Friday, December 08, 2006

How Can I Understand The Bible

Not too long ago I was on a road trip with a friend and work colleague when the conversation turned to matters of faith and religion. It was a very enjoyable discussion between two people with very different perspectives on life, but our core values are very similar. One of the key differences was our view of the Holy Bible. My friend is the son of a preacher, yet he said he found the bible "convoluted" and hard to understand. He questioned why God would reveal himself in such a hard to understand way. I explained that I thought the Bible was God's inspired, inerrant message telling us how to live our lives in relationship to him. After thinking about this more, here is what I've concluded.

We live in a rich society where there is a Bible in every hotel room drawer, and most people with a Christian heritage have at least one and probably many bibles in their home, usually collecting dust. Bibles are freely available for purchase in stores everywhere. Anyone reading this on the web also has access to incredible online resources and study tools for understanding the Bible. Contrast this with the foreign mission field where Christianity is growing fastest (Asia and Africa). There are millions of Believers in these countries willing to give their lives for their faith, but they don't even own a Bible or have easy access to one.

Jesus said, "Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." However, Jesus also said, "When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." We are a society rich in resources for understanding the Bible. We have more access and tools for unlocking God's Word than any society in history, so I believe we have a greater obligation than any society in history to utilize these resources. Conversely, I have heard many stories from the foreign mission field about God revealing himself in mighty ways to sincere seekers in countries where Christianity is persecuted and restricted or where Bibles are not freely available. If you seek, you will find, but we should not expect God to write his message in the clouds when he has clearly revealed it on the printed page.

The bottom line is that God has clearly revealed himself in the Bible. Those who study diligently with an open heart will discover that the Bible is not convoluted. The basic message and theme is consistent and clear to the sincere seeker of Truth. I hope my friend and anyone else reading this will take the time to make an eternal investment in studying the Bible. God will reward you if you do.

I'm definitely not an expert on the Bible. I'm just a fellow truth seeker on the journey. However, I welcome questions and would be thrilled to discuss the importance of the Bible with anyone who is honestly trying to Discover the Truth.  Leave a comment below if you'd like to learn more.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Spiritual Disciplines

I've been reading The Spirit of the Discplines by Dallas Willard. It is the best non-fiction book I've read this year. I'm sure I'll blog more about it as I finish reading it, but in my reading today on page 152 I came across this quote:
One of the greatest deceptions in the practice of the Christian religion is the idea that all that really matters is our internal feelings, ideas, beliefs, and intentions. It is this mistake about the psychology of the human being that more than anything else divorces salvation from life, leaving us a headful of vital truths about God and a body unable to fend off sin.
The first 150 pages of this book do a great job in putting this point in context. The disciplines of which this book speaks are the ascetic practices such as (but not limited to) solitude and silence, prayer, fasting, simple and sacrificial living, and intense study and meditation on God's word. These ascetic practices were a vital part of the Christian experience of the first century church and modeled by Christ himself. However, over the centuries, the importance of employing spiritual disciplines in a healthy, balanced manner for spiritual growth has been lost or forgotten. Willard attributes powerlessness and ineffectiveness of the nominal (or should I say "normal"?) Christian experience of modern Westerners to the loss of the disciplines.

If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it if you have the courage confront the conventional "wisdom" about the Christian life. This is a must read book for those who are committed to working out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More on Word Power

A friend of mine commented to me that the "sticks and stones" line really did shape his attitude toward "hurtful" words when he was growing up. His point was that words spoken to him directly only hurt him if he let them hurt him. It was the words spoken behind his back that that caused him more concern because those words can do a world of damage.

I definitely agree with the second part of these comments. Saying one thing to a person's face while reserving the not-so-nice words until the person is out of earshot is dishonest if not outright immoral. If you're not willing to say something to someone's face you shouldn't say it to someone else. On that point we definitely agree.

However, I'm still unconvinced that the average person (much less a child) can really put up the emotional defenses to completely avoid the hurt of hurtful words. Human beings have feelings and they are often not tied to reason or within the bounds of our conscious control. The premise that someone cannot hurt your feelings unless you let them seems to be based on the idea that we can control how we feel by reason. While I would agree that we can control how we respond to our feelings, I do not think we can completely control how the words of others make us feel emotionally. Let's use an analogy of physical feelings to explore this a bit.

