Sunday, November 23, 2014

Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian square off on four qualifiers of a Worldview

Discussion and open dialogue are a wonderful aspect of a free society.  To that end, a friend and I have gotten together to address the topic of worldview.  Two worldviews will be examined, the Atheist perspective and the Christian perspective.

What makes up a worldview?  The prompt I suggested was on four central topics, the four qualifiers of a worldview made popular by Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher and writer.  

The four areas were:
Origin - How does your worldview explain the origins of humanity?
Meaning - How is meaning described within your worldview?
Morality - What is the moral basis of your worldview? 
Destiny - What is the future of your worldview?

A good friend of mine by the name of Jennifer Sternitzky was kind and gracious enough to step out and explain her worldview by these qualifiers, upon my request.  Jennifer is a graduate of the University of Green Bay, with two degrees in Psychology and English.  Jennifer is a feminist and a well read atheist.  We've been friends for several years.

We decided upon approximately 750 words, one page, to describe the four points of worldview in a concise, direct manner.  Enjoy.

The Atheist Perspective:
Jennifer Sternitzky, University of Green Bay

Origin: I believe in evolution, human and social. I believe humans evolved from apes, and apes evolved from…whatever they evolved from. I don’t pretend to understand everything in science or how evolution works, but I don’t believe there is a God (Christian or otherwise) or in any higher power. I believe we are the product of a series of mutations, enabling the ‘fittest’ to survive, though I do not believe humans are the ultimate beings. I believe we are part of a larger ecosystem and no living creature is above the other, though people certainly act like humans are the dominant creature. I suspect that somewhere along the way we’ll find a way to destroy ourselves—maybe even our planet. If we destroy ourselves, I suspect vegetation and animal life will repopulate the earth; whether humans ever re-emerge again, who knows. 

Meaning: Plenty of people tell me that without God there is no meaning to life, and I disagree. Humanity is special, not because God created us all with a special purpose, but because we didn’t have to be. Through a series of mutations, humans evolved into what we are today, proving that we were better fit to navigate the world than previous humanlike primates. Still others ask if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys. And those people clearly don’t know how evolution works. It happens over millions of years, very slowly, mutating and branching off into new species. Other primates were equally good at surviving and so their species was sustained. The same with humans. But I digress. I believe humanity is special because we are sort of ‘happy accidents’; mortality makes it special too. We’re born with a certain, undesignated, amount of time to live and to create our own meaning. We find what means the most to us and strive to create a life around it. Most humans want to help others in some way—be it art, science, philosophy, psychology, civil service, etc. I believe humanity’s purpose is to look out for each other and to love each other and ensure the species’ survival. In the evolutionary sense at least. We find our own reasons to live and to make our difference in the world. 

Morality: I’ve also been told that without God there can be no morals, or that, as an atheist, I must have no morals. And I again disagree. I believe in love, hope, honor, loyalty, honesty, trust, respect, etc. Those things don’t come from God. They come from within and from human interaction. They are not imposed on us by some invisible spirit. To me, if you need God to tell you what’s wrong or right, and you can’t figure it out on your own, then you may be part of the problem. Also, I find that excessively religious people try to pass off their own opinions of morality as God’s will or God’s word or God speaking through them. It seems as if they’re trying to justify their own hatefulness. Also, basing morality off of an ancient text written by superstitious people who had vastly different values (slavery, women as reproductive beings only, myths about how crops appeared or weather changed, etc) seems absurd, as does picking and choosing the parts we agree with and want to practice. Do we still follow the Malleus Maleficarum? Of course not.  Because that’s of a time when people believed different things, superstitious, irrational things. They condemned things out of fear, because they didn’t understand it. I’m a firm believer in “Just because you can’t explain it, doesn’t mean God did it.” 

Destiny: To be honest, I don’t know that I believe in destiny. It’s a nice thought to believe that everything happens for a reason and we all have some special purpose, but that also defeats the idea of free will. It may be comforting to believe that there’s a special plan for each of us, but it’s illogical and superstitious, and doesn’t allow for people to take responsibility for their own lives.

