our minds is this: we must choose to believe that God’s nature is how the Bible describes it, no matter our own personal feelings or our circumstances. The Bible says that God is good, therefore He is. We may not understand many things that happen to people in our world or to us. However, if we base our view of God’s nature on what we see, our view of Him will shift each time our world does.

God is bigger than everything around us. I choose to remember that He is the creator and not the created. I choose to believe that God is who He says He is in His Word. I don’t claim to understand everything or have all the answers for who He is, but when I find a truth in His word about who He is, I will keep that close and pray about all the things that I don’t understand.

God Is Involved

The final piece is God’s involvement. This again is a simple question with a complicated answer. Many teach that the entirety of creation is like a giant clock, all winding down slowly from the moment of creation with an inevitable outcome and a God that is far off, trusting His machine to do all the work.

I don’t take that view. The fact that we have a Bible, that Jesus came to die for us, that today teachers of the Bible come to help us live closer to Him all convinces me that God wants us to be involved with Him and with each other. I believe in God’s involvement in my life and in the world. I believe in His word being alive to me to help me be transformed to be like Him.

These three points are the foundational point for knowing God. You must settle in your mind where you are on these questions or other beliefs down the road might sink into spiritual quicksand instead of bolstering you up and supporting you. For example, it can be difficult to trust the goodness of God in hard circumstances if you aren’t fully convinced of His goodness.

These beliefs are deeply rooted in our walk with God. As we go daily with Him, we may find holes in these beliefs can bubble up and cause doubt and dismay in what we see in the world around us. Placing these beliefs before Him and choosing to find what the Word says about who God is can set our spiritual feet on solid ground to be able to move through our lives with confidence and surety.