Archive for September, 2005

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Religion May Be Hurting America

September 28, 2005

Gregory Paul, a researcher and statistician has used data gathered from International surveys, Gallop polls and National research bodies to come to a startling conclusion: Non-religious countries do a better job at curbing murder, suicide, teen pregnancies and abortion. This seems counter-intuitive and Mr. Paul doesn’t try to explain his results.

You can view a longer critique of this study at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,171-1798944,00.html

Assuming his conclusions are true, what are we to make of these findings? They certainly don’t seem to make sense, especially if you compare the results of the Communist Experiments of the 20th Century. By removing God from their societies, Communist Russia and other Soviet bloc nations saw a rise in all of these indicators as well as drug and alcohol abuse, rape, theft and government graft.

The countries that Paul compares are primarily Western European nations with the United States. How is it that they have less religious focus but lower rates of societal ills? I have several ideas of how this is possible:

  1. Each of these Western European nations was built upon the Christian ethic which comes from the Bible. Whether they attend church at all, this ethical base is at the core of what they believe to be right and wrong, even if the details are dissimilar to American viewpoints.
  2. American Christianity has not maintained a strong ethical base in recent years, falling instead into sensationalistic church services and politicizing of Christianity. This has caused people to have less sense of what is right and wrong and more of a sense of “we are winning…or losing”.
  3. An overemphasis on the evils of sex has made sex more appealing to children and teens. The Christian approach is abstinence, which though correct deemphasizes responsible sexual behavior (such as birth control).
  4. America is a much younger population on the whole than Western Europe and therefore you expect to see more societal problems.
  5. Perhaps Western Europe is more religious than we give them credit for. Many Europeans prefer home cell group ministries than Sunday celebration services. I believe this gives much more distinct delivery of accountability and ethical mores than attendance on Sunday ever could. This means that America needs to consider that our overemphasis on Sunday church may be hurting society instead of helping it.


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The Value of Losing Your Hard Drive

September 27, 2005

Oh, the joy of a crashed hard drive! Last Wednesday, I had the honor of receiving a crash of all the information my laptop could hold. It was all unavailable to me as I stared at the blinking cursor of death. Nothing would “boot up”, no matter what names I called it. I was at a very important business conference, and since I did have my Ipaq for typing and referencing, I was not entirely without computer power. The PDA even allowed me to access the Internet and my Contact list, so I wasn’t stuck.

But I knew that the vast array of files I am accustomed to accessing was hidden away from me with a long, arduous process of recovery ahead. Don’t misunderstand me: I had most of my data backed up. I used to be anal retentive about backups in the old DOS 3.3 halcyon days of my geekness. Back then, I saved files on diskettes like they were paper. I had at least two backups of everything, knowing that the one time I needed something, it would be on an unreadable disk. However, in the last few years, all my backups have gone on external hard drives, flash drives and PDA redundancies, so I don’t bother to do it all that often. I certainly don’t back anything up daily (except my money accounts) and some things I don’t even save weekly.

This summer, I am working on a book concerning hearing God’s voice. I have done at least four rewrites of every chapter, and reconfigured the outline at least twice since the beginning of August. The “beginning of August” sticks out in my mind because that was the last time I backed up my documents. Some of you computer purists had a shiver snake through your spine. That was the same reptile that lodged in my throat when I realized how much work I probably lost.

My panic sent me into a renewed effort to save everything on the hard drive as soon as I returned from the conference. My twiddling around with the recovery disc lead me to the discovery that I had a hardware problem…likely bad sectors, likely caused by a read head touchdown (as opposed to a football touchdown)…and therefore this wasn’t a simple solution. The boot sector was toast and I decided to rebuild it with a convenient little utility that Windows offers called “Fixboot”. It reconfigured the “boot sector” for me, but informed me it was not in the same place I expect it to be. That told me a lot. First, it meant that the physical address of my boot sector had been damaged.

For those not familiar with hard drives, I will skip the rest of the medical analysis. What it meant was that I probably wouldn’t find my files. It meant that I could no longer log on as myself, and had to come into it as the nominative “Guest”. No documents would show themselves therefore. There was nothing to recover, even though I knew the files were there. I resigned myself to losing most of 100 hours of writing work at that point. I went to Fry’s Electronics, got a nice, fast, big hard drive for the laptop and went home.

Monday morning, I decided to give the file retrieval one more chance. That is when I stumbled on a savior of a utility program. You will want to get this one. It is called “VirtuaLab” and it found every one of the documents I was looking for. It took about ten minutes to accomplish it. Since it had a 30 day trial I was able to accomplish it all for free.

