Archive for June, 2008

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

June 16, 2008

One of the questions that is often asked is “Why does God allow suffering?”.  Here are some possible answers to that question.

Suffering can occur as a result of poor choices.  The consequences of our actions, or the actions of others, are a part of the price of human freedom.  We have the capacity to make mistakes, and sometimes we, or others,  must pay for those mistakes.  If we are free, then we are also responsible.

Sometimes God will use suffering to send judgement upon individuals or groups for failure to follow His plan, purpose or directives.  Often this is a form of corrective action, with the goal to get a person, or group,  back on track.

Sometimes suffering is an opportunity for us to showcase, or develop, human courage, compassion, fortitude, ingenuity and other qualities that are brought forth in times of trial.

Sometimes suffering is used to draw us closer to one another, or to help us realign our priorities.

Sometimes suffering is used to draw us closer to God.  He is able to be our comfort and our strength.

Suffering is not a good thing, but it can be used for good.  

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Justice for All

June 14, 2008

Justice for all.  Isn’t that a nice concept?  Our society has a pretty good justice system, certainly better than many in history or around the world, but it does seem to favor the wealthy.  How could it be better?

What if all lawyers involved in criminal cases were government employees?  This could be funded by setting up a sliding scale fee charged to the people who need to use defense lawyers.  The more you can afford, the more you pay, with a reasonable cap of course.  Lawyers would be assigned by the state with no regard to the individuals ability to pay.

The prosecuting attourney would seek to discover and prosecute guilty individuals.

The defense attourney would seek to protect individuals from being unfairly treated in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.  If they are guilty of a crime then the role would be to see that they are not unfairly punished, to bring to light all mitigating circumstances.  

The goal of both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney would be the same…justice.  When a crime is committed , then the guilty party is reasonably punished.

As it is now the lawyers duty is to their client.  They use the rules of the system to the best advantage of their client.  The best lawyers receive high compensation for their work.  The more money you have at your disposal the better your chances are at getting away with crime. 

That is not just. 

If the lawyers first duty was to pursue justice for all, our criminal justice system would look a little different than it does today.

Is There Anybody Out There?

June 12, 2008

No, I’m not talking about readers in cyberspace.  I talking about something a little more philosophical.  Renee Descartes is famous for the phrase “I think, therefore I am. ”  By this he believes that he has proven beyond doubt the fact of his own existence.  It is a statement to which everyone of us may lay claim.  If we have any kind of mental activity, we can claim that we exist as “a thing that thinks’. ( Descartes)

The problem is that we are left in a situation known as the egocentric predicament.  That means that while we can be certain of our own existence, we cannot prove the existence of anything else. 

You might stop reading right now because, obviously, I’ve lost my mind.  Actually, I know that my mind exists, it’s everything else that is called into question.  Why is that?  Everything that we sense, or think, or feel, takes place, or is processed, in our minds.  Perhaps everything, is a creation of our own minds.  We really cannot prove otherwise, because we cannot go outside of our own minds.

What do we do?  We accept the reality of something outside of ourselves, because we want to believe that there is more to reality than our own thoughts.  We take a leap of faith and believe.

Materialists believe that the physical world exists.  So do I.

I also believe that God exists. 

You ask me to prove that God exists.  I challenge you to prove that anything exists.  Almost all of us will believe something is real, as a premise upon which we build our understanding. 

I know that I exist.

I believe that God exists, and has revealed himself in the Bible .

My entire philosophy is built on those two statements.   

The Word and the Spirit

June 11, 2008

Experience is great, but it is important that we have something by which we can evaluate our experiences.  The Bible provides us with the means to establish a framework of understanding. 

Experiences can lead people in any direction.  God’s Word provides the right direction.  If our experiences are guiding us in a way that is contrary to God’s Word, then our experiences are wrong.

Over the last few years I have been greatly impressed with how God uses the combined effect of His Word and His Spirit.  The Word provides structure.  The Spirit provides life.  The Word provides perimeters.  The Spirit provides insight.  The Word provides direction.  The Spirit provides motivation.  The Word impacts our intellect.  The Spirit touches our emotions.  The Word fills our mind.  The Spirit fills our heart.  They work together to transform us from the people that we were, to the people that we are becoming in Christ. 

May that work continue both in me, and in you.

Practice, Praise and Prayer

June 10, 2008

One of the comments from my post on Cultivating an Awareness of God was the request for more specific “How To”  This post is in response to that comment.

A part of my faith is experiential.  By that I mean that I can, at times, sense the presence of God.  I am sorry if I am somewhat at a loss for words to be able to describe exactly what I mean by that statement.  It is unique, refreshing, and uplifting.  On this beautiful spring morning the illustration of opening the shades to allow the early morning sun to shine into a room, followed by opening the window to allow fresh morning air into the room, seems appropriate.  In a similar way, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit brings “light” and ” air” into the “room” of my innermost being.

This presence is most easily encountered in times of praise and prayer.  When people gather together in the name of Jesus he is present in their midst in a special way.  (Mathew 18:20)  As that group worships the Lord the Holy Spirit will touch the hearts of those who are seeking God.  (James 4:8)  Also, as people pray together there can be an encounter with God that can be experienced.  Sometimes even nonbelievers will sense that there is something “different” about a church that they visit.  This presense of God is sensed more easily in group settings and is one reason why church attendance is important.  The more we practice entering into the presence of God in praise and prayer, the easier it will become to achieve a sense of His Holy Spirit  in our lives. 

As we grow in our relationship with God it becomes easier to connect with the presense of God.  He is with us always, not just in times of group praise and prayer.  In my own life, I can enter His presense in my personal times of prayer and praise, but also, really, at almost any time.  Now this does not mean that I am constantly aware of His presense, because there are times when my attention is drawn to the task at hand in the material realm.  However, I can pause in my activities, redirect my attention and be aware of His presense. 

