Quick Thoughts: God is One

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Dt. 6:4 – The LORD our God, the LORD is one

Isa 45:7 – I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the Lord, do all these things.

1st Jn 4:8 – “God is love.” We hear this quoted all the time. Sometimes from a person who is trying to justify their behavior to us and sometimes from ourselves. But is God only love? Is He not also Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Judge,Redeemer, Forgiver, Covenant maker, Faithful, the Truth, the Way, the Life, etc?  When we talk about God, when we use the term “the LORD” or “God” do we not reference ALL of who He is? True, God is Love, but God is more than that.  Don’t get hung up on only one characteristic of God to the exclusion of the others. Otherwise, you will not only have an inaccurate view of God but you will also expect God to behave according to your definition of who He is, instead of you adjusting yourself to the reality of His person. Remember, God is one. He is the God who creates both prosperity and disaster (Isa 45:7). He is not separate from the sufferings we endure. Indeed, His love does not prohibit Him from understanding or from creating our calamity. He is sovereign and in control of it all. To some people, this seems like a cosmic sadist is at work, while others would argue that it is unloving to “create calamity.” But is it? A loving parent will often allow natural consequences to reveal truths to their child which promote growth or wisdom or they will implement logical consequences to teach a child. Similarly, God in His providential wisdom does not absolve us from suffering. He uses it in perfect symmetry with His other characteristics so that no part of Himself is separate from another. God is ONE. We cannot worship only the aspects of God that we like or that appeal to our sensibilities. We must worship all of the oneness of God in order to understand Him as the God that is in control of it all.

Why I Decided to Stop Reading the Bible Every Year

fasting1When I was a teenager, I began the practice of daily Bible reading. My pattern was to read a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening in order to bookend my day with the thoughts of God.  Using this method allowed me to finish the Word approximately every two years. But this changed four years ago after I downloaded a Bible app to my phone. Excited with all of the functionality and options for studying that it allowed me to do, I chose to begin a new Bible reading plan, one that would allow me to read through the entire text in a single year. This meant that I would be reading four or five chapters a day from the Bible.

Admittedly, ego drove this decision more than devotion or fervency for God. I wanted to be able to say, at least to myself, that I had read through the Bible “x” number of times in my life. Something about the number made me feel good about my walk with God. In hindsight, though, this gory self-righteousness led me down a path that was neither spiritual nor helpful for my Christian life. Thus, I have decided it is time to stop reading the Bible every year. Below are my top 10 reasons why:

 

  1. The Bible is to be absorbed, not raced through like a NASCAR race
  2. The Bible is made for man and is best understood in small doses in order to understand its application to life, but reading through it in a year only provides a large 30,000 foot overview.
  3. The Bible is designed to reveal God but, as with all things, speed blurs perception.
  4. If I only have 20-30 minutes each morning to read my Bible, I will get more out of it by examining how this passage connects to others or meditating on a manageable bite size piece, rather than reading 4 chapters and having no time for meditation or study.
  5. The Bible is not only to be meditated upon but also applied. I cannot apply a lesson I have not taken the time to learn. Most likely the only lessons that I am “hearing” when I read through the Bible in a year are the ones I remember the Lord teaching me from the past, not new ones that challenge me.
  6. Reading it through in a year can be more about successfully accomplishing a goal than becoming closer to or more like the LORD.  If my life is to be lived in such a way so that others may see the perfections of God publicly displayed through me, then I must take the time to understand how to exalt the LORD with all of who I am. To learn how, as John the Baptist said, I must become less so that He becomes more.
  7. As Chaucer once said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This year I began to realize that I was reading the Bible much like a movie I have seen a hundred times, anticipating the memorable or favorite scenes, but not enjoying it. Such an exercise feels like a duty, not a relationship with the text or the Creator who wrote it.
  8. It taps into my sinful nature much more easily than I anticipated: perfectionism masquerading as holiness, self-righteousness obscuring shame, self-blame and feelings of failure when I miss days that I should have read, as well as pride in doing the safe and private task of reading instead of the dangerous task of actively serving others with the power that God provides.
  9. The Bible is to be a starting point, not an ending point, for Christian living. It points us towards God and holy living. Making our calling and election sure is more than an intellectual agreement with a specific set of teachings. It is also a daily behavior that confirms that we are Christ’s and that He is ours. That the two have become one. The choice to love God is not one we make only at a singular point in time. Rather, it is one that we continue to make throughout our lives, sometimes even several times a day, so that we may know the joy of continually turning towards each other, even when our beloved makes no sense or hurts us. In other words, it is embracing the vulnerability of love in order to gain the intimacy of relationship.
  10. Aside from the incarnation, the Bible is God’s most vulnerable expression of who He is. It is the place where He bares His heart, communicates His desires, shares the joys and sorrows of His past, explains His frustrations, and voices His profound yearning for a deeper relationship. But if I am trying to get through four or five chapters before I start my day, I will often hear His mouth, but miss the message of His heart.

