Thoughts about faith

religion

Is This the Gospel?

An interesting thing has happened in to the church in the last few decades. America is becoming an increasingly unchurched nation. We have the tradition of church attendance largely due to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our parents and grandparents largely attended church. Increasingly though Americans are eschewing church while “spirituality” is on the rise. Personally this became apparent to me while viewing profiles on mainstream dating sites of all places. More and more people are listing their faith as “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve exchanged messages with several and what they mean by that is all over the map. So we are more “spiritual” than ever but traditional “religion[1]” is on the decline.

So the modern Christian church has tried to adapt to the changing population. Increasingly churches are catering to the unchurched. They feature contemporary style music, light-weight sermons, sermon series focused on “real issues”, and offer attractions like coffee bars and a plethora of children’s programs. Those things are not bad or wrong. However my concern is that in many of these churches their “preachers”, “tickle men’s ears.”

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul wrote about this very thing:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

I call this the Tony Robbins Church. I am not knocking Tony Robbins. So far as I know he does not represent himself as a pastor, preacher, or theologian. He is a motivational speaker and I don’t think most people feel like they are attending church when going to a Tony Robbins seminar. Yet the church has seen men like Norman Vicent Peale, Robert Schuller, and now Joel Osteen and Jesse Duplantis (to name but a few) who do not preach the Gospel. In their zeal to be every positive they fail to preach the whole Word of God. They purposely skip those verses that deal with sin, damnation, punishment, etc. They preach a “health and wealth” Gospel. After all if they were to preach the whole Gospel of God they would not be able to afford their extensive TV networks! No one wants to hear about their sin! How negative. We would all love to believe that God wants us to be health, wealthy, and wise. He wants us to have that fancy house and luxury car and of course perfect health to go along with it.

Jesse Deplantis put it this way:
“I’ve never had the Lord say, ‘Jesse, I think that car is a little bit too nice.’  I’ve had vehicles and the Lord said, ‘Would you please go park that at your house.  Don’t put that in front of my house.  I don’t want people to think that I’m a poor God.'” (Jesse Duplantis, “When Will We Yield To The Anointing of Wealth II,” April 10, 2005)

Really Jesse? Where do you find that in Scripture? Did not Jesus and his disciples live often sleep outdoors with little more than the clothes on their back? Which of the apostles was rich? How many died of old age? History is full of the greatest pillars of the faith being martyred for their faith. Was their faith deficient and that is why they suffered thus? No most of the pillars of the faith died terrible deaths and lived very modest lives. Richness is not a sin. Neither though is poverty or poor health. God desires us to be spiritually rich and spiritually healthy. Guess what? We are all going to die and we can’t take anything with us. Do you still think God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy? No God does not want us to be poor or in bad health but He cares more for our spiritual well-being than He does for our material well-being. Those who teach otherwise are NOT teaching the true Gospel.

In Acts 20:24 Luke wrote:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

Yes these men do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. They only preach what they feel are the positive verses. As I wrote in my previous blog article, the Good News is understandable only by knowing the “bad news.”

In a way they are lazy and concerned only with tickling ears and filling seats (oh and raking in donations). You see the truth is when we understand why God allows poverty, poor health, and suffering we see them through wholly new eyes. My dear sister died nearly a year ago from a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. In the midst of dying her comment was not why God chose to inflict her but “why not” her. She understood that God was good and her cancer, thought fatal, was not a punishment. Her cancer drew her closer to God than anything else in her life ever had. She died in the arms of Jesus. At peace. Did her faith fail her because her health failed or did her faith triumph over her failed health?

Joel Osteen may pack the house and draw millions more via television but are they hearing the whole Gospel? Or are the only hearing those things that make them feel good about themselves?

God does not want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to glory in Him. When our will aligns with His will we will have all the desires of our hearts. Someone once wrote that “The purpose of the church gathered is to edify the saints. The purpose of the church scattered is to seek and save the lost.” I believe we have lost our vision. The church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him and edify one another. It is outside of church, in our everyday lives, that we “seek and save the lost.” In other words, the primary mode of evangelism happens in everyday life. Inviting people to church and entertain or motivating them is not evangelism although God can and does use churches to save people. We must remember that when the church gathers our purpose is to worship God and edify each other. As such we would expect no less than the whole Gospel.

