OVERCOMING STRUGGLES

 

TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS

What should we do not to fall into temptation?

                As the old saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  I think our best way of overcoming temptation is to do our best to avoid it first. That means staying away from situations where we know we'll encounter it. If you're an alcoholic, don't go places where alcohol is available to you. If you have a crush on someone you know is not good to pursue, try to stay out of contact as much as you can, even if it's impossible to completely stay away because maybe you're in the same class or something.

                When actually facing temptation, I think the best defense is a mind that recalls Scripture (much as Jesus did when Satan tried to tempt him in the desert), and a prayerful life that's confessed struggles of sin with other believers. It really comes down to those basic ingredients for pretty much everything.

 

How do you stop sinning?

                Repent in prayer to God, admitting wrong and asking forgiveness.  Search God's Word for correct thinking and action.  Confess to your spiritual accountability (i.e. small group).  Setup accountability--precautions or promises or restrictions.  Go and sin no more.

                When you mess up, have a system of discipline set up by your accountability. For instance, when my friend was training himself to stop swearing, he promised to give a dollar to anyone who heard him use an expletive.

 

Why does it seem so hard to pursue God?

                Pursuing God is difficult because it's not easy to give up your life. James 1:2-5 encourages us to know that those difficulties are building us up. It's really not that different from going to the gym to workout: it'll be hard work, it'll hurt and be sore, but you'll be way stronger in the end if you don't give up and keep at it.

 

Why's the Christian life more complicated than it could be?  Why does God let us be tempted?  Why doesn't He make Himself more apparent to the doubtful? 

                You know, this question is hard for me to answer because I've always thought that Christian faith has made life so much simpler! I understand my origin, my design, my purpose, and my destination in this age and the age to come. I know exactly who I'm living for, what the right thing to do is, and what the benefit will be for pursuing it. I derive a strength from an included community, have a book with clear instruction, and am supplied with supernatural gifting to accomplish the work expected of me.
                Temptation doesn't complicate things in the Christian life for me. I felt that when I was NOT a Christian, those temptations complicated and confused me because I believed that giving in to them would reward me instead of ruin me. Now that I know Christ, temptation appears to me exactly as what it really is: a deception. It's a promise of immediate gratification at the expense of long-term fulfillment.
                The more I've lived by God's instruction, the more I find it trustworthy. That's why I personally no longer need Him to prove Himself to me. His Word already does. It actually delivers on everything it promises. The last thing I'd want in a relationship is for my loved one to constantly be asking me to prove myself over and over again. The relationship is healthy when we aren't afraid that we've overestimated the other.
 
                God's job isn't to make life easier for any of us because this life isn't really life. This is the time to choose between life or death. Make the right decision and it means you'll give yourself up during this time and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and consequently you'll gain life forever after.

 

Why don't I feel satisfied with God?

                There's no way I could know.  Are you not repenting of sin? Have you stopped pursuing God in His Word and in prayer? Do you expose yourself to unhealthy images or messages and derive entertainment from them? Do you place your trust in something or someone else, perhaps money or material or relationship or reputation? Do you truly understand the gospel message in its entirety? Are you surrounded by people who demonstrate to you a life of holiness and surrender to God? Have you been actively serving God's people? Are you giving sacrificially from your own time, energy, and resources for things that give you no personal return? Are you dying to yourself? Are you loving your neighbor? Are you forgiving those who hurt you? Are you seeking forgiveness from those whom you wronged?
                There are way too many reasons why you might not feel satisfied with God. Those questions might be a good place to start seeing where you need to bring prayer and action.

 

If a believer continues to struggle with one sin and does not confess, was he really ever a believer?  Or did he forfeit his salvation?

                Confession and repentance are signs of salvation. To be missing them means that a person is holding onto sin or pride or whatever else instead of the self-denying pursuit of holiness.  That's why Jesus will say that many will say to him "Lord, Lord" but He'll turn them away, saying He never knew them, and calling them "evildoers" (Matthew 7).

                I'd strongly warn against haste judgment though. Confession and repentance don't happen overnight, and the sanctifying process that happens to all believers takes time. If someone is struggling but not confessing, it is true that this behavior points toward sin and distrust of God's instruction to seek accountability and prayer from the Church. But it's not a good idea to go around pointing at everyone who is secretly struggling with sin and saying, "You're not saved," because that kind of vulnerability is something that doesn't happen overnight. It's a process that we get better at each time we do it. 

                Really, only God can perfectly know who is and isn't saved because only He sees the motives of the heart, which is where all judgment rests. Our job is to call people to repentance by modeling it for them as we tell them the message of salvation. Anyone who, in this way, confesses Jesus before men will be confessed by Jesus before God. And anyone who denies Jesus before men will be denied by Jesus before God. Confession and repentance are determinant in whether or not Jesus truly is the lord of your life, or if He's just second place after your own protection of reputation. That decision is made within each individual person.

 

I've somewhat lost my fear of God.  What now?

                The fear of God is a biblical term for either an unbeliever's terror of coming judgment or a believer's deep reverence for the Holy One.  If you're the former and have lost that fear, it would surprise me that you felt you had it in the first place. Most unbeliever's don't fear God because...well they don't believe in Him.  If you're the latter, I think the loss of a fear of God comes from material abundance, moral compromise, and/or lack of spiritual discipline (Bible reading, prayer, fasting, giving, etc.). Some people try to wait for the fear of God to just happen to them, and then they'll start living it out. But the better thing to do is live it out and then you'll discover it. Like physical exercise or healthy dieting, you have to start doing it to realize how good it is. It'll feel like it costs a lot at first, and it won't be easy, but then after you've stuck through some difficult moments of wanting to quit, then you'll really start to see how strong it makes you.
                Surround yourself with people that will help you along. Listen to older, wiser men and women. Develop Christian friendships--that doesn't mean friendships with people who happen to go to church. It means friendships where Christ is central and substantial to the bond between each of you. Be able to share, confess, and pray with and for one another. If you really just put into practice the stuff that you know to be true, it'll start to renovate the inside of your affections and intentions and values. Then you'll see that you're discovering the fear of God.