 

What am I going to do instead? I think I will go backward in order to move forwards. Get out my pen, annotate the text, and really try to see how all the parts connect to each other. A chapter or two each day. As they say in the South, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Loving is Exalting

in_loving_memoryIn 1989, I began my sophomore year at Baylor University. My best friend, Kevin, had been hired to be a resident assistant (RA) in the dorms that year and had left our shared state of South Carolina a few weeks prior to attend RA camp and receive his training for the job. I soon followed, arriving at school a week before classes began, so that I could settle into my dorm room early and hang out with my friend.

During Kevin’s off hours, we attended movies, ate together, stayed up late talking, and began the gradual transition to playing racquetball (due to Kevin’s disdain at barely losing in tennis to me most days). The campus was relatively quiet that week, and when Sunday rolled around we stood at the back of the church’s sanctuary, hopelessly looking for a familiar face to sit with. Eventually, Kevin spotted two girls across the sanctuary that he had met at RA camp and suggested we sit with them. I agreed and we walked over. Kevin entered the row first, placing me at one end of the four of us. I later found out that this was a strategic move so that he could sit by the girl he wanted to. But it created a slight awkwardness, so that when I was introduced to the cute brunette at the opposite end, I had to lean forward to casually wave at the woman who would become my wife. Continue reading

A Competition of Names

I am standing in a big bookstore, usually some large chain, like a Barnes and Noble, hovering around the periphery of the bestseller shelves. Customers come and go, but then one person catches my eye. She reaches over and pulls a title off the shelf, examines the cover art, and then opens the book.  Unlike the people who have come before her, she takes her time, beginning with the copyright page, the table of contents, the dedication, and then the first few pages of what she is holding. For a moment, she stands there, slowly turning the pages, until finally, with her eyes remaining in the book, her feet direct her to a nearby La-Z-Boy, and she sits down. The aura of sacredness surrounds her as she allows the words to draw her into a new reality. I feel guilty as I casually approach. Continue reading

Lessons from Proverbs 10

Throughout scripture we are told to pursue wisdom and to ask for it. But Proverbs 10 goes a little deeper and gives us a comparison/contrast between the person who is wise and the one who is foolish.

Wisdom/Righteousness

Foolishness/Wickedness

Brings joy to the Father Brings grief to Mother
Delivers from death Ill-gotten treasures are of no value
God does not let go hungry God thwarts their cravings
Diligent yields wealth Laziness yields poverty
Gathers crops at proper time Sleeps during the harvest (disgraceful)
Blessings crown their head Violence overwhelms their mouth
Their memory is a blessing The name will rot
Accepts commands Comes to ruin
Walks securely due to integrity Takes crooked paths and is found out, causes grief
Mouth is a fountain of life Violence overwhelms their mouth
Love covers over all wrongs Hatred stirs up dissensions
Discerning Lacks judgment
Stores up knowledge Mouth invites ruin
Wages bring them life Income brings them punishment
Heeds discipline and shows the way to life Ignores correction and leads others astray
Holds his tongue Conceals his hatred, lying lips, spreads slander, uses lots of words
Tongue is choice silver Heart is of little value
Lips nourish many  Die for lack of judgment
Delights in wisdom Finds pleasure in evil conduct
Given what he desires Overtaken by what he dreads
Stands firm forever Swept away by the storm
Fears the Lord, long life Years cut short
Their prospect is joy Their hope comes to nothing
The way of the Lord is a refuge The way of the Lord is a ruin
Will never be uprooted Will not remain in the land
Mouth brings forth wisdom Perverse tongue will be cut out
Lips know what is fitting Mouth knows only what is perverse