In an interview with Christianity Today, published on Oct. 5, 1984, Robert Schuller was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”

My oh my! What Bible was Robert Schuller reading? Let’s contrast this to the very first sermon given by a follower of Jesus. The preacher was the Apostle Peter and the occasion the Day of Pentecost right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the last sentence of Peter’s sermon:

Acts 2:36
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. (emphasis mine)

Not the way to win friends and influence people! No Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying the Lord! Their Messiah. To be guilty of the death of God’s Holy Messiah is about the worst sin imaginable to a Jew. Yet Robert Schuller would say such a thing is “unchristian.”

Once again Romans 3:23 (written by Paul) says:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

First Peter now Paul! How can Robert Schuller say such a thing when the very followers of Jesus made clear to men their sinful state?

Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.

Host Katie Couric suggested that the popular minister does not “spend a lot of time in (his) sermons talking about good and evil, sin and redemption. It is a very overall positive message.” She asked, “Why don’t you give people more of a moral template?”

Osteen insisted that he does, but “in a positive way.”

“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”

That sounds good and I don’t doubt Joel’s desire but at the same time what is it he wants them lifted up from? By far the #1 thing God wants them to be lifted up from is their sin! Sure God wants you to overcome your addictions, love your spouse better, etc, but without forgiveness from your sin those things are meaningless. If God is good then even the “negative” things He has to say are for our good.

I know it would seem I am picking on Joel. I am using him as an example just like Robert Schuller though I like  Joel far better. Joel considers himself a pastor and the leader of a church. Yet Joel does not preach the whole Bible! He only focuses on those things he believes are uplifting and positive. Yet in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 wrote:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Not Paul said all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training. He did not say “some Scripture” or “only the positive verses.” No he said it was all useful. So why doesn’t Joel, or Rober Schuller, or a host of others preach all of Scripture? One simple reason. Because if they preached all of Scripture they would not fill all those seats and raise all the money. They would not have worldwide TV audiences.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

If someone is offended by the message of the cross then that is not our concern so long as we are faithfully preaching the Gospel. For such it is foolishness. That is not our problem. We are to preach the Good News (which includes the Bad News) and leave the rest to God. Whether our church is big or small is up to God. Our job is to faithfully preach the truth.

I had the pleasure once to attend a series of lectures by Paul Matzat author of the book “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends.” Our generation is obsessed with self-esteem. We are told we have to learn to love ourselves, esteem ourselves. Only allow the positive in our lives so nothing can drag us down. Yet listen to what Paul Matzat wrote:

“The call of the gospel is away from self and unto Jesus, because self is the problem and Jesus is the solution.”

His book is aptly titled “Christ Esteem.” We don’t need self-esteem. Most of us already think to highly of ourselves. What we need is “Christ Esteem.” You see when you lose your life in Jesus Christ and realize who you are in Him then you have something far more valuable than self-esteem. When you realize the God of the Universe took on flesh and blood and died a terrible death on the cross to pay the price for your sin you will realize you are of infinite value to Him! Now what could be more positive than that?

God allows suffering to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Chirst. Poor health, poverty, lost job, … are sometimes the way God gets our attention and increases our faith. Those things might be our fault but God uses them for good (Romans 8:28).

We don’t need our self-esteem built-up. We need our Christ-esteem built-up. We don’t need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel good about God! Once we know who we are in Christ we will feel good about ourselves.

The church and many of her leaders are losing their vision, losing their way. The message of the cross and our need for forgiveness from our sin is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. If pastors will not preach on sin who will?


[1] As an aside I somewhat dislike the term “religion.” Religion is man’s attempt to explain God or some other higher deity. Christianity is God’s revelation to man. For some it may be a religion but what it really is at the core is God sending His Son to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If it is not that at the core then it is not Christianity. We attend church because we want to be in the company of fellow disciples of Jesus (iron sharpens iron). It is not our church attendance though that makes us Christians. It is our faith.

 


Imagine a World Without Religion

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

 

These are the lyrics to John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine.” It voices a sentiment shared by many in today’s spiritual climate. It suggests a “brotherhood of man” is possible if we can just imagine a better world free from the things that divide us:

  • No heaven
  • No countries
  • No religion
  • No possessions
  • No greed or hunger

The premise is that if we remove these things that historically have caused conflict, division, or even wars then we will achieve a brotherhood of man. Before I address this from a Biblical perspective I want to first make a few comments.