 

If a believer is not very interested in the Word, what does that say about him?

                I'd say that believer is anorexic. The Bible is the ONLY source of authoritative instruction for our lives, the ONLY means by which understanding can be determined, and the ONLY place to learn God's character and values.  When a person has a crush on someone, any letter that's received by that person is treasured and valued and cherished. There is anticipation to read it, excitement to hear it, and joy to experience it. The Bible, though it is a book written to specific audiences long ago, is still dedicated by God to all His people who will one day be Christ's bride. How you approach God's Word is how you approach God. Notice the way Moses says, in Deuteronomy, that people are to love God with everything--and to illustrate how to do that, he tells them to love God's Word (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  Everyone who loves God will be drawn to the Bible.  Anyone who is not interested in the Bible is--without a doubt--not interested in God.

 

How do we know if a difficulty is a trial to grow us or a punishment for sin?  Can they be the same?

                Yeah, they are the same. In fact the word of "trial" and "temptation" is the same word in the Greek of the New Testament. The difference between whether it is a trial or temptation is on the intent of the source. God allows us trials in order for us to grow and mature. Satan brings us temptation in order for us to stumble and fall.

                On the issue of punishment for sin, I think the better word is "discipline" or "chastening." God punished your sin through the cross of Jesus. It's paid for. You are no longer under punishment in that sense of justice.  You are, however, disciplined by God as His child--not for the purpose of repaying your evils, but of raising you up to do good. That's how parents ought to raise their children: every punishment is really discipline, intended to correct them and set them straight on the right path.

                Personally, I would understand every difficulty in life to be an opportunity to learn something about God and godliness. Whether it's God's discipline or a just a trial we go through or both, it makes no difference in how we need to handle the situation: inspect your life to see if there is sin or error, find a way to confess it with your church, pray and get prayed for, and act to endure and resolve. You'll eventually see that discipline or trial is still the same. They both will test your commitment to see if you will embrace godliness or wickedness.

 

What does "going away from God" mean, and what are spiritual lows?

                "Going away from God" has no set definition as if it were an official term. I'm sure people will use expressions like that or like "spiritual low" according to their own particular intended meaning, but from the sound of it, it seems to me to indicate that the person who "goes away from God" is someone who professes NOT to believe in the Christian faith he has encountered. 
                A "spiritual low" is best understood (in my opinion) as a time where a believer is not actively fellowshipping, worshiping, evangelizing, learning, giving, or serving as much as he ought. But that's not the same thing as openly rejecting God and/or the gospel and walking away from the church altogether. It can involve a time of sinful indulgence, but that too is still very different from outright apostasy or the denunciation of faith in Christ's saving work.

 

Can I go away from God and come back later?

                Hebrews 6:4-6 says "no."  The author is not arguing whether one can or cannot lose his salvation (since the Scriptures repeatedly say that only those who endure till the end are the saved--see Matthew 10:22), but he is speaking of how those who understand the gospel, experience the blessing of God's people, and walk away from it are beyond saving. Their unrepentance is fixed.

 

Can I follow Christ without sinning for the rest of my life?

                Yes and no. You can live without doing wrong things, but you cannot live without being sinful in your nature. Your thoughts and motives will always be prone to temptation. Job was an upright manner who lived without committing sin (Job 1:1) as a pattern for his life, but he was not sinless in nature. God rebukes him later the book for his lack of trust. While you can live without doing wrong, that doesn't always mean you're doing everything right.

 

How can I care less about what other people think of me?  I get embarrassed so easily and I'm afraid to try new things just because of what people will think.

                Strangely, I discovered one day that the more I talked about my own embarrassments, then less I was embarrassed about them. Confession of my insecurities actually set me free from being insecure. I think that had a lot to do with the way that my friends heard me out, laughed at me sometimes, but never left my side. It began to show me who loved me truly, and who loved me superficially, and I found that I only cared about the former. That kind of relationship became deeper the more I was able to confess the things I was embarrassed about, and I think the same kind of approach might help you.

 

How should a Christian answer persecution?

                You know, I really think a Christian doesn't need to ANSWER persecution as much as he needs to ENDURE it.
Even in our society, where tolerance and acceptance are the growing measure of our political climate, it's very easy for someone to turn the Church into a target because of our stand on moral truth.  In this case, when the world comes against a Christian for their allegiance to Christ, then we're called simply to persevere, to endure. James 1:2-4 is a good place to look for instruction, and Matthew 5:11-12 is a good place to look for reassurance and comfort.

                Just keep living the way you need to be living. Some will see your hope and be drawn to it (1 Peter 3:15-17), and some will react oppositionally to it (John 15:18-19). Expect both, and stay the course.

               

How come some people just don't have a heart for God?

                Actually, ALL people don't have a heart for God (Romans 3:10-18). We all start out worshiping ourselves, caring only to be the boss of our own lives, pursuing our own happiness.  Only a few ever really come to grips that they're just not able to really secure their own fulfillment, so they turn to Christ. That's not the norm. It's the exception to the rule. That's why Christ calls it a narrow road in Matthew 7. Most will not follow Him. Few will.

 

I'm finding it harder to live for the glory of God.

                Do you have strong friendships with believers that you can share with? That's really where it starts. Even sharing at church during small group sessions and things, that stuff matters. Figure out when and why this happens and see if there are ways to help keep yourself reminded of His presence and lordship. Some small things I learned to do was to read the Bible before doing my homework, pray before doing anything important, and talk about my day (both victories and defeats) to my accountability partners. That became a habit, and it made a huge difference.