His presence touches my heart like gentle breeze on a spring day, bringing renewed strength, peace and joy.  I really should do it more often.  So should you.    

Defining Contentment

June 9, 2008

My last post resulted in some comments that I felt could best be answered in a new post rather than continuing commentary. 

In “Contentment” I was referring to our relationship with the material world.  I believe that many people are unable to find fulfillment in their lives because they are discontent with what they possess.  They may have what they need, but they want something else, something more, something better.  By this I mean, a higher food budget, better clothes, nicer car, nicer house, etc.  How important are these things?   

Is happiness the same as contentment?  No, but being discontent can make it very difficult to be happy. 

Being content with our material possessions does not mean that we are willing to passively accept a bad situation, or that we are not wanting to improve our, or others, circumstances.  For me, to be content is to be able to be at peace within ourselves in our present status.  We can be motivated to work for change by a recognition that things can, and should be better. 

There is always room for improvement, but what things are really worth the effort to improve?  We have only so much time, energy, money and other resources.  Are we expending our efforts for the right causes? 

What are the right causes?  What is important?  There are many worthwhile things to spend our resources on.  We cannot do everything.  Fulfilling God’s plan and purpose for our life is what is most important.  Each persons life will be different. May God give us direction that we may spend our lives working for what is important, while being content, at peace within ourselves, as we work on this earth, ultimately for the kingdom that is not of this earth.

 

  

 

 

 

Contentment

June 7, 2008

“Therefore, having food and clothing, let us be content.” ( I Timothy 6:8 )

I suspect that there are many problems caused by our inability to be content.  We are constantly bombarded with the message that we need something more, or better. or simply different.  Yet, what do we actually need?  When my wife and I were first married, we had several discussions on the difference between “need” and “want” as I set up our budget.   Can we be happy if our needs are met, but not our wants?  Our true happiness comes from the presence of Christ in our lives; and our relationships with family and friends.  Sometimes we forget that, thinking that happiness will come from some new possession. We can make ourselves, and those around us quite miserable with this attitude and we can get ourselves into all kinds of financial trouble as well.  We need to remember what is important, and learn to be content.

The Sabbath Rest

June 5, 2008

Today is Thursday, which means it is Friday for me.  What that means is that I take Fridays off, so today is the end of my work week.  There will be no new post on Friday.  I am a firm believer in taking a sabbath.  As a minister, Sunday is my most important work day, so I have selected Friday as my sabbath. 

I have not always taken a day off.  When I was a teenager I worked in the store that my parents owned.  I was in school or working probably every day for a long time.  I remember asking about the sabbath and I was told that if one did something different from what one normally did, that was a sufficient break.  

When I got married, my new bride was shocked that I was going to do some work around the house on a Sunday.  It was not that she was shocked that I was going to do some work; she had been brought up that you did not cut the grass or do other yard work, or housework, on Sundays, that it was a day for worship, rest and recreation.  At the time, I was a student in college and the thought of taking an entire day off seemed like an impossible dream.  I thought that I would never get everything done that needed to be done.  However, being a newlywed, I quickly agreed to give it a try, never thinking that it would work. 

It did. 

Over twenty years later, I am a firm believer in taking a Sabbath.

I work six days a week and the seventh day I rest.  Does that sound familiar?  Like maybe you’ve heard it somewhere?  It is one of the ten commandments, in case you have forgotten.  “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8 )

You might say that we are not under the law.  I would remind you that Jesus said “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.” (Mark 2:27) We need the day of rest for our own well being.  From the very beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and rested on the seventh day, it was not because He was tired and needed a break, it was to set the example for us to follow.  It is good for us. 

I will write again on Saturday, which is my Monday..sort of.

Subtly Astray (August Rush)

June 4, 2008

Recently, Gloria and I watched the movie “August Rush” .  It was enjoyable, but I wonder how many people realize how well it expressed basic Taoist philosophy?

Throughout the movie the boy is talking about the music that is all around, that he hears and tries to express.  He also believes that as he plays that music he can be reunited with his parents. 

The parents meanwhile are also musicians.  They also express themselves through their music, although they had set it aside temporarily.  They connect to some powerful force, which inspires their music.  When these three musicians are in harmony with the music around them, they are reconnected.

If you substitue the “Tao” for music, it fits pretty well the basic philosophy that we are to try to live our lifes in harmony with the  “Tao” which can be partially defined as “the creative rhythm of the universe”, which is believed by Taoists to be all around us.

I wonder how many people are subtly led into pursuing a line of thinking that is based in a religion that if they were openly exposed to, they would quickly reject?  Our society is filled with teachings and practices that are contrary to the Word of God.  We need to be careful, and to hold on to that which is good.

Cultivating an Awareness of God

June 3, 2008

In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of Joy… (Ps 16:11). 

God is omnipresent.  I remember this word from my days in confirmation at St. Mark’s Lutheran church.  It means that God is everywhere.  Since God is everywhere it means that He is always with us.  When we are “seeking”  God, it is not because God is lost, or is hiding from us.  Rather, it means that we are wanting to have a closer encounter with His Holy Spirit.  We want to experience His presence, not simply have an intellectual knowledge of a curious fact.  I believe that we can cultivate an awareness of God in our life.  I believe that whatever we are doing, we can sense the presence of God.  This takes practice, but I believe that it is part of what Paul means when he encourages us to “walk in the Spirit” ( Gal 5:16, 25)  I believe that it is an essential part of having a life that is filled with the joy of the Lord.