Category Archives: Personal Struggles

Why did God Give our Pets Such Short Life Spans?

Although land tortoises can live over 150 years and parrots sometimes live as long as people, most pets have short life spans Perhaps the Lord gave our pets short life spans to keep us from getting more attached to them than to our fellow human beings. Since the love of some intelligent pets for their human masters is remarkably unconditional, they often establish a deep emotional connection with us. In fact, we sometimes find it easier to love them unconditionally than each other.

The emotional impact of the death of a family’s pet is like the loss of any family member, though on a lesser scale. It offers opportunities for learning important lessons in preparation for future losses that will be worse. The grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.

 

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How Can We Love our Neighbor as Our Self, as Jesus Commanded?

Loving other people as oneself is a difficult goal. But Jesus clearly made it fundamental to Christian living. On one occasion, an expert in the Jewish law challenged Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27 NKJV).

Although the goal of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is difficult, it isn’t impossible.  In Luke 6:36-38, Jesus gives some basic principles that help us understand what it involves:

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (NKJV).

This passage contains two principles. One principle is that our expectations of our neighbors are directly related to the expectations that will be placed on us. As Jesus said, “With the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” The expectations we have of others will be required by them (and God) of us. But even subjectively, we already love—or hate—our neighbors as ourselves. We subconsciously project our own attitudes and values upon other people, expecting them to perceive us as we perceive them. If we are impatient and judgmental towards others, we assume others will be impatient and judgmental towards us. If we are compassionate and patient towards others, we won’t have to deal with the pressures that come from assuming that others view us with hostility and impatience. Love or hatred directed outwards is always matched by love or hatred directed inwards.

The second principle is that love for one’s neighbor should never be confused with indulgence. A father who gives his children anything they want spoils them. If we love our neighbor as our self, we must be as careful in setting standards and goals for him as we do for ourselves. If God were a genie in a lamp who gave us anything we wanted, would we ever be satisfied? Of course not! Love for our neighbor involves the same principle. While love always seeks to promote the other person’s well-being, at times it is manifested in acts of charity and at other times in firm confrontation.

Our neighbor is just like us. At times he needs mercy, at times he needs correction, but he always needs our love.

 

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Does Deuteronomy 22:5 Imply that Women Should Not Wear Pants But Only Skirts?

Neither men nor women wore pants in Bible times. Men and women both wore tunics, which were very similar in their design. (The woman’s outer tunic descended to her feet, while the man’s descended only approximately to the level of the knees.) The Ryrie Study Bible note on this verse states:

In that society male and female dress were similar, making distinctive styles for the sexes especially important.

The New International Study Bible makes the following observations:

Probably intended to prohibit such perversions as transvestism and homosexuality, especially under religious auspices. The God-created differences between men and women are not to be disregarded (see Lev. 18:22; 20:13).

Obviously, God was not requiring women to dress in a radically different manner from men. If that were the case, the Jewish people would have been required to have a clear distinction between the clothing worn by men and the clothing worn by women. (For example, if a drastic difference were required, Hebrew men would have worn pants as men do in our society, and women would have worn dresses.) However, since both men and women wore tunics, it is apparent that what God was concerned with was the conscious imitation of male clothing styles on the part of a woman or female clothing styles on the part of a man. Since our culture has long considered the wearing of slacks to be acceptable feminine attire, we don’t believe that the commandment in Deuteronomy 22:5 would in any way forbid it.

In 1 Peter 3:3-6, women are encouraged to seek the beauty that comes from within (“the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”). Women should seek to dress in a manner that honors their femininity but is at the same time tasteful and modest. It is important that a woman place her main emphasis not on her exterior beauty but on the things of the Spirit—her spiritual beauty.

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How Should We Recognize and Respond to God’s Discipline in our Lives?

Both the Old and New Testaments make it clear that God disciplines and corrects His people. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word chasten or chastise (yasar) has the basic meaning of “to learn or teach.” We are able to learn (or be taught) in three different ways—personal and verbal instruction (Ps. 16:7); observation (Jer. 2:30); and experience, including suffering (Jer. 10:24). In the New Testament, the Greek word paideia has the same broad meaning: “instruction,” “training,” or “educating.”  A writer for Baker’s Dictionary of Theology explains:

In the New Testament the chastening is mostly that of God upon His own people (1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 6:9; and especially Heb. 12:5-11), but human fathers also chasten their sons (Heb. 12:7,10a), and beneficial discipline can be effective through Satan (1 Tim. 1:20). The New Testament insists that God chastens His people for their own spiritual good. The word paideuein is never used for God’s dealing with the unbeliever.

Although we know that God chastens His people, we won’t always be able to distinguish the chastening of God brought on us by our own wrongdoing from the trials that occur naturally in a fallen world. Our inability to recognize God’s discipline as being different from naturally occurring trials shouldn’t distress us. Even natural afflictions yield spiritual fruit when we are willing to endure them in faith. Job’s counselors made a serious mistake when they said he was suffering as the result of God judging him for his sin. Jesus too warned His disciples against self-righteously attributing other peoples’ misfortunes to God’s acts of judgment (Luke 13:2-5).

