7 Ways God Changed Me in My CSBS

I can’t believe I’m done with the Chronological School of Biblical Studies! It was some of the toughest yet most beautiful nine months of my life. And now, I’m leaving that life and will be returning to northern Virginia for about two months before leaving for Amsterdam to complete YWAM’s Foundations for Counseling Ministry (which I started but didn’t complete in Kona) from Sept Image17-March 7 2015.

Here are just a few ways that God has changed me during my CSBS:

1. I am more confident in my ability to understand and interpret the Bible, even the more difficult books and passages. Now, reading the Bible is anything but boring and obscure. It is actually life giving and exciting to read. It will still be a discipline to engage in Bible study after this school, but just like any discipline, I am now a believer that the rewards are far worth it.

2. Praying in faith is the only way to pray. I began praying with a friend here in faith that God would respond, and to our delight, God really did respond. Praying in accordance to His will by His Spirit with the expectation that God would come through is something that will never grow old!

3. God freed me of emptiness. Even after following God for six years I knew that I was carrying around pain that came from a hole in my soul which I couldn’t seem to fill. I remember crying out frequently to God during this school to fill that part of me. I wondered why He hadn’t yet filled me and if He ever would. And then, over time, as I continued to pursue Him, I realized one day that I no longer felt that pain. Experiencing the fullness of God was actually one of my goals coming to this school, and God came through! And the best part is that I know this is just the beginning of a life overflowing.

4. When I first came to the school, I was ridden with general anxiety. I was anxious in social situations. I was anxious about life. I was anxious and worried about pretty much everything. And then, through confession and prayer with others and continued study of God’s character, over time I realized this fear went away. I’m realizing that it really is possible to live a life free of worry and full of faith in God, even in the most difficult circumstances.

5. I really saw how God provided for me in every aspect of my life. Even small details that I had a hard time with, God wanted to help and He did help, either through sending me a person who could assist, giving me wisdom to figure it out, or just giving me His peace that it would be okay. I’m realizing that each day I don’t have to rely on myself or hope for the best – I can really get the best out of every situation just by asking God, who comes through both in the physical and spiritual.

6. God freed me to express negativity and disagreement, which I learned studying the Psalms (where King David always went to God with all of his feelings in faith that He would come through for him). I would naturally prefer that Imageeveryone was happy and everything was pleasant, but I realized I wasn’t living in the fear of God in this way. I would end up burying anything negative, which would end up coming up later in an unhealthy way (passive aggressiveness, exploding on people, etc). So now I’m okay with being negative at times and “rocking the boat,” because at least then I’m walking out of the sincerity of my heart. And I found that expressing these feelings, though at times uncomfortable, leads to a more peaceful life.

7. God has given me His heart to be a servant and to live my life completely for Him and His people. Some people are just naturally servant-hearted, but that wasn’t me until I studied particularly the life of the apostle Paul, who poured out his entire life for the sake of the love of Christ.

My life hasn’t turned out in the least bit in how I expected, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I would have never thought just a few years ago that doing this Bible course would turn out to be the greatest experience of my life so far. Apparently God’s plans for my life are bigger, grander and more fulfilling than my own.

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One of our last pictures as students. I dressed up for this one…

 

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Living in Joy

Most scholars believe that Paul probably wrote this letter to the Philippians while he was imprisoned in Rome between 60-63 AD. Even though he was in prison and his circumstances weren’t the best, his attitude shows that he wasn’t in the least bit discouraged.