To some extent these things were tenants of Communism. Communism downplayed or forbid religion. In the State approved churches in China, for example, pastors were not allowed to preach on heaven or hell. The government did not want to give people anything to “live or die for.” Lenin’s motto was “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.” There were still possessions but in theory class distinction was eliminated. Your job or education did not determine your income. Just your needs. There were still possessions but in theory no one had considerably more than others since income was distributed by need. A larger family would need more income than a small family but not to give it a higher standard of living. The collective farms run by the State would provide for the sustenance of everyone. So did it work?

History would say NO! The Soviet Union fell apart and China has had to resort to free market reforms. While China still represses religion house churches thrive. I know those who espouse John Lennon’s ideals would say the problem was these things were forced and enforced as opposed to voluntary. They must believe that slowly over a long period of time mankind will see the wisdom of abandoning the things that divide us.

I would ask the question though if these things are the root of the problem. Jesus was confronting the Pharisees who were complaining that His disciples were eating with unclean/unwashed hands. Jesus addressed their concerns saying:

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ (Matthew 15:17-20)

Jesus’ point was that sin begins in the heart, in the mind. A pure heart can look upon the same scene an impure heart can look on and have a very different reaction. The stimulus is the same but the way the heart responds is what is different. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” That is the natural state of man’s heart: desperately wicked. So we have a desperately wicked heart and it is out of our hearts evil comes. So how will removing all outside sources of division cure the heart of man?

If you go back far enough in time there were no countries, few possessions, and few religions yet somehow we got to where we are today. What began the downward spiral? The problem is the heart of man. The wicked and desperate heart brought about wars and greed and division. Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Human history was not very old yet Cain murdered his brother out of jealousy and anger. They were not affected by all the things John Lenon would have us eliminate save religion. They believed in but one God and had no quarrel over land or standard of living. Yet Cain killed his brother. So we see sin already at work so soon after the fall of man.

An analogy might be putting a criminal in prison. We isolate criminals from society and take away their freedom. For the sake of argument let’s assume the prisoner is in solitary confinement.  There he cannot commit any crimes. Has his criminal nature (i.e. his heart) changed? Not necessarily. He may be completely unchanged but lacking the opportunity to pursue criminal acts the inmate cannot commit further crime.  For Lenon’s vision to work hearts would have to change. Merely eliminating countries, and religion, and possessions would not work. Men would still hate, still lie, still cheat, still steal.

Besides you can never eliminate everything that could divide. What about looks, intelligence, talents, and so forth? Those things have longed caused jealousy. They are things we are born with to some extent and so you will never eliminate everything that could cause division. Unless our hearts change it won’t matter what we eliminate.

If religion is one source of division it is interesting to note the attitude of the early Christians as recorded in the Book of Acts chapter 4:

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Here we have a group of highly religious people sharing everything! Some had much to give, some had little, some had only need. There were divisions yet their changed hearts moved them to give for the benefit of others. Christian missionaries have for centuries taught people to read and write, help them become self-sufficient, brought much needed medical attention, and so forth. Yes in time organizations like the Peace Corp did the same as a secular organization but missionaries were doing these things for centuries before any secular groups were and continue to today. Christians run homeless shelters, homes for abused women, orphanages, and so much more.

Religion is often blamed for wars and at times rightly so although often those religious wars are as much about racial and cultural differences as they are about religion. As a Christian I will only defend Biblical Christianity. I do not approve of the Islamic teachings (held by some) that infidels are to convert or die. Yet how many people died under Stalin and Mao? While Hitler claimed a Christian background there was absolutely no evidence of it in his life and his views of racial purity and eliminating the weak were nowhere found in Christianity. Japan’s many atrocities in China, Korea, and in WWII in general was not religiously motivated. The deaths from these sources far exceed deaths from so-called religious wars.

 


Misconceptions on Christians and Homosexual Marriage

Lately I’ve read a number of letters ad commentaries trying to suggest the Christian response to homosexuality is irrational particularly in the current debate over gay marriage. I’ve seen a trend of misconceptions I would like to address.

First off, and this is my pet peeve, it is grossly unfair to assign the label homophobic to anyone who is not fully supportive of homosexuality. A phobia is an irrational fear. Most Christians do not have a phobia about homosexuality. Their opposition is based on the teachings of the Bible and not a fear that homosexuals will take over the world and turn everyone one else into a homosexual. Some may have concerns about what is being taught to their children but no more so than some parents object to certain sex ed content sometimes taught. The are not against their children learning about the birds and the bees but might prefer to discuss it privately with their children or using different materials. That is not a phobia.  The word homophobia has become a derogatory term suggesting someone who is a bigot, hateful, close minded, and irrational. Is there no room for disagreement in our democratic society without negative labels being attached?