The Christian Perspective:
Justin Steckbauer, Liberty University

Origin: The question of origin has puzzled man kind for centuries.  How did we get here?  Where did we come from?  How did life come to be?  For the Christian, the action and the process by which life came about, the length of years it took, the exact biological functions that brought about the complex human life form are less important than the first cause.  Micro evolution, small changes in species that provide for adaptation, is beyond dispute.  That is something science can measure and observe.  In fact, I love science.  However, macro evolution seems highly speculative, and the processes by which a puddle of amino acids could become a highly complex life form like a human are not observable.  Given chance, matter, and time, a puddle of amino acids will never, ever become a human being.  It is simply impossible, statistically.  For the atheist, the first cause is a vacuum, an unanswered question: Where did energy come from?  For the Christian, the first cause is a loving architect of the universe, a necessary first cause who over 10,000 years or 7 billion years, crafted the universe into existence.

Meaning:  The question of meaning in Christianity is simple: We are children of the loving biologist, chemist, artist, writer, and architect, the designer of the human soul, who we call Father God.  In that context, every human being has value, incredible value, so much that God would come, Jesus Christ, to offer himself as a path of redemption for his wayward people.  In addition meaning, for the Christian, is a stark reality: The Earth is a very troubled place, and the problem is not outside ourselves, but within ourselves, and the only treatment is the indwelling presence of Jesus.  In the context of meaning, we find a treasure trove in the Bible of meaning, and inherent worth. 

Morality: What is the perfect moral code?  Who had it?  What does each moral code look like when put it into practical application?  For atheism, we see Nazi Germany, with Nietzsche's idea of the superman put into practice.  Genocide.  Again in Russia, Stalin a former seminary student turned atheist, what do we find?  The writing of Karl Marx used for the purpose of subjugation.  Genocide.  And what about the Christian worldview?  The most prosperous countries on planet Earth, in contrast: Europe, and the United States.  Now we see in the 21st century as Europe and the United States drift into post-modernism and naturalism, corruption begins to grow like a cancer.  

The teaching of Jesus Christ is the perfection of morality described in powerfully simple terms: Love God and love others, as you love yourself.  Jesus Christ provides the model for a life of humble service to others, that will always bring about the most peaceable and prosperous paradise, when practiced in truth.

Destiny: What future does an atheist have, after 100 years have passed?  After 1000 years have gone by?  The atheist passes out of existence into the natural and biological cycles of the environment.  What future does the Christian have?  Unending life, in community with a loving God and fellow believers who have chosen to fly in the face of everything the world says, and do it the way God says.  Jesus Christ provides the way, he is the road, a personal savior present, willing to show you the hard truth about yourself, and offer a way of total redemption and a future unimaginably wonderful. 

 Thank you for reading.  An open and respectful dialogue is vital to the ongoing discussions and debates between Christians and atheists as we attempt to navigate and make sense of things in a difficult world.  Respect, love, and mutual admiration can go a long way to healing wounds and bringing otherwise diverse groups into reasonable social harmony.  Take care and God bless.   

Related Posts:
Secular Views vs. Christian Truth
The Power of Love in Western Culture
Outlook for a Revived American Christianity
Questions on Salvation and God 
Processing the Past and Being Restored

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ancient Doorways in the Brickhouse: Fields of Green in your Dreams

There's a little diddy by a band called "Populous with Short Stories" by the name of "The Holy See."  I was thinking about it tonight, listening to the lyrics as I drove home from a meeting.  Beautiful lyrics.  Truly wonderful.  The music I've listened to my whole life has hinted toward spiritual concepts.  The lyrics go: "
By the cross where you hang
Has buried my effigy
I don't think you'd hang for me
In a pond of your blood
Grand as the holy see
Drowns the antiquity
I'm looking for
With every single line you cast
I can't be bothered
I won't be bothered
With all the broken trust that's past
I won't be bothered anymore."

Fascinating.  Very fascinating.  We've lost more than we can imagine, if we can't see it.  No and no again.  I could never be bothered with the message of the cross.  The literal event of the cross, in such stark reality, devastating the antique aphorism I'd always held in my mind.  Such brokenness, I can hardly conceive of it.  It can hardly move me.  That's when one is truly lost.  Unable to perceive!  When one is unmoved by the powerful moments of life, by great sorrows and great joys, then one has truly been lost, and is experiencing soul death.  How many dead souls I see walking the streets.

Another song I was thinking of, again with probing spiritual undertones...  Fascinating.  It's like God was hinting toward me, or I was hinting toward God.  This was all pre-joining the team.  Way back you know, back in the years of confusion.  A song called "Hallelujah" by a band called "The Helio Sequence."  

