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Entries in belief (3)

Wednesday
Apr172013

good intendifications 

Good intentions. We all have them. Mine usually revolve around learning something new, applying it to my life, making myself better, and then using that growth to help other people. It sounds pretty simple when I put it down on screen like that. Makes me wonder why it sometimes feels so hard

The thing is, good intentions are essential to improving your life. You have to have a plan. It's unavoidable. You have to know where you're going if you have any hope of getting there. That's intention. And if you want your destination to be good, the steps you use to get there have to be good. Good intentions. No one makes a good meal from a bad recipe or bad ingredients.

The reason it sometimes seems so hard is because our own good intentions aren't enough. We can't see the road far enough ahead, and so we can't know when things are going to get dicey or go south or veer to the side. That's why it's important to temper our intentions with wisdom and faith and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom will get you further than almost any other tool in your box. King Solomon was given a choice of anything he wanted. "Just ask," God said, "and it will be yours. No strings attached. Tell me." Solomon could ask for immortality, or the wealth of every nation, or control of all the lands of the Earth. Instead, he asked for wisdom.

God was so impressed by the request, He gave Solomon greater wisdom than any man who had ever lived, or would ever live. And funny enough, because of that wisdom Solomon got all of that other stuff anyway! Plus more and more and more than he ever could have imagined before.

One of the culminating works of that wisdom is the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. It contains wisdom beyond measure, a treasure unequaled on Earth!

Dave Ramsey—radio host, author, financial and business leadership guru, and solid Christian man—says in his Financial Peace University course, "There are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. If you read one a day, in a month you'd have the equivalent of a Masters course in finance." 

Beyond that, Proverbs can give you a daily dose of wisdom that will change every aspect of your life, from money to relationships to running a business to achieving better health. Go to BibleGateway.com and type "Proverbs" into the search engine. You can pick any translation you want, including plain ol' modern day English, and start learning more and more and more about God's power in every aspect of your life. 

It should be noted, also, that Solomon's quest for wisdom was not limited to spiritual works. He not only studied the writings of Godly men, but the wisdom of other cultures as well. He poured over texts from ancient cultures, and used his "discerning heart" to find God's wisdom hidden there. And then he applied that wisdom to what he knew of God's Word, and used it to structure and live his life.

Remember, according to John 1:1-18, God's Word not only predates the written works, but was present in the very beginning of creation. In fact, God's Word was God Himself! And that Word became flesh, which we know to be Jesus Christ. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:1-2

The Word isn't just contained in the pages of your Bible. You can look all around you, at the whole of the world, and if you apply your discerning heart through prayer and study, you can see God's wisdom everywhere. Learn and grow from it. 

Faith seems to be one of those enigmatic concepts that confounds and infuriates people (me included). My own struggle with faith is that I haven't had a clear definition of it in my head and heart. I want to believe, and I want that belief to empower me, but I seem to always forget about faith when it comes down to the grit and grime of my day. 

Faith is more than just "belief." It is belief, but also trust. Above all, though, faith is obedience. 

To start building more faith, you start with wisdom. Start looking at the world around you, studying books and films and even television shows with an intensity for digging wisdom out of every crevice where you can find it. 

The act of looking for and discerning wisdom in everything, studying everything and praying for increased wisdom, will feed your faith and bring some added benefits as well. Proverbs 21:21 says:

Whoever persues reighteousness and love finds life, prosperirty and honor.

Proverbs 21:21

As you start seeing God's Word all around you, and start seeing the results of it in your daily life, your faith starts to increase. And it only takes a wee bit of faith to do a great deal. It's a seed, and it grows as it is nurtured and cared for. That nurturing comes from pursuing righteousness and love. It comes from seeking wisdom.

The Holy Spirit is the ingredient I was missing most when I was struggling to get a grip on my life. And, when I find myself struggling again, I can usually trace the struggle back to my movement away from the Holy Spirit.

When Christ died, He told His disciples that he would be moving on, going back to His place in the Kingdom of God. But He would send another to be with us. 

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—

John 14:16

That advocate is the Holy Spirit. The third person of God Himself. He dwells with us, in us, all around us. The Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom and the power of faith. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can do anything!

But we have to invite Him in. He's there, waiting on the edges, waiting for us to say, "Take it. Take control. I surrender." And once He's invited, He smiles, rolls up His sleeves, and gets to work.

Trouble is, we can uninvite Him. We see all the good stuff happening and we say, "OK, great! I'll take it from here!" And we plow into His work, making a real mess of it all.

Or worse, we see things going a different way than we might have planned or wanted and we yell, "NO! This isn't what I want! I'm taking over!" And then we jump into the muck and get ourselves nice and dirty, and lose sight of the fact that God sees further down the road than we do. We're stuck here, wallowing in the mud puddle, when God was just trying to get us through it so we'd have a smoother, easier path on the other side.

