God: Nice Thought or More?

Back in April, I was thinking about how people think and act about God. Later, I saw a commercial of a show that Morgan Freeman was narrating about who God is across cultures. Watching the promo, I noticed a pattern emerge. To many of them, God was a concept, an abstraction that made them feel good.

Is that the reason many professing Christians aren’t standing out that well in a broken world? Like the rocky soil in Mark 4:16-17, they accept the thought with joy. Did you accept Jesus with a good feeling but no real life change?

A good feeling is temporary, an intangible thought doesn’t trigger change unless it’s accepted wholeheartedly. A term going around for it is practical atheism–where someone believes in God, but behaves like there is no God. He’s just a concept to them, like charity is something that is nice.

Do you fit God into your life when you find the time?

May I be so bold as to say it should be flipped?

God isn’t a concept. He’s the sovereign creator of the universe. A nice thought doesn’t get you through life’s struggles, the emptiness, none of it. That requires something bigger than you. I was told to have faith in my darkest time. Faith is having a trust in something. A nice thought that requires something or someone.

When God arrives, what I call a Godquake happens, everything is shaken up. An overwhelming feeling occurs, your heart breaks as it feels like everything is being pulled out. Then the dirt is scraped off, the gunk poured out, and it’s put back as good as new.

God is so big that when he comes in, things get knocked over.

It can happen at church during altar calls for prayer. It can happen in your home during a really good time in prayer and praise. I don’t cry, for me to shed a tear is rare. I was raised that it wasn’t manly, a foolish thought that was conditioned in me. But I cried so hard in my office at home that I couldn’t see while singing At The Cross (Love Ran Red).

Why?

Because it’s personal, more than a nice thought. Look at the chorus:

🎶At the cross
At the cross
I surrender my life
I’m in awe of You
I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red
And my sin washed white
I owe all to You
I owe all to You Jesus🎶

My life was surrendered to Jesus, I had done a great job at screwing it up. The fact that he put me back together is awesome because of why he did it. It wasn’t anything I deserved, yet he took the hit for me. Everything I had done wrong doesn’t weigh on me. Now it’s a cautionary reminder of where I came from. I truly owe all to him, he saved my life.

Yes, it’s a gift I can’t repay, and I follow him in gratitude for what was done and is being done now. It’s not like a codependent parent bailing you out again and again that you can call when needed. He picks us up, knocks off the dirt, and says follow me. 

You do follow then. Life is shaken up and you fit in his agenda rather than Jesus fitting in yours. God is the priority, so everything else is seen as a loss in comparison.

An idea cannot do that for long. Like a new toy, it’s forgotten after a while. It requires grabbing onto someone, not something. Life changes when we embrace two people, and is never the same.

Your spouse.

Your child.

With both, your dreams and priorities change. It includes them now, their needs come before yours. That’s what it’s like with a relationship with Jesus, things change.

He’s the perfect spouse, selflessly giving you what you need. Because of that, you listen and go with him wherever you go. Like it’s obvious you’re married, it should be obvious by how your life is now that Jesus is a part of it.

To see what the self-sacrificial love of God is like, look at a parent’s relationship to their kids. What would you do for your kids? What would you do to protect them?

Anything. And instruct them to stay away from things that can hurt them.

It’s the same with God. Do you know Him like that?

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What’s Holding Back Those Who’ve Thought It Through?

We’ve gotten to the final post of this series where we’ve been analyzing and answering why some people aren’t listening to the case for Christ. We’ve explored the systematic processing error that is cognitive biases, that three types of conscious unbelievers from Tim Keller’s book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism and Mark 4:15, are prone to. The types are the willfully rebellious, the unreasonable skeptic, and the willfully ignorant. The final type we’ll look at is different; they’re genuine.

8815533744_fa7fe5a687_zIt’s the person that is aware of most of, if not all, their biases. They’ve examined the evidence, dived into the philosophy, the theology, and how it fits with the world. They have come to their conclusions with well thought out reasons for not accepting it. They still consider every new piece of information that comes to light.

So, what could be stopping them?

Maybe they want a smoking gun piece of evidence. Or a voice from heaven directed to them in a public place. They could be putting their trust in science, believing that it will figure out the mysteries we have currently in the future.

There may be another reason.

Say you’ve read Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Then you watched every one of William Lane Craig’s debates on YouTube. You checked bibliographies, read opposing views by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. You may think the evidence for is better than the evidence against.

That leaves you with a decision to make. To accept it, or reject it. Intellectually, you accept that Jesus and God are real. All the points lead to this being true, so what happens if you accept and put your trust in Jesus as a person and not a concept alone?