 

How can I improve my self-esteem?  I have bad acne and that's one of my big struggles.

                Of course, if you're looking for practical advice, I'm really not the guy to ask about maintaining a clean physical appearance. I did hear, however, that it's good to sleep with a clean dry towel on your pillow every night. Change the towel each night.
                But more importantly: Don't get down on yourself for that! Stay close to God, get involved with your church family, and invest time with your pastor. If your church is a God-following church, that stuff isn't going to stop them from seeing past your insecurities.
 
                You are not the only one that has problems with self-esteem because of some physical issue. You're going to think I'm crazy for this, but I think the best thing to do is to actually talk about that in your small group. It'll be scary to be the one to start that conversation, but EVERYONE deals with that. The leader is definitely going to know what you're talking about, and I've seen groups really open up some hard dialog on those kinds of subjects. Again, if your church is following God, they won't shut you down for opening up. Those conversations--the sincere ones that expose the needs and vulnerabilities of the heart--are exactly what has to happen for any healing to take place.
                Don't hide this issue, and don't let it control you. Talking to people about it will allow you to seek prayer and encouragement, and that's the medication that will help lead to freedom.

 

I have a major problem with being lazy: I don't do daily devotions, homework, and sometimes don't even eat or drink.  What's wrong with me?

                Laziness is one of those character struggles that you can only solve with strong accountability. For instance, my friends and I have a commitment to read the Bible daily. If we miss a day, we owe a dollar into a bucket. That money doesn't get spent on us, so we don't benefit from it. It is given away to someone else who needs it or whatever.  In college, I also used the same kind of idea, except instead of owing money (of which I had none), my friends each got to hit me as hard as they could in the stomach. That was a pretty strong deterrent. 
                If you're too lazy to get stuff done, join a Bible study program or get on a schedule with a friend and have a system of reward and consequence. That's the only way to do it. If you try to fix it yourself, you'll never end up getting to it.

 

I've had a hard time this month with a lack of motivation to study.  Have any advice?

                My advice is really: just do it. Set up an accountability system. I used to tell my friends that if I didn't do my work, I owed them a dollar. I was poor, so a dollar was a lot. That didn't work so well, so it turned into, if I didn't do my work, they could punch me as hard as they could in the stomach for every assignment I missed. That worked.  Sometimes accountability works miracles.

 

Why do I feel like living as a teenage Christian is harder than living as a Christian who is 50+ years old?

                That is because you are not 50+ years old.

                Examine your parents, if they are believers. Do they think it's easy for them to be godly parents? Do they think it's easy not to worry about money and trust in wealth for security and happiness? Do they think it's easy to handle their anger against their children? Do they think it's easy to confess when they do wrong?

                Your struggles will change in each stage of life. In teen years, they'll revolve around hormones and insecurity. In young adult years, they'll be about wealth, hormones, and insecurity. In elder years, it'll be about status, wealth, hormones, and insecurity. And you'll never outgrow any one of them. You'll just get used to having to struggle.

 

What are some Bible verses to help me with the daily temptations of my busy life?

                I think the best way to take in God's Word to resist temptation is not to find specific verses for a quick fix, but to read it in its full context in one sitting, and just spending the day thinking about it.  What I was taught to do was to read a small book, like Galatians, the whole way through everyday for a month. At the end of that, I had a really strong understanding of where everything was in that book, and I had all my questions answered because I asked my pastors. For longer books, like Matthew, I'd break it down into the major sections of the book (for instance, look at my outline of the book of Matthew, according to my sermon schedule on my website) and read one section a day, and cycle through the book for a month or two. That'll keep God in your heart and mind.
                Most people are fully aware of sin--they know when they're doing something wrong. Reading a verse to remind you of it has very little effect. Keeping God's Word dwelling in your mind in great quantity will help your thoughts and motives stay where they need to be--even if you encounter temptation that's unrelated to what you've read. Your priority will be thinking godly thoughts, and that'll be your best protection (Psalm 119:9,11; Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8-9).

 

 

EMOTIONAL DISTRESS

What advice can you give to someone suffering from depression?

                I'm sure my advice would have to fit the situation and the specific person and things like that.  But one of the constants that I think is important for people experiencing depression is to fight against the unhealthy instincts that come up during those feelings. What I mean is, depression makes people anti-social and reduces their drive to act on a solution.

                My advice would be to stay in the company of people that you care about, and go outside. By outside, I don't mean to go to the mall. I mean to spend time outdoors, walking in parks or at the beach or whatever. It's important to see the sky and the clouds and feel the wind and the sun. Just stepping away from the man-made cages we call homes and workplaces, and remembering again that the world is a big place that we don't fully understand or control--that helps us to remember that God is at work in our lives, often in ways we don't understand or control, but He's there. Being the company of His people is one of the primary agents of healing.

                Patience, of course, is critical. Depression usually comes from legitimately tragic events that happen in life, and those feelings need to be expressed, communicated, and resolved. Just don't settle for counterfeit expressions (sobbing through sad movies), communication (leaving emo remarks on your Facebook status), and solutions (eating massive quantities of comfort foods and looking for a quick fix or rebound).

 

Can God cure severe cases of depression?

                Yes, there's no doubt about His ability to cure depression, no matter how severe. This is the same God who could bring a dead body back to life; there's really not a limit on his capacity.

                God can cure, sure enough. But it is something that takes time and teaching in order to handle properly. Depression doesn't magically go away. A person must come to understand where the pain comes from, which parts of it are or are not valid, and how to express it and deal with it in a healthy fashion--knowing what methods to adopt and which to avoid. This cure is administered by the hope in the gospel and the strength of fellowship--two things that depressed persons often try to avoid. God can cure, but the healing is never forced upon someone who is unwilling, and the cure is not a solution to the bigger problem of their relationship to God. When someone who is depressed really wants a cure, it's available, but it has be approached with total self-abandon and humility so the Word and the Spirit can do their work. Then healing can start.

