Sunday, May 31, 2009

Happiness

I have nothing against being happy. In fact, I often order my life in such a way that it will optimize my level of satisfaction and happiness. However, I've noticed over the years that pushing this behavior to its logical conclusion is a path do disaster resulting in the exact opposite of what conventional wisdom would lead us to believe. The ultimate result of radically pursuing happiness is unhappiness, brokenness, and separation from God.

A lot of Biblical characters were not happy. Job was not happy beginning in Job Chapter 1. For the next forty one and a half chapters much misery follows. It isn't until the very end of chapter 42 that we see another glimmer of happiness. Jonah was not happy about having to preach to Nineveh. Hosea loved Gomer, but he sure wasn't happy with her unfaithful behavior. My children were not happy about eating their vegetables when they were younger. Now they are older and not happy about their curfews.

God seems far more interested in our obedience and developing our character than he is in our happiness. Unfortunately, in our individualistic culture we tend to center our lives around ourselves instead of God. At its core, happiness is almost always selfish. God's best for our lives and selfishness are mutually exclusive. Both the greatest commandment (love God) and the second greatest command (love others) are anti-selfish. They are other focused.

So, is happiness wrong or evil? Does God want us to be unhappy? I don't think so. The problem with happiness is making it the end game or goal. When personal happiness becomes the center of our lives, we reap the consequences of being out of alignment with God's best for us. However, if happiness is a byproduct of living our lives in obedience to God and in service to His Kingdom, then we have our cake and eat it to. We risk personal destruction and eternal separation from God if we pursue personal happiness instead of God's purposes for our life. Our ultimate good will come from our ultimate obedience.

Friday, May 29, 2009

More on the Soul

Dallas Willard is one of my favorite authors. Here's what he says about the soul:
"The soul is one non-physical dimension of the person. A human person is a non-physical (spiritual) entity that has an essential involvement with a particular physical body. The brain, then—a piece of meat that is of more than usual interest—is one part of the embodied dimension of the human person. It too is integrated by the soul into one life, along with all of the dimensions of the person (at least when all is well).

These matters are especially important as Christians often treat the soul as recipient of salvation, and the other dimensions of human life are left out—especially the bodily and the social, but also thought and feeling. Redemption in Christ is a retrieving of the entire person from alienation from God and opposition to God.

The soul is not some separable part of us that eventually gets to go to heaven while everything else about is left out."
Source: Grey Matter and the Soul

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What is a Man?

Are people triune beings? I'm convinced we are. Obviously we have a physical body. That part is obvious to the most casual observer. So, what about soul and spirit?

Soul: I believe the soul consists of, but may not be limited to, intellect/mind, will, and emotions. The Bible is clear that man and the animals have souls. The Hebrew word translated into "soul" (nephesh) is first used in Genesis 1:20 for the words translated "creature" and "life." This same word is translated into English "soul" 472 times in its 754 appearances in the Old Testament. My two pet dogs have intellect, will, and emotions too. In fact, Kaydee our pit bull has more intellect, and Sydnee our mix breed has more will. The soul strikes me as being like a sophisticated software program running on a flesh computer (brain) and central nervous system network.

Spirit: In 1Thess 5:23 Paul wrote, "May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The writer of Hebrews tells us in 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit..." 1 Cor 2:14 makes the distinction between the "soulish" ("psychical" in Greek) person and the spiritual person. Biblically, the spirit is something ontologically different from soul, but how? Spirit is a little more mysterious than soul, at least in my meager understanding.

The Hebrew word "ruach" appears 389 times in the Old Testament, 237 of which it is rendered as "spirit." By looking at how this word is used I get the impression of a supra-natural yet personal force. I'm not talking about the Star Wars "may the Force be with you" force. I reject the dualism. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), so apparently spirit is an important concept for people who want to worship God. I need to do more study on soul and spirit to develop a clearer understanding, but the above analysis summarizes my current thinking with slight revisions since I wrote about this topic in my journal back in 2007.

Question: Why is this important?
Answer: Because it helps us answer the big questions in life.

The big questions in life are questions like these:

(1) Who am I? Was I designed or evolved?
(2) Why am I here? What is my purpose?
(3) Where am I going? What is my destination?