What does it mean if the God the inference of the evidence matches the God of the Bible who created everything?

What does it mean when you see thousands of years of prophecies are pointing to one historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth? The same person that history records being killed by crucifixion. That there was a darkness and earthquake as recorded by an extrabiblical source. That no one can see the body of Jesus because it’s not in the tomb or an ossuary. The disciples that claimed to see him and died because of it when rejection would’ve saved them. That James and Paul, hardened skeptics, believed after seeing him after he died.

It means there must’ve been some truth to his words. That he was the Son of God here to die for you so you can have eternal life. If you accept that, what does it mean for you?

That you or any other person are an accident of nature?

Or that you have tremendous value.

God wants a relationship with you.

Your world will not be the same.

It’s the last part that worries people. If no one is an accident, then it follows that they were created for a purpose. If God the Son incarnated as a man to pay the penalty for your sins on the cross, then you must be incredibly valuable to him. So is your best friend, and your worst enemy.

If you follow Jesus and do as he says, it won’t always be rainbows and puppies. You’ll see this life as a fleeting moment in light of eternity. Because you’ve been forgiven, you’ll be called to forgive. You’ll have to let go of hate, grudges, and anger, it’s a process, and on this side of it, I can tell you it’s easier than you think.

You’ll have a new nature, and as you grow, the old you will start to flake off, exposing someone pristine underneath. Is it fear that keeps you away? Fear of the change? Or the desire to not let go of something or someone you know isn’t good for you?

In the end, it still falls to a heart issue. Do you have a heart issue? Is it due to an ‘all about me’ attitude? Maybe it’s an anger issue? What is it? Ask yourself that.

The Willfully Ignorant

We’ve been looking at the receptiveness, or lack of it, in people over the course of the past two posts. The idea came from the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:14-20. We’re looking in particular at verse 15, the conscious unbelievers.

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

To recap, we’ve looked at those who are willfully rejecting Christ, and the heart issues underneath it that are fueling their biases. Then we looked at those that reject the evidence of Christ out of hand without much consideration. This comes with it’s own set of biases.

Remember, cognitive biases are from a system error in our thought processes like memory, attention, and attribution. It’s a two-edged sword, sometimes shortcuts are necessary, like making decisions in the face of a charging lion. You don’t put much thought in that. In this post, we’re going to look where I suspect many people fall, rejection due to imitation.

It’s not much of a secret that our attention spans are shorter. The internet is a blessing and a curse. All the information is a click away, available, and you don’t have to remember it. We also don’t really think through things as thoroughly as we used to.

We collect information, mash it up, and spout it without much, if any, fact checking. Who has time for that? I have cat videos to watch on Facebook. It’s opinion by consensus.

One of the most obvious biases at play is the bandwagon effect. If you’ve heard the term, then you probably know what it means. Adopting a belief because others do. Paul quotes the Greek poet, Menander, in 1st Corinthians 15:33 when he writes, “Bad company corrupts good character.” That’s the same principle in effect with the bandwagon effect.

A bias that isn’t obvious to anyone is the blindspot bias. We see others’ biases much easier than our own. Try this, look for your own biases and find ways to counteract them. The anchoring bias is one I have to watch for. That’s why I stressed thinking like a detective in the last post.

Stereotyping is another bias; it fits a mental profile on the first impression, so the person goes with it. Blondes are dumb, people with glasses are smart (people thought that about me until I showed them my report card), and gingers have no soul. All Latinos are here illegally, black people steal, Democrats hate America, Republicans love war and want Jesus for president. It goes on and on and on. It’s pervasive.

These at the heart are blind group think. Sadly, they’re found in every group. They either haven’t vetted the information or have never been taught. Bible verses are taken out of context, without anyone looking beyond it. I run into that a lot more than I would care to. For example, loving your enemies (Matthew 5:44) ties into loving your neighbor (Luke 10:27), who your neighbor is (Luke 10:25-37), and which of the four Greek words used for love is used in those verses.

The willfully ignorant won’t go deeper than that.The Willfully Ignorant

Then it’s justified with the confirmation and selective perception biases. The last two posts covered the confirmation bias. Selective perception is allowing our expectations to influence our perceptions.  You expect the opposing sports team to cheat so you see “every infraction” and suspect the referees were bought off.

There is a saying that you’ll find what you look for. Someone cuts you off in traffic, well they’re obviously a jerk. What you may not know is that their kid was bit by a snake and they’re rushing to the ER.

