Sunday, May 01, 2016

What does Evil desire?

The devil wants admirers. If we think of evil as a force, a power, a personality -- some would say the devil -- what evil wants is to be admired. It wants praise for being freeing and liberating. (Never mind that it 'frees' people from health and sanity, from a joyful life.) When evil attacks good, it thinks of itself as powerful and brave -- and demands to be called such. Evil is looking for followers. It wants respectability. It wants recognition for being right -- even if it denies that the idea of "right" has any legitimacy. (The anti-religious movements tend to sound just like a bad religion, sooner or later.)

Evil is content to begin with us: To make it so that people become greedy for admirers, and praise, and respect. In our personal lives, whenever we face a temptation to set our sights on these things, it's a temptation to become less godly.

Evil will teach us to look at self-control as a bad thing. It teaches us to mislabel decency as "inhibition". It uses "irreverent" and "wicked" as praise words, and excuses rudeness -- or outright spiteful verbal attacks -- as humor. In the field of sexuality, anyone who holds the ideal of monogamy is insulted as "prude" or mocked as "Puritanical". Those who promote lifestyles that require artificial hormones or medically unnecessary surgery are applauded as "groundbreaking". The tools used are honor and shame. And once people have done things that are inconsistent with decency, it's awfully easy to join in the attacks on decency, to become followers of whoever will boldly claim that there is nothing wrong.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

God's Love in Action: Seeking the Lost

Some time ago I ran a series on people who excel in putting God's love into action. This post is a continuation of that series.

Tim Miller's life changed unexpectedly on the day that his teenage daughter went missing. It took the police many months to find her -- or rather, find her remains. His story is full of pain and anguish -- and to some extent it still is. But out of his anguish, he resolved to dedicate his life to seeking the lost. Now he is a veteran and expert at finding missing persons, and his organization Texas Equusearch has more than 300 safe recoveries to their credit. Whenever there is a report of a missing person, police and families often turn to Tim Miller for his expertise. He has a reputation for persistence and dedication, and for the emotional comfort that he brings to the families of the missing. He is now leader of a large volunteer group whose emblem reads, "Lost is not Alone." They are the ones who make that emblem true.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

'God As I Understand Him'?

(Continuing my thoughts on a 12-step group for people raised by addicts.) 

If anyone is familiar with 12-step groups, you may be familiar with a move that I think of as "the Twelve Step Two-Step", dancing around the introduction of God, usually by introducing him as "God as I understand him" or "a Higher Power whom some of us choose to call God." Once the two-step is over, the understanding of God is recognizably Christian, with the emphasis on a loving father. The "Our Father" is the closing prayer at many meetings. (The meetings themselves are recognizably liturgical in format, with opening and closing prayers, and a set format in between. Often studies of a group's distinctive 'Big Book' or daily reader replaces Bible study, and readings from the group's literature takes the place of Bible readings.)

"God as I Understand Him" is an awkward phrase. It takes awhile to say, and is complicated compared to simply saying "God". The long form of the phrase is meant to stop arguments about different understandings of God. As I mentioned before, the group does in fact have dogmas: there are some views of God that they would try to change, such as seeing God as indifferent or unloving. Those who are from a dogma-oriented background, who enjoy certainty and precision, may see some risks or hazards in that approach. I'd like to balance that by mentioning some benefits of this approach.

"God as I understand him" focuses our thoughts briefly on a few genuine facts of life, based on the fact that humans are finite, that the sum of human knowledge is still short of divine knowledge:

  • My understanding is incomplete
  • I have hope to grow and understand more
  • I have cause for humility
  • I have reason to be open to what others say
  • Your understanding is incomplete
  • You have hope to grow and understand more
  • You have cause for humility
  • You have reason to be open to what others say
  • People with different understandings can still say things that add to each others' growth

For the purpose of a support group, it seems to be worthwhile to put some limits on dogma (particularly with the current divided state of religion) so that the support group can provide that needed support.

There are those who will see a risk -- or an insult -- in taking ideas derived through the systematic study of theology and presenting them on the same level as any private unstudied opinion. And yet those additional dogmas may offer no gain to the group, for the group's specific purpose.

And again, for me, the passion is for unity on a solid foundation. For the church as a whole, there are churches that are very fond of dogma in general, and of their own dogmas in particular (which they are very sure are correct). There are a few churches that seem to distrust the idea of dogma, on general principle.

