Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Person God Uses

Have you ever wanted to be used by God?

I believe it is a God-given desire to want to serve the Lord. But maybe you've wondered what qualifications the Lord looks for in the life of a man or woman that He would use. In the Book of Joshua, we can find at least seven principles that apply to the person God uses.

Principle one: God uses people who realize they are weak. In Joshua 1, God told Joshua to "be strong and courageous" a total of three times in four verses. Why? It was probably because He knew Joshua was afraid—and understandably so.

Moses was gone. Now God had raised up Joshua to lead the people of Israel, and he hardly felt adequate for the task.

It isn't a bad thing to discover that we are weak. In fact, it is quite good. As Warren Wiersbe has said, "You can never be too small for God to use—only too big."

Principle two: God uses people who are faithful. Joshua had been Moses' helper, or as the New King James Version puts it, "Moses' assistant" (see Joshua 1:1). Joshua was the guy who was there to help Moses get the job done.

He had been born in Egypt and, along with Caleb, would be the only Israelite from the great exodus to survive the wilderness wandering and make it into the Promised Land. Joshua was a faithful man and a worthy successor to Moses.

Principle three: God uses people who study and live by His Word. God told Joshua, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night . . . " (1:8 NKJV). If you want to be used by God, then you need to know the Word of God. "Meditate in it day and night," God said to Joshua.

The word meditate means, "to ponder, to consider, to contemplate." This is where you will have the authority when you are used by God.

Principle four: God uses the person who is patient and waits on His timing. Imagine wandering around the wilderness for 40 years, and finally you are on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Then God says, "Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, 'Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land . . . ' " (1:11 NKJV).

We need to learn to wait on God's timing, because there is a time and a way to do what God calls us to do.

Principle five: God uses the person who cares about lost souls. There was a lost soul to be saved before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, and her name was Rahab. God would not judge Jericho until Rahab had been reached and told what to do to avoid this judgment that was coming when the Israelites attacked.

God's heart always is to save people. Every soul is precious to Him. God always cares about individuals, and so should we.

Principle six: God uses the person who sets himself or herself apart. Joshua told the people, "Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you" (3:5 NKJV). The word sanctify means, "to set yourself apart, to live a holy life."

It comes down to this: if you want to be used by God, then you will want to live a life that is right before Him. You don't need to be perfect. But you need to be someone who is attempting to live a godly life.

Principle seven: God uses the person who knows how to work with others. A good leader will communicate with and encourage the people with whom he or she works.

That is what Joshua did. He called the people together and encouraged them. They were about to undertake a very difficult task. It was going to take faith. He was saying to the people, "Hear what God is saying to you, and let's move forward."

Joshua was communicating with the people he was leading, and he was encouraging them. If you want to be used by God, then this is what you need to do.

The Bible says, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" (2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV). Will you be that person He can use?

Pastor Greg Laurie

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

But God's love for us never changes.

I’ve known people who appeared to be in an impossible situation. A few years later, however, they were in a terrific place, either in terms of their circumstances or their emotions. The reason? They never gave up. Instead of sulking in self-pity, they chose to believe God, step out in faith, and climb out of the emotional pit. Sometimes nothing can lift our hearts like the love of God. Friends abandon us. Colleagues try to bypass us. Even our families may fail to understand us. But God's love for us never changes.

About 20 years ago I met a girl at my work. She was introduced by my friend. I had a brief conversation with Major Naidu, her Father over the phone. She had some problems with her parents because she is a Rank organization member. Ayn Rand and her organization is well known by most people who are atheists. I remember her last name as Naidu .She was totally carried away by the ideologies she was exposed to. She is an atheist to the core and nobody is going to change that. She carried a book ‘Fountainhead’ and she used to quote from that. So I was not aware of the book, nor ever read any of the books of the Rand Network.I started a conversation with her and with almost more than one hour we were not having any fruitful conversation.