I went ahead and installed the new hard drive. That is when I began to see the value of losing my data and peace of mind. This new hard drive is larger, has a faster interface and head speed, but it has something else as well: A clean start. My old hard drive was getting cluttered with bad idea programs, useless utility programs and older versions of programs I use all the time. As I reload my core elements, I am also upgrading each one. I find that I am now working more efficiently and cleanly, with less hassles and clutter.

This is very similar to what all of us need occasionally in our relationship with God. At the conference, I listened to a speaker who told about a time recentlywhen he realized he needed to make changes for his mental health. He concluded he needed to spend less time on television, Internet and computer games, and get into meditation and talking with his family. He is now running outside more, laughing more and sitting quietly listening to music more. He did all of this because he went through a series of physical breakdowns, not unlike what happened to my hard drive.

So, if you’re crashing these days, how about going to God and asking him what programs have to go, which files need to be permanently deleted and what needs to be recovered?

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A Loving God and Suffering

September 13, 2005

My friend John asked me the other day how I would respond to the dilemma of “why a benevolent (ie. loving) God would allow pain and suffering”. We have posted several responses to aspects of this question, but never a long, general response.

The problem with answering this question is that though it seems like a simple question, it is actually a complex amalgam of inquiries. Therefore, to answer it completely, each of these trains of thought needs to be explored.

First, is God loving? The Bible does clearly state that God is Love, so if that is one of the essential descriptions of his nature, then we have to conclude that he loves us. And if God loves us (that is, those reading this) we must assume He also loves everyone else. It would be hard to imagine that God would love me and my failures and not love someone else with their failures. But we also must ask, “what is love, when the question applies to God?” To us, love can mean everything from that feeling you got in fifth grade when Amy Watters winked at you and your insides turned to tapioca, to the dog who refused to leave the blind woman’s side in the hurricane, to a man who brings flowers to his crippled wife every day in the hospital so she will have color in her life. We would not have the same expectations of each of these three. The fifth grader would not give his life for the girl. The dog would not hold long, intimate conversations with its owner. Every definition of love also has its attendant expectations.

The Greek word for love that is used when it says “God is love” is the word ‘agape’. This speaks about a love which keeps promises and never abandons someone in need. We understand God to be a Covenant-making and Covenant-keeping God. That means that God will do what He said he will do and will not do what He said he won’t do. Beyond this, we’re not sure. God may or may not like us. God may or may not have affection for us. God may or may not want to protect us. It all depends on what God promised us. And no matter how much we may dislike what God has promised and not promised, there is no arguing with the Being who created the Universe (at least, we are assured no one will win that argument).

God’s love means He will keep his promises. Plain and simple that is it. It also means that God will provide for our eternal needs. What does it *NOT* mean then? It does not mean that God promises we will be comfortable. It does not mean that God promises we will not die. In fact, God promised that we will die. God never promised all of us would see the same length of life. Therefore, death is not inconsistent with a God who makes promises.

But God’s love is more than just making promises. God also created us and has a vested interest in the welfare of all people. But, once again we have to assume that this means something to God that it may not mean to us. God wants the best for each of us. What if that means it disagrees with what we want? Will God do something on our behalf that we might hate? Those of us who are parents know very clearly that sometimes parents do things their children hate simply because it is the best thing for them. The child may even scream “why do you hate me?” but it won’t be true.

So where does suffering come from? I understand suffering to have two primary sources. First, suffering comes from man’s inhumanity to man. Human beings have almost infinite capabilities to torture one another. Every time wars cease for a few years – and there have been very few periods of time like that – people begin to think that mankind is improving. Then, along comes some group of people who practice genocide on another group that differs slightly from them. The whole concept of man’s goodness usually collides with genocide and is flattened. From the attempted destruction of the Armenians by the Turks in 1912 to the current genocidal tendencies of the Sudan Government in Darfur, we have seen millions and millions slaughtered for no reason that can be defended. The primary source of suffering in this world is man’s evil efforts toward other humans. So what should we expect God to do about that?

This is really the first apologetic for God’s love in the midst of suffering. God has created a world for us that limits God’s ability to act. God gave mankind a gift that most of us cherish, but occasionally would like to send back to God. I speak of “Freedom of Choice”. Freedom of Choice is absolute, even when other freedoms are not. We are always free to choose, even when the choices all seem bad. The doctor in a hospital who witnesses suffering patients may want to give them overdoses on morphine to spare them pain, but the resulting death goes against their Hypocratic Oath. But the doctor still has a choice in every circumstance. Some people would like God to intervene in the affairs of man to stop some people from exercising their freedom of choice. For instance, they wonder why God didn’t just kill Hitler in his sleep one night and have Mengele die in an auto accident. It seems like a just and loving decision.