We've been given free will, and it's been both a blessing and a curse. We're free to say, "No thanks, I'll take care of this on my own." Or we're free to say, "I surrender, God. Please, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Please lead me to your righteousness and your love."

It's an invitation we have to make over and over, because we keep revoking it over and over. 

As we search for wisdom, as we increase our faith, we must also remember to invite the Holy Spirit, to surrender to Him, to give Him the decision making power in our lives. We have to reaffirm it, over and over, because it's always our choice. 

It's not easy sometimes, to turn it all over. Especially since we often can't see what's going on, where it's all going, where the "good stuff" lies. All we tend to focus on is the bad, the hard, the painful. We forget that none of this lasts forever. We only see what's happening right now, and can't even imagine it getting better.

But it does. It can. It will. 

Good intentions aren't enough, though. Not ours, anyway. A remarkable life, filled with joy and prosperity, comes from surrender to the intentions of God. We can live our Intended Life. The steps are easy. They just look hard.

If you want to live your Intended Life (notice how I keep capitalizing it? almost like a brand or something), God has it all mapped out for you. If you need help, need a nudge, need advice or consultation or just someone to complain to, drop me a note. Use my Contact button, up top, or leave a comment below. We'll work through it together. I'll pray for you and with you. I'll give you whatever advice I have, and share with you whatever God has taught me. We can be a strength to each other. 

God has an Intended Life for you. His intentions are better than good. He has a plan and a power, and He's inviting you to be a part of both. 

Friday
Apr052013

faithnicity

I was thinking about the atheist thing. You know ... there's a surprising number of people who don't believe in God. That always bothered me when I was younger, in high school or even in my early college years. I had a tendency to try to "convince" folks. I formulated complex but "unbeatable" arguments, as if I could somehow logic an atheist into believing. 

Shocker—you can't.

If someone doesn't believe, nothing you say is just going to magically convert them. But logic arguments, in particular, are going to fail. Because frankly, atheists have logic in their favor in an argument about God. They can point at hard evidence for anything they "believe," and all you have is "faith." 

Key words here. Read closer.

If you can point to something as a fact, you don't "believe" it.  You know it. You have evidence, concrete and verifiable. You can pick up the object of your knowledge, or touch it, or demonstrate it. Not so with God. 

Kicker for Christians—you either have "faith" or you don't, but if you do, then you don't just "believe." You also know. Logical arguments against the existence of God don't really work for persuading you, because even with the "evidence of your eyes" you still, deep down, somehow, know the truth. You've seen too much. You've felt too much. 

Some of the atheists in my life like to bring out this little gem: "You only believe because you were raised in a Christian household, here in the U.S. If you were born in another culture, you'd have different beliefs."

I think that's true. I think that being a Christian is in large part a matter of where you were born, how you were raised, what you encountered as you made your way through life. So you can pretty easily persuade me that my "Christian-ness" is a factor arising almost exclusively from my upbringing.

Don't know if you noticed, but the argument just shifted.

Go back. Re-read. You see it? It's right there in front of you.

We're no longer arguing the existence of God, but whether or not we'd be Christians in another culture. The argument changed, but the subject is close enough that most people shrug the change off as semantics. It ain't. 

Semantics would be arguing over the name of God. I say God, you say Jehovah, she says Jesus, he says The Eternal One, that guy says something else entirely (or says nothing at all ... some belief you can never utter the name of God ... so does not speaking His name mean he doesn't exist?). Bickering over how to refer to God is a semantic argument. It gets you nowhere. It's definitions of terms, nothing more. A rose by any other name would smell as omnipotent.

The logic trap from above is the subtle turning of the argument of existence to the argument of your particular flavor of religion. I'm a Christian because I was born into a Christian household, I was raised in a Christian home, I attend a Christian church and I participate in a Christian community. But I'm a believer in God and in the Word, and that is independent of my upbringing.

There's a reason that, universally, it is considered wrong to steal, bad to murder, unacceptable to hurt a child. "Human decency" is one of the semantic names we throw at these universal truths, but what makes them universal? What makes even the cultural "exceptions" to these rules somehow offensive to the rest of civilization? How many cultures were conquered and destroyed because they veered away from these universal truths, and why would that happen? Why should we care, we who live on this side of the globe, what people are doing to each other on the opposite side?

People are inherently good? Then what defines good? People are inherently a bunch of ignorant, angry jerks? Says who? Humanity? We're not fit to judge each other. We all have our hang-ups, right? How can I point at you and say, "You're wrong! You're evil!" and at the same time be unconcerned that someone else is pointing at me and saying the same thing?