What is dogma for, and how far can it go legitimately?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

'Spirituality' and 'Religion' - The Role of Dogmas and Fellowship

Lately I have been spending time with a group that is insistent that they are 'spiritual, not religious'. (It's a 12-step group for people who were raised by addicts; they do not like to be identified by name in public if people speak about them.) I'm still pondering exactly what they think 'religion' is -- it seems to mean something different to them than it does to me. (They keep using that word ... )

With their particular brand of spirituality, they claim that they have no dogmas. Dogmas are seen as rigid and divisive, and as something that prevents fellowship. There is some truth to the idea of "divisive dogmas"; while it would be tempting to point out the benefits of definite beliefs here ... it turns out that this group does seem to have definite beliefs, they just don't call them 'dogmas'. Their definite beliefs include that God is loving, that God hears prayer, that God will arrange our lives so that the right people come when we are ready (likewise the right lesson), and that God is a loving Father towards us. So it's not that they have no dogmas, or even that their dogmas are foreign to what a 'religious' person might believe. But they do give priority to different dogmas than is typical in a church.

The dogmas that they give priority --the ones I mentioned above -- are the ones that serve the group's purpose: to reach out to people raised by addicts (or in other dysfunctional homes), welcome them, build a fellowship of mutual support and understanding, and help them heal.

But I find myself wondering: if a group gives priority to the dogmas that are necessary to its purpose, then which dogmas are we (more religious types) prioritizing? How does it play into the endless divisiveness? What exactly is our goal? What exactly are our priorities? Are they God's?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What beliefs identify your denomination?

The pastor of my church is starting a fifteen week informational course for some prospective members -- also inviting current members and the curious. As I was reading the list of his questions to give focus to the sessions, I thought: those questions might be a way to start a conversation about what different Christians believe. Here are the questions. Readers please feel free to cut and paste them into the comments (or your own blog) and give your own answers, to some or to all, as seems best to you.

1. Why do I exist?
2. Why does death exist?
3. Is death something to be afraid of?
4. Do I have a free will?
5. How does a person get faith?
6. What is predestination?
7. How do I converse with God?
8. Why do we baptize and celebrate communion?
9. How important is the Bible?
10. Haven't I kept the Ten Commandments pretty well?
11. Why is the church after my money?
12. How am I to interact with other Christians?
13. What does the Bible say about the roles of men and women?
14. Will people actually be "left behind"?
15. Who is the Antichrist?


My own take on them, briefly:

1. Why do I exist? 
At the simplest level, because my parents had me. In a Bible class I expect he's looking for the answer with a religious significance, so: Because God is good, and we are here to rejoice in the goodness of what he has made, and to enjoy fellowship with other people.

2. Why does death exist? 
God alone is immortal; we lack divine perfection.

3. Is death something to be afraid of? 
From an animal point of view: of course it is. Possibly also the pain, depending on how we go. Notice Jesus praying in Gethsemane when he knew what the next day would bring. Still, God through Jesus promises resurrection.

4. Do I have a free will? 
Yes, though it has limited scope. Our will seeks our own well-being, generally, and sometimes seeks our self-promotion, prestige, or status.

5. How does a person get faith? 
By hearing the message of God's goodness in Christ.

6. What is predestination? 
God's decree, especially about salvation to those in Christ Jesus.

7. How do I converse with God? 
Speaking: By prayer. Listening: By Bible study. In other moments: through fellowship, when through the Holy Spirit we are God's message to each other.

8. Why do we baptize and celebrate communion? 
To proclaim God's forgiveness and show God's goodness through cleansing us, making us his children, feeding us, and uniting us in fellowship with each other.

9. How important is the Bible? 
Less important than God, more important than our self-centered or self-justifying thoughts.

10. Haven't I kept the Ten Commandments pretty well? 
I'd hope so, and I hope that we continue getting better as time goes by. Still, usually in a context like this, the implied question is: "Isn't that good enough to go to heaven?" where I'd answer that eternal life is a gift.

11. Why is the church after my money? 
I'd hope it's not. Still, for any money the church does receive, I'd hope that it's managed with accountability, that it is well-spent to care for the sick, hungry, or otherwise needy, or for giving people hope through the message of God's faithfulness to us through Christ.

12. How am I to interact with other Christians? 
With brotherly love, patience, gentleness, and respect.

13. What does the Bible say about the roles of men and women? 
In Genesis 3, Eve is made subject to Adam as part of her punishment. (It may have been seen as poetic justice, since she distrusted what Adam had said and led him into wrong, among other things). Paul argues from Eve's punishment to set standards for male/female relations. Still, we are encouraged to treat each other with respect and honor. Paul urges men to lead with Christ-like love and service.

14. Will people actually be "left behind"? 
According to Jesus: Yes, though it may not look exactly like modern authors portray it.

15. Who is the Antichrist? 
That will be known with certainty on the Last Day. Until then, there is a chance that worse will come along than we know now. So until the Last Day, accusations that someone is the Antichrist have the risk of bearing false witness against our neighbors, or even against our brothers in Christ. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Your patience, please ...

My health is improving but not nearly as quickly as I'd like. I was able to return to work last week, which is a good thing, I think. I am still on restricted activity until at least March. I hope to update again then. It has been a long road.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF