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Who is in charge here?

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

I create the light and make the darkness.

I send good times and bad times.

I, the Lord, am the one who does these things (Is 45:6-7)

There is nothing that enters into our world that escapes Gods notice. If God was not willing to allow something it would not happen. Both the good and the bad have God’s all seeing eye on them. Nothing is hidden from God. So how is it then that a good God can allow bad things to happen?

We believe that God redeems even the bad things. So when we must walk through these dark valleys, we firmly hang on to the idea that some how, some way God will bring good out of it. The best example of this is the cross of Christ. Incredible evil allowed by the hand of God upon himself! All for an incredibly redemptive and wonderful purpose.

This explanation will be unsatisfactory to many, and in the deep moments of pain and sorrow it will always be better to simply cry with the crying rather than attempt to drive home any theological truth about God.

Speaking of God. what other options are there?

  • Remove God entirely and be comforted by blind chance, dumb luck, and the unforgiving nature of planet earth. Where the greatest comfort we could offer is “it sucks to be you” — Hardly.
  • Reduce God to the point where he has no knowledge in any real sense of the future, thus he becomes a weakly divine cheerleader as powerless against the forces of evil as you or I, but at least sympathetic. No thanks.

Ultimately regardless of my doubts I must come to see God as good even when he allows suffering to enter into my life. I refuse a negative judgement upon God recognizing that I don’t know everything but am trusting that he does. That is faith.

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The Swim Upstream

Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim 3:12)


Well, there is your promise! To be a Christian is to swim up stream. To swim upstream like a salmon means that you will be buffeted by fast flowing water, falling rocks, bears, and other predators. There will be difficult jumps to make that result in bruises, scratches and pain. There will be exhaustion, and hunger. All of these things you don’t have to face if you stay in the ocean – if you just “go with the flow.” But the godly life is a swim upstream. We swim “farther up and farther in” because we are convinced of a greater joy that awaits us if we press on. People will resent the fact that we see something that they don’t. All people, I believe, instinctively know somewhere deep in their heart that there is something eternal to be gained by swimming against the current towards God. They deny what their hearts know, and that makes them a little bit grouchy towards us who refuse to live in that denial.

Let faith be born in the watchers

Italian Baroque Painting of the Killing of Abel and the Banishment of Cain --- Image by © Geoffrey Clements/CORBIS  ORG XMIT: 12873731

Italian Baroque Painting of the Killing of Abel and the Banishment of Cain — Image by © Geoffrey Clements/CORBIS ORG XMIT: 12873731

Hebrews 11:1-4 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

Faith is the thing that keeps me sure that what I can’t see is actually true. The heart of faith comes in the knowing that God started everything, that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him.

Faith was the M.O. of all our great hero’s starting with Able. By faith Abel’s sacrifice was offered and accepted. Abel’s faith in God makes all the difference. As Abel offers his sacrifice he is thinking, “I know God see’s this and hears this, I love God and I’m offering up the best I have to him.” God smiles.

Rewind all the way to Genesis 4. God speaks neither to Cain nor Abel at first. But for some reason, unknown to us, they both offer sacrifices.

Cain was the 1st to offer sacrifice. But he had no faith, if he had no faith why did he do it? Maybe it occurred to him that he might be able to manipulate God, impress others, improve his status? Attempting to use God as a means to an end has been an all to common fault of religion. In Jude 11 we find Cain listed with people known for their attempts to manipulate God and gain power. (Balaam, & Korah)

What is amazing to me is we have no record that God ever spoke to Abel, he simply trusted in his unseen God, he knew in his heart that he was accepted. On the other hand God had a full on conversation with Cain after his failed sacrifice. Even a “face to face” with God Almighty didn’t re-orient Cain on to the path of saving faith. Cain was for Cain and that was that. He believed in himself first of all. God could be a nice accoutrement, a convenient “side order” if you like, but Cain was his own main dish.

Faith says God is the creator not me. The possessor of faith willingly bows his knee to the unseen God. Cain wasn’t interested in that even if he heard the creators voice directly. And so it goes with many today, no amount of evidence will convince them that God exists. So what then? I think we should just keep doing what Able did. Give ourselves up to God in worship, by living righteously in the everyday (I John 3:12) and by worshipping God together. Let faith be born in the watchers.

