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There are a few ways we get to that understanding.
1) The first is the way the Bible uses the Holy Spirit as a synonym for God.
Acts 5:3-4 says that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. He is omnipresent in Psalm 139:7-8. He is hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 he shares in God's omniscience and God's personal understanding in the same way that a man's spirit only has his own personal understanding. Those are just a few examples.
2) The Spirit has the same name as God.
Matthew 28:19-20 says that believers are to be baptized under the NAME (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The precision of that is much more clear in the Greek than the English, but the singularity of the name as it applies to three distinct persons indicates that the three persons have the same name.
3) The Spirit is an active participant in salvation, which is something that is only an act of God.
Romans 8:11 says he is the medium through which salvation is given to a believer.
4) The Spirit is credited with the work that is God's.
If you compare 2 Peter 1:21 with 2 Timothy 3:16, you find that the Spirit moved men (gave them the words) to write the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are the Word of God. If God's Word was authored by the Holy Spirit, he must be God.
5) The Holy Spirit is...well...holy.
How many beings in the universe are actually holy? Sometimes the angels are called holy angels, or believers are called "saints" (which is really just a noun form of the adjective "holy" that means "holy ones"). But angels and saints are only considered holy in their relationship to God as they belong to him and carry out his will. The Holy Spirit is treated as holy in essence, not because of association. He is called Lord in 2 Corinthians 3:17.
6) The Spirit is expected to be obeyed as God.
Ephesians 4:30 warns against grieving the Holy Spirit, which means disobeying him. This happens right in the middle of an argument that instructs believers to be obedient to God and no one else (see 5:1).
The best way to start is with company. Pick a book that your pastor recommends (I'd say something like John or 1 John or James) and make sure someone else is reading it on the same schedule as you so you have someone to discuss it with. That way you can share convictions and reflections and sharpen each other.
Confession is not done to obtain forgiveness of sins in the sense of salvation. It's not something you have to do (listing off every sin you've ever done) to check them off a list of reasons why you can't go to heaven, or something like that. Confession is an act of love to demonstrate a change of heart. I know my parents will love me no matter as long as we live. But if I do something that hurts them, I still need to own up to it and make it right. I need to not only fix what I did, but I need to let them know that I acknowledge my wrong and extend my apologies for hurting or disappointing them, etc.
The same is true with our familial relationship with God. When we stray from His instruction, does that relationship matter enough to us to talk to Him about it? Are we even bothered by our sin, or do we love it and/or trust it more than His will for us? Confession is turning our hearts back to God, reclaiming our allegiance to Him and pointing at our action(s) and declaring its wrongness. It's an act of love for and to God, and it's a reminder to ourselves about who we're really living for.
When we confess to one another, that's a means that God promises to use to help us overcome (James 5:16). The Christian is called to testify of the work that God does in the heart. When falling into sin, the Christian confesses so as to receive prayer. When victorious over sin, the Christian testifies so that the church can be encouraged to worship. At no point in the Christian's life is there room for secrets. It's the secret things that will be brought to judgment if they are sin (2 Corinthians 4:2 and Ephesians 5:12), and only righteous deeds that are kept secret are going to be rewarded (Matthew 6:3-4, 6, and 17-18). Your deepest sins call for the deepest confession. To hide them is a submission to shame and pride, but you are called to humility and ongoing, desperate dependence on God.
On Sundays I preach the New Testament, and I'll be done with that before the end of the calendar year. I'm in John right now, and after that is 1-3 John, and then Revelation.
On Fridays I teach the Old Testament, and we're in Judges in April. I still have 32 books of the Old Testament left to teach after that, so it'll take longer.
So after I finish the New Testament, I'm going to probably alternate between Old and New Testament (again) books for Sunday sermons to help expedite the process of teaching through the entire Bible. I'm definitely going to spend some time between books to teach on specific topics (such as prayer, politics, ethics, money, the Holy Spirit, ordinances, etc.), but those will be intermittent and not the primary tone of my preaching.