The second verse of the song, and the final chorus went like this:
Still we could not conceive the call
The midnight fell, we felt the measure fall
And we were feeling down
Some eyes were looking down at us
And waiting pensive, sad, and look
Up to the stars and counting all the suns and all the moons
How sad it was that we could not believe

And everyone who believes
And everyone who believes
And they said,
We all said Hallelujah
We all said Hallelujah
And everyone move around with ease
And everyone fell right to their knees and then,
We all said Hallelujah
We all want answers anyway
We all want answers anyway

It exemplifies a very powerful era of my life.  Very, very powerful.  Reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's college experiences.  Just roaming, no particular direction, losing a job because his sleep schedule was crashing around 5:30 AM and waking up sometime in the PM.  I used to leave the house around 4:00 AM and walk the streets until sunrise, watch the sunrise, then go to bed.  
As Brandon writes in "Hallelujah" he could not quite conceive the call.  That was my experience as well.  I couldn't quite conceive of it.  I couldn't quite connect the dots.  Waiting, pensive, and always watching the stars wondering.  That was one way that I never, ever fell into the camp of outright atheism.  Like C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, wonder is a powerful doorway to the supernatural.  I could not spend so many nights walking, pondering and staring up at the stars and fail to recognize pervasive powers at work beyond the material.  
I couldn't make the leap either though.  As Dr. Ravi Zacharias says, the truth is often surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.  When considering Christianity I immediately pictured the pews.  I pictured the people at Catholic mass shouting "hallelujah!"  I'm sure at least some of them meant it.  But I didn't.  
I reflect on my Catholic upbringing sometimes.  Though I wouldn't call it that really.  As I've often said, I was raised in the practical religion of much of Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers (football).  That was the religion.  Catholic mass and CCD was something more arbitrary.  
But I do recall, very vaguely, one year at CCD, just one, we had this incredible teacher for the Wednesday classes.  She captured my imagination.  She talked about God as if he was really real.  I don't remember a lot of the details.  I was only in about 3rd or 4th grade.  What I do recall is a conversation with my mother.  It was the end of the Catholic programming for that year as far as CCD went.  And my mom had seen me going and actually starting to look forward to going.  But that year was ending.  I said Mom I'm afraid.  I'm afraid because next year we won't have this teacher anymore.  And the other ladies don't explain it like she does.  My mom told me "well honey maybe you'll have another lady next year who really cares too."  But the next year came, and sure enough, it was another lady who didn't seem to really believe it.  
Your heart aches at times.  Aches for moments when possibly maybe all the destruction could've been prevented.  But there isn't such a way, is there?  The past can't be changed.  It's there, and I must make peace with it.  Yet again, yet again, how can I prevent this from happening to future generations?  How can I prevent dead men and women from teaching dead doctrines to my children?  How can I prevent suffering?  That is the vital thought.  
You can create the perfect curriculum, the perfect catechism, the perfect book, or even the perfect form of government. But at the end of the day it all comes down to the person at the desk, and how much they care, and how much they pour into what they're doing.
I'm a sentimental man.  I think about stuff like that.  I love art and creativity.  I love writing, reading, philosophy, music, and discussing issues.  I like integrity, morality, and justice.  Dad has slowly encouraged me to love people as well, and to love mercy.  And even to walk humbly.  Big Dad.  Dad in the sky.  God the Dad.  God the Father.     

The journey is important!  It's super important.  It's of vital importance.  I think of something Carl Jung said, "The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are."  Let me tell, that one is the straight up truth.  How many can say that in this life they've come even close to becoming who they truly are?  So much pain gets in the way.  There are so many things that happen, so many addictions and problems that drive us off course until the true self seems buried forever in compulsion and fear.  

Then of course there is the sin nature upon the heart of every human.  So to project even further from Carl Jung's original statement; How privileged a Christian is, to one day become who they truly are, freed from sin, freed from death, flesh restored, and restored to community with God, Son and Spirit.  That is a rare privilege indeed.

I listened to a great deal of music in my time on the way here.  It was the soundtrack of my life.  In replaying work by Death Cab for Cutie, and Dismemberment Plan, there was a great deal of atheism smuggled in.  There was a great deal of skepticism in those tunes.  