Being willfully ignorant is at the heart of rejecting Christ by consensus. You have to learn about and meet him before passing judgment.  This type is the opposite of our final type that we’ll go over in the next post. In it we’ll look at those who “have their decision and these are the reasons why.” With it, we’ll close the four part series.

When Skepticism Leads to a Closed Mind

In the previous post, we looked at the cognitive biases of the mind and the underlying heart issues. Remember, a cognitive bias is a processing glitch. Jesus characterized the type we’re looking at as the “Path” or “Road” soil, nothing gets in, from Mark 4. We’re still looking at verse 15, “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

 

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The last post was about those who say, ‘I know and I don’t care’. This one is about the type that says, “it can’t be proven” or “it’s false”. It stems mostly from a rebellion of the mind, and it can get tribal. Politics is a good example of that.

 

In this issue—rejecting Christ—there are six biases in play:

The anchoring bias, going with and allowing the first piece of information to influence you. Suppose you see a link on Facebook that says Jesus is a copycat of pagan myths. Everything you see after that is shaded in that lens despite any evidence to the contrary. You dropped your mental anchor on that piece of information.

Rather than dropping anchor, be a detective, make a note of it and continue the search for evidence. Then see where it leads. Pull a piece out, see if it changes direction or is still the same conclusion. I wrote about that in Investigating Christianity. Once we fixate, the next bias tends to feed that fixation.

The confirmation bias, only listening to information that confirms our preconceptions. It’s evident everywhere in daily life. You research a car you always wanted, that brand is the best ever, despite the amount of recalls on it. Your boyfriend is so nice, he’s the one, everyone saying he’s been going behind your back is lying. A good Christian casemaker doesn’t ignore the arguments against Christianity, they evaluate them. Investigating all the evidence and coming to a reasonable conclusion is how to defeat it.

The choice-supportive bias ties into it a bit, it’s where you feel good about a choice despite its flaws. Your spouse hits you sometimes, but they’re “not that bad”. These are dangerous biases that go down to a tribal level.

It’s seen in politics a lot, where a politician you like makes decisions you wouldn’t tolerate from another, yet you still support them. This is why I don’t play in politics anymore, the blind tribalism got tiring. Where do these point? What’s the center of it?

It’s the emotional investment in select information. The stronger you feel about something, the less engaged your neocortex‒the logical part of your brain‒is. It creates an emotional blind spot. Belief is fine, but only after reasoning through all the evidence, not just a single piece.

The availability heuristic is also at play, basing a judgment on limited info that leads to poor estimates. We all should all watch for it. On a personal level, it’s when you only have a limited side of the story. On a bigger scale, it will help you if you picture a circle. That’s the world of information. Place a smaller circle inside it. That’s the information that you have in comparison. It can lead to nihilism.

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Skeptics love this quote. It’s good to question. However, at a certain point, it’s reasonable to accept something when it’s beyond a reasonable doubt. Face it, we’ll always have questions.

If we don’t have questions and accept something wholeheartedly, then it may be the bandwagon effect at work. That bias is where you accept a belief because others do. Tribalism again. Do you go one way because of your friends or family? Or did you jump from one bandwagon to another?

Recency is the tendency to weigh newer information heavier than older data. The danger is that the older information was heavily evaluated and yet still stands firm. The gnostic gospels, for example, are dated later than the four in the Bible. Mark was written within 10-20 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. So was Luke, it was written before he wrote Acts, which documented Paul’s travels before his execution in AD68. Look in the New International Version of the Bible, and you’ll see footnotes and sections where scholars show where different words or phrases are used, and what sections aren’t in the earliest manuscripts. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is a very heavily evaluated book.

The core of these last three biases is decisions from limited information and peer pressure. It depends on the depth of one’s thought. We can make a claim, but it takes more work to support it with reason. Have you noticed the sliding scale of intensity, from deep to shallow. There’s a surprising depth to it.

I have two more subtypes to examine and not enough space. Next week we’ll continue with the imitator and the thinker types. My question for you is do you fall into any of these subtypes or know someone who does?

Speaking With the Stubborn

Have you ever tried to persuade someone and nothing changes their mind? You appeal to their emotions, form logical arguments, present every piece of evidence short of a video. Facebook is really bad when it comes to memes that are so easy to knock down, and when you do, nothing changes. It’s frustrating.

The answer is simple and complex. There are at least two ways to look at this. They’re obstinately hard-headed, or there are deeper issues at play. We’re going to dig. It’s important for a few reasons: first, it’ll identify our own issues; secondly, we’ll understand the person we’re talking to; and thirdly, we’ll be able to speak to them on a deeper level rather than talking at them.