 

How does God want us to deal with intense emotions (extreme, negative, destructive emotions?)

                Intense emotions aren't bad. How you handle them is what matters. I wouldn't try to get rid of intense emotions, but I think it's better to find a way to deal with them without being destructive.  We were built with the capacity for sadness and anger for a reason. God displays these emotions too, which means we can express them the same way He does, for the same reasons. We can be godly with our sorrow and anger. 

                With any and every struggle, the first and best way to go about dealing with it is to confess it to your spiritual accountability (small group members, pastor, close Christian friends, etc.) and pray together about it. Pray by yourself when you're alone, and have others do the same for you. But when you're together, there is power in corporate prayer. God very often operates by the action of the Church. Your teacher or pastor or whichever leader knows you well will be able to be more specific about which emotion to deal with (since the question above isn't clear about that).

                But remember that emotion comes from our understanding of reality. If my dad didn't come home for two days and I thought he was dead, I would be grieved. My emotion would reflect my understanding. But if he didn't come home and I thought he was on vacation, I would react to that situation entirely differently.

                Have a clear and biblical perspective on your circumstances, and keep in mind that this life is not the true and eternal life you'll have. This is just a stewardship: a temporary time where you learn how to manage God's things. Explore that concept and understand that what we go through here on earth is not the end of it all. We have something so much better in store, and it only gets greater as we handle the stuff on earth with dignity and holiness (2 Corinthians 4:17).

 

When enduring suffering, what does the Bible say about finding joy in the struggle?  Does it mean being happy with laughter or more like a peace and contentment?

                Joy and happiness aren't the same thing. The distinction, in this explanation, is the difference between emotions (which are circumstantial) and values (which are lifelong).  Happiness comes and goes when circumstances change for or against you. Eating a meal, watching a movie, listening to a favorite song--these things bring happiness. And just as quickly as it comes, it goes away.  Joy comes from fulfillment in values. Knowing you did the right thing, upholding a noble cause, achieving your goals--these things bring joy. That joy is something that lasts far beyond a moment, but is something you can look back on and still sense satisfaction in.
                The Bible says to consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2-4). That doesn't mean to enjoy the hardship, but to know that getting through the hardship the right way will be well worth it for the maturity and strength it produces in you. It's very similar to going to the gym to workout. There is momentary pain, but lasting strength that results. The more you go through trials in life, the more you find that keeping calm and maintaining focus and perspective leads to a greater maturity. 
                As a clarification, trials are necessarily the same thing as tragedy. A trial can be a time when your patience is tested or when you are in a situation where it's difficult to be honest or humble. Tragedy, though, is like when a loved one dies.
                Do not consider the tragedy a good thing in and of itself. Death is not something to ever celebrate; it's a consequence of sin. Grieving is a natural and part of enduring through tragedy too. But even during those times--times when we've lost someone close--we're still called to understand our temporariness on earth, the privilege of the gospel of grace, our eternal destiny in a place without tears or mourning, and the mission to give that message to people around us. In this way your time of grief can test your perspective and your faith, and staying focused and faithful through it can still grow your maturity. Be joyful about the trial, not about the tragedy. Find fulfillment in the chance to know God and godliness more fully, but do not take pleasure in bad things that happen to people.

 

How should Christians respond to friends that get depressed about not having certain talents, looking a certain way, or having better living conditions?

                Respond to a friend's distress is always a careful matter that is specific to each person in each circumstance. 
                If you're going to counsel a friend who wants talents, physical attractiveness, or better living conditions, you're still going to deliver the same content to a believer as you would an unbeliever, but your approach should probably be a little different.
                Speaking to a believer allows you to appeal to his faith in Christ, hope in heaven, and understanding of God's love. Speaking to an unbeliever, however, won't allow you to touch base on those values.  In either case though, perspective has to be brought to what's important in life, and what life is important. Talents, looks, and lifestyle are very important if you base your life's worth here on earth. But in the grand scope of eternity, those are worldly luxuries that simply don't compare to the scraps of heaven. If you can't establish an agreement that this life is fleeting and of lesser importance than the eternal destiny of the soul, there's really no way to adequately counsel the friend. You cannot get a friend to stop wanting the world if he thinks the world is all there is.
                At that point, I think all you can really do is sit with him and say something to the effect of, "I know those things are important to you, and I understand why. But I know something better that will fulfill you far beyond what those things could offer. There's a reason why you want to find your worth, and I know that it's not in those things. No amount of talent or attractiveness or material possession can measure the value of your soul. And if you'll just trust me and take a chance, come and meet the people I know and hear what they have to say about who you are and why you're here, then maybe you'll find what you're really looking for, and it'll last longer than anything the world can offer you."
                The best way a Christian can respond to a friend in distress is to listen to everything he has to say, understand the pain, and gently and humbly offer the only true cure to the human condition--namely, Christ.

 

Why did God have to make death so painful to witness?  It's supposed to be a joyous moment, especially for those who Christian.  Why is it such torture?

                Death itself is not a joyous moment; it is the judgment and penalty of sin (Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 5:12). Being in heaven is joyous, and that does happen at the moment a believer dies, but that doesn't mean that the death itself is meant to be pleasant. Death is part of the fallenness of our world and our human nature. It is testimony to our need for a Savior, our belonging to a grander, eternal destiny where such tragedy no longer exists (1 Corinthians 15:26). The death we see around us is tragic because sin is tragic. The joy we have in Christ is that though we die physically (sometimes painfully), the salvation he offers us saves us spiritually, and we will later be renewed in lasting physical bodies that endure forever in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).  That's the reason to rejoice--the permanent residence in the presence of Christ. Death is often painful and torturous. Christ is our hope and peace and life. Death is never joyful; Christ is, forever.