The Spiritual Child

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What is spirituality? 

A personal relationship with the transcendent.

Whats the worst thing you can do for your child?

2 decades of scientific research has convinced Lisa and her colleagues that spirituality is part of humanity’s natural endowment just like seeing, thinking or smelling. The universal assumption of all children is that there is an afterlife and a non material world. This is true because the human brain has a hard wired spiritual component found in the occipital lobe, it’s there, it’s physically present and when we don’t use it or when its potential is socialized out of us it atrophies with devastating consequences. According to the science to cut off spirituality from a child is to cut off life. To neglect the development of natural spirituality from a child is like preventing a child that loves to sing from singing. This “root of wellness”  as she refers to it, must be allowed to grow in the first two decades of human life.

So what happens when parents fail to help their children use their occipital lobe to connect personally with the transcendent? Bad things. The research is incredibly troubling.

  • Young people are 70-80% more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use and risky sexual behaviour when they do not have a personal relationship with the transcendent. Lisa is convinced that unmet spiritual needs is the explanation for this dramatic contrast. When the natural course for connection to the transcendent is not available young people will take destructive short cuts in an attempt to get there.
  • Young people are up to 60% more likely to suffer from depression when they do not have a personal relationship with the divine.
  • Humans who do not draw strength from a spiritual connection consistently heal slower, work less, and experience more stress than those who have a strong connection with the transcendent.
  • The greatest predictor of popularity among girls in a spiritually severed environment was looks and “mean girl” qualities.

Even if Lisa is 20% off on her research these statistics should give everyone in the secular western world some serious pause. Need less to say this book is very critical of our secular societies embrace of materialistic naturalism and it’s gross negligence in fostering the growth of what Lisa refers to as natural spirituality.

Does this mean I have to become religious?

No. numerous times in the book, Lisa attempts to reassure the reader, that her book is not an attempt to proselytize anyone towards any specific religion. In fact her research points out a disconnection between spirituality and religion. Anytime that dogma, traditions, or rules were held without a personal connection to the divine there proved to be no measurable difference in preventing the abuses and unhealthy perspectives described above.

Lisa acknowledges that organized religion is far from unhelpful however. It can and often is an excellent road map that leads people into a personal connection with the divine, but so can a connection with an oak tree, a deceased relative, or any number of other non-traditional means.

What’s the science on this? 

  • Scientists have been able to locate the exact part of the brain that manages cravings. Extensive data from MRI studies show that when people meditate or pray the blood flow actually shifts from the craving faculty to the faculty of the brain responsible for transcendence decreasing the concession rate to unhealthy cravings.
  • Science shows that cynical people have higher occurrences of dementia and cancer as well as shorter life expectancies.  Humans are naturally spiritual and communal, but a cynic is unable to live  comfortably in his natural state because of a deep lack of trust for both human and divine relationships. This severing from ones natural state is what leads to ill-health and death. We are not meant to be cynics.
  • The frontal lobe of the brain, registers perception, cause and effect & reality. It serves as command and control for what to do. The occipital lobe is about feeling, morals, and transcendence. Healthy brains have healthy dialogue between the regions. When natural spirituality is socialized out, or hindered in some way, the pathways between the regions actually become thin, These untraveled pathways atrophy from lack of use. In this way the brain becomes unhealthy and moral sensitivity actually decreases.
  • Thickened cortical walls and increased amounts of dopamine and serotonin are the bodies ways of resisting depression. It comes as no surprise to Lisa that higher levels of these natural compounds as well as a thickened cortex are found across the board in people who regularly pray or practice meditation.

Is Lisa dropping some wisdom on us? 

Yes, lots of it. Perhaps we are paying to high a price in our mad rush to expunge the transcendent from our daily lives. This book is meant to sound a warning siren for our secular culture. — I think it does.  Our kids are wired to look beyond the material world, for what really matters, we should both encourage them and join them as they explore.

Is Lisa off on a few things? 