Whether or not the difficulties we face are the direct consequence of our sins or simply the harsh aspects of existence, a humble response in faith will bring greater self-awareness and new consciousness of sin. Spiritual growth as the result of correction and discipline is a shared experience of the children God loves. When we undergo adversity we shouldn’t be overly concerned about whether it is a direct act of God or a normal problem of life. Instead, we should trust God, pray for wisdom (James 1:5), move forward in faith, and be ready to learn whatever we can from our circumstances.

 

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What Did Jesus Mean, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”?

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13), He was not implying that God would ever encourage us to sin. Scripture makes this clear:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (James 1:13).

Nor was He implying that there is something unusual about being subjected to temptation.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Rather, Jesus was modeling the healthy self-distrust that should mark every child of God. He was showing us that we must be continually conscious of our own weakness and of the wiles of our enemy. We are not to have any false assurance about our ability to do as well as Jesus did when “put to the test” by Satan in the wilderness. Instead, we are to recognize our inclination to be headstrong like Peter, thinking he was equal to any challenge that might come his way (Luke 22:31-34,54-62.)

We as God’s children never have to give in to temptation, for God will “make the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13 nkjv), but we must be conscious of our vulnerability. Jesus therefore emphasized the need for humble dependence on God. He called us to recognize our human frailty and to acknowledge that we on our own are no match for our triple foe: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

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Why Should I Pray When it Doesn’t Seem that God Hears My Prayers?

It is part of the human condition to struggle with a sense of God’s silence—or absence. The disciples and the prophets had moments of weakness and distrust that are recorded in Scripture for all of us to read.

The silence that causes us such anxiety is not only essential to growth in faith, but needed for our expression of genuine trust in prayer. Prayer and faith are the result of a process of trusting. This process involves wonder, doubt, and worry. It enables us to grow in our ability to trust God in small ways that in time make it possible for us to trust Him through the great crises of life.

Genuine prayer isn’t mere ritual, nor is it just a productive mental habit. Prayer in the midst of doubt and feelings of abandonment is essential to realizing our need for God’s help. It isn’t that faith and hope can’t grow without prayer. They can, but without it they grow only slowly and haphazardly. This is because without prayer, faith and hope grow without our conscious support and participation.

In Luke 11:9, Jesus says: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (NKJV).

The order Jesus describes here is simple. We first must ask, and then it is given. We first must knock, and then the door is opened to us. If we don’t pray, we’re like people who expect to receive without asking or to have doors opened without knocking. Prayer is important because it acknowledges both our need for God’s help and our willingness to look to Him for direction. When we don’t pray, it is apparent that we consider God irrelevant and we take life, with all of its opportunities and blessings, for granted.

If we don’t consciously ask God for direction, we’ll usually lack the vision to see opportunities when they appear. Prayer nurtures vision, and vision sustains patient endurance. No wonder that Isaiah spoke of the importance of “hoping in the Lord.”

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (40:28-31 NIV).

Ask the Lord to show you what and how to pray and what to expect when you do. He will respond.

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Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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What Should I Think of what I Experience in Dreams?

Scientific evidence is accumulating that dreams have vital physiological and psychological functions. Our dreams apparently play an important role in creativity and problem solving.

1  This and other scientific discoveries about the important physiological role of dreaming show that the mysterious activity of dreaming is “hardwired” into us by God’s design, for our benefit. For that reason, we shouldn’t fear dreaming.

The Bible illustrates how highly the Hebrews and other ancient people esteemed dreams and those who could interpret them (Genesis 41; Daniel 2), and that they viewed dreams at times as natural (Ecclesiastes 5:3), as evil (Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Jeremiah 29:8), or as divine revelation (Genesis 28:12-13; Genesis 37:5,9). ( See the ATQ article Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)

Like the daydreams and thoughts that drift into our minds in our conscious state, dream fantasies generally seem spontaneous. Sexual activity, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and uncontrollably in dreams. In dreams, all of us do things we certainly would never do if we were awake. We also have nightmares that seem to express our deepest fear and insecurity.

Many people describe having had “lucid dreams.” In lucid dreams, we are aware that we are dreaming and are sometimes able to choose our actions. Some early Christian ascetic monks actually believed that we are responsible not only for what we do in our waking state, but for what we do in our dreams. These monks withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to an isolated life of grueling hardship. Their solitary focus on subjective experience may have made them aware of some things that most of us don’t experience.

Occultists in many cultures have been interested in lucid dreams and have sometimes sought to cultivate lucid dreams and increase control over their fantasies. Such efforts to use occult technique to gain control over one’s dreams are sinister. At the very least, they focus attention away from the real world into a fantasy. At the worst, it may open one’s mind to overtly demonic or subconsciously destructive influences. (See the ATQ articles Why Is It Dangerous for Subconscious Images to Penetrate Our Waking Consciousness? and Why Are Channeling and Mediumship Dangerous?)