 

How should a Christian deal with anger?

                There are probably a lot of ways to answer this question, especially since context matters most. For instance, a Christian would handle anger differently when an argument spontaneously arises, versus when he faces a man who seriously assaulted his sibling.

                Anger is specifically addressed by Jesus, Paul, and James in the New Testament. It comes up in many places, but the top three passages that come to my mind are in Matthew, Ephesians, and James.  Jesus talks about anger in Matthew 5:21-26, when he says that we're to resolve our anger with our neighbor--not grow it or let it simmer. He tells us that our worship is meaningless if people have things against us, which is surprisingly instructive. After all, usually we think we're okay to worship as long as WE are not mad at anyone, but Jesus tells us to make sure also that no one has anything against us for something we may have done to make them angry. That means we're responsible not only for our own anger, but also for the anger that we cause in other people.

                Paul says very briefly in Ephesians 4:26-27 that it's possible to be angry without sinning. He's quoting from the Psalms, and his point is for us to handle our anger properly. Specifically, he says to deal with it IMMEDIATELY. "Don't let the sun go down on your anger." He means to tell us not to put it off. It doesn't mean that you have to finish every argument before midnight. Some conflicts require time and prayer and counsel. But in every case, he means to tell us to actively be resolving it without putting it on hold or ignoring it or waiting for it to just go away. To let anger remain in our hearts is a way to "give the devil a foothold." It's an infection that the Enemy will use to seriously damage us.

                James addresses the issue of "man's anger" in James 1:19-20. That's different from righteous anger, which is anger at sin and wickedness. Man's anger, though, is about selfish, vengeful, or preferential matters. It's like getting angry at someone for speaking too loudly in the library while you're trying to study--it's not necessarily a sin, but it's just really annoying. In those cases, James warns us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry. He prescribes for us patience in the time of testing. You should be in control of your actions, acting in anger only when anger is the appropriate and godly response.

                I think the best way for any Christian to resolve anger is prayerfully. God is our avenger, and we're called to love those whom we hate. The only way to really gain perspective is to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, just like Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48.  If you seriously spend a few minutes asking God to give you the wisdom to see and address the issue rightly, and if you ask God to help you love your enemy such that your aim is his growth and maturation--not his downfall and destruction--it'll change the way you think about him, speak to him, and act toward him.

                I know this question is derivative of the earlier question about how Christians should handle anger, and my answer is equally general, but that again is because the context is unspecified. But even with a situation to frame the question, it wouldn't change much in terms of the motive and perspective to have. Ephesians 6:12 says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces. If ever we confuse our enemy as people instead of as the attitudes and allegiances of our heart, we've already handled and resolved our anger sinfully.

 

How can I stop being so quick-tempered and agitated so easily?

                Anger often comes from a feeling of entitlement. I get angry at a waiter in a restaurant if I feel that I deserve better for the money that I paid. I get angry on the road at another driver if I feel he didn't respect my space. I get angry at my friends if they don't call me back. In all these cases, I felt like I deserved better. I felt that the other person was morally obligated to behave in a manner more suited to my pleasure. Even when that's true, that position is one that lacks humility.

                It's okay to be angry at sin and injustice. It's not okay to be angry at inconvenience or out of preference. Besides, we don't know everything that goes on in other people's lives that cause them to do something. The waiter in the example above might be a college student who just pulled two full nights of studying for a midterm this morning, and then came to work and is doing his best despite his fatigue. The driver might have swerved to avoid hitting a squirrel and scared me into thinking he was going to merge into my lane. The friend might have had an unexpected event take his attention that caused him to forgot to call me back. There's not always a reason like this to explain away disappointment, but sometimes there are, and to always assume the other person's guilt is a posture of arrogance. It's the opposite of patience, grace, and wisdom.

                If you want to stop being so quick-tempered, start asking God to help you think less about yourself and your preferences, and to care more about the things He cares about. He has the gospel in mind. Get upset when the principles of the gospel are violated. For everything else, know that to follow Christ, you die to yourself. You stop protecting your self-values, and instead begin living for His will alone.

 

How should Christians deal with loneliness?

                I'm going off on a limb here, but I think loneliness is a healthy emotional response. I don't mean that it's good for people to be lonely, but rather that loneliness should be felt by anyone who lacks intimate and meaningful relationships that are based on values, not just fun.  Just like coughing and sneezing are healthy physical responses--they're not things we want to be experiencing all the time, but we want those immune responses in place to alert us that there's something wrong.

                No one was created to be alone. In fact, when Adam (the first man to ever exist) was created, he was created in a perfect state without sin or blemish. There was absolutely nothing wrong with him, and yet God said it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18). He made "man" (the race of human beings) in the form of men and women--two counterparts (Genesis 1:27). And He declared that the two would function as one (Genesis 2:24).  Notice here that God didn't expect that He would satisfy the man's loneliness. The man needed companionship that was on the same level as himself. That's why company and loneliness are so important. One is what we need, the other is our alarm for when we lack what we need.

                When a Christian experiences loneliness, that's a sign that he/she lacks people to share values and affections and activities with. I wish I could say there was a formula for how to handle that to make the problem go away, but there's not. The real answer is just: make Christian friends, but that's far too simple to say than it is to do. It's good to actively seek out Christian friends, but we know that those are hard to find in a short amount of time. I think the best route would be to connect with people at church, making real effort to develop friendships and relationships where sharing and confession and partnership are true priorities that add to hanging out and joking around. 