So humanity isn't a good judge of good and evil, right and wrong. Those concepts are somehow outside of us, above us. And that's the rub for Christians, or people of any faith. We see that as evidence of God. Atheists see it as evidence of ... what exactly? Evolution of personality? We all spontaneously decided, as a species spread far and wide, at times with no contact with each other whatsoever for thousands of years (if ever), that "these are the rules by which we shall all abide?"

Ever heard of Occam's Razor? 

The principle (attributed to William of Occam) that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. (Pulled from Google, 5 April 2013. "Define: occam's razor")

Or put simply, "All things being equal, the simplest explanation is the most likely explanation."

What's simpler? Man evolved a universal sense of right and wrong despite little to no contact with each other across oceans and continents for thousands and thousands of years? Or universal rules for right and wrong exist because a higher intelligence established them?

Logic again. Sorry. That won't work to persuade anyone. It's just an exercise in showing how smart I am (Answer: Not very, when considered on the whole of my life). But there's a reason why logic doesn't win a faith argument. It comes down to "choice."

In Matthew 13:10-17, the disciples ask Jesus why he's always goin' about and speaking in parables. His reply reveals a lot about why logic can't win a faith argument, and what it takes, exactly, to believe in God:

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Matthew 13:10-17

It's there. You can pray for wisdom to understand it and it will probably pop out at you. I'll do my best to nudge that along with my pitiful and inadequate summary:

God hides the truth in plain sight, but to believe in Him you have to choose to believe. Faith is, in the end, the choice you make to believe, even when all evidence and all logic tells you it can't be.

And suddenly, miraculously, this goes from being "choosing to believe" to "knowing the truth!"

Seriously. I can't explain it any better than that, because God actually designed the Word so that it cannot be understood until you believe.

You can logic it all you want. You can scoff and eye-roll and sneer. But it's right there in front of you the whole time, waiting for you to notice it. And the only way you can is to choose it.

It's a little like germs.

Bear with me, this works.

Germs are there. We know they're there. But how? We see their effect, sure. People get sick. We know a lot about germs, these days. But before their discovery, no one would have ever believed in the existence of tiny bugs that live everywhere and make people sick. Still, there they were, whether we believed in them or not. 

Then, one day, someone says, "I bet if I take this powerful set of magnifying lenses and start looking at stuff, I'll find all kinds of things." And they did. They chose. They took action. They built something that let them start looking closer, and then they saw them. Germs, never having existed before in all the knowledge of man for centuries, suddenly came into existence.

Now you can buy soap for a buck that helps you kill germs on contact. Thank you, science. We live because of your endeavors. But frankly, the majority of the Earth's population, throughout all of history, has never actually seen a germ. We believe they are there, and we take actions to prevent them from harming us. We make a choice to behave as if they are real, whether we can see them or not, and that protects us from their machinations. 

Believing in God is a little like believing in germs. Not the best analogy I've ever come up with, but let's put a little thought into it. 

God is there, whether we know it or believe it or not. Right now, we don't have the tools to see Him. No microscope. But even if we can't see Him, we can make a choice to behave as if He is real. We can study His Word, we can commune with His people, we can seek His will for our lives. And when we do that, something starts to happen within us. 

God responds.

Suddenly, we are watching a movie we've seen a million times and some small throw-away line takes on new meaning, maybe even shapes our life a bit. A book we're reading about the invention of the printing press suddenly opens our eyes to how people work together. We hear someone utter a Bible passage we've heard a million eye-rolling times, and suddenly WE UNDERSTAND IT.

Our tiny, insignificant, mustard-seed-sized act of faith is suddenly blossoming into the bud of a tree, and that bud is starting to grow, and suddenly it fills our whole life with the truth of what WE see but what otheres CAN'T see, even though it is RIGHT. THERE. IN FRONT. OF. THEM.

That's why logic doesn't work to convince an atheist about the existence of God. It can't. They're smart. They have that tool on their side, all sewn up. All we have is He who invented logic in the first place. They're arguing from within, where the rules are established and make no allowances for anything that doesn't fit. We're arguing from outside and above, where the one who made the rules is keeping the next level of knowledge, unbound by the rules of the system.

The Kingdom of God is hidden right in plain sight, and we can only see it when we choose to see it. That's why it's so hard, even impossible, for some people. They argue that if you have to "believe" something for it to be true, then it isn't true."The great thing about science is it's true whether you believe or not!" That's brilliant. I couldn't agree more! Science is about facts! Provable facts! 

That's right. It is. And Faith is about Faith. It's a paradox that people can't live with. Until they do.

And that's just about as plain as this Wordslinger can make it.

