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?

Lessons From Grief: “New Normal”

Grief sucks, plain and simple. It’s teaches us quite a few lessons so we can help those who are currently struggling through it. You learn some surprising insights from it, one being that you gain a new identity.

Have you lost someone and found that nothing feels the same? A new normal has to arise, with a new identity of sorts. I’ll let C.S Lewis explain:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend.”

C.S Lewis The Four Loves

When you lose someone close, they’re a friend whether they are related or not. That part of you that they could get you to reveal is hidden again. How we act around one friend is different than with another. My wife sees both the extremely goofy and analytical sides of me. My best friend enjoys engaging the part of me that goes deep into obscure topics that would bore my wife to tears.

The part someone brings out is gone when we lose them. It’s hidden away, just a memory. A hole is formed and it has to be filled the best way possible. That involves a change, a new normal–not moving on, but forward.

Some of the changes I went through is I began to legitimately care about people. Before, it was all about me. I opened up, appreciated life, and realized that a lot of life’s squabbles are petty and stupid in the end. It leads to regret when one of you dies.

As we grieve, we’ll adapt, becoming someone a little different. It’ll hurt still, and don’t worry, you won’t forget about them. As time goes on, other parts of your personality and life experiences will be drawn out. Like a music talent that was dormant or neglected will return. We grieve, but we also grow.

What To Do When You Can’t Sense God

Some things are probably left buried. Except they have a tendency to rise from the dead. I got the “brilliant” idea to check my progress and revisit the last months of 2013 when everything changed. Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I read the first three chapters of A Ronin’s Journey, the book project I’m working on now.

Those three chapters contain the immediate aftermath of the death of my godson. When I looked up, the unshed tears were blurring my vision. I was emotionally drained, three months in thirty minutes. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea. I had picked a scab and it started to bleed again.

It threw me out of whack as the memories flooded back and bowled me over. I had wanted to remember the root of it all and I got it in spades. The agnosticism, tragedy, introspection, more funerals than I care to count, criminal record, a life spiralling out of control and failure.

Waking up the next morning, I felt like there was a divide inside me. An emptiness, God on the fringes barely noticeable. Think of the sun on a thick, cloudy day, the light is there but the source isn’t as evident. I remembering hearing that this happens sometimes, and taking a principle Jesus told his disciples, I remembered what he had done in the past.

I began by searching my notes from 2014, like the Beatitude notes, when I went through the 19 Mercies from the Ragamuffin Gospel, and the sixteen page Gospel Epic I explored “How Much Does God Love Me?” I began to feel better, the gap was starting to close. Maybe I could even write again?

No. The divide wasn’t quite gone yet

I searched a favorite site, GotQuestions.org, asking about spiritual emptiness. First, for any born-again Christian, it’s a feeling but will never be a fact. Every follower of Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Why I was feeling it, I don’t know.

The answer included four steps to help.

  1. Desire to be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. So I took a walk and prayed for just that.
  2. Confess anything I did wrong and ask for forgiveness for anything known or unknown.
  3. Present every area of my life to God for control. I made another lap of the plant, going through my mental checklist. What would God have me do at work, home, on the blog, with friends, and at church?
  4. I moved on, accepting the promises of the Holy Spirit, and asking according to His will.

Whatever caused it, whatever the reason, all I know is I got God “back” after going through the process over the week. He encourages us to look for and ask repeatedly. By it, we learn reliance on Him. That empty feeling was horrible and a reminder of how much I need God. I don’t want to go through that again.

Who Reads This Blog and What Do They Think?

Ronin s Journey   Seeking First the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness And Making An Impact In LifeA few weeks ago, I did a survey to get the pulse of my readers. You can still participate here. I wanted to know who you are, what you like and don’t like, what changes would help, and what challenges you face. This was to help me to serve you better. The results were surprising. Ready?

Who Reads This Stuff?

Gender

  • 60% are women
  • 40% are men

Age

  • 35% are 35-44 years old
  • 25% are 25-34
  • 25% are 45-54
  • 10% are 18-24
  • 5% are 55-64

General Belief in God?

  • 55% believe God is real and interactive in the world.
  • 25% marked other, specifying apatheistic, spiritual, and Wiccan
  • 10% believe there is nothing supernatural or outside our physical universe
  • 5% are not sure or believe God’s set it all in motion and left the universe alone afterwards

Specific Religious Beliefs? (Could mark multiple answers)

  • 55% are Christians
  • 25% identify with no religion
  • 25%  marked other, specifying heathen, spiritual, Wiccan, and identifying with many religions
  • 15% are Protestants
  • 10% identify with Buddhism or Native American
  • 5% identify with Inter-denominational, Judaism, and Catholicism

Favorite Subjects on the Blog

  • 45% like the mentorship/leadership posts (which are kind of rare)
  • 30% like the Christian Living posts on how to better follow Jesus
  • 15% like when I break down a Bible passage
  • 10% like the apologetics posts

No one likes the evangelism posts according to the survey. However, I weave both evangelism and apologetics into most posts.

The Best Part of the Blog

  • 55% like the depth of the posts
  • 35% like the practical information
  • 5% like the ease of use
  • 5% clicked other, writing in that it makes them think. If I can make you think, then I consider that post a success.

How Can I Improve (3 people skipped it)

  • 41% want a FAQ page. I don’t get any questions so if you have any, ask and I’ll see if I can answer them.
  • 29% would like shorter posts. I’ll try to keep it under a 1000 words unless it takes from the depth of the post.
  • 29% clicked other, and wrote in the following: not a thing, follow your muse, keep your editor (Hi Nay!), keep doing what I’m doing (I will but with more focus), and adding a categories page. I have a search bar on the right-hand side under the heading TOPICS where you can search by categories.

Read Any of my Books (multiple choice)

Your Biggest Challenge

  • 70% say it’s Life
  • 30% got specific: trust issues, forgiveness, health, self-hatred, anger, being judgmental, a life of nothing but work.

The last section was really important. I’ve walked or am currently walking all of those paths. Overall, you guys gave me a target to focus on and I thank you for that. Remember, if you have a question you want me to answer about myself or a topic, post it in the comments. The interesting and recurring I’ll start looking into answering and adding to the FAQ page you requested. Some may become a blog post.

Real-Life Superheroes?

What is the attraction of superheroes? Comic book based TV shows and movies are killing it right now. Non-comic geeks can tell you the origins of Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. What’s the allure?

Most of them have secret identities, a double life, one average but when duty calls they suit up. They look like anyone else, but are something greater. We live vicariously through them, aspiring to be something more.

Even up to my twenties, I would draw myself as a superhero. Usually a small twist on a current character. I wanted to be something more. These thoughts returned as I watched Man of Steel.

I wanted to be Superman, nothing could hurt him, really. He was a good guy that you could count on. Wolverine was a favorite for a long time, rough and tough, no one messed with him. Despite his demons, he had a heart of gold underneath.

Spiderman, witty and smart; he’s just fun and dealt with real life as well as supervillains. A relatable character, with a lot of bad luck, yet he persevered.

Batman?

If you know me, then you know I love Batman. Why? Because he’s good at EVERYTHING! A genius, top fighter, has a plan for everything, doesn’t stop, and just plain, frickin’ cool! He’s complex, and honestly, very scarred. Still he does good. It’s his mission.

I’m growing almost as fond of Captain America as I am of Batman. Chris Evans’ portrayal is so endearing; he’s just so unbelievably good and honest. A good-hearted runt that became more. Like Superman is to DC, Cap is the moral center of the Marvel Universe.

What do these teach us?

Despite tragedy, they do good, they persevere, whether their world exploded, family died, or like Wolverine, everyone they love dies while he lives. They help stop it from happening to others. Where you could easily crawl into a hole deep inside yourself, they refused to.

The world is a harsh place. It’s also good and beautiful. They preserve the beautiful. A cause is good. However, the center of the cause should be people. It’s more than a concept; it’s a reality. I watch broken people who have emerged from their trials, helping other broken people every week. They bring a double-edged sword that is experience and empathy. They’ve been there.

Jesus gave the disciples and Christians today the Great Commission.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

That’s the cause. The center is people, though. Look at the second greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 NIV

So who is the neighbor? Jesus was asked that.

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 NIV

The answer was the parable of the good Samaritan. To sum it up, he made the questioner answer his own question.

““Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10: 36-37 NIV

SuperheroThe past is the springboard to the future. First, climb out of yourself. Then start helping people up. We may not have superpowers, but we can make a difference. It’s about people, help one and their world is changed. Now suit up and go.

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?