                The problem of loneliness can afflict the most popular people because--despite all the acquaintances they have--they don't feel like they truly know anyone, and they don't feel that they are truly known. That's the problem, and that's what needs to be treated. If it's a Christian (I mean a real Christian, not just a church-goer) that's lonely, then only Christian friends will understand and share the central values of that person's life. 

                Consequently, you can somewhat discern the values of a person by inspecting the close company that he/she surrounds himself/herself with. I don't mean in the instances of just hanging out. Look at who a person tells his/her secrets to, or who he/she calls first to talk about a tragedy, or who he/she wants to be with in the time of crisis or emergency. Those people are the ones that are sought for because they often share the same values--not just the same hobbies. By knowing who a person trusts and depends on, you can know much about the person.

How should I control my jealousy at times?  I hate myself for feeling jealous of others. 

                Jealousy is extremely difficult to handle, which is why prayer is your best weapon--not just raw willpower. Jealousy comes from wanting what someone else has, which is the opposite of gratitude and contentment and joy. 
                I think the best way to deal with it is to confess it before God in prayer, then talk to other believers about how you're struggling with it and ask for their prayer support also, and then do your best to remove yourself from situations that would cause jealous thoughts to come up. It might mean just looking in a different direction or keeping in company of prayer supporters who you can immediately turn to and tell about the struggle your experience right at that moment. But always it takes humility and a desire to change, not to get used to the jealous affections.

 

I know we are all created in God's image, but I'm never satisfied with my appearance. I really want to accept how God made me, but sometimes I hate how I look so much that I cry. I hate being jealous and looking at people who look perfect to me.

                I honestly know exactly how that feels. Most people that I know feel that way from being overweight. For me, it was because of the opposite: I graduated from elementary school weighing 60 lbs. I graduated junior high weighing 80 lbs. And I graduated high school weighing 108 lbs, standing at a height of 5'2". In college I grew 6 inches (putting me at a pretty middle or short height of 5'8"), and I graduated weighing 115 lbs.
                I was a tiny kid growing up and it definitely made an impact on my personality and my self-esteem. I wanted to be taller, stronger, and all that stuff. I wanted a body that people appreciated, not one that they laughed at or anything like that.
                I was referred to different Bible verses sometimes. Occasionally someone would give me the empty consolation of "God loves you" as if that fact was supposed to make me feel warm and cuddly inside all by itself. But the truth is, the reality of God's love and wisdom of the Bible are not just mere facts to put inside the head--they're reality that need to be experienced.
                The only way to experience the fact of God's love is through God's people being His hands and feet. That's how I came to know it. Surround yourself in a community that doesn't look at the same things the world looks at. Get involved in relationships that weigh your affections, not your body. 
                The more you grow in relationships with people who love you for YOU--not the appearance of you--the more you'll find freedom in loving God and being loved by Him. If you do it right, you'll see how God (and God's people) accept the way God made you, and it'll help give you the strength to do it too.

 

What does the Bible say about apathetic people?

                The Bible doesn't actually use the word "apathetic" but it does speak to people who claim to be Christian but demonstrate no sincere passion or love for Christ. The greatest example of such a passage would be Revelation 3:14-22, where Christ gives a haunting rebuke against the church in Laodicea--a church filled with people who were "lukewarm" (which would fit the description of complacency and apathy). Christ spoke strongly against them, saying "I am about to spit you out of my mouth" in the NIV, though "spit" should more properly be translated "vomit" for more precise effect. The Lord follows by remarking that such people think they're fine, without need, when really they're blind to their reality and ignorant to their spiritual destitution. 
                Jesus concludes by saying he stands at the door and knocks, in v20. Many have used this verse for evangelism but the context has a very dark and tragic tone. Churches met in people's homes, before church buildings were around. As it turns out, Jesus' remark says that he's, in a sense, locked out of their church! He's outside the door, knocking, while they think they're having church inside. So he'll fellowship with anyone who metaphorically lets him into his heart, but as it is, he is not there right now because their complacency is proof that they aren't truly fellowshipping with him at all.
                Apathetic people, then, are people who really have no true and sincere fellowship with Christ. It's a sickness that comes from thinking you're Christian (maybe because you've gone to church very consistently all your life and met high moral standards), but possessing no real trust in Jesus that compels you to take risks and step outside your comfort zone in obedience to him because you know it'll amount in great glory for God and inexpressible joy for you.

 

How does God give strength to the weak? What does that mean practically?

                When God gives strength to the weak, that means He enables them to endure hardship (Philippians 4:12-13), resist temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13; Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Thessalonians 3:13), and to accomplish His will (Ephesians 3:16-19; 2 Thessalonians 2:17).
                What it does NOT mean is the endowment of supernatural strength. Samson, in the Old Testament, was given a specific and unique power by God to perform great feats of strength, but that's not what it means for us today. The strength that Scripture talks about, which God gives to those in need, is the strength to carry on, the strength to endure, the strength to overcome, the strength to not give up.  It means He will provide you with enough understanding and encouragement to do the right thing. When you face temptation or hardship, you have everything you need to live rightly, and God has not abandoned you.

I want to go to school abroad, but can't because of health issues. I've turned so bitter this past year and want to change. Any specific bible passages that can help?

                I wish I knew more about your condition so I could answer more fully. A passage that comes to mind, though, is John 9. Jesus heals a man who was born blind and makes a very quick remark that his condition was meant for God's work to be displayed in his life. That is not physical healing, it is the testifying of God's grace and power. If you notice, the man gets healed and that allows for him to testify about Jesus in an amazing display of boldness and faith (John 9:24-43).
                Whatever it is that you're going through in your body, know that your body is not the definition or the limit of your potential. Your difficulties aren't any less difficult--I don't want to discount the situation--but it seems to me you're more than able to foster meaningful relationships and sincere faith--things that are far more important than our earthly vessels.
                Consider Job and his resolve to worship despite his circumstances. God knew his whole life was a test, and God had in mind to reward him for his faithfulness through it. The same is true of you. That's why Jesus will tell us to store up our treasure where it belongs: in heaven for eternity, not on earth for a few years (Matthew 6:19-21).
For everything, of course, seek prayer and fellowship and accountability. Surround yourself with people who have the proper focus, who know what's important and what is not. And do whatever you can do to serve with your body, not letting the temptation to give up overcome you. Our bodies are living sacrifices, and our act of worship is giving them up to God to use as he will to display his work in our lives (Romans 12:1-2).