One misconception I’ve heard is that Christians believe all unions have to be about procreation therefore homosexual unions are invalid. One article I read cited the case of an old couple being married and asking if these same Christians consider that an illegitimate marriage since the couple was beyond child bearing age. Of course not! No where does the Bible say marriage is not allowed if the couple cannot have children. God gave the command to “be fruitful and multiply” but that was a general instruction and never said there could not be exceptions. Christian churches do marry older couples. My Mom remarried at the age of 80 to an 80 year old man. They got married in a church. So this is not an argument about the ability to have children in the union.

Other articles have tried to call into question what the Bible really has against homosexuality and argue that the only concern was for homosexual prostitution. There is poor, self-serving scholarship behind those claims. There is no reason to believe there is anything other than regular homosexuality in view in the Biblical passages.

The bottom line is this. The Book of Genesis tells us that God first created Adam. He had Adam name all the animals thus giving him ample contact with every type of animal. Adam found that although the animals were great none were suitable to be a companion to him. He was human and they were not. So God created Eve – a woman. Adam responded with great excitement that now here was the perfect companion to him. God then went on to define marriage as between a man and a woman. No where does Scripture change that definition. It has always only recognized marriage as being between a man and a woman.

God could have created two men or two women with the ability to procreate in some other fashion. Man and woman each in some unique ways convey the communicable attributes of God. In other words women have some traits of God we men don’t quite have and we men have some traits women don’t quite have. Together though we complete the traits God has passed on to us.

So the real Christian objective to homosexual marriage is simply that it goes against God’s definition of marriage. We realize full well we live in a secular, democratic society. However that gives us the right to exercise our right to vote as we please and speak out for what we believe just like everyone else. Opposing homosexual marriage is not a hate crime. It does not involve hate at all. It is simply standing up for our beliefs. Personally I have no hatred toward gays and have had gay friends. I treat them no differently than anyone else. However if you ask me if gay marriage should be allowed I am compelled to say no. I say that though based on my beliefs. I realize that society as a whole may decide it’s ok and in time it may become the law of the land.

Disagree which is your right but please don’t toss out straw man arguments, call it homophobia, or hatred. There may be a minority of Christians who cite some of those reason or who have a hateful heart but if so they are not following the teachings of God and I cannot back them.


Another Example of “Your God is Too Big”

It is fashionable these days, at least here in America, to claim belief in “God.” America is still largely a Judea-Christian country at least in terms of our culture. A large percentage of Americans still attend church and profess a faith. Even among those who do not regularly attend church believe in “God” is still high. Some speak of a “higher power” that helps them overcome alcoholism or disease. Some scientists claim we have a “faith gene” that predisposes us to believe in something outside ourselves or perhaps within ourselves but something divine or more powerful than ourselves. Such belief, it is claimed, can create a positive state of mind that empowers us. So it is fashionable to believe in some kind of higher power unless you are a hardcore atheist.

America is full of spirituality but feathers get ruffled when one tries to define that spirituality particularly in definite terms. When your “higher power” becomes Jesus Christ and not just any “Jesus Christ” but the Jesus of the New Testament then well you are simply going too far. Now you are being exclusive and definitely not tolerant. You see in modern society “tolerance is next to godliness.” So we want a “higher power” but we want that “higher power” to be a bit ill-defined and there when we need it but otherwise respecting the boundaries of our lives and the beliefs of others. Sort of a god who is like a genie in a bottle. Rub the bottle when you need him but otherwise he stays in the bottle and does not interfere with your life.

Christians get into trouble because we know things about our “higher power.” See our “higher power” revealed Himself to mankind through the prophets in the Old Testament and principally through the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. He also sent His Holy Spirit to inspire men to further His revelation. Thus we have the Bible – Old and New Testaments. We believe not just in a concept but in a real, personal God who has revealed Himself to us. We don’t call him “higher power” but rather we call Him God, Lord, Jesus Christ. Since He has revealed Himself to us we know many things about Him and about what He expects of us. Now there is a particularly distasteful subject. God expects things from us. We like our higher powers much more benign. They are supposed to grant us our wishes but expect nothing in return. The thought of a God who holds us accountable just takes the fun out of the whole spirituality game! Spirituality is fun when it has no rules or we get to make up the rules. As soon as we say God made up the rules then we have crossed that line in the sand and stepped on a whole lot of toes…

Now let’s go back to the days not long after Jesus ascended into heaven. Fifty days to be exact on the Day of Pentecost which was a Jewish feast day. The Book of Acts of the New Testament in chapter two describes for us an amazing event that took place on that day.