Once I'm done teaching through every book of the Bible, I'm going to start all over and do it again. There's nothing else I've been built for. There's nothing else I want to do. Preaching topically isn't something I value much, since that damages the listener's ability to learn how to read with context to determine authorial intent, and instead trains the church to just look for the interesting/relevant parts and ignore the rest. It has incredible value, of course, but I don't recommend it as a pattern, since the bad habits that can come from rearranging or montage-ing verses can breed an inability for people to simply read a book of the Bible from beginning to end without getting distracted, confused, or bored.
I'll teach the Bible, and then I'll teach it again. If God continues blessing my church the way He has been, I'm sure I'll have an entire new generation of members that will need to hear it fresh for the first time.
The best way, in my opinion, is taking a Bible and writing in it as you read and learn. Every sermon, every Bible study, every devotional quiet time--these should be opportunities for you to not only hear God's Word but to speak back. Write down your thoughts, convictions, impressions, and questions. Highlight verses that you want to remember. Underline sentences that you think identify really important ideas. And every comment or question that you write in the margins should be full thoughts that you'd understand years from now. Don't write "huh?" when you don't understand a part. Write the exact question, like, "What does 'man of lawlessness' mean?"
Then, as you continue to read and learn, you'll end up filling in answers to your questions. You'll come back and see old convictions. You'll be able to mark the progress you've taken in the Bible. Then your Bible will be YOUR Bible, not just anyone's Bible. It'll be the journey that you've taken as you've been listening to God.
Don't give in to the stupid notion that you can't write in the pages. Ask yourself whether that thought comes from God or Satan. You know not to idolize the pages of ink and paper, so there's nothing holy about the physical materials of the text. So what you're left with is whether or not you value new-looking pages versus pages that have the mark of study, struggle, interaction, and love. Don't let the devil talk you out of engaging in God's Word. Don't convince yourself that it's better to leave the Bible alone.
Some people try to manage a separate journal to write in, instead of directly into their Bible's pages. That works if you're taking sermon notes and stuff. But you can do both. I'd say the journal should only be IN ADDITION to writing in your Bible--not in SUBSTITUTION.
Interact with God's Word and I guarantee you'll remember things better, be more meditative about things that you read, and become a more competent thinker as you grow in knowledge of God's grace and love.
I'm not sure exactly which argument you're asking for, but you can go here (http://www.randcho.com/Q&A/philosophy.htm) to look up those questions, or post a more specific question.
I don't usually try to argue the gospel into people's hearts. When I'm speaking to an unbeliever, I never assume that the reason for their unbelief is in a philosophical argument. The reason why I say this is because I used to think my doubts hovered around the age-old questions of evil and the existence of God before I came to faith. I had heard many arguments--both strong and weak--from various Christian sources, like books or videos or even one-on-one conversations. But the information never actually made a difference. I was an unbeliever because I chose to be. The fact of the matter came down to the simple idea that I didn't want to believe. It upset me because I felt judged; it made me associate Christianity with intellectual surrender; and it offered me no concrete prospect of hope and joy in comparison to the sacrifice I'd have to make of all my pursuits that the Bible called sinful.
I liken it to frozen yogurt. If I like getting frozen yogurt from Yogurtland, no amount of nutritional information will convince me to switch to Pinkberry. The facts aren't why I went to Yogurtland in the first place. It's because that suited my taste. The same could be said of my preference for McDonald's over Carl's Jr. and so on.
So when I speak to someone who is struggling with the notion of the existence of God and the problem of evil, my approach isn't to convince them with information. The struggle is happening in the heart more than the head. The tension exists because this person doesn't have peace about the ideas in front of him/her, not because he/she doesn't have the information. Such a person needs to see a life that contradicts their assumptions about God and evil, and demands an explanation to make sense of the humility, sacrifice, repentance, faith, and self-denial that somehow puts order into a world that preaches that we need the opposites.