Tuesday
Mar262013

beliefitude

I have a tendency to get overwhelmed. I've always been a "big picture" guy, preferring to look at the general flow and the potential outcome, rather than dither in the details. The more steps something has, the more reluctant I am to be involved.

The problem is that a large chunk of life involves details and steps. If you want to buy a home, there's a stack of paperwork that may make no sense whatsoever, but it has to be filed. (Why isn't buying a home like buying anything else? "Here's my money. Gimme a house." There's a whole 'nother blog post in that one, I think.)

If you want to learn to play the piano, you have to learn the layout of the keyboard, learn to read music, learn to make chords, learn to keep time. 

If you want to learn to be a better writer you have to learn the rules of grammar (and when to make exceptions), you have to learn how to edit, you have to learn how to rewrite and how to start the whole process all over again.

Anything worth having in life is usually going to involve going through steps. And going through steps requires patience.

I am not a patient man. And thus, I am often overwhelmed.

My biggest issue, as far as I've determined, is that I like to do the work fast, so I like to do everything that's required ALL AT ONCE. I don't just want to write the book, I want to edit as I go, lay it out as I go, create the cover, and publish it, all within a week's time (even that is stretching the limits of my patience sometimes). The result? A book. Sometimes a very good book. But often a book with errors and issues that could have been avoided. 

There's an argument that can be made here, from a marketing and strategy standpoint, regarding "build to ship, ship to profit." I agree with that argument, actually. But let's put the marketing hat aside or second and put on our life hat.

Life requires taking things in smaller chunks. Baby steps. Remember What About Bob? Dr. Leo's "Baby Steps" were just the thing to get Bob out of his apartment, with Gill in tow, and down to Lake WWinnipesaukee. He was even sailing! He was a sailor! And it started with baby steps to the elevator.

It's taken me a long time to get past just knowing that this is common sense and actually accepting it as common sense. One step, and you've started. Action is taken. Progress is made. You are closer than you were just a step before.

I had an epiphany yesterday as I was on a walk (trying to lose the gut I regrew thanks to my past commitment to chicken wings and chocolate). The truth is I don't have what it takes to do all that is expected of me.

That's OK. I can admit it. I can accept it. I'm not a failure, just because I can't accomplish everything that's on my plate. But here's where things veer from the typical, accepted course ... that doesn't mean I won't accomplish it all.

My epiphany really came down to this: True, I don't have what it takes. But God does. True, I will be overwhelmed, but God won't. True, there's just too much, and I just don't have the attention span, commitment, dedication, brain power, money, time, resources, connections, know-how, expertise ... But God does. 

That's what faith is really about, see? It's not about wishing and hoping and believing with all your might that "some giant spirit in the sky will fulfill my wish." It's about believing that God will give you everything you need to fulfill His WILL. It's about knowing, without doubt, that God really wants the best for you, and the best may not always be what YOU want.

I get overwhelmed by the details. But God always delivers on what I really need. If something slips through the cracks, even if there are uncomfortable consequences, I can rest easier knowing that something I'm not aware of is in the works. Something bigger, better, and more wonderful than I had anticipated. I can rest, knowing that even if things seem to be going wrong around me, there's someone who sees a picture even bigger than what I see. 

The struggle for me, right now, is that I'm thinking, "My non-Christian friends aren't going to get this." In my study of God's Word, what I'm finding is that it takes belief to understand what you're reading. It's like having the pass key for an encrypted file.

You have to actually want it. You have to actually believe, even if just a tiny bit, before the "data" starts to flow. This is what causes atheists to scoff, and I totally understand why. It caused ME to scoff, and I WAS a believer. "You have to believe to believe?"

Notice I didn't say "keep an open mind." It's not about that. It's about true belief, or the willingness to admit that you know so very little of what's really there to be known, and there is truth in what you're hearing. I'm a complete ingoramus, but as I study and learn and grow in God's Word, praying for wisdom and increased faith and to be filled with the Holy Spirit, I'm starting see more than I expected. 

Remember those pictures that were made up of thousands of smaller images, and if you stared long enough you could see the shape of something else? That's what it is. The details are masking it, hiding it from everyone, right in plain site. If you just glance at that picture without knowing something is there, you'll never see it. You have to stare. You have to know. You have to believe that the picture isn't just some big joke, some random collection of images. You have to look at it with the expectation that eventually you'll see past all the details and get the real picture.

Until then, it's going to seem overwhelming. After all, not all of the smaller images in those pictures is actually used to create the hidden image. Some have to be ignored. Some seem important, but end up being distractions. It can really start to feel overwhelming, it's true. But relax your eyes, be diligent, be calm, and suddenly the real picture comes into focus, and you can't believe you never saw it before.