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (from the NIV translation)

Much could be written, and has, about this passage so I am not going to try and deal with all of it. What I want to focus on is verse 13. What has happened is that a group of uneducated hicks suddenly were able to speak in foreign languages and dialects such that people from all over the known world were able to hear and understand them in their native languages. This was a miracle. Men who were not even eloquent in their own native tongues were suddenly speaking such that men from all over the world could understand them in their native tongues. God was pretty BIG that day. Most were amazed and in awe but predictably there we some who, unable to explain the clear miraculous event and unwilling to consider the implications of this being a miracle, mocked the Apostles and accused them of being drunk. Now that’s a sensible explanation! If you don’t have an answer just make fun of them!

Have you ever known anyone to get smarter when drunk? Ever seen a drunk in a bar suddenly speak fluent Arabic despite never having studied the language? Doesn’t happen does it? No in fact most drunks have difficulty speaking clearly in their own native language much less speaking a language they know nothing of. To suggest these men were speaking fluently in foreign languages due to excessive drinking was probably something a drunk would say! It made no sense. Yet that is what happens when God is too big. Rather than marvel and accept some mock and come up with ridiculous explanations that strain credulity. God was getting too big for their comfort so let’s just side step the whole issue and accuse the Apostles of being drunk. There. Problem solved.

I’ve seen TV shows that have tried to come up with natural explanations for miracles like the parting of the Red Sea. Turns out it was a sand bar that blocked the water with just the right wind conditions. Sorry but that doesn’t even explain the “walls of water” described in the Biblical account. See we just can’t have a Big God who can miraculously part water so we have to find another explanation. Oh we’ll throw God a bone and say he was smart enough to know about that sand bar and the wind requirements such that he made it all happen at precisely the correct time. Sure God can and has used natural causes to accomplish His will but He is far bigger than that. He spoke the universe into existence out of nothing. You don’t get any bigger than that! Still we have scientists like Stephen Hawking postulating multiple parallel universes (see the matter for our universe came from the collapse of a parallel universe) so no need for a God to create matter thank you. Well Stephen where did the matter for the very first of all these parallel universes come from? Oh well it just spontaneously appeared.  Well why didn’t you say that in the beginning? Yes who needs God now that we have spontaneously self-creating matter! No need for a Big God who is self-existent and eternal. The funny thing is that in this silly attempt to explain away the need for God the atheist almost ends up with a “Small God.” See his God is matter. That matter had to be intelligent did it not? I mean how did it know how to form and create stars and planets? How did it figure out the speed of light and the power of gravity? Seems that matter had to have rules encoded into it’s very essence. How? I thought matter was just well matter. Kind of dumb on it’s own but when used properly can do amazing things. Take clay for example. Clay is pretty dumb but put it on a potter’s wheel and let some expert hands shape it and you can create some amazingly beautiful (and useful) things out of clay. The clay is still dumb but in the hands of a master that dumb clay ends up looking pretty good. Somehow though Stephen Hawkin’s matter had to be Smart Matter since we can’t have a Master (i.e. God) directing it. Ok so really what we have is self-intelligent matter. Maybe not as well defined as the God of the Bible but that’s how we tend to like our “higher powers.” Stephen Hawking’s “higher power” is matter. Whatever works for you Stephen. I mean isn’t that the point? If that “higher power” helps you feel better about yourself then who cares what it is right? At least intelligent matter doesn’t tell you how to live your life!

All the evidence for God aside, to me in comes down to a choice. Either you believe like Stephen Hawking that matter just somehow self-created and had intelligence and the rest followed or there is a self-existent, eternal God who is intelligent and created matter, the laws of physics, and created this one and only universe and put us in it. So intelligent matter or intelligent God? I’ll go with God. Last I checked matter didn’t give us any revelations, enable simple Galilean men to speak foreign languages, or raise people from the dead. So I’m going to go with the God who has done all those things and more. Yes a Big God.