Assuming both churches are equal and the only difference is their location, I'd go to the one that you can more readily serve in. Being closer only matters if you plan to be there on a more frequent basis. But if you're only going to go on the same days (like Sundays and Fridays), then distance doesn't really help or hinder anything. In that case, just choose.
If they're not equal, I would go to the one in which you are more pushed to be more faithful in areas where you lack.
I'm not really sure what decisions you're talking about, when you say you're too dependent on church.
If you think your relationship with God isn't what's motivating your decisions, though, you may want to see whether or not your church is a place where you're learning the Word in a manner that convicts you of sin and points you to repentance, and if it's a place where leadership is exemplary and God-fearing, and if it's a place where you are able to connect with people and serve with your gifts. That's a church to be at and grow in, and if you do it with humility and reverence, it'll build your relationship with God.
No, in terms of your attitude, it wouldn't really matter. In terms of practicality, it'd mean you probably don't know how to best invest your money, but I don't think anyone could blame your good intentions.
Here's a super-simple example: you could buy a $100 dinner for one person, or a lunch (approx. $5) for 20 people, or give $1 to 100 people to get something off the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant. The best use would arguably be the $5 for 20 people. You can take them out and have meaningful conversation and provide a full meal. Even though you could give $1 to 100 people, that probably wouldn't make for much of a meal.
Your intentions would still be good, but good intentions aren't synonymous with wise investment and proper stewardship. In any case, be a cheerful giver, and don't think that giving to lots of small ministries is the same as giving to your local church, where you submit to leadership and draw training and fellowship and trust God's people to locally care for you. But that's a different conversation. :)
If the state of your relationship is ambiguous to outsiders and you feel like you're in limbo, then you've stepped past your boundaries. Whatever you've meant by dating God seems to have been compromised, since your behavior has communicated otherwise to the witnesses around you. You're not in limbo if you're focusing on singleness; you're not in limbo if you're building a relationship. You're in limbo if you're doing a little bit of each.
But it sounds to me like you're very aware of your circumstances, and that you have the right kind of intentions to do things right. The distance between the two of you might be a healthy benefit to help you keep your attention on preparing yourself. Seek the council and leadership of your church to encourage you with whatever is best fit for your circumstances. If you want to date God, it's going to mean placing trust in confession and accountability and submitting to leadership, all of which is done in the church. God is not so distant that you could be intimate with Him apart from His people. He's near, and His activity takes place among the people of the Church who are His hands and feet.
I'm not really sure how to respond to this, since the question is so broad, and being "petty" isn't really specific as to what contexts you're in when you're having trouble loving people.
At best, I can just say, "Do to others as you would have them do to you," but you're probably looking for something more specific or helpful. Feel free to rephrase your question or be more targeted.
Are you having trouble caring about strangers? Giving to the needy? Forgiving someone who wronged you? Praying for an enemy? Serving people instead of competing with them? Encouraging people even if you're jealous of their qualities? Etc.
Of course, I'm not very good with advice. I'll do the best I can, but counsel is most effective when done in person by someone who is invested in your life--not just a sentence on the internet. The Bible has been God's Word to supply the believer for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but that always happens in the context of the community of believers--not just messages on the internet. If you want help loving people better, ask your pastor or leader to look into your life and see where you can do better. Then listen to what he says.
Go to http://www.randcho.com/Q&A/romance.htm and search for two questions:
The first is:
"There is no mention of marriage partners being deeply in love as the basis for marriage. If this is true, is marriage a functional thing? Does God have a spouse in mind for all of us or just some of us?"
The second is:
"Do you believe in soul mates?"
Those should answer your question.
Haha, the science is really boring: axons and dendrites and neural synapses.
