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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Making Decisions Part 1

What should we do when we have a tough decision to make?  We may have to decide whether or not to take a certain career path.  Or we have to think about what school program to join.  Or we have to choose between doing the right thing or the wrong thing when life challenges us.

Now, before I proceed with the thoughts for this post, I must confess something.  I have adapted this post from notes that I had written in the back pages of my Bible.  However, I did not note the source; I believe that I had written these notes down while I was watching a sermon on YouTube, but I am not sure of the exact one.  I apologize for this!

But having said that, what should we think about when we are facing a hard choice?  Here are some tips that I hope we will all take into account and apply:

1.  Clear the pathway of sin or bad attitudes
In my life, I have noticed that when I come across a trial or difficulty, my sinful thoughts and selfishness are often brought into my view.  Sometimes a friend or relative will notice my fault and mention it.  I may be reading a Bible passage and what I am reading strikes me, prompting me to say "This warning is about me!"  Or I may just be going about my business and suddenly a thought comes into my head saying "You have forgotten this Biblical idea" or "You need to repent of your attitude in this area, Christian."  Listening to this kind of spiritual prompting is essential to the Christian life, because our faith is a journey of constant growth, and not simply the result of a one-time conversion. 

May our attitudes be like that shown in Psalm 139:24: "See if there is any wicked [some translations may say "hurtful" - makes sense, as many times our attitudes can hurt others even when we don't even realize it] way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  Big decisions often require at least some introspection, and this introspection may lead us to realize that we must change our ways in order to better please God.  A friend of mine has told me that we all need these moments.  She even seeks out this conviction and asks God for it.  This courageous attitude of hers is a good one, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5)

2. Neutralize your desires
I see nothing wrong with asking God for anything you desire, of course, as long as your desires are not evil and you are asking with the right motives.  (Side note: if you are struggling with evil desires and impure motives, feel free to ask God for help with these in prayer!)  When it comes to decision making, I think you are perfectly within your right to say to the Lord, "Okay, God, this is what I want to do.  I want to do this thing very badly, and I believe it would be a good thing to do."  But please don't forget to have the attitude that also says, "Thy will be done, Lord.  You know better than I, and I can trust You."  Submit to the will of God, and ask God to give you peace about whatever result comes your way.

3. Be aware of pressure
In one of our recent talks at CBT, we discussed the issue of peer pressure - what happens when your peers want you to do something or even perhaps live their lives through you.  Some peer pressure can be good, prompting you to do something good that you didn't want to do out of fear, pride, etc.  But peer pressure can be harmful, too.  Others will have their own views on a particular issue in your life or they will try to tell you what decision you must make.  They will "know" what you must do, and sometimes they may even say that God is "telling you" through them!  Please, do not use my words as an excuse to ignore the advice or input of others.  After all, "Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed." (Proverbs 15:22)  All I am saying is that another's opinion is not necessarily right.  If something is right, it is right because it is right, and not because others believe it to be true.  Certainly, be willing to listen to others with an open mind and heart.  Sometimes their views may confirm that your plan is correct!  But remember to keep God at the centre of your decision making.  In the end, your choices are between you and Him, and He is the One you must ultimately please, even if other people will disagree.

And you must beware internal pressures, as well.  Our choices may be influenced by so much within our own active, confused, human minds.  Fear can be a big motivator for a certain choice.  This could be the fear of loss, rejection, or criticism.  Anxiety is another factor; this is one I struggle with oftentimes.  When faced with a big decision, naturally-born analysts like myself will try to place choices onto mental Pro/Con charts.  We become like Public Relations staff, analyzing every facet of a decision from every possible angle.  "What will these people think of this?  How will this look?  Are we really making this decision with the right motives?  Are we REALLY pure-hearted when we do this?"  Our intended action may very well be right.  And our motives may very well be pure!  But the anxious thoughts I've just listed can torment us until we finally make our decision.  Not only can this make us dread big choices, but fear and stress can also cloud our judgment.  Remember this: "Cast all your anxiety on Him [God], because He cares for You." (James 5:7)  And "Peace I [Jesus is speaking here] leave with you; my peace I give to you. ....  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." (John 14:27)

So be careful and selective of whom you listen to.  Try not to stress about your decision.  And ask God for wisdom and peace, and don't constantly fall back into doubt and overthinking when you've made the right choice (James 1:5-8).

4. Be persistent in prayer
A few months ago I posted a snippet from a website about this very subject.  Read it here.  Remember what I have also said throughout this post about praying to God and asking Him for help.  If you do not get an answer right away to your problem, keep praying!  I've had to wait many times for answers to prayers for things very important to me.  Sometimes I only had to wait a few days.  But other times I had to wait for months.  And some answers I have been waiting for for YEARS and they still haven't come yet!  Do I get discouraged sometimes?  Of course, yes.

But this does not mean that God is not listening.  Throughout my times of waiting for answers, I have learned many lessons about myself and grown (including trying not to be so worrisome, as described in Point #3!).  The time of waiting can be a time of conviction and growth; don't waste it.  Keep praying through it because in these times God is shaping us up to become better Christians.  Let God work with you.  And you know, He may just be shaping you and working the circumstances to bring your desired answer to pass!  All it took was a little time and some patience, faith, and prayer on your part.  I have seen this happen in my life a number of times, and these kind of answers to prayer encourage me when I encounter difficulties later.

What does this have to do with decision making?  Very rarely are big decisions made clear right away.  So if you have been praying for months asking God, "What should I do with this?  How should I approach this?"  Don't worry if your plan of action isn't made clear right away.  Keep praying.