First, there were some who started preaching the gospel with the intent of increasing Paul’s suffering in prison (since this was the reason why he was imprisoned in the first place).  To this, Paul says:

What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…

Phil 1:18

Christ’s glory was what Paul lived for, and he wasn’t concerned in the least that Jesus wouldn’t be glorified in his imprisonment and death. He was convinced God would glorify Himself no matter what:

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

Phil 1:20

It was also a strong possibility that Paul wouldn’t be released, but even in the face of possible execution, Paul had no reason to fear because either death or freedom seemed good to him:

I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you

Phil 1:23,24

Nothing, absolutely nothing, was able to waver Paul’s faith in God. He considered everything, even his suffering a joy:

But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

Phil 2:17,18

Paul’s joy, which was truly infectious to read, was founded totally in who God was. Paul knew that God offered him everything he ever needed and wanted:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy…

Phil 2:1

More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

Phil 3:8,9

He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Phil 3:21

I personally saw that Paul was testifying to his joy and of God’s goodness in order to build up to a climax, which comes in chapter four:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phil 4:4,6,7

So basically, the climax of Paul’s argument built to his final command to the Philippians, which was for them to rejoice and continue growing in Christ.

I know these verses are familiar to many Christians and therefore it can be challenging to find transformation in them. But studying the whole book verse by verse helped me apply this command in a new way.

I am definitely a worrier. I especially grow anxious when I’m presented with certain challenges in life, big and small. So when Paul commands to rejoice and not worry, it always seemed a bit easier to say than to do.

But Paul’s argument and testimony in the first three chapters reminded me of my own life and of how many times God has been faithful to me. He always gives me wisdom and strength to overcome my challenges. He never fails me. He always brings about peace and understanding despite the temptation to live in the fear that surrounds me.

This truth has helped me significantly in the past few weeks to stop worrying every time I presented with an obstacle and to instead trust God. This is why Paul was always able to rejoice, because his faith was so built up in God that worrying about his life didn’t even seem like a temptation.

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Sewing a quilt for Holocaust survivors with joy 🙂

Reading the rest of the Bible and experiencing God’s trustworthiness personally has helped me get to this point in my faith where worrying becomes less and less. I never knew a worry-free life that Jesus commanded was possible, but it is!

I like to think of this last verse as Paul’s climatic testimony and praise of God’s goodness, and the truth I find repeating in my head since studying his letter:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Phil 4:13

Jesus’ Authority in the Book of Mark

When I first read through the Book of Mark, I immediately noticed that the author (which tradition holds is John Mark, Mark being his Greco-Roman name) focused on the miraculous side of Jesus’ ministry. It was incredibly powerful to read, in one sitting, miracle after miracle. It just showed me how much power Jesus actually carried around with him.

For instance, did you ever wonder why on earth the disciples that followed Jesus around would just up and leave their jobs at his command? At this point, Jesus probably wasn’t that famous.

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:17,19

Here’s another example of something strange happening on Jesus’ command:

…[Jesus] sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

Mark 11:1-6

Why on earth did these people let the disciples take the colt just because Jesus said so?

I think that in both scenarios above, people just recognized the authoritative power in Jesus instinctively. Even the demons knew the authoritative power of Jesus and obeyed Him.

…and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. 

Mark 5:11,12

 

So it was clear that Jesus had authority that both man and spirit recognized (even though some people, like the Pharisees, refused to submit to His authority). But nonetheless, even the Pharisees recognized Jesus’ authority. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have tried to kill him:

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.

Mark 11:18

Jesus’ authority came from His complete devotion to do the Father’s will despite His own desires:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

Mark 14:36

And since he walked on earth as a man, that means that everyone who has the Holy Spirit and is submitted to the Father in the same way can (and should) practice this same authority. But this takes time, training, submission, and a willingness to follow God no matter what.

Before Jesus began his ministry of miracles, He had to wait on God and receive whatever it was He needed before His “ultimate” ministry could take place, and it took Jesus the majority of his life before God deemed Him ready:

Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. 

Luke 3:23

If it took Jesus this long before God “commissioned” him, I think that it is wise for believers to undergo the same kind of testing and training that Jesus did. This isn’t to say that God won’t use anyone for His purposes unless they are perfect first, for I don’t think believers ever stop growing in holiness in this lifetime. Even Jesus began working when he was just twelve years old and was teaching in the temple. But from Jesus’ life, there does seem to imply a period of “training” before going out with a fullness of authority (which would result in a more effective and Spirit-filled ministry).