Elliott Smith, Blur, Nick Drake, the Postal Service, Coldplay (I know, shut up), Sonic Youth, Boards of Canada, Radiohead, French Kicks, Filter, Foo Fighters, Thursday, Bon Iver, Deftones, The Walkmen, Spoon, Grizzly Bear, Mew, Clint Mansell, Bear McCreary, Pavement, The Album Leaf, Explosions in the Sky, Stereolab, Fourtet, Travis Morrison, Arcade Fire, Passion Pit, and on and on and on.  All these bands, diverse styles and sounds, all with one common thread: they awoke curious realities within my mind.  They triggered the creaking open of ancient doors, denied and rejected in the naturalism driven modern society that disallows anything that might lead away from consumerism.  I was inexorably drawn by wonder, complexity, and something that might just be.. beyond all of this.  Who could know it?  

I also was unwilling to believe that the truth was simply determined by my personal preference.  What kind of nonsense would that be?  I'd been told that, but it seemed like an extension of the dollar menu society I came from.  No, there had to be concrete truths independent of my own feeble preference.  

It may have started with romantic love, or sex, or lust, the demigod of fashion culture, the miraculous, all powerful, invisible, and all fulfilling sexual relationship.  Some will never go beyond that as their ultimate.  How sad for them!

It's a secret door, very hard for anyone to block out.  It's the secret door of the imagination, the secret door of wonder, of awe, of mystery, and curiosity.  One can battle for and build of brick house of naturalism, like the public school naturalism indoctrination centers.  They can cover the screens with sex, alcohol, depravity, and buy, buy buy.. but they couldn't stop me from reading A Wrinkle in Time.  They couldn't stop me from watching Donnie Darko, or The Fountain.  They couldn't stop me from searching out and finding bands like Radiohead and Mew.  Despite the megaphone, I found myself nestled in a corner reading 1984 by George Orwell.  

The God I understand, he loves to put little cracks in the system, for people like you and I to sneak through, and watch the stars, while the rest ramble on, sex obsessed, unwittingly addicted, and set upon oral pleasure induction at any cost, unending, penultimate.  That is the permanent office of so many, such unrelenting devotion.  Ironically, isn't that promising?  That kind of dedication takes special determination.  And how they love to be determined, don't they?

Sometimes I wonder at the culmination of popular philosophies and worldviews and it seems to be the ultimate unity in diversity of interrelated interdisciplinary architecture all designed and implemented to reject, resist, and run from God and place man upon the throne.  Think about it... post-modernism, whatever I personally relatively believe is true.  New age, I am the deity, and I must realize it.  Evolutionary biology, all is material, there is no need for a god of any kind, the system is closed tight!  Materialism, everything is meaningless, so do whatever you want.  Determinism, everything I do is predetermined, so I am responsible for none of my actions.  And atheism, there is no god so I am accountable for nothing.   And to top it off, what is the one thing that has held back mankind?  Religion.  It all fits so neatly together as the unifying worldview of the amoral selfish child.  It cries of a person desperately seeking to give his poor behavior an all access pass from any measure of shame.  It points to an individual who has deified sexuality, and himself. The arrogance is monumental.

Even in the power of that system, God snuck in.  He showed himself to me in art, music, writing, cinema, and in so many other ways as well.  But I was not able to piece it all together.  It was clear by the end that I could not come to it on my own terms.  I couldn't quite break through the ice.  I carried a Bible around with me everywhere I went.  I read from it constantly.  But I couldn't break through the ice.  It's like I was forever circling the outside.  But I couldn't connect it to my life, and realize that the message wasn't just to be read, but to be invibed and lived.  

Reminds me of the lyrics of a song called "Beach" by Mew:

It is green outside
Where it seems magical
And if nothing works
We'll do nothing
I hope we're on time

And we shouldn't look at the sky
The perilous light
We were not allowed outside
And no one could tell us why

I got worried
With shaky hands
So we said the words that we kept
For worrying times

I was on my way, I swear
But I lost my way somewhere
And the trees were glistening