I called my friend who is an excellent counselor and explained the situation to her. She told me to send her and she will talk to her. So she had spent about 5 hours with her. Finally she gave up because Ayn Rand’s worldview is a single track philosophy. They think by reading certain quotes from her books they have achieved something. No one can talk as good as them. Unfortunately they are atheists.You cannot have a fruitful discussion about God. If you want this translated into Ayn Rand's philosophical and simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.

Even when we act unlovable, God continues to love us. When we are undesirable, He embraces us. When it seems that the world has turned against us, God's love remains. He has promised never to leave us hopeless.

If you have done your job instilling values in your kids in the earlier years, they already know when they’re doing wrong as teenagers. You don’t have to tell them again and again and again. That badgering will wear out your welcome in their increasingly independent life. They are already struggling with feelings of guilt and confusion, so they need a positive, encouraging voice in those teaching moments.

Please note that I’m not saying you should approve of what they’re doing or forsake your role as a parent. What’s right and wrong doesn’t change, and consequences still need to be applied. What I am suggesting is that you maintain your relationship in such times in a way that you will be able to continue to speak truth into their heart and be heard. Start by talking through various options that were available to them, until they can identify for themselves what would have been a better course of action. This process promotes independence and good decision making skills.

Allow Independence to Grow…

It’s common to hear a teen say, “I don’t need you anymore. I can do it on my own.” There’s something in the heart of parents that doesn’t want to hear those words (sometimes delivered in a loud and angry tone), but those are good words. They show a drive for independence that your child will need to launch into life on his own. Now, in reality you and I both know that if you shut off the electricity to his room he’d find out real quick that he does still need you, but don’t let those words drive a wedge between you.

Instead accept those words for what they are and work to find ways to promote independence. Along with their desire to be independent in their decisions, make them responsible for their own daily life, like getting out of bed in the morning, managing their own finances, and getting a job for a few hours a week. This is a great way to show them the responsibility that goes along with being independent. There’s a difference between struggles in the home that occur due to outright rebellion and those due to hormones and the normal growing process. A rebellious teen will end a fight with a slammed door and a feeling of satisfaction. A teen who is trying to process a changing world and find her place in it is more likely to show up with an apology a few minutes later (or at least act apologetic). Full blown rebellion is an intentional rejection of parents and their values—a deeper hatred for the parents and their values–and it’s actually pretty rare.

If we respond to the hard times and struggles our teens are having as if they are rebelling, we run the risk of alienating them and damaging our relationship at the time they need it most. I encourage you to try to get beyond the surface to understand exactly what you’re dealing with…and remember the transfer to independence that’s underway throughout the process.

In Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

Colossians 2:9-10
New International Version


So, of course, do the Bible and Christian tradition. Unlike the heroes of Rand, the Bible rarely portrays its chief characters as relentlessly good. Abraham tried to pass off Sarah as his sister. David committed adultery and murdered his rival. Peter is coward and rock, thoughtful evangelist and impulsive motor mouth. Paul's teaching provides for all time the essential infrastructure of our Christology, but his temper (to take one example) bursts out of his writings with disturbing power. Yet in all of these characters, flawed as they are, we see God at work, correcting them, calling them, drawing them to himself, transforming them. "I want to be like that."

"I forget what is behind" is a statement that assures us Paul was not the type to live in the past. He says, in effect, "I disregard my own accomplishments as well as others' offenses against me. I refuse to dwell on that." This requires humility.

This becomes especially clear when you examine Paul's past. Just look:

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
(2 Corinthians 11:24–27)

Think of all the people Paul could have included on his "hate list." But he had no such list. With humility, he forgot what was behind him. He intentionally disregarded all those wrongs against him.

In order for us to forget wrongs done against us, God must do the erasing. (See Joseph's example in Genesis 41:51.) Isaiah, the prophet of Judah, puts it in these terms:

"Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the LORD of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth." (Isaiah 54:4–5)

The Lord God promises us we can forget, because He personally will take the place of those painful memories.