5. Rest in God's promise
Read the Bible regularly when you have inner turmoil.  Of course, you've heard this before, and I'm sure that you have applied this principle many times.  But it is worth repeating.  Remind yourself through the Word how God loves you, He wants to use your times of hardship to help you grow, and He will help you if you ask Him and keep His will in mind.

Whatever decisions you have to make in life, God be with you!  We are in your corner, and may you always go to the Lord for your answers to life's tough choices.

~ Christian Basar

"Be doers of the word and not hearers only"

James 1:22-25:
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves, For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;
for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does."

What does it mean to “deceive yourselves?”  Think of someone observing his natural face in the mirror. Have you ever noticed something on your face when you look at the mirror - maybe something in your teeth, or maybe your hair is not properly combed, or maybe you have something around your eyes, such as a speck of dust?  What do you do in that case? Do you deal with it right away or do you say to yourself, "Oh, I’m going to deal with that sometime later?"

What does it mean to be a “forgetful hearer?”
A doer of the word is expected to do something - to keep the commandments of the word.
James is, of course, talking about the Word of God.  Jesus Himself had expressed the same thought in Matthew 7:21 and 24. The emphasis is to act upon the knowledge and the power of the word. But how do we do this doing?

The first step is to get to know the Word.
When Apostle Paul was teaching the Bereans they were more noble than the ones in
Thessalonica, because in Acts 17:11-12 we read:

These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness,and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.  Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

So the searching or the studying of the Scriptures produced belief in these people; it helped them to be doers of the Word. As we know from Romans 10:17:  So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

The second step is to start doing what the Word says.
The Lord’s commands are not difficult. In Matthew 11:28-30, we read:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for
your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Jesus also commanded us in John 14:15: If you love me, keep my commandments.

How do we keep Jesus’ commandments?  Where do we start?  We start with those things that we do understand - those that are easier to discern and then we move to the hardest things. As Peter says in 1 Peter 2:2: Desire the spiritual milk...

There are some truths in the Bible that are easier to understand. What are some of
those? For example, Jesus is Lord and God (John 20:28).  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind." (Matthew 22:37).

We need to have a system in place for reading/studying the Word and for doing what
the Word says. In the same way that we have set a time aside in our day for other
activities (eating breakfast, taking the bus or driving to school or work, watching TV or
entertaining ourselves), we also need to set aside a time for studying the Scriptures and
for doing them into our life.

Acts 20:32: So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is
able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

The Word of God is able to build us up – what does this mean?  Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalms 119:11: I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

We need to learn and study the Word, so that we can be doers of the Word and not
hearers only.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Question: "What is the Difference between the Soul and Spirit of Man?"

We do know that we have the body (we can see it) and God created Adam’s body.  Then
God breathed into Adam and he became a living being.  Genesis 2:7:   And the Lord God
formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living being.

The soul and the spirit are immaterial aspects of humans.  It is difficult to describe the differences between them.

1 Thessalonians 5:23: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God
your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ."

The Soul
"Soul" refers to the immaterial part of the human being.  Human beings are souls. In its most basic sense, the word “soul” means “life” or a breathing creature, either in the physical or the eternal sense of the word. Jesus asks what it profits a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul, referring to
his eternal life (Matthew 16:26).  Both the Old and New Testaments reiterate that we are to love God completely, with the whole soul, which refers to everything that is in us that makes us alive (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Mark 12:30).

Ezekiel 18:20 further states, "The soul who sins shall die."

However, beyond this essential meaning, the Bible speaks of the soul in many contexts. The soul is removed at the time of physical death (Genesis 35:18). The soul, as with the spirit, is the center of many spiritual and emotional experiences (Psalm 43:5). Whenever the word “soul” is used, it can refer to the whole person, whether alive or in the afterlife. The soul and the spirit are connected, but separable (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is the essence of humanity’s being; it is who we are. Think of a computer – hardware is the body, and software is the soul.

The Spirit
"Spirit" also refers to the immaterial part of the human being.  Human beings have spirits, but we are not spirits.  Only believers are considered spiritually alive (1 Corinthians 2:11; Hebrews 4:12; James
2:26), while unbelievers are spiritually dead (Colossians 2:13). We receive spiritual blessings when we are in Christ - when we are believers (Ephesians 1:3).  The spirit is the element of humanity which gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God; it’s that part of our humanity that “connects” with God, because God is spirit (John 4:24).  It is the part that responds to things that come from the Spirit of God (Holy Spirit or capital “S” Spirit in the Bible).  Unlike the soul, which is alive both physically and eternally, the spirit can be either alive, as in the case of believers, (1 Peter 3:18), or dead as unbelievers are (Colossians 2:13; Ephesians 2:4-5).

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

What does this mean?  How do we feed our spirit?

1 Peter 2:2: like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you
may grow in respect to salvation....

The spiritually dead perceive the things of the Spirit to be "foolishness," because, in their spiritually dead condition, they do not have the ability to discern the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-14). The spirit is that part of us that is enabled by God to know and worship Him, the part of humanity that "connects" with God, who Himself is Spirit (note again the capital "S") (John 4:24).  How can we connect spiritually with God? How do we not do that?

While the two words are often used interchangeably, the primary distinction between soul and spirit in man is this:  The soul is the animate life, or the seat of the senses, desires, affections, and appetites.  The spirit is that part of us that connects, or refuses to connect, to God.  Our spirits relate to His Spirit, either accepting His promptings and conviction, thereby proving that we belong to Him (Romans 8:16) or resisting Him and proving that we do not have spiritual life (Acts 7:51).

Discussion Questions
How can this concept affect our life?
How do we keep our spirit pure?
What about our soul?