Thoughts on “Mindful Living”

Mindful Living is all the buzz in secular psychology these days. A simple web search will produce volumes of articles and   books. In one such search I found articles on “The Calligraphy of Mindfulness”, “Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce the Sensation of Pain”, “Mindfulness According to William Wordsworth”, and “Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Eating Disorders.” Before I comment more on this “mindful movement” let’s examine it’s roots.

First what is “Mindful Living?” According to livingminodfully.org it is:

Mindfulness is about waking up to life and what it means to be fully human. The practice of mindfulness is marked by openness and curiosity toward your experience.  Mindfulness meditation develops awareness and compassion, which are essential to living skillfully.  Compassionate attention helps develop many qualities and abilities such as focus, clarity, insight, love, compassion, and joy.  These translate into reduced stress and anxiety, improvements in health and mental wellbeing, and greater adaptability and appreciation in life.  Mindfulness practice helps us to take care of ourselves and thus transform the suffering and stress in our lives and in our society.

Pasted from <http://www.livingmindfully.org/>

Another similar sight puts this statement across their home page:

At LivingMindfully.com we embrace all paths that lead to peace & oneness…

Pasted from <http://livingmindfully.com/>

According to an article on wikipedia the origins of Mindfulness are Buddhist:

Mindfulness (Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smṛti / स्मृति) in Buddhist meditation.; also translated as awareness) is a spiritual faculty (indriya) that is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. “Correct” or “right” mindfulness (Pali: sammā-sati, Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the seventh element of the noble eightfold path. Mindfulness meditation can be traced back to the Upanishads, part of Hindu scriptures and a treatise on the Vedas. [1]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

The same wikipedia article goes on to explain the connection between Buddhist Mindfulness teaching and Western medicine:

Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. Scientific research into mindfulness generally falls under the umbrella of positive psychology. Research has been ongoing over the last twenty or thirty years, with a surge of interest over the last decade in particular.[23][24] In 2011, NIH‘s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) released finding of a study where in magnetic resonance images of the brains of 16 participants 2 weeks before and after mindfulness meditation practitioners, joined the meditation program were taken by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Germany, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It concluded that “..these findings may represent an underlying brain mechanism associated with mindfulness-based improvements in mental health.”[25] A January 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, based on anatomical magnetic resonance images (MRI) of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) participants, suggested that “participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” [26]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

From my own reading Mindfulness, at least as employed in Western thinking, seems to center on taking the time to slow down, observe your actions, and appreciate the nuances of them. Although I am not a Buddhist or particularly well verses in Buddhist philosophy I immediately sensed a contradiction. I always thought that Buddhist thinking and meditation was about clearing the mind and to stop thinking. So Buddhism would seem to be about being unmindful to me so how can the same philosophy produce Mindfulness? Indeed as I read further I found I am not alone in seeing this contradiction. Under the heading of “Zen criticism” in the same wikipedia article I found this criticism:

Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, explains the pitfalls of consciously seeking mindfulness.

We should always try to be active coming out of samadhi. For this, we have to forget things like “I should be mindful of this or that”. If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation (“I – am – mindful – of – ….”). Don’t be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk (Dogen Zenji says: “When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma”). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.[22]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

Now that sounds more like what I would have expected from an Eastern philosophy.

Confused? I sure am! So am I supposed to be mindful during my walk or am I supposed to let the “walk walk?” See the contradiction? To some the mind is the problem. Any amount of thinking is counterproductive. The less you think the better. Don’t think. Just do. To others we need to be thinking just at a slower, positive, present level. Both seems to claim to grow from the same root stock yet have contradictory applications.

As a Christian my first and foremost question is should I be seeking any wisdom from Buddhist philosophy? Is not Buddhism a competing world view to the Biblical worldview? There is no question in my mind that Buddhism is a competing worldview. My Christian worldview is not one in which the ends justify the means. While something might work for some people does not alone make it worthy of my consideration. History is full of man’s philosophies and attempts to make sense of the life we live and the world we live in. What separates Christianity from the plethora of human philosophies is directional. Human philosophy is man’s attempt to explain existence, life, and the meaning of it all. Christianity, and specifically the Scriptures (Old and New Testament), are God’s revelation to man about existence, life, and the meaning of it all. See the difference? One is man trying to explain “god”, or whatever concept of ultimate truth they espouse, and how we are to live. The other is God revealing to man his existence, his purpose, and his God. Human philosophy is limited by definition because it starts from a position of ignorance guided only by what may be observed and imagined. Divine revelation is limited only by what God choses to reveal and the finiteness of our minds in understanding what an infinite God reveals to us. Since human philosophy has no way of knowing if it is on the mark it can only judge by what appears to be efficacious. If it makes your life go better then it must have value and in the end that’s the best we can hope for since by human philosophy we never can know the truth due to the inherent limitations of our own knowledge. We see this in the plethora of human religions, philosophies, self-help books, and so on. Google enough and you will find a multitude of often contradictory articles on how to deal with a problem in your life. I might suggest as well that human philosophy so often has issue with Biblical Christianity precisely because it allows for “many paths” to a truth or solution whereas Biblical Christianity allows for just one. Saying there is only one way to truth is fighting words to those who embrace many paths. It is seen as arrogant, ignorant, intolerant, and any of a number of like synonyms.

