Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

Hi everybody! I haven’t done much “free writing” here lately; seems like everything has been purpose-driven: sermon texts, bible studies, reblogs of (really great) work by others, and discussions in apologetics – that’s pretty much the index for the whole last month, isn’t it? Well, today I want to ramble a bit, so thanks for reading along, or you can click away…the wonderful freedom of the Internet, that no one is forced to suffer a bore! (But I really hope you aren’t bored by what I say, and if you are, why are you still reading this sentence?)

One thing on my mind is “perception”. This has been pinging at me from a few different directions lately. I live a life with many facets, like most people do, right? But it always amuses me a little when friends from one area seem stunned to learn that there is more than one side to who I am…as if the part they interact with is all there is to me, when they themselves are many-sided people…we all are, aren’t we? Or has TV corrupted our minds to the point that now we think of each other as characters in tiny little reality shows…you’re either Snooki or Honey-Boo-Boo; a ballroom dancer or a guy who makes duck calls; you bake exotic cakes or build exotic motorcycles or wear and create exotic tattoos, and that’s all I need to know. The only exception I can think of is “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, but even he exists only to hawk mediocre Mexican beer (I don’t always seem condescending, but when I do, there’s money in it!)

That last one highlights the confusing flip-side to this: the lengths fiction goes to in creating back stories for characters…imaginary people can be shallow, because they have a limited purpose and don’t need much more than shadows and suggestions for us to decide how we need to view them. Writers know this (or should know it); lazy writers use stereotypes as  a quick and easy way to get the audience where they need to be to understand the plot…who are the “bad guys”, who are the “good guys”, and what are their motives? For the purpose of entertainment, that’s fine…I really don’t want to invest a lot of time and energy “doing life” with a cartoon. But real people are not entertainment – it is very multitude of interests we have that make us worth knowing – yet we are becoming conditioned to treat everyone outside of ourselves as if they exist merely for our own benefit or amusement…and it’s working. This near-sightedness, or tunnel-vision, has direct impact on how we interact with others, but sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who notices it. Let me share two examples from experience.

Recently, I was approached by my employer, who wanted to discuss my future with the company, so he asked me into his office and closed the door. (Does anyone ever enjoy that moment, wondering what is coming next?) He expressed his appreciation for my contributions to the company, and the efforts I have made to improve both communication between office and field, as well as efficiency in the execution of our work. Of course, I am sitting there waiting for the other shoe to drop – in the past, these speeches have proceeded an explanation of why my contributions are no longer needed – and he blows me away by telling me that he wants to invest in my future; he feels I can be of greater benefit to the company by training others in the way I approach a project than by doing the work myself. I am humbled, and grateful…with my wife’s illness, the prospect of losing by job and health insurance fills me with cold dread…and so we begin to discuss some concrete details. He was surprised to learn that I have already been through several of the management and leadership courses he had in mind; that I have previous design, engineering, and CAD experience, going back over twenty years; that I have already purchased some of the collared shirts that office employees wear instead of the logo t-shirts of field crews (out of my own pocket, because the company only provides one set of “uniform” shirts); and that I have public-speaking experience from preaching at my home church…I am much “more” than what he thought I was, and it confuses him…why I am content to “plod along”, when I could be leveraging into higher paying jobs? But I have a checkered history, which limited my options long ago; I still believe that faithfulness and loyalty count for something, even in today’s economy; and these people have been patient, understanding, and supportive of my ministry work and the difficulties of Karen’s illness…how could I receive that, and then leave because someone offered me a dollar or two more an hour?

– – –

Many of my partners in the prison ministry attend a United Methodist mega-church in one of the wealthy enclave communities that surround Houston. They have invited me to participate in any number of the “small group” activities they participate in (I guess 300 men in a discussion group is “small” when Sunday worship attendance is 8,000, but I belong to a church of less than 100, so it’s weird) and I have accepted once or twice, but the “character” disconnect seems to make it strange and uncomfortable for them. These are, by and large, good Christian men and women; but also, by and large, they are white-collar professionals, from good families, with college degrees. So when we shake hands, and they are surprised at how strong and rough my grip is from years of physical labor; or they want to meet at 6am on a weekday for coffee and fellowship, but I must decline because I am either already at the jobsite, or commuting to get there for 7am start time; or when someone asks for a donation to a worthy cause, and they reach for checkbooks and write zeros, while I’m counting cash from my billfold and thinking about how much gas I have in the truck…I am somehow “less than” the person they assume I am, and it confuses them…how can I do this ministry, giving so much to these people, when I have so little of my own?  But while we may serve as brothers and sister in Christ on the teams in the prisons, I have a substantial difference in perspective: they serve in obedience to the call of Jesus to reach “the least of these”,  and while that is also true for me, I do it more because I was once one of those “least”. There is a vast distance between “sympathy” and “empathy”, and the former does not guarantee the latter. I love my friends’ giving hearts, and how they serve because they are richly blessed; but I serve how I do precisely because I have nothing else to give except myself…and I also consider myself richly blessed.