I really don't know what to tell you. I don't have an eidetic memory. I do forget things. I just happened to be able to retain a lot of knowledge about stories and theology--probably borne from my love for role-playing games and movies and comics as well as God and the Bible and the Church. School has never really been difficult for me, but I don't think good grades reliably reflect the kind of intelligence that really matters. I remember things well that I pay attention to and value. I tend to forget things that I give less worth to in my mind.
If anyone were to call me smart, it'd only be the result of spending more time in thought and study than the average person. After all, I have no care for sports, the gym, television, or any other hobby that could take up many hours on a daily or weekly basis. I do a very limited routine of things: I learn the Bible, then I live the Bible, then I teach the Bible. No wonder I remember so much of what I do, but I can't seem to remember what day of the week it is without my calendar telling me so.
Go to http://www.randcho.com/Q&A/bible.htm and search for "Cain" in the list of questions. See "Where did Cain's wife come from?"
No, we do not.
The idea behind "fill the earth" isn't to overcrowd it to such an extent that there's no room for animals. That would violate the notion of being "fruitful" which carries the ideas of being prosperous.
Mankind was given the instruction to populate the earth with their children, which means to populate the earth with God's image (which every human being is created in). Sin, however, separates us from God, and so the gospel is the restoration of bringing righteousness back into the fallen hearts of men, and filling the earth with God's image once again. That's why the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) tells us to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey Christ. The idea is the same: cover the globe with the glory of God, not really the flesh of man.
These are questions that have been answered before. If you look on http://www.randcho.com/Q&A/questionanswer.htm you can reference the sections called "Bible" and "Pursuing God." If anything is left unanswered, feel free to post it here in more specific terms.
Some of the brothers I've spoken to who are in the same position have told me that they've turned their commute into a time of worship. They take sermon CDs and worship songs with them to redeem the time that they're on the rode. If that works for you, that's not a bad plan at all.
Making time for God isn't always about sitting down and doing nothing else, though. It should also mean doing whatever it is that you're doing with a thankful and worshipful attitude (Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31). What you want to avoid is thinking that "this time" is for God and "that time" is for me or for work or for school or whatever. It's all God's time, and that's demonstrated in the heart and effort with which you handle it.
If the issue is you don't have enough time to pray and listen to God's Word, then consider the sermons during your commute. If the issue is that you don't have enough time where you feel like part of your day is God-honoring, then re-evaluate how to pray and honor God as you carry on with your daily activities. Try those and see how it changes how you feel about the way you spend your day.
BAND: If I could revive Audio Adrenaline (by restoring Mark Stuart's vocal health), I would have them come, for sure. If not, then Mercy Me. I had trouble picking them over Third Day or Casting Crowns, but I think they blend the best mix of theology, sound, and artistry with their songs.
SINGLE ARTIST: If I could revive Steven Curtis Chapman's vocal health, I would have him come, for sure. If not, I guess Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin, whom I respect a lot, though I'd still wish for Chapman.
There's a trend right now in churches to use the term "religion" not to speak categorically of one's affiliation with a particular theological worldview, but rather to describe a system of rituals and rites and ceremonies and sacraments in order to obtain meaning or spiritual value. In the latter usage, it makes sense to say you must lose your "religion" (external, works-based, self-righteous spiritual merit) and take up Christ-like love (which is internal, volitional, and sincere motive of the heart).
It seems to be that your understanding the term to mean some of the first definition, since you assumed religion is law and morality. If you inspect what your pastor is likely saying, it will come down to something that's very consistent with Jesus' words. We should abandon reliance upon ceremonies and rituals, and act out of love and faith. Even in terms of Jewish law, no amount of burnt offerings will ever atone for our sin; they're just symbols to help us understand our need for a Savior.
James 1:26-27 uses the term religion synonymously with faith, which is why I think if a pastor is going to use the term differently, he should be very intentional about clarifying his usage. But even in James, the author is saying that external action must come from internal faith. The change must start on the inside and manifest on the outside. That seems to be consistent with what your pastor said, what you think, and what the Bible teaches. The trouble is in the inconveniently flexible definition of the word.