Really you can reduce worldviews down to two. There is the Biblical worldview and the secular/humanist worldview. Within the secular/humanist worldview there is the scientific worldview. Science limits itself to that which can be observed, repeated, tested, and falsified. Quite simply if something falls outside the ability of science to explain it (by it’s own rules) then it falls into the intellectual limbo of unknowability. Science can advance the theory that the universe began in a Big Bang in which highly condensed matter literally exploded and went on to form galaxies, stars, and planets. Science cannot address where that matter came from nor the rules or laws that dictated the results of that explosion. Such questions lie outside the bounds of science and thus are unknowable. Ironically modern Western thinking proceeds from the premise that all this is knowable is knowable via the scientific method and the rest is not worth philosophizing about. At times though Science stumbles upon it’s own logic like postulating that the matter for the Big Bang came from the collapse of a parallel universe of which there may be a countless number. Such postulation does nothing to resolve the issue. It just shoves the question back further in time. Ultimately you are faced with the same question. Where did the matter come from for that the very first universe (or first set of parallel universes)? Where did the laws come from that determined how that matter would act? Science cannot answer that question and never will be able to despite physicists like Stephen Hawking boldly declaring that religion is not necessary to explain such things and that science has all the necessary resources. Funny how a man who is so staunchly atheistic describes a universe that can create itself out of nothing (ex-nihlo) the very words used by theology to describe how God created the universe (see: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-02/world/hawking.god.universe_1_universe-abrahamic-faiths-divine-creator?_s=PM:WORLD ). Stephen Hawking is sounding very much like a theologian to me. He just doesn’t want to ascribe this ex-nihlo power to an identifiable, knowable God but instead leaves it to an impersonal universe. Whatever works for you Stephen.

Science, though part of the secular/humanist worldview, really sets itself at odds with both the Biblical worldview and rest of the secular/humanist worldviews. I stumbled upon an article about a psychologist Ellen J. Langer(http://chronicle.com/article/The-Art-of-Living-Mindfully/63292/) who created a bit of an uproar through a blog entry she wrote for Psychology Today.  She recounted a story of a friend who had gone with a group on a trip to India during which they met a guru who asked to have his picture taken with them. Two photos were taken with different cameras and when developed neither photo pictured the guru. He was unexplainably not in either photo. Langer offered no explanation but used the story to suggest that when the data does not fit the theories (i.e. there was no logical reason the guru should have been absent from the photos) then we need to “open our minds to possibility.” Not surprisingly Langer was railed at for making such an un-scientific, intellectually untenable suggestion. All Langer is suggesting is that when the facts don’t fit our theories then we need to think “outside the box.” Therein is the rub. Science cannot think outside the box. The box is science. Remove the box and you remove science. Thinking “outside the box” in science is limited to challenging theories and positing new ones while staying inside the box of the scientific method.

I digress though. So what about the Christian and Mindful Living? Is this worth our consideration? I think not and here is why. We already have divine revelation that tells us all we need to know about life and how to live it. It’s called the Bible. Our problem is our ignorance of it. The typical scenario plays out like this. Secular psychology touts the benefit of some Eastern philosophy such as meditation or Mindful Living and it’s all the rage. Thoughtful Christians come along and say that parallel ideas are taught in the Bible and point a few out. They then suggest that such a philosophy does have benefit for the Christian providing we consider it in the Biblical context. While I appreciate this approach to me it begs a troubling question. Why does it take a Buddhist philosophy employed by Western psychology to get us Christians to reconsider what’s been sitting in our Bibles and within the proper context for thousands of years! Could it be that we are scandalously ignorant of our Bibles? I think the answer is a resounding yes!