– – –

I don’t know that any of this has a point…I said this was a ramble. So I will leave you with the closest thing to an explanation for how and why I act, work, serve and DO the things I do..I have made this a focus of my devotional time for about two years now, and it continues to inspire me; perhaps it can do the same for you: Colossians 3:23-24, NIV

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

My friend did indeed respond, but the nature of his answer pointed out some defects with the scope and structure of my arguments; here is his response, followed by my attempt to correct and re-orient the conversation.

Well Nick, I see what you’re saying.
But Where exactly are you getting this information from? The “let there be light” comparison you’ve made..
You’re defining my nature or science as a “god” and I guess if you want to say that maybe I’m observing the nature of god, instead of the god of nature(which I guess can define religion).

But I don’t see the proof of god anywhere. Nor has any scientist. But in all fairness here, nor can we rule it out. Nor can we rule out any other god that ever existed for that matter.
The burden of proof lies on religion. You can’t win any court case without evidence being provided. If I make the claim on something then I must follow the scientific method in proving that. And that’s where religion fails. Its faith based.
And if there was a god that created the heavens, the hell, the universe and everything in between… I don’t see why’d he be so concerned about what I do or who I have sex with.. As if he doesn’t have anything else better to do. What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete–it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

I cannot say what’s after this life.. But I have been studying this stuff called astral projecting. I’m new at it and I don’t know much- but if you do, feel free to correct me.
Basically it’s a spiritual thing. Astral projection is the separation of your spirit from your body. You’re fully aware and everything is actually happening. As crazy as this may sound, I’ve been reading people’s stories about this and what they say really influences me to want to try it. It has nothin to do with religion or god or any of that. But they say it does indeed answer some of life’s big questions. There’s testimonies where people can visit absolutely anywhere at anytime. France, Germany, ocean floors and even space. But what really gets me is when they say they visit other dimensions… They say there’s a higher state of mind at higher frequencies. A serenity- a tranquility. Most call it the heavens, or whatever you classify it as.. It’s there. And everyone can experience it. They also say higher beings with a higher conscience exist- and most call them angles, guardians or spirit guides. And again, it’s nothing to do with religion. It’s actually a new type of science. Now, I’m not sure how true this is, nor am I saying that this is the answer.. But you have to approach it with an open mind. I am doing some research on it. I watch some of these videos on YouTube where a guy talks about this.. And he breaks it down a lot. He gives resources about what he’s saying and really goes into depth with it. His videos are actually animated so to me, they seem less boring lol. I’ll give you a link to his first video.. He breaks the episodes down into chapters. It’s very interesting and he does point out many religions, including Christianity and the bible. Again, I’m not saying this is the answer.. But I think it should be considered ya know.

Here’s the link:

I have not included the link, because it is not germane, as I point out below; if anyone does want to see it, reply in the comments and I will post it for you. Anyway, here is my reply:

OK, this is a very interesting response. I do believe that I see one common error we are both making, and that is that we are over-generalizing, and this is causing the waters to get a little murky…I first defined “religion” as “the response of humans to the concept of a personal creator God”, and then later tried to apply the same term to atheists – obviously I cannot have it both ways, so let me rather use the term “theistic worldview”, and narrow that down to include only those who believe the universe was created by an intelligent, personal Being; the actual nature of that Being may differ from one school of thought to another, but those are differences of style, not of kind. You seem to be using “religion” to mean collectively, all schools of thought which believe in a personal creator God, and that term would better describe the response of a particular “style group” within the larger “theistic” set; because the way any “religion” answers the questions of life will vary according to their particular interpretation of the nature of the Being. A better term for the opposite view to a “theistic worldview” is obviously “atheistic worldview”, which we can then define as “those who deny the existence of any personal Being as the universal creator”; this leaves an equal amount of room for differences of style within the same kind, and a variety of ways to answer those questions of life, which you rightly point out are universal to all humanity. I have a theistic worldview, and within that I have a series of truth statements I use to further make rational distinctions to answer some of the questions of life. I think that you are claiming an atheistic worldview, and you also have a series of truth statements that you use to make rational distinctions about the questions of life. What I am working towards is trying to understand your worldview, not disprove it…so my questions are directed, first to see if I have an accurate understanding of your general worldview, and then towards the nature of your truth statements. I will be happy to reciprocate, but only if you are asking real questions, not making belittling attacks against what you think I believe, and then only if you are willing to answer my questions…a fair dialogue can enhance both our understandings, anything else is a pointless waste of both our time, wouldn’t you agree? I think we should settle these basic questions, before we go off on tangents (like the “Spirit science” videos you link to, or my particular thoughts on morality, as from the previous thread). Let’s deal with one level of our beliefs at a time, OK?