Now, instead of asking yourself which column best describes you, ask God to reveal to you the true state of your heart and how you may develop and display His wisdom in your life.

From Supernovas to Snails: The Lack of Superfluousness in God

Why did God create?  What is the purpose of breathing out the stars (Psalm 33:6) or shaping the form of man with His hands (Gen. 2:7)?  When one considers the variety of species, people groups, cultures, languages, astronomical phenomena, and the breadth of the universe, it would seem as if God went a little overboard in creation.

Continue reading

Beyond Suffering or Sin: Pt. 2

I wanted to follow up on my last post with a few additional thoughts. I’m going to put these in bullet points as much as possible, since I am recovering from a minor knee surgery. I hope these condensed thoughts make sense.

  • People who operate from a perspective of reducing suffering can often be easily identified. Their main argument to justify their behaviors is “It’s not hurting anyone, so what’s wrong with it?” We see this argument in many arenas today, from justifying telling white lies to more controversial topics, like abortion, homosexuality, and legalizing marijuana.
  • Those who use the “It’s not hurting anyone” argument seem to operate from a morality that excuses their behavior as long as they do not negatively impact someone else; however, this conveniently denies the negative impact they are having on themselves.
  • Morality, by definition, is acting in accord with a set of principles that distinguish between right and wrong. To state that the highest moral is to “not hurt anyone” creates a false and flimsy morality. It is false because it relies not on an objective standard of what right and wrong is but on the subjective interpretation of your fellow human being regarding whether or not they were hurt, in some way, by your words or actions. It is flimsy because in order for the morality to stand, the statement “I’m not hurting anyone” must be categorically true. In other words, the moral choice can only be supported if everyone is free from harm. But if even one person is harmed, then this system of thought falls in upon itself.
  • This implosion is the expected conclusion of a morality that begins and ends with a creature that has both good and bad within it. Self-destruction is the natural result of a system at war with itself.
  • This self-destructive nature of man is precisely what the people who are trying to move beyond sin acknowledge. That we are a doomed system and any hope for survival must come from eradicating the darkness within us, rather than redefining the darkness so that majority opinion suggests we are not hurting anyone. Such redefinitions only reinforce the delusion that sin does not exist and allows the self-destructive nature to continue.
  • To eradicate the darkness within us, we must receive help outside of ourselves from a source who: 1) is perfect (it does no good to receive help from another self-destructing being) and 2) can provide more than a modified behavior plan. Rather, this perfect being must literally be able to change our nature to be like their perfect nature and provide a system of living that allows us to make clear, objective choices between right and wrong, so that we do not relapse into darkness while it remains around us in our lives. In other words, a morality that is not about removing suffering but about removing sin. A clear delineation between right and wrong that is both true and strong.
  • This is what Jesus offers any person. Not the freedom from suffering, but the freedom within it. Because He has substituted Himself to take the penalty for your wrongs, so that you do not have to endure it, you receive a new, sinless nature. To protect you against the darkness around you He provides a new way of living to maintain and strengthen this nature, and allows you to be a beacon to others, so that they can go beyond sin as well. Both of these gifts, the new nature and the new morality, allow you to live within suffering freely, no longer a slave to it or to the trap of trying to escape it.
  • Which do you desire? To go beyond suffering or beyond sin?

Beyond Suffering or Sin?