Jesus taught a parable about a sower scattering seeds through a field. Some landed on the road, some in the rocks, some in the weeds, and some in the good soil. The sower is us when we talk about the Gospel and the seed is the Gospel.  We’re focusing and going deeper on verse 15 in Mark 4; “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

Tim Keller in his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism breaks down the four soils described in the parable even further. I’m going to look at it from a different perspective, from our cognitive biases. We all have them, and even our biases have biases. If you want your brain to hurt, look them up, find yours and find a way to combat them.

What is a cognitive bias? It’s a mental system error in our thought processes like memory, attention, and attribution that affects judgment. It’s when the mind takes shortcuts to reach decisions.

They’re not the same as logical fallacies. That comes from errors in a logical argument. Logic can help in mitigating biases. However, we make too many quick decisions to think that we’re thinking logically all the time. Those decisions are generally in the lower levels of the brain. That’s not a bad thing, some decisions need to be made quickly, like when jerking the wheel of the car to avoid hitting something.

The first type of receptiveness is characterized by the hard packed road. Nothing is getting in. Tim calls those of this type the conscious unbelievers, skeptics, and rejectors of the faith. Then he breaks this group into five subtypes. We’re looking at the first subtype in this post, those in willful rebellion. Is that you?

Willful Rebellion

This type knows, or think they know, but just don’t care. In this, several biases are at play. 366927039_0a227467f4_zStarting with the Overconfidence bias–too confident in their own abilities, thinking they don’t need God. That was me at one point.

Personal Preference bias–how we perceive our actions as opposed to what we see others do. Humans are really good at rationalizing and justifying bad behavior that we wouldn’t accept from others. Yeah, been there too.

Self-Serving bias–when things are good, it’s because of our intelligence and abilities. When things are bad, though? Well…we just didn’t have control over that, it’s not our fault. Sometimes that is the case; it also means that sometimes we did mess up.

Blind Spot bias–not even seeing our biases, a scary one. This holds the others together, where while I can spot your particular biases a mile away, I can’t see my own. That’s why I issued the challenge earlier to explore and combat your biases.

These four biases, distilled to their essences, point to an underlying heart issue. They all stem from our focus on ourselves to the point we have essentially put ourselves in God’s place. Then we justify it with four more biases.

False Consensus–the overestimation of how many people agree with us. We hear it when someone says, “Well, everyone knows…” and you can probably finish the sentence. It can happen when we surround ourselves with others like us, so everyone else must be the same as our group, right? Broaden your horizons, serve and eat with the homeless, speak with the powerful, comfort the hurting, and hold a conversation with someone from a different culture.

This rolls over into the Bandwagon bias, which is essentially, “everyone else is doing it so I will too.” Whenever someone presents contradictory information, it’s ignored in favor of what we want to hear. We’re all in danger of that one, especially on the information superhighway.

The final bias for this type is Selective Perception. It’s where we allow our expectations to influence our perceptions. Think about the time someone said, ‘Of course they did that, they’re ________.’ Or how about this, are you an optimist or a pessimist?

These boiled down show our heart’s desire for justification. In this type, it’s justifying their self-centeredness. There is hope for this type, though it’s not anything that we can do other than praying for them.

Here’s why, it’s a heart issue, something at their core that needs changed. We can change minds, but we cannot change the hearts of others. While we can work on our own hearts, it’s a holding action. A better option is a heart transplant.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 NIV

We’ve seen how far it will go to hold us in place. Here’s how it can be fixed.

“And I will give them one heart [a new heart] and I will put a new spirit within them; and I will take the stony [unnaturally hardened] heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh [sensitive and responsive to the touch of their God],” Ezekiel 11:19 AMP

God is the heart surgeon that is able to help the sick in heart. Some say be true to yourself, however, what if you’re a horrible person? Should you still stay true to yourself? Or will you justify it in pseudo-spiritual language like, “God knows my heart.”

He does, and that should concern you as we’ve seen above. The only time it shouldn’t is when with your heart–the core of your being–you put your trust in and rely on Jesus. Then there will be true justification before God (Romans 10:10).

This was going to be one post on the five subtypes, but we dug so deep that for the sake of time, I’ll split it up. The next post will deal less with the heart and more with the head.

Blessed Are The Merciful?

Have you ever screwed up and someone showed you mercy? It has happened to me before. I have done it myself a few times. It is a virtue; however, what if it comes at the expense of truth? What if to show mercy, you had to lie to keep someone out of trouble?

It was where a rigid policy met multiple mistakes before they were caught. It does not happen often; nevertheless I questioned it. A lie to protect someone would still be a lie.