The topic of torture has been in the news quite a bit due to the Iraq conflict. How does a person deal with physical torture? Well, if I'm a trained CIA operative, I might be able to avoid "being broken" and survive this horrific experience. However, if I'm a regular guy with a normal pain tolerance, I might not last even 5 minutes in the hands of a talented interrogator. The CIA operative and regular guy may respond differently in the face of pain, but they both experience the pain.  The pain is still real, and it still hurts.

Hurtful words are the same way. They hurt! How we deal with the emotional pain is another issue all together. Some people are like the trained CIA operative. They are able to compartmentalize their emotions and responses and control their behavior to a large degree. However, the pain still hurts. But most people aren't naturally born with these sorts of coping mechanisms, nor have they disciplined themselves to learn them.  We all have varying degrees of pain tolerance when it comes to verbal abuse. Some of us deal with it better than others, and some of us are more aware of the damage and toll verbal abuse inflicts than others.

Is the healthy response to compartmentalize or try and use the mind-over-matter method to convince ones self that the pain didn't really hurt? Or, is the healthy response to feel the pain and deal with it? As someone who has tried both ways, I think we're better off dealing with the pain. The "sticks and stones" advice falls way short of that mark. It might be a clever come-back to a bully, but it doesn't do much to foster emotional health for those who are on the receiving side of hurtful words.

... previous thoughts on Word Power ....

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Power of Words

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. -Jesus Christ
Words matter. We've all heard the saying: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This pithy little phrase is offered up as solace to those who are on the receiving end of hurtful words. I don't know who came up with this moronic aphorism, but it is far from the truth. Words can hurt, and they can hurt more than sticks and stones. In time physical wounds heal, but the emotional wounds of words can last a lifetime.

Do the words you speak and write do more good than harm? Will Rogers once said, "Never miss a good chance to shut up." The older I get the more I realize the wisdom of this comment. Once words leave your mouth (or you hit "send" on that email message), you can't take it back. Words matter. They can harm or help. They can wound or encourage.

My mother used to tell me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." While not as odious as the "sticks and stones" mantra, this bit of advice is simply not practical in many situations. Nobody likes someone who is intentionally mean or rude, and kindness goes a long way in getting your message heard, but how do we use words wisely in those not-so-nice situations? Should we say nothing at all to a spouse that has bad breath or a child that is misbehaving?

Sometimes the most important words we can speak are not so nice. Confronting a friend about a drug or alcohol problem might not be a nice conversation, but wouldn't it be better to say something instead of letting that friend self-destruct? The words we choose in dealing with not-so-nice or difficult situations are frequently the words that matter most. In times like this when emotions are high and the potential for conflict is imminent, the words we choose can change the course of a life or relationship.

So where is the balance? Once again I think that Jesus provided the answer to this question in Ephesians chapter 4 when he talked about speaking the truth in love. Speaking the truth in love isn't about sugar coating the message. True love is about putting the needs of someone else ahead of your own needs. If we speak the truth in love, we are not trying to win the argument just to show we are right.

Speaking the truth in love is about telling the truth even when it hurts or offends as long as it is done with the best interests of the other person at heart. There is no room for mean-spiritedness or judmentalism in such a conversation, and sometimes the truth is hard to hear. However, if the objective is seeking the truth then there is no other way to go about it.

... more thoughts on Word Power ....

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Joy vs. Happiness

A friend of mine sent me the following email:
I read [this article] this morning in light of a conversation I had last night with a family member whose spouse has tried to commit suicide multiple times. Read this when you get a chance and let me know your thoughts...
I read the article and tracked down the source. It is chapter 8 from a book published in 1916 by Hannah Whitall Smith titled The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. I'm hopeful that if I took the time to read the complete book, I might find this particular chapter in better context. However, in reading this chapter titled "Is God in Everything?" in light of the title of this book without the rest of the context, it struck me that many people, and particularly Americans (including myself in the not too distant past) needlessly struggle with the idea of the Sovereignty of God because we don't understand the difference between joy and happiness.

Where does the Bible talk about being happy as a guarantee of Christian life? Wasn't Jesus a man of sorrows? Weren't we promised persecution and tribulation rather than "happy" lives? Happy is a word related to "happen" which is based on circumstances. If our joy is based on circumstances, then we'll be tossed about in our emotions. The biblical concept of joy is a very different concept than "happy" and biblical joy is found in Christ, not our circumstances. If people understood that the Christian's Secret of a *Joyful* Life was not based on circumstances, then all this wondering about the sovereignty of God would be cleared up immediately.