From the silver trickling water
When the rain returns

We had our suspicions
Thinking what my heart confirmed

It is sweet outside
Where it seems magical
And if nothing works
We'll do nothing

Save yourself tonight
Asleep in the dark
I hope we're on time 

Some of us can feel it, inside.  Like the line from the Matrix movie, "You've known it all your life, that something is wrong with the world.  You don't know what it is, but you can feel, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."  The fallacy was almost perfect.  But Father God, found me there, broken and beaten, trying to find my way out of the interminable labyrinth of confusion in the world, in myself, and in my own guiding light, jaded, and sending me in the wrong direction.  God met me there, entered into my delusions, just where I was, in my writings, in my dreams, in my stories, and revealed himself in a way that I knew it could be no other.  And I also knew that he had revealed himself to me, not because of me, but because of him.  But as long as I sought, he seemed then willing to break into my fantasy and reveal his own reality.  That was the gift of immeasurable value.  I knew then I had not found it, that final truth, but that final truth had found me, and that truth was a person, named Jesus Christ.  He was willing, I was willing, so he saved me from the construct around me, setting me finally, with a cup to my lips, like water in a desert, here is the truth my son, I am the truth, the way, the life, come and follow me.  And so I did.  I had nowhere else to go, and he was willing to start there with me.  That is the immeasurable gift.  That is the wonder, the awe, the magic, the hidden conclusion of reality, that I could always sense and notice along the edges, the glitter at the edge of the storm clouds, but could never grasp into my hand, finally revealed, like through a glass darkly, but later to be revealed in totality, and what a glorious day that will be.  On that day I will know him, the truth incarnate, as well as he knows me.  He leaves the signs and hints along the way, but gives me the option to seek after those things or to go my merry way with the rest of the world.  Seek out the wonder, and seek out the mysterious.  Draw upon the creativity within, and explore the majesty without.  Perhaps you'll find yourself at wits end one day in a field of green in your dreams staring into the eyes of a man who says he is the truth.  

Until then, friend.   

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

Colossians 1:15-17 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  

Related Posts:
The Awe of Dreams and the Surreal
Daybreak: Examining the Problem of Pain
Rescue in the Labyrinth, Darkest Hour
Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
Meaninglessness & the Embodiment of Meaning
The Human Hunger for Two Fundamentals: Love and Truth
Objective Truth on a Spiritual Battlefield
Good News in Untenable Circumstances
The Pursuit of God
The Entrenched vs. the Minimized: Five Paradigms of Western Society

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Depression & Meaninglessness: Where is God in the depths of despair?

Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 (NIV) So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

There is a part of me that aches with meaninglessness.  I cannot describe fully, how terrible it is.  Who can manage it?  Solomon the writer of Ecclesiastes describes the pain of wisdom.  He described the meaninglessness of the daily life.  

I've always, even before becoming a Christian, been keenly aware of the meaninglessness of life.  I've always been a deeply depressed young man.  Maybe I just read too much.  And maybe it's been a tough walk.  Psychologists say that the impact of a divorce, in particular, an ugly divorce is often worse than the death of a parent, on the children involved.  

There are many types of pain in life.  There are many ways to hurt.  But who can say that they are happy?  I've asked that question to many, and the most common answer is that they are not happy.  Many say that God wants us to be happy.  And I believe that.  The question I wonder about is the timing.  Happy now, or happy later?

 Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (NIV)
1 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

Timing is everything.  Who can know the mind of God?  Who can perceive a being without beginning or end?  I have yet to understand the self existence of God.  The first question is always, well, who made God?  Anything that exists has a beginning, right?  Then I think, if I was God, I would be intensely disturbed by the notion of how I came into existence.  I would be terrified to ask who I was, and how I came into being.  Because everything I am aware of has come into being, including myself.  At any moment before 6:00 PM on April 6th, 1985 I did not exist aside from inside the belly of my mother.  Nine months prior I did not exist what-so-ever. 

In a very real way, I find myself incapable of understanding a self-existent entity capable of generating a universe with mere thoughts and acts of will.  The notion is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Because by all the calculations I muster, there must be something before and therefore the designer of what is after.  But logically there must be a first undesigned designer.  Origins is an absolutely fascinating topic.  But I'll leave it there.

The past few days have been an absolute whirlwind of emotional chaos and depression within my own mind.  I very often struggle with intense, crippling depression.  I struggle with anger too, and frustration.  I don't know how most people do it.  This is such a difficult existence.  I find myself so isolated from those around me, that I can hardly bear it.  I find myself so desperately crippled by fear and worry that I can hardly keep going day by day.