                All I can recommend is that you keep in mind what you're thankful for. Has God given you a life that you should be bitter about? Have you taken hold of every opportunity you have here and followed His will in every situation?  What can you do to start exhibiting the character of Paul in Philippians 4:12-13? 

 

How do I become less sensitive and not take everything so personally?

                Prayer.  That's really the answer. If something is really bothering you, you take it on your knees in prayer and lay it out before God in great detail, acknowledging what's true and untrue about what was said about you, and confessing your need to seek His approval and no one else's, and asking to adopt a course of action that would make Him proud. Take your time and do this without rushing it or trying to get it over with. Then you'll find peace.  Philippians 4:6-7.

 

 

SUBSTANCE ABUSE & ADDICTION

Why is taking drugs a sin if the Bible never says that?

                Well, of course the Bible doesn't say drugs are a sin. That terms didn't exist back in that time. That's like saying the Bible never mentions internet piracy as a sin so it must be okay.

                There's really not much use in arguing with people who naturally adopt broken logic to justify their own sin. But if they're honestly asking you for an answer and are humble enough to actually heed the biblical response instead of just dismiss it, then here it is: Christians are called to obey the law (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 2 Peter 2:9-11). The only time breaking the law is justified is if doing so is to obey God rather than a law that conflicts with His instruction (see Daniel 3 and 6 and Acts 5:29). Just because you disagree with or don't like a law isn't justification to disobey it. A lot of people will try to turn the argument into whether or not marijuana should be outlawed. They'll often talk about how nicotine and alcohol are more dangerous and harmful than weed, and they expect that to justify their desire to smoke pot. That's backward thinking. If smoking marijuana is illegal, it's sin to break the law by smoking it. If nicotine and alcohol are more dangerous, then the rational step would be avoid those substances as well. Look how 1 Peter 2:18-23 even talks about the virtue of submitting to human authority that you disagree with. There's reward in that from heaven.

                Submitting to the law is done for a much more important aspect of our mission on earth: to live above reproach so that God doesn't come under accusation and Christ's testimony isn't blemished by the behavior of His people (1 Corinthians 10:32; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 6:3; Titus 2:1-8; 2 Peter 3:14). We're also called to be sober and alert at all times (1 Corinthians 15:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).  The character of a Christian is to act like Christ. We should be “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:12)."

 

Since the Bible does not talk about drugs or drinking, does society define whether drugs are sinful?

                I recommend reinspecting the assumption that underlies your question. The Bible DOES identify drinking as sin--not drinking as of itself, but compromising sobriety, which can be done by alcohol, drugs, or other substances. Start with Ephesians 5:18 and Romans 13:13 and Galatians 5:19-21 for a direct prohibition against drunkenness. Consider the kind of language Paul uses for Christians in Romans 12:3 to regard themselves with "sober judgment." Notice in Galatians 5:22-23 that a product of the Holy Spirit is self control, not diminished inhibitions. Know that every church leader's prerequisite is to live righteously, which is starkly contrasted with drunkenness in 1 Timothy 3:3 and 3:8 and Titus 1:7.

                Even if the law permitted drinking and drug use, the call for Christians is to maintain sober and self-controlled living--to remain vigilant and watchful against sin, and live in disciplined holiness in expectation of the returning Savior (1 Thessalonians 5:5-9).

 

Where is total abstinence from alcohol discussed in the Bible? Where does God discuss celibacy, or chastity?

                Total abstinence is not in the Bible.  Jesus used wine as one of the church sacraments (communion). Paul prescribed wine to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23).  Sobriety is commanded in the Bible (meaning keeping your mental faculties fully uninhibited).  Ephesians 5:18 contrasts drunkenness as the opposite of being filled with the Spirit.  Sobriety is required of everyone leads in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-3) and everyone who serves in the church (1 Timothy 3:8).
                Celibacy is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 where Paul wishes everyone had the gift of singleness like him, but then he doesn't prescribe it but encourages marriage for people with the desire to marry. 
                Chastity is just a synonym of purity, meaning avoiding sexual immorality--that is, sexual intimacy outside of marriage.

 

Can Christians have a small glass of wine or cocktail, drinking only what you can handle without getting drunk?

There are two camps on this argument, both of which are valid:
                1) Some churches accurately point out how the mild alcoholic beverages today (like wine coolers and stuff) are WAY stronger than even what was considered strong drink back in Jesus' time. If the Bible was against that kind of drink back then, then it would be against the equivalent of that drink today.  This opinion is certainly logical, but I think it misses the purpose and principle behind our call to sobriety.
                2) The better perspective, in my opinion, is that God has always called us to wisdom and discernment--not law. We're not trying to re-categorize what is clean or unclean food and drink. We're trying to understand how to remain in full pursuit of godliness at all times.  Notice how Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding in Cana in John 2. He had no problem with alcoholic drink in and of itself because it's not what goes into a man that makes him unclean. It is how the man lives, how he loves God with his heart, soul, and MIND and strength.
  He also uses bread and wine to describe his body and blood, and institutes that as a normative church activity.
                I personally don't drink alcohol only because I don't see it leading to anything good in my life. I'm prone to addiction, so precaution is my best protector. But if I'm at a wedding and someone toasts a glass of champagne to the husband and wife, and assuming there is no substitute like apple cider or something, I don't have a problem taking a sip of champagne. I didn't just drink in a mouthful of evil.  But a full glass of champagne for me would definitely have effects that I'm trying to avoid. I'd be flush or dizzy or whatever.  My wife can take several glasses and be fine. I cannot. So naturally, at weddings, I'll participate in the toast and then leave my glass in front of my wife if she wants it.
 