I believe one of the main reasons why people even ask this question "Is God in Everything?" or doubt the sovereignty of God is that they believe they are entitled to a happy life. We are not. One of my favorite phrases to use with my three boys is "life is not fair." In fact, the plain reading of the Biblical text shows an expectation of happiness is pretty much the opposite of the truth.

I think Americans struggle with this a lot because we believe "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is our birthright from the Declaration of Independence. This is not biblical. Our lives belong to God, our liberty is found in slavery to Christ, and we need to learn to be joyful in all circumstances, even the unhappy ones. These are some of the many paradoxical aspects of Christian living. The Christian life runs orthogonal to or even opposite of the conventional wisdom of the world.

The challenge is consistently living joyfully through the happy and unhappy times. It is easy for me to write this today when I'm relatively happy and things are going well in my life. However, it isn't so easy to live this ethic consistently through the pits of depression, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear that come and go throughout our lives.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Why I'm Pro-Choice

I believe every woman should have the right to choose what happens to her body -- including those women too young to speak for themselves.

33 years ago the Supreme Court of the USA decided that human beings who have not yet breathed their first breath are not "persons" eligible for the protections of the U.S.Constitution. 116 years previous to that they made the same foolish decision -- except the poor unfortunate non-persons were descended from African slaves. The Court was wrong on both occasions. It took a bloody war to get the Dred Scott decision turned around. What will it cost this time?

Make no mistake, It will cost. The country is hopelessly divided now as it was 150 years ago, and the Pro-Life folks have the moral high ground. Sooner or later the people of African descent will begin to realize that abortion is racist -- the major abortion provider* and promoter in this country was founded with the explicit purpose of eradicating Negroes, and people of color are still disproportionately targeted. Sooner or later the people of Hispanic descent will begin to realize that the political party they voted for has values hostile to Hispanic religious and family values. Hispanics don't want abortion; why do they vote against their own conscience?

Give the young women a choice. Let them live!

*Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood explicitly intended to use abortion to eliminate racial minorities, and Planned Parenthood policies even today show that intent is being carried out. And it's working! Hispanics, whose Catholic dogma forbids abortion, now outnumber people of African descent in the USA.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bush Trashes Constitution

George Bush took an oath of office as follows:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

When will conservative Christians who still cherish the US Constitution realize that Bush is taking the country in the exact opposite direction from which they profess to want to go? This article from a very credible source proves once again that Bush Jr. is a globalist who doesn't give a rip about the US Constitution. Bush is not at all interested in fulfilling the oath of office he swore before God and country.

Pay attention to the signs of tyranny. If you agree with Mr. Bush's assessment of the supreme law of the land, sit back and do nothing. If you happen to cherish the best of what America was founded to be, write letters and get on the phone. A man who thinks the Constitution is "just a g*ddamned piece of paper" [yes, that is a direct quote!] which can be ignored at will is not qualified to be President of the USA and should be impeached immediately.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Intelligent Design is Good Science

I'm growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of intelligence among educated people when it comes to the topic of Intelligent Design (ID) as a theory of origins. Recently in Pennsylvania, federal Judge John Jones concluded that ID is not science. Judge Jones should stick to law because he doesn't know beans about science. Judge Jones essentially blackballed the teaching of ID under the stupid contention that it was a violation of church and state.

Intelligent Design is not, as it is ignorantly believed by Judge Jones, where we draw a box around all our scientific understanding to date and say, 'Everything outside this box we can explain only by invoking God's will.'" ID is not about "God's will" at all. ID is the scientific observation that information is being used to build a system with functional behavior that cannot be described solely on the basis of the physical properties of its components.

We see and identify Intelligent Design around us all the time. Every instance of it is either the known and provable result of intelligent (human) agents acting to cause a result that cannot occur in nature, or else a component of living beings. Forensic scientists use this scientific methodology all the time, as popularized on TV shows like CSI.

ID is not about knowing the mind of God. It is a scientific observation that opens up avenues of scientific investigation: "Wow! Here is a phenomenon that is not the result of the physical properties of its components, yet it works! I want to study how." Scientists like Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler and many other physicists believe that God wants it that way -- and then set out to understand what God did and how it works. That is true science.

(You can thank President Bush for appointing this judge to the federal bench.)