To the degree we are aware that we are dreaming and to the extent that our dreams are under our control—that is, lucid—we may be responsible for our actions and shaping our character by our choices.

However, the vast majority of dreams aren’t lucid. Most dreams are fantasies created by our sleeping brain from random memories. In certain ways we feel especially vulnerable when we are sleeping. But God never sleeps. He is always guarding and protecting us (Psalm 121:1-3).

Scripture nowhere indicates that God holds us responsible for what happens in our dreams. But our dreams should serve as a vivid reminder of how dependent we are on His love and grace.

  1. See the papers, “Sleep Inspires insight” in Nature magazine, January 2004 (Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, and Born, from research at the University of Luebeck) and “REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks” (Cai, Mednick, Harrison, Kanady, and Mednick). (The Mednick paper is at http://www.saramednick.com/htmls/pdfs/Cai_PNAS_2009) Back To Article
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If I Feel Like A Hypocrite When I Obey God, Does that Mean I Really Am One?

Christians know they are sinners and should never be under the delusion they have absolutely pure motives. 

1 Under the influence of the fallen nature the natural heart is always hard and selfish. Even when we follow Christ our motives are always mixed, and when we obey the Holy Spirit we go against our natural inclinations.  Certainly, some “acting” is involved. But sincere action motivated by obedience and leading to spiritual change is vastly different from insincere action aimed only at conveying a false impression. Satan’s accusations are hollow if our heart is right, and we demonstrate the inclination of our heart by staying on course.

The key issue is the inclination of our heart and whether it is yielded to the Holy Spirit. If our heart is truly committed to goodness and truth, the “acting” will become reality, like a man who does right by his neighbor even though he doesn’t like him and eventually becomes his friend, or like a husband and wife in a troubled marriage who do the hard work of respecting and reaching out to each other until they discover that their hearts are actually entwined. Acting in harmony with the direction of the Holy Spirit brings growing awareness and rejection of the evil motivations of our heart, along with love, joy, and peace. (Galatians 5:22-23)

  1. To describe the condition of the human heart, the Apostle Paul quoted Psalms 14:1-3, 53:1-3:

    “There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12. Also see Jeremiah 17:9.)

     

    A biblical view of the depravity of the human heart doesn’t imply that every part of man’s nature is as evil as it could possibly be. People often do good and generous things, and although they behave wickedly, they could be much worse. The devil, perhaps, can be characterized as totally evil, but people aren’t. It isn’t that every part of our nature is completely evil, but that every part of our nature is tainted with evil. This means that our potential for evil is much greater than the evil we actually commit. But it also means that we do nothing out of entirely pure motives. Evil taints everything we do.

    Since all of our good works are contaminated, none of them can suffice to bring us favor with God. This is why, even though no one is completely evil, no one is capable on our own of seeking God, or pleasing Him. Even though we aren’t as evil as we can be, we all depend upon the conviction of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to make us aware of our desperate need for salvation.Back To Article

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Can a Person Who Continually Struggles With Impure Thoughts Be Genuinely Saved?

Being born again doesn’t keep us from having impure thoughts. First John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (KJV). And in Romans 7:15-25, the apostle Paul describes his continuing struggle with sin.

The Bible teaches that all of us have fallen characteristics—a “dark side” that is inclined to sin and rebellion (Romans 7:23; Colossians 3:5)—and it tells us to resist our destructive inclinations and be obedient to Christ (Galatians 5:17-21; 6:8; Ephesians 1:2-6). In this life we will never escape the influence of our old nature, including evil and impure thoughts.

There probably isn’t a single Christian who isn’t ashamed and saddened at the thoughts that sometimes come into his or her mind. If Satan can get us obsessed with the evil thoughts that flash into our consciousness, he can rob us of our joy and keep us from being effective workers for the kingdom of God. This is what Satan tries to do as our adversary (Job 1:7-12), “slanderer,”1 and “accuser” (Revelation 12:10).

Although in this life we will never be completely freed from the taint of sin and impure thoughts, we can grow in our ability to control our response to them. Just because we have a thought doesn’t mean we need to dwell on it or, even worse, commit ourselves to a sinful action because of it. Our goal shouldn’t be to eliminate evil thoughts altogether but to recognize them when they appear and, instead of giving them influence, acknowledging them as sin and rejecting them (James 4:7).

By responding to our evil and impure thoughts with disciplined resistance, we can go a long way towards cleansing ourselves of habitual, willful sin. But we still live in a fallen world and will continue to struggle with our dark side. If we don’t acknowledge this unpleasant reality, we may become drawn into spiritual pride—perhaps the most dangerous sin of all.

  1. The name “devil” is from the Greek word diabolos, meaning slanderer, false accuser. Back To Article
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