To you who have had a shameful youth, to you who have lost your mate, the living Lord will replace those awful memories with Himself. What a great promise! That makes the forgetting possible. Left to ourselves, no way! But with the promise that God will replace the pain with Himself—His presence, His power, His very life—we can "forget what lies behind."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What Is The Sin That “Leads To Death”?

Answered by a good friend in the Lord - Brentriggs on July 10, 2011

A reader asks:

Please explain 1John 5:16-17. What is a “sin that leads to death?” I thought all sin led to death. Can you explain?

All sin does lead to death. That’s clear from Genesis through Revelation. So what is this passage talking about? What is a sin that “does not lead to death?” Let’s take a look….

To start, you need to back up a couple of verses. In verses 14-15, we find John telling us about the certainty of answered prayer IF we ask according to His will. We know His will by learning it from the Bible and being led by the Holy Spirit. We are told in no uncertain terms that IF we pray according to God’s will, then He WILL hear us and WILL grant us what we ask.

We know that this is not a blanket “purchase order” for Christians, because we all know from reality that God does not give us everything we pray for… in fact, most Christians would argue God RARELY gives us what we ask for (which should be a clear indication of some needed introspection).

What could be the obvious reason for not getting what we ask for from God? Answer: we aren’t praying according to His will. For some reason, we either don’t know it, have it wrong, or don’t understand it, but one thing is certain – it isn’t God’s will, or He would give it. That is a clear promise.

Given that background, we move to verses 16-17:

  • 1 John 5:16-17 – If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death. (NKJV)

Remember, you can’t jerk verses off the page and treat them as “stand alone” (known as “prooftexting”). You have to take them in context.

In context, we move from hearing about the certainty of answered prayer – conditional on asking according to God’s will – to a specific example of praying according to God’s will – in this case concerning “a sin leading to death” – and NOT getting your request. That leads us to need to find out “WHY?”

It concerns one specific type of prayer request relating to prayer for someone who has committed “a sin leading to death.”

What kind of sin is that? We aren’t specifically told, but the context and the way it is written make it apparent the passage is talking literally about a sin that will lead to physical death in this life. Sometimes we “spiritualize” Scripture and miss the plain meaning. We think of “leading to death” more of a symbolic way of saying “a sin that keeps you from being saved.” In this verse and context, the more obvious interpretation is that physical death is the meaning.

It is not referring to one specific sin or a certain list of sins but rather the types of premeditated, willful, unconfessed sin that causes God to finally decide to take that person’s life. It is a sin that finally reaches the end of God’s tolerance for reasons known only to God. There are some verses that touch on this:

  • 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 (the sin of sexual immorality in the church) – In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (NKJV)
  • 1 Corinthians 11:30 (irreverence concerning the Lord’s Supper) – For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (NKJV)
  • Acts 5:5 (lying to God) – Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. (NKJV)

Verses 16 & 17 seem to be saying – keeping verses 14-15 in mind – that “God will give you whatever you ask according to His will but not if you are praying for a sinner whom God has already determined will lose his life because of some sin that has been committed.”

In this case, the intercessory prayer – which is promised to be granted in verses 14-15 – will not be answered… and God is telling us why it won’t be answered so that His promise is not untruthful in verses 14-15. Once God has decided that physical death is inevitable, for reasons only He knows, then prayer on that person’s behalf is no longer effective.

John shows the obvious by contrasting the opposites: there IS a sin leading to death, and there IS NOT a sin leading to death. Since we know all sin leads to spiritual death, and can only be atoned for by the blood of Christ, it becomes obvious that physical death is the meaning in these verses.

We are also indirectly comforted knowing that not all sin (and obviously not most) leads to God’s decision to take away someone’s life. God is patient and merciful. It seems obvious that you really have to push God to get Him to decide that your physical life has been forfeited.

However, we should not ignore or neglect the opposite truth: sometimes a person can sin in such a way that God may choose to end their physical life because of it. Very sobering.