Yes

All religions are the same. Any road that leads to a personal relationship with the transcendent is a good road to be on. All roads should be considered equally valid. I think its good to teach our kids about the different religions, and to teach them to have great respect for all the various points of view. I do think, however, that it would be untrue to teach them that all religions are essentially the same. They are not, that is a false statement. You never want to teach your child something that is false. If all religions are not the same, then thinking persons will draw conclusions about them. Conclusions that will undoubtedly place some religions in front of others. —Lisa calls this “tribalism” and suggest’s that we should socialize this out of our kids. I understand her desire to get rid of unhelpful “mine is better than yours” rhetoric. However, I believe it is more damaging to teach children what is actually false. Preference, while having mutual respect, and open dialogue about the differences is not “tribalism” It’s life in the free world of ideas, belief, and choice.

All children are fundamentally good. She sites a few studies where young children were observed making unselfish choices. From this she concludes that everyone is fundamentally good, and that it is only when we stunt the growth of children’s natural spirituality that they go bad. This is clever, but the research is anecdotal at best.  All humans young and old share a fundamental brokenness. Certainly we are capable of doing nice things, even at very young ages, however, one never has to be taught to have a tantrum, or lie, or steal, or be selfish, those traits come naturally – they are inborn. Goodness must be taught. I believe that goodness’ best teacher comes through a personal relationship with the divine, but I can’t start out with the presupposition that humans are fundamentally good, we are not.

Ritual

Lisa says:

  • A shared ritual is a bond of love.
  • Ritual creates a special bond that actually physically holds the transcendent.
  • Ritual invests a moment with meaning
  • Symbolism connects mind and heart.

Perhaps its no accident that organized religions have been using symbols and rituals for millennia.

Depression: 

There is a difference between clinical and developmental depression. Developmental depression happens as the young person becomes attuned to the world. It’s “The dark night of the soul.” In these cases a rush to medicate is a terrible idea. Rather these times should be embraced as opportunities for deeper spiritual growth. Spirituality is most effective in combatting depression when it’s shared in a group.

The Enlightenments Effect of Religion – Good or Bad?

They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the  Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old male or female — 2 Chron 15:13

Then when the Sacred months have passed, kill the Mushrikun (Idol worshipers including trinitarian Christians)  wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them and prepare for them each and every ambush. — Surah At-Tauba 9:5

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! — Matt 5:44

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With the exception of Jesus’ counter cultural words in Matthew 5, the two passages from the Bible and the Quran above are perfect examples of what religion was capable of prior to the Enlightenment.

For some in the religious community the coming of the Enlightenment will be seen as a disaster for faith. I don’t see it that way. Thanks to the enlightenment in the west, Religion was transformed from an involuntary truth to a voluntarily accepted possibility. The movement from involuntary to voluntary transformed how the vast majority of the Western world understands religion today. I believe the shift from involuntary to voluntary is a good one that the entire world should embrace.

As crashing waves slowly erode a shore line, the enlightenments steady pounding of “question everything, believe nothing, human reason above all” began to fracture the steady shorelines of Europe. Nothing could stop this tide. The mantra of “human reason first of all” created healthy (and unhealthy) scepticism which eroded irreversibly so much of what was involuntarily accepted as true in that day, no place was left untouched by this rising tide, most especially religion. The firm shorelines of religion in Europe began to crumble for some very understandable reasons:

There had been a couple hundred years of religious war between Catholics and Protestants which had ended in stailmate with all sides exhausted, and beginning to think “there has to be a better way”. In addition the development of dozens and dozens of denominations since the reformation was enough to cause even the most religious of people that niggling feeling in the back of their mind that the right path to God might be little more than a best guess.  Then it happened, science slipped passed theology in the race for supremacy. God no longer informed us about science. Science informed us about God. Eventually, sufficient amounts of doubt took the fight out of religious zealots. Was there really a need to clobber someone over the head just because they didn’t believe as you did? The answer was becoming increasingly clear: No.