Always in my mind is the starkness of the limitations of this Earth.  Always in my mind is the evil, the political corruption, the next mission and the next lost cause to champion.  The burden of my heart is for the millions around me who seem brainwashed to care for nothing but sports teams, television shows, drinking, and sex.  I try to tell them about Jesus Christ, and it's not even that they have questions or don't understand, it's that they just don't care.  I'm gripped with the hopelessness of the human condition.  There is very little I can do.  Only when the Holy Spirit grabs someone, does anything change; Or when someone is sufficiently defeated to offer a surrender, and come to God in earnest humble seeking. 

The noise is incredible.  I find myself captured by it too so often, by the screens, the phone screen, the laptop screen, and noise of the radio, the music, the videos, and the noise of endless goings on and news and stories and cinema.  I make war for my prayer life, for quiet time with God, but I find myself losing that war.  I make war against sin, and I find myself with surprising victories at times, but so often still trapped in certain patterns, whether it's food, or coffee, or cleaning or overspending.

Thankfully, God breaks every chain.  It happens, over time.  But I find myself frustrated, with the pain.  Often the agonizing, drizzling pain over a single day.  The anxiety, the worry, the anger that grips me at times.  It seems so unmanageable at times, like I might just explode.  Of course this is nothing new.  This is not surprising.  Such is mentioned time and again in the Bible.  Elijah found himself deeply discouraged after his greatest victory.  Job, with good reason, found himself deeply impacted by suffering.  Jonah fell into despondency and anger.  Moses doubted his own abilities.  Gideon had little faith.  Thomas doubted.  Peter denied his friend.  Jesus wept.  

There is no doubt that suffering is part of life, and the reaction against suffering is pain, sadness, depression, doubt, fear, and agony.  

That was the one thing that cheered me up a bit over the past few days.  I remembered that Jesus Christ, my own God, is intimately acquainted with suffering.  Jesus suffered.  He cried out to his Father in heaven.  He wept over so many people not being able to hear his message.  He felt frustrated as many of his followers refused to follow him anymore, because his teaching seemed too hard.  He wept over the death of a friend.  He wept watching his friends' friends crumbling in grief.  Jesus was nailed to a cross, to die slowly.  Perhaps nearly as bad as dying slowly, was the mental trauma of such a death.  He was mocked, ridiculed, when he knew deep down that he had never done anything wrong.  Not even a little.  He was laughed at.  He was shamed.  

In the past, when I found myself in a hospital bed, or in jail, or sitting before a judge... it wasn't always the ordeal that was the worst part.  The worst part was how people looked at you, how people treated you.  They looked you in the eyes angry, ashamed, and their eyes said: "you are bad. you are wrong.  you are evil."  When children are abused early in life, according to psychology, the worst part is being treated like an object, instead of a person.  And that's how they looked at Jesus.  They treated him like a demon, a monster, and condemned him, hung him up, and spit on him as he died slowly.  

The point of this description is to emphasize one point: Jesus understands when I suffer, when I feel lost and alone and isolated, and he understands when you feel depression and despair.  He knows.  He understands.  And he cares.  

Understanding that my God knows exactly what I'm going through, and "walked the walk" as it were, I can then begin to see that the problem is not with God, the problem is with my perspective.  It's easy for people to lose perspective in this world.  It happens to me all the time.  I'm a fallible human, it just happens.  

How did Jesus confront his accusers?  He asked them questions.  In so doing, he opened them up within their own thinking and helped them to see the truth from a new perspective.  

I was "advised" by a dear friend, watching me bitterly peruse in my own morass, to take a new perspective.  She said "Justin, stop it and write a gratitude list. Now!"  And I did.  Would you like to see it?  I knew you would.

So I asked myself: "What do you have to be grateful for?"

I came up with:
I'm grateful for the people who encourage me at 11 am on Tuesdays.
I'm grateful for bottled water.
I'm grateful for a warm house to live in, thank you Father.
I'm grateful for 2 years of recovery!
I'm grateful for my friend Chelsey.
I'm grateful for my job at the Salvation Army.
I'm grateful for my church that I go to.
I'm grateful for my heavenly Dad. 
I'm grateful for Jesus Christ.
I'm grateful for the people at the shelter that I get to help.
I'm grateful for 89Q.
I'm grateful for my home group.
I'm grateful for almond milk.
I'm grateful for my mom and sister.
I'm grateful for the grace of God.