This appears to be true for Christians as well as the unsaved. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing a worldly, struggling church, but still addresses them as true Christians. In 1Cor 11:30 he points out that some of them had died because of taking the Lord’s supper in an “unworthy manner.”

Can we categorically say that they must not have been truly saved? That would be pretty presumptuous – just as presumptuous as assuming the warning and consequences in those verses don’t apply to us today. Something to think about next time you partake of Communion.

In summary, this verse is stating that God will not grant a prayer request when it concerns someone whom God has already judged worthy of physical death because of a particular sin – but this does not invalidate God’s promise to grant us our requests when they are made “according to His will.”

As a secondary lesson, use this lesson as a demonstration of how to interpret the Bible IN CONTEXT. Far too often, Christians attempt to USE and INTERPRET verses as if those verses existed in a vacuum all by themselves. It is the sole reason we have so much confusion and error in Christianity.

Have a great day in the Lord. Feel free to email me if you have questions or comments.

Blessings,
Brent
brent@brentriggs.com

Saturday, July 9, 2011

India hosts more believers now than at any time in its 4,000-year history



In Uttar Pradesh, Dr. M. A. Raju, a Christian neurologist, heads the Mujwa Mission Hospital. Raju is convinced that this most densely populated region of India is the key to its future. His strategy for spreading the gospel is centered on providing quality health care and basic education for the poor. Great work being pioneered in India is yielding fruits. With its people turning to Christ in waves, India hosts more believers now than at any time in its 4,000-year history.

Raju has a deep brown face fringed with an ice-white beard. Born in south India to a family of Christian doctors, Raju trained at Vellore, a well-known Christian hospital. Doubting his childhood faith, Raju spent years searching for a belief system that would sustain him. He pondered the great Hindu epics, practiced yoga, worked a stint with Mother Teresa in Kolkata, and studied Islam. His greatest influence turned out to be Francis Schaeffer, the late Christian author and apologist whom he first read in medical school and later spent a summer with at Schaeffer's retreat in L'Abri, Switzerland.

Raju carried his questions on to Israel, where he worked in a Christian hospital for Arabs. There he met a Scottish nurse who was struck by his kindly way. "He was the first really Christian doctor I had ever met," Rani says with a smile. Raju settled his remaining doubts, married Rani, and moved to England. He became a highly successful neurologist while working on the side to integrate psychology with Christian faith. He offered seminars on pastoral counseling to groups all over the United Kingdom.

He was pulled back to India, first raising money for missions, then becoming involved in planning and strategy. Finally in 1991, he and Rani moved to India with their four English-born children. Seven years ago, he took over Mujwa, a sprawling mission hospital that was about to shut down after a long decline. Raju could not bear to see it lost. "Wherever missionaries have gone, whatever their mistakes, the Holy Spirit is there. It's very difficult to get a beachhead. I didn't want to give it up."

The hospital's buildings were in disrepair, and local hostility was high. Several times fundamentalist mobs invaded the grounds, beating up staff. But Mujwa, while still ramshackle, is on the upswing. The hospital first concentrated its resources on basic medical care for the most poor. Soon, other ministry opportunities popped up. The grounds serve as a training center, preparing hundreds of primary school teachers and church planters, and offering vocational training—for electricians, air conditioning technicians, tailors, dental technicians, and others.

Holistic Model

Today, everything at Mujwa is geared to spiritual, social, medical, and economic transformation. A visit to a nearby village takes me to one of Mujwa's informal primary schools. Traveling on narrow roads through lush fields, we reach an unpaved track that ends at narrow streets snaking between mud houses. On open land next to the village, boys play cricket with handcarved bats. Since this is a school day, their presence indicates how little the village values education.

'Jesus came in a dream and said to me, "Don't worry, I will make your people come up." '— says Tissani, a Dalit teacher. But the government schools are terrible, everyone says. The teachers are often absent and show little interest in students' welfare. Mujwa offers to help villages start a school if they provide a teacher—a villager who has a high-school education and a good reputation.