Most people don't think about these questions very much. I'm not sure why because I think about them all the time. I guess I'm a little weird that way. Life is too short to not think about these questions. Perhaps people are just too busy with the immediate and urgent to contemplate the important. That's a shame. As Ghandi once said, "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

The secular world view is that people are biological machines that came from a cosmic accident called evolution. It is an illogical and absurd world view because machines do not evolve, they are designed. But, the secular religion of scientism does have answers for the big questions of identity, purpose and destiny.  The answers are:  (1) I am an accident of random chance who (2) has no purpose, and (3) my existence is meaningless as there is nothing when I die. No wonder people who really understand the implications come up with wacky ideas to make themselves feel better! If this was the reality we lived in, I'd go crazy too!!

Fortunately, that isn't the truth. I reject the incoherent secular world view and its accompanying religion of scientism and nihilist implications. My view is informed by the Bible. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and the answers Jesus gave to the big questions are life sustaining, awe inspiring, and thrilling. Jesus is the only spiritual leader who claimed to be God, and then proved it by raising from the dead.  That's what makes the religion Jesus started substantially different than all the other so called "paths to God."

Based on my understanding of the Bible and what Jesus taught, I believe I am a man created and commissioned by God who will ultimately face God and give an account for my life. So, I want to know as much as I can about who I am and what I should be doing with my short life. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." I want to discover what God prepared in advance for me to do so I can do it to the best of my ability for His glory.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Conditional vs. Unconditional Love for God

I've been thinking a lot about love lately. Our modern emotional view of love doesn't seem to have much in common, if anything, with the kind of love described in the Bible. Emotional love is mentioned very infrequently. Have you ever noticed the word "love" doesn't even appear in the ENTIRE book of Acts? Acts is the book about the founding of the church. If love is such an essential component of Christianity, why did the Holy Spirit neglect to utter this word "love" even one time in the book of Acts?

I'm starting see that our modern emotional view of love is entirely selfish which is directly opposed to Biblical love. The Biblical notion of divine love I see in Paul's writings is a righteous love. It seems to have more to do with justice than feelings.

"God manifests his own love (agape) for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us... Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath [of God]... [W]hile we were enemies [of God], we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son."
--Romans 5:9-10

I'm starting to wonder if our modern evangelical gospel is warped too, largely related to the Emotional Jesus who we believe loves us unconditionally. Where in the Bible does it say, "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?" Where in the Bible does it say, "Ask Jesus into your heart," which is generally the phrasing used in emotionally manipulative and tearful altar calls I heard for most of my life in the church I grew up attending.

One of my best friends re-ignited this line of thinking in me, but these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for years. I have really struggled to reconcile the emotional love preached from the pulpit and seen in our culture with the love I see in the Bible. My friend is (thankfully) pointing me back to Scripture, and I'm not finding a lot of feel-good love in Scripture. The love I see is a sacrificial love that cost Jesus everything. It is anti-selfish love, not the all-about-me love prevalent in our culture and even our churches.

Jesus seems to have a different view of love than the unconditional affirmation view held by many in the modern evangelical church. Four times in John 14, Jesus says some variant of, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." The last instance is an inversion of this: "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." The very words of Jesus Himself tell us that our love for God is demonstrated by our obedience. God's love for us was demonstrated by Jesus being obedient to the Father even unto death. Seems to me that love is tied up inextricably with obedience, is it not?

If our love is directly tied to our obedience, then is OUR love for God conditional? Yes, it is! It is conditional on our obedience. So, can we really justify our expectation of unconditional love from God when we love God conditionally? Where is the justice in that? Why should we expect to receive what we do not give? Thank God for grace and the obedience of Jesus in going to the Cross even if He didn't feel like doing it.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Lust

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who was bemoaning the sexualization of our culture. That got me thinking about lust. Every guy I know struggles with lust, so I thought I'd investigate specifically what the Bible says. I was familiar with the general Biblical principles about lust (1Peter 1 has some great guidance), but I also did a little data mining on BibleGateway.com. I did a word search for "lust" in the New Testament (NT). Here are the numbers for how many times "lust" appears in the NT for these English translations.

40 - King James Version (KJV)
30 - New King James Version (NKJV)
14 - New Living Translation (NLT)
9 - New International Version (NIV)
5 - English Standard Version (ESV)

I thought this was a most curious set of data points. The KJV and NKJV had substantially more mentions of lust than the modern translations. Why? It would take a lot more work and data gathering to come up with a hypothesis. But, I'm curious what my friends think. These blog entries cross post in Facebook, so if I tagged you with this note it is because I'm interested in your opinion on this topic. I also welcome comments in my blog.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Muslim Demographics

This YouTube video is a fascinating look at the changing dynamics of our global culture.