If one wished to journey towards God that trip would have to be a voluntary trip  based on all sorts of information, evidence, tradition and experience. Before the enlightenment, the idea of voluntary religion was unthinkable. Theology was at the heart of knowing. Ones understanding of God was all that mattered everything else in life was just details. People were born into certain systems of belief and these systems were true and unquestioned. To wander from the truth for any reason was dangerous to the community and damning for the soul. Thus responsible leaders both political, military and religious embraced their duty to stamp out heresy and false belief. The eternal destiny of their people mandated aggressive action. The assumption of meta-physical truth being known conclusively is what the enlightenment destroyed.

Many parts of Islam have not yet gone through any sort of enlightenment. Unlike Western religions, Islam is not a voluntary belief system yet, that means it’s adherents  are not free to determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their faith. For many Muslim systems, the Quran (and Hadith in some cases) is still the diffinitive truth that must be believed at all costs. Life both now and forever depend on it. Any threat to this belief must be destroyed.

  • Ancient Jews were part of an involuntary system of religion. (Hence the verse above)
  • Middle age & post reformation Christians were part of an involuntary system of religion, (Hence the religious wars in Europe during that era) — Sadly, Jesus’ call to love those in opposition was pushed aside in this era.  The most important thing in order to maintain law and order was to punish someone whose belief system was not in accord with everyone else’s.
  • Many modern day Islamists are still a part of an involuntary system of religion.  (Hence the never ending gruesome news reports coming from many Muslim countries around the world) as long as a belief system remains a compulsory non optional reality, for it’s followers, there will always be bloodshed. Protecting the absolute truth of ones belief system will always be infinitely more important than the life of ones enemy or even ones own life as the seemingly endless line of suicide bombers testify.

Granted, it’s disconcerting for a faith position to be relegated to optional. Jesus for example, claimed that he was “the truth” such definitive statements don’t leave a whole lot of options on the table.  How must a doubt soaked post enlightenment Christian come to grips with this claim? How must he share this claim with others?

Let healthy doubt create humility. What would be wrong with saying “Jesus might be the truth, and this is why I think he is”? Nothing in my estimation. We will never go back to involuntary religion, so the verbal bluster that comes from that era should be dropped. I also think we should take seriously, the words that Jesus gave us about loving those who oppose us. In the post enlightenment scientifically based world it will be impossible to know with clinical certainty existential truth based on ancient historical narrative, therefore we simply can’t have an arrogant swagger when it comes to presenting what we believe to be true. Faith is the confidence we have in what we cannot see, but our senses will more easily grasp what cannot be seen, if everything we do is wrapped in love.  This is good advice for all the religions of the world.

This less dogmatic, more unsure stance will be completely unpalatable for some strong believers who have managed to avoid the doubt that comes with the enlightenment. For me, letting go of some certainty regarding my faith is a tremendous step forward in developing a world of peaceful coexistence, and even peaceful cooperation. Easing up on personal certitude in order to embrace the free will that comes with voluntary religion is infinitely better than the shallow benefits of confidence, conformity, and security that come with involuntary religion.

 

 

 

 

Religion is good, provided it doesn’t actually say anything 

They tell the prophets,

“Don’t tell us what is right.

Tell us nice things.

Tell us lies.

Isaiah 30:10

2700 years ago the people wanted religion, but they wanted it to suit them, to make them happy and comfortable. This is exactly the kind of religion many in our world desire today. Religion that doesn’t actually make any claims, religion that doesn’t actually give directives for life, religion that doesn’t take a moral stance on anything. We want a religion that isn’t hard and doesn’t require sacrifice. Much to be preferred is a religion that just makes you feel good about yourself. Meditate, stretch, breathe, feel good, repeat. The principle deity of “tell us nice things religion” is self. In the end, self is a poor choice for a deity.

The Journey Into Belief

  

…And his disciples believed in him

(John 2:11)

The celebration was far from over but the wine barrels were empty. Jesus managed to fix the problem in ways that bend the laws of nature!  Confidence began to grow in the hearts of Jesus’ friends.  Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was the Messiah. If he can take care of a wine problem, maybe he can take care of all of our problems. At this point in the story, they didn’t even know what that would look like, they had no idea of exactly who Jesus was, only that a seed of hope had begun to root itself in this mysterious yet approachable person named Jesus.  Belief is the slow process in which over time ones hopes are transferred. Helping someone cross over into belief requires patience, gentleness, kindness and above all relationship. These disciples didn’t understand fully who Jesus was until he rose from the dead 3.5 years later. In the course of that time, however,  Jesus proved himself to be a true friend and he patiently journeyed with these friends into belief. Christians of today would do well to follow his example.