I have seen it used for good in the case of lying to a drunk girl to get her to stop. She would not leave until she had one more drink, so it was watered down until it was impotent and she left. On the other hand, in the case of Corrie Ten Boom, lying to the Nazis about the Jews they were hiding. I will stand by the fact I have a hard time lying regardless.

In the case of work, any scrap product caused by a person is noted. I balance it out by trying to find some other defect in it that I can mark down instead. If I cannot, they take the hit. Either way, I show them what happened and suggest ways to correct it.

We were shown mercy on the cross. What many do not realize is someone had to take the hit. That someone was Jesus. If you do not accept his offer to take the hit, then you have to deal with the natural consequences of your actions.

Mercy and justice are irrelevant without consequences.

What Standard, It’s All Relative Isn’t It?

I was advising a friend on Facebook when another friend commented that morality is subjective. It highlights a problem in our society. People don’t believe in objective standards. Truth is relative. Morality is gray and you make your own up. It’s actually not a new thought.

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” Judges 17: 6 and Judge 21: 25

The book of Judges is a very dark book. Those with any character were rife with faults and still stood head and shoulders over those around them. Gideon was a coward, Samson was devious and loved the hookers, and one guy from the priest class gave his concubine to be gang raped to death to save his own neck. Before that, his host tried to give them his virgin daughter to save themselves.

It’s illogical to think truth is relative. “There is no truth” is defeated by asking if that’s a true statement. Yes, and they defeated their point. No, and their point has no basis. I don’t know and we have a conversation.

As for morality? We argue daily about the value of life. To even have a grey area, there has to be black and white. There actually is an objective standard.

  1. We cannot say anything is bad without something good to compare it to.
  2. J. Warner Wallace said add ‘for the fun of it’ to cut right through the gray area. “I ran them off the road for the fun of it.”
  3. Jonathon Morrow from Think Christianly said ask this simple question: “Are you really saying that there is no moral difference between Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler?” in the context of the conversation I linked to.

Relativism is intellectually lazy. Yes, we are taking in tons of information. We still have to make a decision though, not just deciding ‘it’s all true.’ Critical thinking is required or else we risk becoming so open minded our brains fall out or we believe nothing, which leads to close-mindedness.

Relativistic morality makes it impossible to legitimately stand for anything. There would be no justice. MLK Jr. would be just another guy with an opinion. Why should the majority change for the minority in that case?

Here is the acid test for people actually believing in an objective standard. Try to take all their rights and property, or tell them to do something they disagree with. Eventually you’ll find that things aren’t so gray for them after all.

Thoughts?

Proverbial Wisdom; Doing What’s Right When Friendship Is On The Line

It’s easy to do good when there isn’t any pressure. Other times there are consequences for doing the right thing, like when we have to own up to a screw up. That hits us right in the pride.

What’s harder than that is when we have to tell our friends ‘no’. When we have to lovingly confront them with a wrong they’re doing (Matthew 18: 15). This is where our integrity is tested.

Like in a situation where we walk into the crossfire between warring friends, or are pulled into it by one asking for help. How should we act?

“Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.” Proverbs 13:6 NIV

We do what is right, of course. Let’s make it a little more complicated. One friend, Jimmy, is withholding Bruce’s mail. Bruce owes Jimmy money. Jimmy plans to use the mail to get the money owed by Bruce.

Bruce asks Steve to go get his mail. Steve’s a regular do-gooder so he’s happy to help. He walks in clueless and gets the mail he sees when he visits Jimmy.

Jimmy finds out and is angry with Steve. He demands that he bring it back so he can hold it ransom until he’s paid back. Steve knows that the mail doesn’t belong to Jimmy. What should Steve do? Both are his friends and he knows who the mail belongs to.

“If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small. Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die; save them as they stagger to their death. Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.”
For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew.
He will repay all people as their actions deserve.” Proverbs 24: 10-12 NLT

You stay faithful to the truth of what is right. Then you act fairly.

“It is wrong to show favoritism when passing judgment. A judge who says to the wicked, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by many people and denounced by the nations.” Proverbs 24: 23-24 NLT

Doing what is right is hard sometimes. It can even cost you a friend. It sucks and it can work out at least two ways.

They’ll continue on in their ways and this will be the wise choice for you:

“Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble.” Proverbs 24: 1-2 NLT

Maybe they’ll realize that you were the one friend that kept them accountable. They straighten up their act and work to reconcile the relationship with you. Then this proverb goes into effect:

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Have you ever found yourself pulled into two directions at once? Between the easy choice and the hard choice; what did you choose?