Everybody has something that they do not like about their job. I am no different. Don’t get me wrong. I like being a therapist and seeing people move from a position of hopelessness to healing, and I believe that a lot of good has come out of the advancements in psychology over the last several decades. I even think that, to some degree, the introduction of psychological principles and ideas to the mainstream media has benefited a multitude of people in both their individual and relational lives. There is a lot of good that has come of this field of study.

However, when I look at psychology as a field, what really bothers me is the humanistic and atheistic foundation of my profession. I know I cannot change that. I don’t intend to. Freud and many of the pioneers of psychology were atheists. It’s only to be expected that they would create a field of study that resonates with their worldview. But as a devout Christian, I sometimes find it difficult to integrate the psychological principles that define how to practice my profession with the theological principles that define how to live my life. I imagine I am not alone in this struggle. Of the five major world religions, only Hinduism (which can most easily absorb other worldviews into its system) and Buddhism (which most closely parallels the foundational thinking of psychology) will potentially not struggle with this psychology/theology integration issue.

For instance, Christians and Jews both learn in Jeremiah 17:9-10 the following truth: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

On one hand this passage seems to validate psychology and the efforts it is trying to accomplish. After all, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is 991 pages long. But on the other hand, this passage seems to torpedo the entire notion of self-help, because if every heart is (at its core) deceitful and desperately sick, then reliance on any person, including your self, for deliverance is a foolish idea. Additionally, if only the LORD can accurately search the heart and test the mind, then what hope is there for the American Psychiatric Association or your local counselor?

The word “psychology” comes from two Greek roots, psyche and logos, that literally mean “the study of the spirit.” As a profession we have historically leaned towards the “study” side and away from the “spirit” side. Again, this does not surprise me because of the foundational leaders within the field. But if we are being honest, it is not only atheists who are “stuck” on the study side. Christians and other people of faith reside here as well. As a species with “deceitful” and “desperately sick” hearts we can codify behaviors that present specific patterns and label the grouping as a “disorder” and the patterned behaviors as “symptoms.” We can evaluate and diagnose based on those groupings and symptoms. We can even study different methodologies to see which one most effectively alleviates these symptoms. But all of our efficacy ends here. In other words, we can quantify how the physical, intellectual, and emotional experiences coalesce to shape a person, but we do so at expense of ignoring the spiritual component of people. This may not present a problem to those who do not acknowledge or believe in God. But to a person of faith, such as myself, this appears to be an egregious error. It is as if we have placed three tires on the car but ignored the need for a fourth.

Some try to rectify this issue by recognizing that a client’s spirituality is “true for them” and by giving the client opportunity to discuss how their issues intersect their faith. While this is often done in an attitude of respectful tolerance, it doesn’t always come across that way. Often it appears as if the counselor is either placating the spiritual person in order to move the process of counseling forward, or minimizing the confluence of the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual rivers of their life. To the Christian this is especially true, because the attitude that spirituality is “true for you” relegates our faith to an arena of postmodern relativism that we are unwilling to accept. Not because we are intolerant, bigoted pigs, but because to us Truth is a Person, specifically the person of Jesus Christ. To tell us that our spirituality is “true for us” seems to equate our faith in Jesus Christ to Jimmy Stewart’s faith in Harvey the Rabbit, that is to say that it is based on an individual’s perception of reality, rather than on an overarching Absolute that both describes reality and prescribes how to live within it. When this occurs, it feels neither respectful nor tolerant.

That is not to say that non-spiritual people are unhelpful with their spiritual clients. Several psychological modalities teach us professionals how to help our clients alleviate suffering and do it effectively. But it does highlight a major gap between those who approach life with a psychological point of view and those who approach life with a theological point of view. In the most simplistic terms, psychology seeks to alleviate suffering through natural means, or things that can be done within one’s self, such as self-denial, personal insight, or behavior modification (to name a few). Christianity, on the other hand, seeks to change the quality and function of a person’s soul by eradicating sin. This is done through supernatural means, most specifically through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins (what Christians call justification). This justification for our sins gives us God’s Holy Spirit within us in place of our old sinful one and begins a lifelong process of the Holy Spirit guiding and purifying us so that we becoming more and more like Christ (what Christians call sanctification).