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My friend and I getting ready to study the Book of Mark at Starbucks!

But how can we give away what we have not yet received? How can we bring the comforting news of God’s love and His heart toward us if we ourselves do not know (in our spirits) His unconditional and unwavering love for us? And how can we teach with authority the way Jesus did if we ourselves have not come to know truth (in our hearts)?

On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!

Mark 6:2

This is why I did a Foundations for Counseling Ministry with YWAM as well as the Chronological School of Biblical Studies. I knew that there were parts of my life that God wanted to heal so that I minister to and teach others with authority that’s comes from submission to God. And I knew there were so much about God’s character and so much about truth in the Bible that I hadn’t yet tapped into with His guiding wisdom.

Like Jesus, I want to commit my life to serve others, to sacrifice my own desires for comfort, and live for something greater. Not that God wants to deny me comfort and a happy life, but I believe that since Jesus’ heart was set out to do the Father’s will, then that’s what my priority should be as well.

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10:28-31

Colossians: What Does Identity in Christ Even Mean?

If you read Paul’s letters to Ephesus and to the Colossians, you’ll find that they are very similar in content. They were written at about the same time and to an audience with a very similar cultural background.

Paul’s message to the Colossians was that everything they needed could be found in Christ alone. There were a lot of different religious philosophies floating around that was negatively influencing their mindset about Jesus

Exploring California
Exploring California

and what he achieved (I wrote about the cultural background of these readers in my post about the Ephesians).

To counteract these false teachings, Paul reminds the church at Colossae that they were completely “in Christ” and that Christ was in them. So if you’ve ever wondered what the phrase “identity in Christ” means, you can find a lot of the answers in both Ephesians and Colossians.

Back then, the belief called “cosmic dualism” taught that anything that was spiritual was good, and all things pertaining to the body was evil. So some sought to punish the body by denying it pleasures (asceticism) as this would increase spirituality, which Paul was condemning in the below verse:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

Colossians 2:20-23

So if the believers were trying to obtain holiness outside of God and instead restricting their diet somehow, this was never going to work. They had to look to Christ alone to make them healthy and holy.

Since the original reader of this letter might have been coming under the false teaching that there was something more that they had to do to achieve perfection (as this was the prevailing cultural mindset at the time), Paul had to remind them that everything they needed could be found in Christ because Christ, who was the fullness of God, lived inside of them!

For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

Colossians 2:9,10

For me, I have always wanted to know what it’s like to live in the fullness of God. I knew too well the pain of emptiness, which was one of the major reasons I decided to follow Jesus in 2008.

But when I first started “practicing Christianity,” I wasn’t really tapping into Christ inside of me. I was just looking at what other “Christians” were doing and copying that.

This is the antithesis of the book, since Paul argues that everything we need is found in Christ, not in external things. This is what it means to find your identity in Christ alone.

So  I realized that living in the fullness of God required that I live from the inside out, rather than looking outward and trying to adjust my behaviors accordingly.

I wasn’t supposed to necessarily follow what the other Christians were doing, like church ministries, mission trips, etc. I found that I was just trying to live up to others’ expectations.

God showed me that I was to learn how to live by the Spirit inside of me since God’s plans for my life were in Christ, not in what other people’s lives looked liked on the outside:

…your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:2,3

If there’s anything that I’ve learned from studying the New Testament is that all of mankind can find true life in relationship with Jesus, faith in God, and perseverance when circumstances are rough. I know this from

Beautiful California
Beautiful California

experience as well.

Ever since God called me away from my pursuit of the “American dream” by leaving a lucrative and stable career, I can say with almost all certainty that I am living out a beautiful life with only greater things to come, which all

 

individuals can find for themselves just by saying “yes” to God to whatever He is calling them to.

