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Thursday, January 19, 2006

E-mails from a philosopher: Part IV

Dearest Gnu,

I thought I was going to remain quiet longer, but I shouldn't, I need to now tell you that your prayers, and mine of course, have been answered. I have accepted Jesus into my life. I don't know the exact and proper words to describe this, but, in essence, I now believe, and it gives me joy and such strong hope.

As I read through Matthew before, my feelings were growing stronger and it all was making sense to me. I was trying to refrain myself, afraid that in such an important matter, a quick decision would necessarily amount to a hasty decision. Like you said though, it ended up being a matter of desire-fulfillment rather than decision. I'll tell you what happened.

Mr. Smith and I were watching TV. (What a lame beginning for such a beautiful story..?). In one very brief scene, one of the characters were inside a church. As soon as I looked at the altar, I wanted to be there, right then, right there, make the sign of the cross, and let my self be watched over by God from now on. (Three times before in my life, when I was at the church, I had felt the desire to make the sign of the cross, without even quite understanding what this means. Those were the beginnings of the strange process which, finally, brought me to ask for your guidance. But last night it was much clearer to me.) To mix lots of metaphors, I wanted to join, I wanted to give myself up. My desire was similar to, for example, having walked on hot sand at the beach, the bottom of your feet burning, you are filled with the anticipation of the coolness of the sea. You can't/won't resist, you will just go put your feet in the water. Knowing how it will feel you already feel some joy of anticipation, even as your feet are burning more and more. Such was my desire to no longer be without God.

Soon afterwards, I was reading the Bible again. At one point, "Thank You God, if there is God" I said. I immediately noticed that I felt no need for the antecendent anymore. I thanked Him again, and again. I felt it again. I felt Him. I had to close my eyes. Then between my eyelids my eyes caught my Dad’s picture, on my wall, which, since his death, has always made me sad. Then, I had another experience as of conversing with God. He told me that He took my dad to be at peace with him for he was so innocent and suffering needlessly. He told me that my dad is with him and at peace. I wanted to kiss His hands.

I had to pause once to smoke a cigarette. The thought occurred to me that I could, with the help of Jesus, quit right then, before I took a second drag. But I was also weak and I thought that it could also wait. "Why trouble myself with this right now?" I thought. Then I kept on thinking about the night's events. First I remembered how I used to not understand at all why Christians worship Jesus. I used to think that if I ever became a believer, I would believe in God and honour Jesus best I can but I would never ever worship a man. But last night while reading it was clear to me (as anything in these matters can ever be, to me) that Jesus is God in human form. God had come to us Himself -as a man of course, how else? How could anyone hear God’s voice but for it to sound like a man’s voice?- As soon as I thought this the words formed in my head: "I love Jesus and I want to follow him."

Then I began to dream of the days ahead of me as I follow Him. I got carried away, excited. I then thought that I was getting ahead of myself. For surely there had to be tests I would have to pass. I had never thought of tests before. I was scared. All of a sudden I knew (as much as I can) that the thought that had occurred to me about quitting to smoke with Jesus’ help was the beginning of a test. Not a test of strong will, but a test of whether I would trust Him to stand by me and help me resist temptation. At once I put out my cigarette which was almost finished anyway. I noticed how weak I was, sinning so very easily. I had thought it would be so hard to quit. But I later I noticed that that is the test--I ought not think that such a thing is hard, for with His help it is not. I only need to trust and not fear, like He said. I at once washed my mouth and prayed that I quit with His help and prayed that I would not stop trusting His power. I know that if I have a craving it is because I stopped trusting and I hope that in all my weakness Jesus will see through that I never stop trusting Him.

Then later last night I went to bed. I told Mr. Smith about it all. Then I slept through my first night as a believer. When I woke up, I was still full of joy and hope. It is now about 6:30 pm. I have been reading Luke today. I haven't smoked.

I will read like you advised.

You said "I hate even giving the impression of putting anybody under any kind of pressure..." That's not my impression at all. In your words I see a helping hand. I know that if God didn't want me to get that help I would not see that hand at all.

"...but I would feel remiss in my duties having come so far if I had not at least brought some basic outlines to you attention. But havng done that, I won't develop this further unless you want to do so. "I had only meant that I should be quiet myself, for some time, to think things through. As it turns, it was not going to take as long as I thought. (Such a thirst, over years and years...)

I want to be baptized.

I want to decide which church to join. Can I please come with you next time you go to your church? Even if I will end up joining a Catholic church, right now I want to go with you, if you don't mind.

Thank you for your wisdom, your love, your friendship, and your prayers. Thank you for your help. I can't wait to hear from you again. I am filled with so much joy; a celebration is going in me.

With much love,

Mrs. Smith

Mrs. Smith,

>Oh Wow! You just don't know how, even as I have struggled with doubts and problems here, that I have often prayed for you and all the other grad students that I have gotten to know that perhaps you and they might come to know that particular joy that you're feeling right now. How i have struggled to give no ground of offense to Christ and how I have chastened my self- for all my inconsistencies and foolish mistakes for fear of doing anything that would put a useless block in the way between you all and him. I have been grateful for finally being allowed to slip a word to some who have left us now and have kept my eyes pealed for some appropriate opportunity to say or do something to make known that good news to at least some of you. But no one could really understand how I felt about it until they felt what you are feeling, so I struggled to curb my enthusiasm.

>Welcome to the family of God. You have become a sister as well as a friend. At this point you are enjoying what we have come to call the "honeymoon" phase, a period when it seems that God grants an overflowing sense of Himself and the joy of Christ to encourage newChristians at the beginning of there Christian lives before they are challenged by all the difficulties that Christ warned us would come to pass. You have already experienced how this has powerfully effective implications for dealing with our own sinful or sin-tending behaviors. Among the best things to do during this time is to put all that new motivation to work in establishing habits that will assure continual spiritual growth in the future.

>Let my give you some things for starters so you can get started right away.

>PRAYER: Prayer is talking to God whether verbally, mentally, or just by projecting your most profound and inarticulate feelings into his care. Prayer includes praise and adoration of God, personal confession of sin and weakness before God, gratitude and thanksgiving to and for God, and supplication for self and intercession for others offered to God (Remember "ACTS" -- Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Prayer also involves an act of recumbancy, of wholly rolling your self on the "shoulders" of God as were, so even when you have nothing to say you maintain an attitude of focused dependence and contemplation. The Lord's prayer in the Sermon on the Mount is meant to be a model and guide to prayer. If you can. try to establish a regular time of prayer that works for you (2x, 3x, or so a day is suggested).

> BIBLE STUDY: Try to read the Bible some everyday making sure to include something from the New Testament and a psalm as you begin your Christian life. I guess I don't have to say much about careful reading to you, but read in a devotional spirit expecting to be strengthened, enlightened, nourished and refreshed. Don't be surprised if you aren't also confronted and convicted but be willing to be receptive to that. God will not condemn anymore like a judge, but He will chasten like a father. The upside of that is that he only reserves such chastening for His children and none of his children will be plucked from His hand. If you don't know what i am talking about -- don't worry, you will. Bible study will begin more and more to rule and direct your prayer life. Lex credendi, lex orendi; "As we believe, so we worship".

>CORPORATE WORSHIP: Go to regular worship were the congregation is relatively healthy and growing to maturity and go to worship, confess your sinfulness (No we don't sit in a circle and have each one state there individual faults in public -- but we confess together our general need for forgiveness for daily transgressions), praise through music and singing in community, listen to the exposition of Scripture as God's word to us for now, give thanks in prayer and offerings, observe and receive the sacraments as means of God's grace. Basically, God has made provisions for the worship of Himself through his word (A Socratic point - "How do we avoid presumption against the gods unless the gods tell us how to worship them?")

>FELLOWSHIP: Being in fellowship with Christians is more than just spending time together, it is also bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging, teaching, laughing and crying with, exhorting, admonishing, forgiving, etc. etc. one another (just to pick a handful of typical biblical exhortations) as members of the same family and kingdom. Try to make some time for Christian fellowship beyond church attendance. (There is a Christian graduate student fellowship on campus -- "Graduate Christian Fellowship" a branch of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at SU. There is also the Albrandi Christian (Catholic) Student center on Walnut.) Under this is also the discipline of reading good Christian literature. I suggest the book "Knowing God" by James Packer and "The Pursuit of Holiness" by AW Tozer for starters, but one need not be confines to works of the last century.