I found an article that attempted to address Mindful Living and Christianity. What caught my eye was that the first 90% of the article quoted various men like 17th century monk Brother Lawrence, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, and Dr. Normal Vincent Peale (all men it seems who tried to blend Biblical Christianity with Eastern philosophy). Finally at nearly the end of his long article he quotes two Bible passages with minimal comment. Apparently the philosophies of men have more meaning than the divine revelation of God. I don’t find this shocking though as the articles author sounds far more Buddhist than Christian to me and his list of links are strong evidence for that.

My call in this posting is for us Christians to start being Christians! Romans 12:1-2 describes how we go about doing this:

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.

Pasted from <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12&version=NASB>

The key is found in verse two. It is the renewing of our minds. We renew our minds by reading God’s divine revelation to us (i.e. we read the Bible). Biblical meditation is not some mindless state like Buddhist meditation but rather the focusing our minds on what we are reading and allowing it to wash over us as guided by the Holy Spirit to where it informs us on how to live. The Word of God is instructional and propositional. It is not a philosophy. It is precisely because it is instructional and propositional that it is rejected by most. We all love philosophies because there are so many to pick and chose from and if one doesn’t work why just pick another. Philosophies do not demand anything of you. They can be safely ignored.

I could write, and perhaps will, another article on God’s teaching on how to deal with everyday problems and worries that Mindful Living seeks to address. What we don’t need is to read books and articles on Mindful Living written from a Buddhist philosophical viewpoint. What we do need is to practice Romans 12:1-2 and allow the Spirit of God to renew our minds through the Word of God.

Human philosophies will come and go although nothing is truly new any more. Buddhist teachings have been around for centuries. Certain aspects of it will gain popularity from time to time but it’s all been there for centuries.  God though is eternal and His revelation predates anything Buddhism or any other human philosophy has posited.  Why follow the imaging’s of men when you can go straight to the Source – the divine Word of God?

I’m sure Mindful Living has helped some. The goal though as a Christian is not just learning to live a more peaceful and happy life. Biblically happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. It is not an end unto itself. We are living mindfully when we realize that it is God who created all things for our use and pleasure as we seek to love, obey, and glorify Him. We become enlightened by renewing our minds as per Romans 12:1-2. Enlightenment though is always limited to that which God has revealed as we will never have the mind of God. It is in knowing that God, His purpose for our lives, and His divine plan for eternity that our everyday acts take on mindfulness. Don’t focus on mindful living though. Focus on your relationship with God through His revelation and in the person of Jesus Christ and you will live mindfully.


Why This Blog and Why This Name

J.B. Phillips wrote a book titled “Your God is Too Small” in which he argues that modern man with all his technology has antiquated notions of God and does not find God big enough for our modern world and modern problems. Not in any way disagreeing with his work I am coming at this a bit askew. My take is that many reject God for the opposite reason. He has grown too big. As long as God remains distant, disinterested, limited in power, and a bit nebulous then belief in such a God is acceptable. However, the moment we claim this God can do miracles, create the universe out of nothing, create the universe in 6 literal days with the apparent age of billions of years, and can be known in a personal, detailed way why then that God is too big! Now he is a force to be reckoned with and we don’t like that. We want a safe God who is there when we need him but otherwise respects our boundaries. If He is knowable in a personal and specific way then that is not conducive to religious tolerance because now we have a God that just might differ from someone else’s God. So in a sense we want our God to remain small. I should have named it “Your God is too Big” but I put “Our” in there and now I’m stuck with it unless I want to start all over and so the name is here to stay.

That is why the name of the blog. As to why I am writing it well I love to write and teach and do commentary on modern life and faith. As a divorced Christian I have found myself somewhat of a second class citizen at times in some churches. Get a divorce and all kinds of doors close to you in conservative churches no matter what the reasons. You are damaged good and not the kind of example the church wants to hold up to its members. I am not going to argue the point and instead have chosen to find other outlets for my thoughts in the hopes they might benefit someone while providing me with a much needed outlet. So thus this blog.

I hope my occasional articles will be of some benefit even if you disagree with me on some points. I may even disagree with myself over time and have to retract some things. This is my space to think aloud and I hope you will read with that in mind. No matter what my convictions I am a student always learning and respectful of other’s convictions. In thinking aloud I sometimes see the error of my logic or my understanding of Scripture. That is a good thing. So read and comment if you like although I reserve the right to edit or block comments I feel inappropriate. I am not hear to enter into major debates. I hope though you will find some food for thought.