What follows is a Facebook post I made to a young man who once attended church with us, until roughly around the time he graduated high school. Shortly after, he began proclaiming publicly that he had become an atheist, and how glad he was that he no longer had to suffer under the lies and mythology of Christianity;  in essence, he has taken whole-heartedly to the cause of the New Atheists; often cut-and-pasting large swaths of text directly from some leading atheistic websites to his Facebook feed. We had the conversation I refer to, spanning a couple of days, after he posted some particularly offensive (to me) and inflammatory comments concerning the Immaculate Conception; my intent was to try to get him to think about the logical inconsistencies inherent to a relativistic view of morality. (I did not succeed… he has become quite adept at re-direction, avoiding the question, and setting up straw-man arguments to swat down and proclaim “victory” over, when there was not a battle going on in the first place.)

I posted this to his page, and I’m waiting to see how he responds, indeed if he does. I thought I might post it here as well…can anyone suggest how I could improve my position? Reply in the comments, I can always use some help.

(name withheld), I was re-reading the conversation from the other day, and I realized something…we actually have the same basic belief system…only the nature of the creator is different, and thus the logical conclusions we separately arrive at. Let me explain…

My God is benevolent, personal, and intimately involved with His creation; creation was a deliberate act of His will. Despite our indifference to Him, or reluctance to acknowledge Him, He still loves us enough to hold us accountable for our decisions, because we have the free will to choose to respond to Him or not; this process is what many call “religion”, in all it’s many forms. There is more to the world than the merely physical, but I do not expect to understand all of it; I admit that I am not omniscient, and I must trust in a higher intelligence than my own to administer how it works. There is something waiting for us after this phase of existence is over, which gives me reason to hope.

Your god is random chance: indifferent, irresponsible, and impersonal. The creation was an accident (and how does the “big bang” look or function any differently than “Let there be..and there was”, except in the form of intent?); everything since then is either predictable by chemistry and physics, or random occurrences, which may or may not endure; the “religion” of an atheist appears to be either science, mysticism, or some combination: either nothing exists beyond what can be measured, or things exist which we cannot measure, but must nonetheless admit are there, however irrational that may appear, so we must make up stories to explain them. At the end of life is only entropy and nothingness…a most hopeless and bleak prospect: however “good” or “bad” a life you live, by whatever standard you choose to measure that by, it all comes to naught.

Have I been inaccurate in any of this? Can you point out my logical fallacies without bringing in other irrelevancies? I am very interested in your response, please take the time to think it through, and choose your words well…I did.

A Reasonable Faith: Well, OK…, You Wanted it, You Got It.

There are a couple of guys I met through the prison ministry I serve with; they have become very good friends and Christian brothers (my wife jokes and calls them ” Bert and Ernie” ) We try to meet up once a week for a couple of hours, to share advice, prayers, and accountability, and generally just to discuss how God is working on us. So we met up tonight, and we got to talking about different purposes that “church” is supposed to serve. Bert has recently left the Methodist mega-church he attended for several years, looking for something more “authentic”. (Ernie is still a member at that church, and he feels fulfilled there; and my readers know about the little Southern Baptist church I belong to.) Bert now attends a non-denominational, “coffee-shop” church, which he likes, but he is missing the structural stuff that large bodies tend to do well, you know: small groups, bible studies, discipleship…it’s there, he feels, he just hasn’t connected to it yet. Ernie commented that the mega-Methodists have those programs down to a science; everywhere you go, there is something to get involved in, and most of it is “plug-and-play” as he put it. Meanwhile, my fellowship is in limbo – we need to start almost literally from nothing; we have two elders; one deacon (me); three teachers (I’m one of them); one “pulpit filler” (me again); two people who can run the lights and sound (me and one other) and no permanent pastor to help guide the re-building as of yet (probably not me, but who knows?)

All this talk of activities and programs and “doing” has me thinking again about the purposes of church. The bible speaks much in the book of Acts about what the first-century church was doing; Paul teaches at length regarding attitudes and practices within the body of believers, but I still have questions for those who sit beside me or in front of me every Sunday: What are we gathering together for? I get different answers – we gather to exhort and encourage each other; or we gather to receive instruction and training for our work for the Kingdom; or we meet to hear the Word of God proclaimed; or we meet to see to it that the needs of the body are being met; or we meet for corporate praise and worship. The more honest ones will say it’s all about us – “celebrating life together in oneness in Him”; the more contrite ones will say that we meet only to be empowered to go out – that we are to be looking outward, not inward. Problem is, I think they are all right; or they are all wrong; or I don’t know what I think, is the best answer I have right now. That’s OK, because, to paraphrase a character in a Heinlein sci-fi novel, true knowledge only begins when we can honestly say, “I don’t know.” (Why, I may be on the brink of genius!)