Although God doesn’t call everyone away from a career, for me, I knew that I wasn’t living the life that Christ had in mind for me, so I had to be willing to let go of everything that I put my security in in the hope for a better life. To this day, I have never regretted following God into the unknown.

Ephesians: God is Sufficient

Apparently there’s a debate as to which church this letter was intended for, something that I haven’t necessarily come to a final conclusion about yet. Many scholars believe that the Book of Ephesians wasn’t solely meant for the church at Ephesus but rather the whole of Asia Minor. This is mainly because the word “Ephesus” wasn’t in the first verse in the original transcript of the letter. It is also strange that Paul seemed to be quite impersonal and unspecific, whereas in his other letters, like to the church at Corinth, he wrote with deep affections and addressed particular problems they were having. Paul probably would have done the same if he was writing to the church at Ephesus since he founded the church and spent three years with the Ephesians according to the Book of Acts.

This makes me favor what most scholars have concluded that the letter was a “circular letter” intended to go around all the churches across the Asia Minor. This, however, is only the opinion of a group of scholars, while others scholars maintain that Paul did in fact write to the church at Ephesus, as this is was virtually left undisputed in the early church (except for the heretical Marcion who argued the letter was written to the Laodiceans).

Whether Paul wrote specifically to Ephesus or to the believers across the Asia Minor, Paul seems to be addressing the false worldview that was compromising the believers’ faith across the peninsula. In the first century, the practice of magic and astrological religions was common. There were also many local cults and followers of the goddesses Cybele and Artemis.

In addition, pre-Gnostic ideas began to emerge (although full blown Gnosticism didn’t rise until after the time of the apostles). Pre-Gnosticism

Camping at Death Valley October 2013
Camping at Death Valley October 2013

beliefs may have influenced the Christians at the time to trust in knowledge as the source of salvation (the Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis). Knowledge, in the form of mysteries, was the answer to everything. Mystery religions developed around these beliefs. Because their rituals and rites were kept private to outsiders, there isn’t much information regarding these secret practices.

Additionally, because of the rise of “cosmic dualism,” people believed that their bodies were evil and that only the human spirit was good, and were therefore disconnected from each other. This led people into either asceticism (where the denial of worldly pleasures and punishment of the body was encouraged) or libertinism (where overindulgence without restraint was encouraged since the body was bad).

All of these different cults and various forms of religious practices led people on the whole to fear evil spirits and the “cosmic powers.” So the question for the believers in Asia Minor, what was the way to salvation? Where did Jesus stand in comparison to the authority of these evil spirits? What exactly did Jesus accomplish on the cross?

Paul makes it very clear that in the first part of the book that everything that the believers ever needed was found completely in Jesus:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…

Ephesians 1:3

The believers didn’t have to worry or fear that the evil spirits might take their salvation away. They were saved once and for all as soon as they believed and Jesus maintained all authority:

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…

Ephesians 1:13

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church…

Ephesians 1:20-22

Their need for spiritual wisdom and understanding was also found in God, not in secret religions and rituals:

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.

Ephesians 1:8,9

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him…

Ephesians 1:17

And perhaps best of all, their need for eternal salvation was met in Christ. They didn’t need to become more spiritual to obtain this. They could rest in the knowledge that His grace was enough:

All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

Ephesians 2:3-6

This letter is beautiful. It proves that mankind can rely fully on God for all of their needs. We are needy human beings, and God knows what we need and when we need it.

Because He is true to fulfill our needs (for wholeness, peace, joy, love, wisdom, comfort etc), this should encourage all of us to learn how to trust in

My dad, whose through faithful provision to me over the years has helped me trust God's perfect provision
My dad, whose through faithful provision to me over the years has helped me trust God’s perfect provision

Him him fully.

This can only come through experiencing His provision in a personal relationship with Him. It’s a process of learning how to get our needs med in Him, but He will teach us and show us if we continue to seek it.