But the question arises: Which actions of man do you choose to veto? And can a just God only veto certain actions and not others? Wouldn’t God, to be fair, have to intervene any time any person acts out of line with God’s will? Wouldn’t God have to stop every abortion, every act of fornication, every liar, every person who holds bitterness in their hearts? God would not only have to do it once or twice, but for all eternity. There would no longer be freedom of choice. We would resent and hate those who prevent us from what we want to do, no matter how much what we’re doing may be wrong. We like to decide what is right and wrong. But someone would say “But everyone knows genocide is wrong!” If that were the case, there wouldn’t be millions who practice it. God cannot prevent the sinful actions of one man solely on the basis of his love. He would have to prevent them all.

This is the easier of the two questions about suffering. The second involves Natural Disasters and sickness. There are things that happen to us that do not involve the direct actions of other humans. The latest disaster involving Hurricane Katrina has people speculating on the nature of Nature and why God allows things to happen the way they do.

In actuality, there are times that God does intervene both to use Nature for judgment and to prevent nature from being too strong. We know of the Flood in Noah’s day. That was certainly caused by God. God reserves the right to judge people that He deems to have crossed the line morally. That judgment is never given to humans, except to governments who make laws to protect people. We also know that Jesus stilled a storm that threatened to overpower his disciples. So why doesn’t God intervene all the time?

There is no simple answer to this. I wish there were. In honor of the “Chronicles of Narnia” coming out, I adjure to C. S. Lewis for the rest of our answer here. Lewis, in several books, but most notably, “The Problem of Pain” states that there are no direct cause and effect relationships between sin and suffering. The Bible clearly states that the Garden of Eden was a perfect place. It was what all of the Earth was supposed to be like. But when the first humans sinned, sin affected the very DNA of the planet. Plants that God created for food and beauty now became ugly and full of thorns. The animals no longer lived in harmony with man. We are left to assume that this changing of the DNA structure of every living thing also affected the smallest organisms: Viruses and bacteria. Just as the animals now feared man instead of serving him, so too the viruses and bacteria began to work against us. Every generation more and more superviruses and diseases are created which seek to wipe us out. Are any of these the result of one person’s sin? I don’t think so. Mankind in general is responsible for this slow degradation of all of humanity, but no one person is. As each generation turns away from God, the very nature around them changes. We can hardly blame New Orleans for the disaster wrought upon them. But we can take a look in the eye at our nation over the last 200 years and ask if our selfish pursuit of happiness, pleasure and wealth has not added to the climactic changes we see.

So to summarize: Mankind sinned and the whole of Creation is groaning as it becomes more and more dangerous. This planet is reeling from sin, and will not be healed until Jesus remakes it.

However, we also know that God does heal sometimes. God does rebuke the wind and the waves sometimes. God does protect some people by sending angels to guard them. Why some people and not others? It has nothing to do with God loving them. God does it because it suits some plan of His own. He heals people that still have more to do for God. He protects people who still have more service to offer God. It has nothing to do with loving them. As Harold Hill used to tell people when he would get onto airplanes: “If God has more work for me to do, then this airplane is the safest one in the skies”. Then he would grin and add, “But if God has no more work for me to do, I wouldn’t want to be sitting beside me”, and then he would wink.

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Do You Know Where Your Peace Is?

September 8, 2005

Here is a question I pose to people often: “Can you really make good decisions when your heart isn’t in a place of peace?” We are told in Scripture that we should “let the Peace of Christ rule in our hearts”. We are reminded by Him also when we enter a new town to “find the Man of Peace and stay at his home”. We are to have peace as our ruler and landlord it seems. But how many people find that peace at all? Doesn’t that help to explain why so many decisions are foolish and ill-advised?

Several years ago, I was approached by a friend and he asked me some tough questions about my future. We were both involved in something together and he was concerned I was about to jump ship and leave him holding the bag, so to speak. As it was, I really was considering leaving and it would have put him in the position of being left to carry on without me. I didn’t want to tell him, but I also didn’t want to lie either. So I told him what I was considering. He didn’t answer for a long time. Finally, he looked me in the eye and asked me if I would let him know what my plans were before telling anyone else. I assured him I would. At that moment, there were like these alarm bells going off inside of me. Something didn’t feel at all right, and I knew it deep in my gut place.