Sanctification can look a lot like psychology as it may implement strategies of self-denial, personal insight, or behavior modification. However, it differs significantly in one main way: Psychology begins with the desired result, tries to teach how to do and maintain the result, but respects the individualism of the person so much that their core remains relatively unchanged. Christianity begins with the core, changes that, and then works from the inside outward so that those changes produce and maintain a “how” of doing life, which produces the desired result.

Additionally, Christians understand that suffering plays a unique role in their relationship with self, the sinful world, and Christ. Those who have adopted a biblical worldview remember that early church fathers often strengthened and encouraged new disciples of Christ by reminding them, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) This does not mean that Christians enjoy suffering or want to invite additional suffering into their lives, but they understand that suffering is a result of a fallen, sinful world, not just a conglomeration of choices that have been defined as “unhealthy”.

Suffering, for the Christian, is not to be avoided, as most modern thinking emphasizes. It is to be embraced. This is for two reasons. First, suffering is often the catalyst for the sanctification process, because it reorients us to a God-centered mentality and resizes our own view of our selves so that we confess as Paul did in Philippians 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Suffering can teach, purify, and increase our understanding of God; and just like healthy conflict can improve a marriage or a friendship, so suffering can improve our relationship with God. For this reason we often find encouragement through the examples of biblical saints who have preceded us, for they provide an example of how to remain God-centric in the midst of suffering. Also, scriptures like James 1:2-3, 1 Peter 1:14-16, and 1 Peter 2:11-23 do not encourage alleviation of suffering but a specific type of living in the midst of it.

This type of Christ-like living is encouraged for the second reason of embracing suffering: to promote Christ and invite others into a relationship with Him. If Christians endure suffering like their non-Christian friends/relatives, then there is no distinction between how we live and how they live. But when a Christian embraces suffering and demonstrates that the power of God is working through them to produce a joy or a righteousness that is independent of their circumstances, then other people take notice of this strange response. It becomes intriguing to them and can, in some cases, make them acknowledge that only God could be working through you to accomplish what they are witnessing. Embracing suffering is not easy but it does promote Christ as it removes the element of trusting one’s self and instead trusts in God to do a work that has never before been witnessed. To be clear, though, this may or may not include the removal of suffering in your life, or even the alleviation of it. It may, instead, accomplish only the exaltation of Christ.

Again, this does not mean that psychology is useless. It only means that as a Christian (or a Christian counselor for that matter) one must decide how to approach and handle suffering. Will it be with a psychologized theology, focused more on alleviating emotional pain, or will it be a theologized psychology where biblical principles and worldviews take precedence over those of man? This is the choice I have to daily fight. It is not one I enjoy, but I have hope that as I embrace this struggle, it will both purify my soul as well as my counseling. Perhaps this makes sense to you. Perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps you think it is just the ramblings of local blogger. Either way, it is my hope that in the small struggle of work I can learn wisdom that will be helpful to both myself and my clients that extends beyond the sufferings of this life only. As the apostle Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15:19:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

200 Words or Less: Unchanging

wpid-wp-1440786307619.jpegAs a psychotherapist I have people come into my office every day asking me to advise, guide, teach, or plan a way out of their problems.  Generally I try to give practical solutions.  But for those whose problems defy practicality I try to remind them that, regardless of the situation, it is not power, or strength, or wisdom that protects these followers of God.  It is God’s immutable nature.  He has provided grace to them in the past; therefore grace is guaranteed to them in their future.  He may not always act the same, but He will always be the same.  He will comfort the depressed.  He will provide for the financially burdened.  He will sustain the despairing.  He will bind up the wounded.  Therefore let all who follow Him confidently proclaim, “The Lord does not change; therefore, [I] will not be destroyed.”