Most of us, all of us, have a lot to be grateful for.  When I start to focus on the negatives, the corruption, the lost, the defeated, and the hopeless then I need to find a new perspective.  Jesus understands my isolation and depression.  But Jesus invites me to be grateful in him and his completed work.  Jesus reminds me to be filled with all joy despite trials and persecution, and suffering.

In closing, Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV) says "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
 (underline added for emphasis)


Friday, November 14, 2014

The Elegant and Meaningful Message of the Book

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV) 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

There is so much noise surrounding the Bible.  There is so much rhetoric.  There is so much bias.  There are so many skeptics, with so many things to say.  But when you actually open up the Bible and read it, wow.  Just wow.  The message is elegant, beautiful, deep, and meaningful.  There are so many ideas, so many stereotypes.  It's taught to mean things it never meant and twisted to say things it never said.  But in the end, when I actually, myself, open up the book and read it myself, I find something quite different.

That has been my experience in many areas.  History is another example.  I was very illiterate regarding history and as I read it, more and more I understand the present problems the world faces.  Another area is regarding church history, the crusades, and the development of the New Testament canon.  I had read books like the Da Vinci Code and the Gnostic gospels.  Such fabrications, such obvious forgeries.  Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.  In retrospect I was looking for a reason to disbelieve.  I read a bunch of conjecture and took it as fact.  I watched the movie Zeitgeist as well.  It was an interesting look at world politics, but it also tore apart Christianity.  At first I was impressed.  But after reading up on the topic, I realized that most of the information about religion in Zeitgeist was simply not true.  I watched a rebuttal to Zeitgeists claims regarding Jesus, and similar stories in other religions, and almost none of Zeitgeist's claims held up under academic scrutiny. 

Truth gets lost very easily in this world.  So does trust.  But there is one outside the system in whom we can trust.  That is God our Father, through his son Jesus Christ.  

Our Father in heaven is indeed faithful.  And I will in return be faithful to him.  During this present hour of struggle we must suffer in all manner of trials.  I've found these trials particularly taxing on my emotions, my ability to keep going everyday, and my ability to sleep soundly.  These trials often hurt badly, it's no doubt.  But, as verse 7 says, the testing and building of my faith is yielding something worth more than gold.  Did you know that an ounce of gold today is worth 1,180 dollars?  An ounce is the size of a peanut.  Imagine what your faith will be worth in heaven. 

I choose to believe what God says today, in his book.  That is a radical thing to do, even in a church setting.  A lot of people will give it lip service, but they don't live it.  After youth group they go home and have sex with their girlfriend.  They go get drunk and watch the game.  On and on.  It's radical to really believe and follow the Book.  Can you handle that?  Can we do that?  

Let's do it.  Do you really believe him?  I do.  He says in verse four "This inheritance is kept in heaven for you."  That's not just a nice religious thing to say, or a romantic tradition, it's a fact and a reality.  

Verse 3, in his great mercy we have a new birth into a living hope.  It's so elegantly stated, don't you think?  The scriptures cut right through my mind, my emotions, and the Holy Spirit within gives me a trigger that what I'm reading is actually true.  I love that.  It's just awesome.  It's amazing.  It's foundational.  It cuts through all the advertisements, false truths, sexualized culture, rhetoric, pomp, and lets me know there and then that God is indeed the sovereign creator of the known and unknown universe. 

Verse 5, we through faith are shielded by God's power until our coming salvation.  Wow.  Shielded through God's power.  I love that.  I need that shield, everyday.  When I wake up in the morning I take a few minutes to lean over and make my petition that God my dad would shield me from the temptations of this world.  Verse 7 the perseverence of our faith through this world of skeptics, and reasons to doubt will, yes, will result in praise, glory, and honor at the coming of Jesus Christ.  

Verse 8, though you don't see him, you know him, you love him, you believe in him.  Remember what Jesus said to Thomas?  Jesus said: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).

Finally at the end of verse 8, and going into verse 9, you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the end result of your faith, which is the salvation of your souls.  Very simply, it is eternal life we are receiving through Christ Jesus our Lord.  


Related Posts:
The Philosophy of Jesus Christ
Jesus: The God who Came
Why is Jesus the perfect example to follow?
Psalm to the Holy Father
Momentary Troubles & Eternal Glory