What was happening? Peace had left and in its place was this anvil sitting on my stomach. You know what I’m talking about. I spent the next days analyzing to death what I had promised. Why was I feeling so out of sorts? I put it down to stress or bad pizza or any number of other non-sequitors. But I couldn’t shake that feeling I had screwed up royally. As the next two months unfolded I indeed did decide on leaving that ministry and moving to something else. I also decided I couldn’t let him know ahead of some other people – so I told them first. My friend was furious at me, and since that day has not really had much to do with me.

I think back on it all and wonder what I did wrong. Now that I am not in the middle of it, there is clarity. I should never have promised to tell him before others. I made the promise more to appease him than out of any sense of rightness. There were others that deserved to know first, and I should have just asked him to trust that I would tell him when the time was right. He may not have liked my answer, but it would have dissolved that dagger of doubt sticking out of me.

Peace accompanies the path of correctness. It is like a Guide walking us through a minefield of mistakes. It is meant to be our constant companion, and when we notice that our Tourguide Peace is missing, we should go back down the path and see which turn we diverged from each other.

I saw the grandest picture of this on CNN last night. A woman in Houston, along with her husband, decided to take in a displaced family from New Orleans being housed in the Astrodome. As she brought the family (with somewhere near 20 people total) into her home, she realized that God was telling her to allow them to stay for as long as they need to. She told them they could count on her hospitality for a year if they required it. When asked how she could make such an offer, she responded “I have peace about it. If I hadn’t told them that I would now have no peace.” I had tears listening to her. But the situation didn’t get easier…it complicated quickly. More family members found out where they were staying and they asked if they could move in also. It seems this is a large family with many coattail relations. Each time someone requested sanctuary, this woman would go to prayer and ask the Lord. The cameras showed her place of repose: Her walk-in closet. They also showed her husband crawled up under the covers afraid of how many more people would be in his house when he awoke. This lady would go into the closet and close the door and stay there until “I find the peace I’m looking for.” So far, she has taken in 53 people. Yet, there is miraculously enough room, enough food, and the house feels so “homey” according to its new residents.

I like this woman’s closet. It is a visual representation of where God wants us to go whenever we lose our peace. If we are to “follow the peace” there must be times when we consider where and how we lost it. Maybe it was by bringing in personal offense at someone’s words. Maybe it was by being sarcastic, hateful, lustful, envying. Maybe our peace left because we made a hasty decision…or because we neglected to make a quick decision.

If your peace is gone, go find it. Fast. There are people waiting.

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Is this Album Real? You Decide

September 6, 2005


This just in from the people at Wittenburg Door. Now, you have to decide if this is serious or not. If you don’t laugh, you might have to cry. I counsel laughing.

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Nightline Syndrome Revisited

September 4, 2005

Every time there is a natural disaster, war or earth-shattering event, I usually issue the same disclaimer to groups of people I teach and counsel. There is a psychological event that almost always parallels the historical human event…and this psych event causes at least as many problems.

Some have called this the “Nightline Syndrome”, named after Ted Koppel’s famous news program which developed in 1980 when the 52 hostages were being held captive by the students in Iran. People were spending upwards of 16 hours a day watching the televised news broadcasts of the event. They did this to the exclusion of normal eating, working and sleeping rituals. This Syndrome repeated itself in the Gulf War, the 9-11 tragedy and the Iraq War. Each time, people reported falling into mild depressions, saw their family and work lives suffer and could not get rid of overarching anxieties.

As a counselor, I always see a marked increase in the amount and intensity of people suffering from acute anxiety symptoms. Those with anxiety disorders report that they cannot sleep properly, even when taking their proper medications.

Here is always the advice I give in these sort of situations. I believe it is healthy and helpful. First, set a limit on how much coverage you will watch and when you will watch it. My advice is no more than one hour a day. I wouldn’t watch it first thing in the morning, at night or mealtimes. Leave those for reconnecting with family and God, and for setting daily routines. Always spend a moment in prayer afterwards. Instead of watching the events vicariously, you and your family decide on something you can do about it instead. Various agencies could use your help, including things as straightforward as the Blood Bank. Decide what you and your family will give each month to this disaster for the next six months. Sit down and pray for the specific needs that you become aware of. Interact with other people about what you’re feeling and how they are feeling. Pray together.

Don’t let this become a tragedy for everyone. It could end up curing anxiety if handled properly.

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