>RECEIVE THE SACRAMENTS: Baptism is the uniform day of the Christian when she receives the identifying outward mark of belonging to the Community of Christ and also the sure seal of of the promises of God. It is also, in connection to the word, a means of grace and an assurance of God's faithfulness to you. The Lord's Supper is a regular remembrance of Christ’s death. We operationalize our faith in the finished work of Christ and make it visible to our sense when we take the supper in a conscious spirit of trust and repentance. By God's convention, the accomplishment of Christ on the Cross is made real to ourselves as the elements are made visible to our senses. There is a warning attached to observance of this sacrament, namely God is not indifferent to a reckless observance of it. If there be other sacraments, I'll leave that for you to decide.

>"MORTIFICATION" (putting sin to death in yourself): Begin to deal with your sin, both as expressions of sinfulness and as particular sins. This is hard but we all struggle with this. The book of Romans deals with these issues most straight forwardly. You will probably notice that what happens is that you realize the profundity of your sin more and more -- its worse than you first thought. But this shows that the Holy Spirit is at work deepening your walk in new holiness. BEARING WITNESS: Be prepared to be a signpost for others to Christ, to share what has been shared with you as God gives you appropriate opportunity.

>For more on spiritual discipline, see Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline.

>Remember, that according to the book, you now have received the Holy Spirit of God and that God's Spirit dwells in you if in a temple. This is God's "down payment" on eternal life, and is the source of all encouragement and guidance and comfort. By His influence, you are being assured that you receive the truth in God's word correctly and effectively and by his presense you have security in your relationship with God. It is possible to grieve the Spirit through backsliding and to quench the Spirit through a lack of faith but He will not allow that for long and recall you to your first love again. You are welcome to come to my church. . . .

>My church is . . . conservative, but that does not man wearing that stately gown of yours. But my advice is that, if you can, you should defer to Mr. Smith as much as possible and encourage him to make an input and go with it. The reason is to encourage him even though he is yet not where you are that none the less he is still your helpmeet and husband. Faith can be a strong tonic and can lead to profound and severe difficulties within the family later, especially when children come along. People tend to underestimate the significance of religious differences, even between themselves. Mr. Smith should come to think that turning your heart to Christ has meant that your heart has turned to Mr. Smith even more, not less. I don't think I really need so much to tell you this but just as a reminder, surprise Mr. Smith with the amount of say he can have in your religious experience and see it as an opportunity to build new connections with each other. That may mean getting started in a Catholic Church . . . (Mr. Smith’s own family is Catholic, although at the time Mr. Smith was a skeptic. – The Gnu).

>Finally, though your joy would almost have you burst out at times, be circumspect in disclosing your new found faith to others, including to other Christians in the department. There is a terrible process that I went through when I first became a Christian and it has counterparts in the experience of others. I did not come from a Christian home and when my family found out I had excepted Christ, it was extremely hard for them to accept and it took along time. The difficulty surprised even themselves (No one expects this to happen to someone you know -- that happens to other people). They had to go through something like a Kubla-Ross series of stages (denial, anger, bargaining, grief, acceptance) and it took time. I had all kinds of awful things said to me and there was a lot of tension. Something similar happened to . . . (a) former professor of textual studies and queer theory at SU English department. She was a scholar-activist in the Syracuse Gay and Lesbian Community when in the course of doing research on the Promise Keeper movement, she came to know my then pastor and began a relationship to find out more about it. After spending a lot of quality time with our church, she gave up her lesbian lifestyle and become a Christian. This sent a shock wave through the English department who felt singularly betrayed as well as the gay community. Her department would speak of the "(professor’s name) Problem" at meetings even when she was attending. She finally found a better job and life leaving to teach at a small Christian liberal arts college.

>Your testimony will be a great encouragement to other Christians -- who will tend to want to "show you off" and make things unnecessarily more unpleasant (the Bob Dylan Effect) -- so be careful even telling them. Time is your friend here. Eventually if you go through some stress and tension it will pass into quiet blank stares eventually. I don't know how frightening it can be for a new born Christian grad student, but perhaps not as bad as an ex-queer feminist faculty member. You can talk to me if things get rough. I usually walk to church. Church starts at 9:30 on Sunday and we usually go out to eat afterwards. We're not home until about 2 or 3 o'clock but we can accomodate to your schedule. If you still would like to go (Maybe Mr. Smith will be curious enough to see how the religious nuts live and come also) you can pick me up at 9:15 at my place and I will give you directions to it. But let me know first by replying to this. Once again, your posts have been very encouraging to me and I am delighted that your are experiencing the joy of Christ. Praise the Lord! In Him, The Gnu

>The exchange concludes here.

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