                Your enemy is not a liquid in a cup. It's the compromise of a clear and self-controlled mind that is ready at any moment to make sober and wise decisions, and is always actively engaged in worshiping God by its excellence and proper stewardship.  Protect your sober judgment, godly testimony, and legal and parental expectations.  If those are covered, enjoy your drink.

 

How is drinking, doing drugs, or partying necessarily bad if you're not hurting anyone?

                Well, it's very difficult to have sober judgment if you are drunk or high, since those are actually the opposite of sobriety. The Bible calls us to sober judgment at all times.  Look at Proverbs 20:1 for wisdom. Look at Romans 13:13 for instruction and warning. Ephesians 5:18 even contrasts drunkenness with Spirit-filled living--they are opposites!  We're called to be transformed in our minds (Romans 12:2), to be ever vigilant and alert (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8). In fact, self-control is a result of following the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). 
                Getting drunk or high is not morally colored by whether or not you hurt someone else. It's the fact that you have sought mind-numbing pleasure for yourself instead of remaining dedicated to loving God and your neighbor. It's an indulgence that has only the self in mind.  Who gets high for someone else? Who uses drugs for God? No one. It has no value in worship.  Who gets drunk for someone else? Who takes shots of vodka for God? Only the man who ignores clear instructions on holiness and pretends his own desires are more important, more wise, or more holy.

 

What is your opinion on teenage drinking?  Is it bad?

                The simple answer is "yes, it is bad."  Consider the following:

1) LEGALITY.  It's not legal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase alcohol. So if you're breaking the law, that's a separate issue, but it only applies to buying, not drinking.

2) SELF-CONTROL.  Sober judgment and self-control are two indispensable weapons against sin and indiscretion. To give those up is to intentionally choose foolishness. When people are using terms like "tipsy" or "buzzed" to describe your condition, there's something noticeably altered about your state of mind, which means you've crossed the line long ago. And just so it's clear: they are always more right than you about that. Don't even try to reason with them and convince them that you're fine. It's just gonna sound like denial, and it'll only solidify their conclusion that you're drunk.

3) PARENTS.  The hardest part, really, is just the call to honor and obey our parents' instruction for us. If you know they're not okay with you drinking, then it's not okay for you to drink. Even if they've never actually sat you down and told you you could or could not have alcohol, you'll know by your own instincts about how they feel about it. You'll know by whether or not you're okay taking a shot when they walk into your room. 

4) TESTIMONY & CONCERN FOR OTHERS.  And, of course, if you know someone is going to be "stumbled"--that is tempted, misled, or hurt--by your action, then that's when your sacrifice and humility should drive you to put other people's needs before your own, meaning you don't drink. Your behavior should never cause someone to get the wrong idea of Christ or be tempted themselves beyond their own control. For instance, I wouldn't drink around anyone who thinks it's a sin, and I wouldn't drink around someone who struggles with alcohol themselves as I might only introduce temptation to them, not fellowship.

                If you're not breaking the law, compromising your judgment, disobeying your parents, or stumbling a brother, then I really don't see a problem with enjoying a glass of wine or a bottle of beer.  Personally, I hate the stuff and I never touch it.

 

If you go to a rave sober, is it still wrong?

                What matter is why you go and how you handle yourself through it. Jesus was in the house of tax collectors and prostitutes, but he never indulged in their behavior or celebrated their values. If you can go and be a witness at a rave, do it. But be very careful about this: that freedom can easily become an excuse for sin. You might start convincing yourself that going to a rave is a ministry you're trying to do, when really you're going to meet potential dates or party irresponsibly or otherwise compromise your holy living by way of dancing, drinking, or even just talking. It takes a lot of maturity to know your limits, and that's best discussed with your pastor and your accountability partners. Also, make sure you don't give anyone the wrong idea about Christ through your behavior, whether Christian or not. If you stumble anyone with your freedom, their sin is counted against you.

 

Is it a sin to go to a hookah bar, even if it isn't addictive?

                Assuming you have permission from parents, are of legal age, aren't miscommunicating the values of the gospel, and remain blameless in your conduct, there's really no reason to think that going anywhere is a sin.  Smoking, by itself, is not wrong. People will throw health reasons at you and stuff, but those are extraneous arguments that are alien to the Bible's instruction on freedom and discretion. Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. You have the freedom to enjoy things, but not if their enjoyment becomes more important to you than following God and displaying Christ in your living.   And, like you mentioned, anything that is addictive has overridden your sobriety and/or self-control, which means it has taken a degree of mastery or lordship over you. That, of course, is no good.

 

Is it sin to be overweight, obsessed with food, and unable to control yourself?

                Overweight: no.

                Obsessed with food: yes.

                Can't control yourself: without a doubt.

                When the apostle Paul speaks about sexual immorality in the body, he uses an example of eating: "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.--but God will destroy them both" (1 Corinthians 6:13).  He's saying that there's a difference between eating in order to live (that is survival) and living in order to eat (that is obsession). One is good, the other is bad. There's a proper and an improper way to handle the functions and needs of the body. There's a righteous and wicked way to enjoy the pleasures of this life.  And, of course, anything that controls you is going to be the Holy Spirit or something else. If it's not the Holy Spirit, it's not God, so you're being controlled by an idol, a demon, an appetite, an addiction, a habit, an insecurity, or a guy with a gun pointed at you. All of those cases are bad.