I’ve read the proverbial s**tload o’ books, and I follow a lot of bloggers who have opted out of “traditional churches”, and they seem fulfilled and connected to what God has for them where they are…but I’m not feeling a pull to leave this place…I’m feeling the call to help it realize it’s full potential. With all the changes we have going on, everything is on the table; I may never see an opportunity like this again –  to plant an idea that could have an impact that extends beyond my own personal reach…and I don’t want to waste it. So I’m gonna go bold, and go public, and ask YOU, Dear Readers, for some input.

If you could re-build a church, what would you HAVE to have, and what would you HAVE to keep out? I am only one voice in this conversation, but I will have my turn to speak…what should I say? Let me hear from you in the comments, I will leave this one open for dialogue if it gets lively.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky

Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.

– Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

For an author who derided the concept that moral virtue was a necessary condition for an enduring government,  Machiavelli does on occasion offer advice that all leaders would do well to remember. Here, he is referring to a prince who has newly come into his power, and is in the early stages of consolidating his base…but temperance, prudence and humanity ought to be the hallmarks of any person who would take on a position of authority, don’t you agree?

Life just jumped all over me today, and I do not have a post worth publishing. So, rather than giving you less than an honest effort, or some lame excuses, I will leave you with this thought, and be back tomorrow:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

– Galileo Galilei

This has been a very strange week…one of those “calm before the storm” moments. There is much change in the near future, on so many levels: a nation faces a hotly contested Presidential election, which promises no real resolution regardless of who wins, and often brings out the worst in well-meaning but misguided people; as an employee, I’m working hard to transition my career track in a new direction, creating a job description which currently does not exist (but I think I can demonstrate it should, and that I should do it); my  church faces a pastoral election, no less hotly contested, which absolutely determines the future of the only body of believers I have ever belonged to; which forces me, as a man responding to a very clear calling into vocational ministry (which I imagine is still further down the line, after some training and mentoring by someone with more experience and I pray, more wisdom), into recognizing my doubts and fears for what they are – prideful lies I tell myself, so I don’t have to trust God when things take unexpected turns. I am a sinful man, who forgets sometimes how good and perfect the grace of God is, and tries so hard to mold myself into what I think God wants me to be, instead of allowing Him to mold me into the shape of His pleasure; and I am a husband and best friend, watching my partner struggle through the days of her disease, knowing that God also works in doctors and drugs, but sometimes wishing He had chosen a different way, because this way hurts just to watch – I cannot imagine what she feels, she humbles me by how she responds to it. Her faith, her continued concern for and ministry to others, her joy in life in spite of cancer and cancer treatment (which is almost worse than the illness)…these things also remind me that grace is in effect in the lives of all believers. I believe that as Christians we all need those reminders now and again, and that is why God allows stuff to happen…to deepen our  faith in Him. Other people teach a different interpretation – that grace is what keeps God’s people happy healthy and wealthy, and if you aren’t, you need to be working on your faith and confessing your sin, and maybe not in that order!

This brings me to the topic for this week: What does grace mean to you, in your day-to-day life? I am being vague on purpose, because I don’t want to limit the discussion, so feel free to share an example from your life, or a favorite teaching, or whatever. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Following hard (so hard it hurts sometimes) after Him,

Nick

A good workman can accept the reward of his labor with assurance, but one who is idle and shiftless cannot look his employer in the face. That is why we must devote ourselves heart and soul to the task of well-doing, for everything comes from the hand of God and He has already warned us,“See, the Lord is approaching, and His reward before Him, to pay every man as his work deserves.”

– Clement, 4th bishop of Rome, 90-100 AD

1st Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch.34

I’ve been reading a lot of early Church writings lately, because I have this crazy idea that maybe they understood what Jesus intended His disciples to be doing with their lives, and why, with more clarity than we tend to display today. (Of course, that idea is not original to me; I am indebted to my friend and spiritual director, Phil, for handing me Pagan Christianity to challenge me, and then Justin Martyr to convince me, that we have gone a really long way down a side path, and making it really hard to hear our Shepherd’s voice.) Every so often I get another confirmation that I am on a more fruitful track now, and I wanted to share this one with anyone out there who ever wonders why we do what we do – don’t be afraid to ask questions! There may be very good reasons why, but you should know what they are, not just take things for granted.

OK, not starting a rant, just sharing a thought. What do you think about the way the early Christians lived out their faith? Is there a valid criticism of “modern” practices implied or expressed by the words of these men who followed so very closely to our Lord, not least in time? I would like to hear your opinions.

A pause that refreshes…

Posted: October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Just feeling a little overextended today, so please enjoy your morning/evening, and I will be back tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by!

Following hard after Him,
(even when it’s really hard)

Nicky