Mujwa does not seek Christian teachers, because the few who identify as Christians are often alienated from the village. Rather, Mujwa offers two months of teacher training that includes immersion in Christian teaching and worship. Most of the time, they say, teachers begin to follow Christ during their training. The 220 teachers who have stuck to the job get tremendous respect in the village because of their role. And they begin to bring others to Christ.

Such inclusive approaches have met a tremendous spiritual openness. Evangelists saw only a handful of baptisms around Mujwa in the previous generation. They have seen 8,000 in the past five years.(1)

I met Dr. Raju in September of 2007 in Varanasi and found him to be a simple, God fearing, and humble Brother in the Lord. I spent about a week in Mujwa ,Bhadohi and Allahabad. I saw the dedication and the mission orientation of the people who were working there. His strategy for spreading the gospel is centered on providing quality health care and basic education for the poor. May God use him very mightily in the days to come.

It's not the amount of our work that's important, or the status of it, or the notoriety of it. It's the faithfulness with which we do exactly what He has assigned us. Our lives and labors call for perseverance, persistence, patience, and prayer.

If God has assigned our daily tasks, He'll produce an eternal harvest. Don't give up; and don't worry if the work seems small, the costs large, or the results meager. Just be faithful to the will of God--nothing more, nothing less.

References:

(1) India's Grassroots Revival, (pg 4,5) July 7th 2011 ,Christianity Today, by Tim Stafford

Blessings,

Raj Kosaraju

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Is a believer supposed to be able to feel the Holy Spirit?"


While certain ministries of the Holy Spirit may involve a feeling, such as conviction of sin, comfort, and empowerment, Scripture does not instruct us to base our relationship with the Holy Spirit on how or what we feel. Every born-again believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus told us that when the Comforter has come He will be with us and in us. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). In other words, Jesus is sending one like Himself to be with us and in us.

We know the Holy Spirit is with us because God's Word tells us that it is so. Every born-again believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but not every believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit, and there is a distinct difference. When we step out in our flesh, we are not under the control of the Holy Spirit even though we are still indwelt by Him. The apostle Paul comments on this truth, and he uses an illustration that helps us to understand. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Many people read this verse and interpret it to mean that the apostle Paul is speaking against wine. However, the context of this passage is the walk and the warfare of the Spirit-filled believer. Therefore, there is something more here than just a warning about drinking too much wine.

When people are drunk with too much wine, they exhibit certain characteristics: they become clumsy, their speech is slurred, and their judgment is impaired. The apostle Paul sets up a comparison here. Just as there are certain characteristics that identify someone who is controlled by too much wine, there should also be certain characteristics that identify someone who is controlled by the Holy Spirit. We read in Galatians 5:22-24 about the “fruit” of the Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit’s fruit, and it is exhibited by the born-again believer who is under His control.

The verb tense in Ephesians 5:18 indicates a continual process of “being filled” by the Holy Spirit. Since it is an exhortation, it follows that it is also possible to not be filled or controlled by the Spirit. The rest of Ephesians 5 gives us the characteristics of a Spirit-filled believer. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-21).

We are not filled with the Spirit because we feel we are, but because this is the privilege and possession of the Christian. Being filled or controlled by the Spirit is the result of walking in obedience to the Lord. This is a gift of grace and not an emotional feeling. Emotions can and will deceive us, and we can work ourselves up into an emotional frenzy that is purely from the flesh and not of the Holy Spirit. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature … Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25).

Having said that, we cannot deny that there are times when we can be overwhelmed by the presence and the power of the Spirit, and this is often an emotional experience. When that happens, it is a joy like no other. King David “danced with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14) when they brought up the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Experiencing joy by the Spirit is the understanding that as children of God we are being blessed by His grace. So, absolutely, the ministries of the Holy Spirit can involve our feelings and emotions. At the same time, we are not to base the assurance of our possession of the Holy Spirit on how we feel.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Can I Know I'm Going to Heaven?