A Lousy Life



Even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! 
Habakkuk 3:17-18

When absolutely everything that can go wrong goes wrong. It is then that I rejoice the most in the God of my salvation. 

It is in these moments that I reveal that God is not simply a means to an end for me but the end itself.

The idea of worshipping a God only because he made me rich healthy and successful is a great insult to the divine and a sign that I have no real relationship with him.  God is not God in this arrangement. God becomes the servant of my will which is the true deity.      

The clearest evidence that a person has not slipped into self worship by using God is when that  person rejoices in God even when everything has gone wrong. It is in the moments of sorrow and pain that deep joy emerges from the true lover of God. This joy In God stands tall even and especially when the dark shadows of death overshadow us and the ones we love.

 For the Christian,  joy in God explodes forth from the cross. The cross conquers fear and death, selfishness and loneliness, shame and guilt. Everything that truly ruins us has been defeated. We are loved. We are welcomed into God’s family. We are accepted. We are slowly but surely transformed into who we should be. We have a hope that will not dim. This is the deep love of God for us and none of this changes no matter what tragedy befalls us.                  

Earning Your Salvation?

What Caused Canada to Become Secular?

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A review of the masters thesis paper Secularization in English Canada in the 1960’s — By Steve Morris

Canada is a secular country. But it wasn’t always that way, In fact, it used to be an exclusively Christian country. What happened? Steve points the finger not so much at secularists for the change but actually at Christians. In the 19th and 20th centuries Christianity faced a threat previously unseen, and more dangerous than any ancient persecution. Darwin had posited an understanding of a world without God. Religion seemed to be standing in the way of sexual freedom and the pursuit of pleasure. Abuses of power in religion had sickened many and modernism had embraced a natural explanation for historical events. Supernatural explanations had lost their credibility in the main stream.

This was the atmosphere of the 60’s and it was proving toxic to traditional Christianity. If the faith wanted to remain relevant in this new society there would have to be significant adjustments.  The neoliberal’s were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to salvage Christianity. The key book in the 60’s that spelled out this new Christian way was entitled Honest to God  in it the author dismissed all the supernatural stories as myth. He created a Christianity that would have a morality based on pragmatism. Love and freedom, not theology would be the two pillars on which this new Christian faith would stand.

Canadian magazines picked up on this “new way” and popularized it in the 60’s. There was very little counterpoint to this version of Christianity as it regularly found it’s way into these magazines. With convincing evidence, Steve suggests that it was exactly this watering down of traditional forms of Christianity that ended up destroying the soul of faith in the hearts of believers. In essence the neoliberal movement which intended to save Christianity is actually what crushed it, and pushed it to the margins of society. Ironically, neoliberalism was the vehicle through which many in Canada came to legitimize unbelief creating the vacuum that secularism has filled.

The neoliberals bemoaned the state of the church “the last thing the church exists to be is an organization for the religious. It’s charter is to be a servant of the world.” the complaint was that the traditional church, had become solely focused on itself as an institution, with it’s own language and traditions. I am far from being a neoliberal, but in this criticism I agree. I disagree however with their solution. For the neoliberals the way forward was to abandon the reason to serve and instead just serve. It’s enough to believe service is good and it’s what Christians are supposed to do. For conservatives the solution would be to emphasize the ultimate reason to serve, by looking at the true life story of the ultimate servant, building out a culture of service from the source — from the 60’s forward, in measurable categories of “serving” it would be an interesting study to look at who has served the world more. Liberals who view Jesus as myth, conservatives who believe Jesus to be real, or secularists who have no opinion about him. I suspect greater levels of service would be found in those who genuinely believe that Jesus came to serve us so that we can serve others.

If you would like to read Steve’s thesis Click Here, I highly recommend it.