My name is Kari.

I am 14 years old and I live in Oklahoma. I have grown up in a Christian home all my life and have always believed in God because I really had no choice. I attend a Christian school and I have attended it my whole life. But recently, some questions have come up in my life, and I was wondering if you could help me out, I have looked over your website and got some answers, but I was wanting a little bit more.

First off, where did God come from? I know most Christians over look it and just think who cares, he just was. But why on earth would I believe that and not believe that the earth was created randomly by molecules and that evolution was true?

Secondly, for the past 11 years I have believed in God, and that he is real. But I have never experienced him. I don't hear him talk to me like other people say they do. I talk to him, but my words seem to bounce off the ceiling and hit me in the face. If God is real, then how come he won't talk to me? How come I haven't experienced him?

And lastly, If I were to die today, I'm not sure where I would go. I know I have prayed the prayer many a times, but I'm just not sure. I wish I could say I knew for sure, but I cant. I'm confused and I want to be sure, even if it's that I'm going to die and turn into nothingness. I would rather know for a fact that my fate is eternally suffering than be confused and not know at all. How can a prayer get me into heaven?

Anyway, if you can help me in any way with any of this, even if it's telling me I'm crazy, anything would help at this point.

Thanks,
Kari

Hi Kari,

Thanks so much for writing and opening your heart to me. I know how difficult it can be when we are starting to question all these things we've been told through our lives.

I first want to start out and reassure you that asking questions and really examining what you should believe is not a bad thing. As I've said before, there are a lot of reasons people believe things, but there's only one good reason why anyone should believe something - you should only believe things that are true. With that in mind, let's look at your questions.

1. Where did God Come From?

This first question is a common one that many people ask. "If I shouldn't believe that the earth happened spontaneously, then why should I believe God just existed?" However, this type of thinking is what we call a category mistake. Christians don't argue that everything that exists needs to have a creator, but only *created things* need to have a creator. The earth and all that is in it are created things - we have a beginning. People at one point in time didn't exist and the earth in one point in time didn't exist. Since they didn't exist and then they did, it stands to reason that someone or something created them.

God, on the other hand, is in a different category. God has always existed - He is unchanging. He doesn't get older or wear down. The Bible even shows this when it says, "Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God." (Psalm 90:2). Since God never began to exist, then it goes to argue that He was never created. Asking where God came from is kind of like asking where's the corner of a circle. Circles don't have corners by definition - it's a category error. If you'd like to read more about this point, please see my article "Who Created God?" at http://www.comereason.org/exst_god/exs010.asp.

2. Why Haven't I Experienced God?

This question is actually a little harder, since it deals with your personal experience of God. My first question here would probably be what type of experience are you looking for? It may be that you have indeed experienced God in some way, it just may be a way that's different from what you think is a true "God moment".

You mention that you don't hear God "talk" to you. Although God doesn't normally communicate with people in an audible manner (see "Does God Speak to us Audibly?" at http://www.comereason.org/theo_issues/theo085.asp for more on this), He does communicate with His children in other ways. It has been said that God's people talk to Him primarily through prayer, and God speaks to them primarily through His word. I would encourage you to pray and then spend some regular time each day in reading the Bible. Pick a book and read a chapter a day. You may find that what you read will have direct application to the things you are going through in your daily life.

3. If I Die, How Can I Be Sure If I'll Go to Heaven?

This is probably the most important question you've posed in your letter, so I want to be sure and address it in a complete way. Kari, I want to let you know that God is truly concerned with your destiny. He wants you to be sure you know you're going to heaven. The Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9).

You asked "How can a prayer get me into heaven?" Well, a prayer can't get you into heaven. It's a mistake to think that's what Christianity teaches, although I see many in the church who are unclear on exactly how the salvation process works.

You see, God is an all-loving God, but He is also a holy God. Although He doesn't want us to perish, he also sees that we sin all the time and He can't just ignore our wrongdoing, otherwise God would be unjust. Have you ever known a parent or teacher who let one kid get away with everything while others tried to do the right things? You know immediately that this isn't the way things should be. If someone isn't doing what's right, that person should be punished for it.

Since all righteousness comes from God, it isn't possible for Him to let any sin escape without punishment. And since each one of us has sinned, then each one of us deserves to be punished for our sins. It's like a judge in a court of law found each one of us guilty of breaking the law over and over - we would rightly deserve to be sentenced. In fact, the punishment for breaking God's laws is death (Rom 6:3).

So, we know that we're sinners who have broken God's laws and that God, as a righteous judge, will punish us for breaking His laws. How do we escape? Because of His love for us, God not only lays out His laws for us, but He also provides us with a way to have our sins punished. That way is through His Son, Jesus. Jesus came to earth and lived a sinless life. He was then crucified, being put to death in our place, so we wouldn't suffer the same fate.

Jesus' entire purpose in coming to earth was to "seek and save that which was lost" (John 9). He said that He laid down His life for his friends. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says it best: " For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Let's go back to that courtroom illustration. Imagine the judge has just sentenced you guilty and you are to be whipped 40 times. Now imagine that the judge comes off the bench, lays aside his robes and surrounds you so that his back is exposed to the whip instead of yours. He then says "let the sentence begin." He met all the requirements of the law and the punishment has been applied, but he has also protected you from feeling the effects of that punishment. That is the core of the Gospel message. Jesus lived a perfect life and He took our sentence of death upon Himself, dying on the cross.

Now, because Jesus came to die for us, it doesn't mean that His sacrifice is automatically applied. The Bible is clear that we must understand we're sinners and that we need Jesus' forgiveness of our sins to be saved. We must believe that He did in fact come to die for us and that God raised Him from the dead. Of course, God does not abandon us even here. Jesus' resurrection is one of the most well attested facts in ancient history!

Once we understand that we are under condemnation and that our only hope is to put our trust in Jesus' sacrifice for us, God changes us. His Holy Spirit indwells us at that moment. We become new creations, children of God.

So it isn't a prayer that saves us, it's understanding we are sinners who deserve to be judged, knowing there's nothing we can do to merit salvation ourselves and believing in Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our salvation. That is how we're saved. Many times this belief is expressed through a prayer that we pray to God, asking Him to forgive us of our sins on the basis of Jesus' work on the cross, but it is not the prayer itself.

Now, once you truly have trusted Jesus for your salvation, there may be times where you don't "feel" like you're saved. You may question whether the whole thing "really stuck". This is not unusual, as many people wonder whether salvation should change the way they feel about things. But our faith isn't based on feelings. It's based on the fact that Jesus really did live, He really did die on a cross and He really did rise again from the dead. The fact of Jesus' resurrection is proof that He can save us.

It reminds me of the story in the Bible of the lame man who called out to Jesus. Jesus told him "your sins are forgiven you". When the religious leaders complained about Jesus forgiving sins, He said, "which is easier to say 'arise and walk' or 'your sins are forgiven you'? But in order that you may know that the Son of man has the power to forgive sins on earth, I say to you arise and walk!" And the man was healed. He could walk again. Similarly, we can know that our sins are forgiven, not on the basis of our feelings, but on the fact of Jesus' resurrection. The Apostle Peter emphasized this in his letter when he wrote "we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). Peter here tells believers that they can have assurance that they've been born again since Jesus rose from the dead.

Kari, I don't know if you have heard all this before. If you believe in Jesus and you trust Him as your savior then you can have confidence in your salvation. If you haven't yet come to a place where you personally have decided to trust Him, then I would encourage you to do so now. You asked in your question above about how God speaks to us. I told you God speaks to us through His word. He also speaks to us through his faithful servants. I know salvation is a message that God wants you to know and He wants you to be confident that once you put your faith in Jesus, you will be saved. Please let me know if this has helped answer your questions. I'll be praying for you.