Do You Really Need God Anymore?

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ― C.S. Lewis

I got to teach a course on religion this past year. That’s one of my specialties that I enjoy digging into and helping students understand. It’s an especially exciting experience for me because working at a Christian university, there are a number of misconceptions that we have to address right away. The first is that the course is about religion, not just about Christianity. That opens up our study to all of history and all of the many ways that human society has gone about creating explanations for the unknown.

It’s a great class that I think everyone needs to take. Can I sign you up?

“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Our society right now is so advanced and has enabled most individuals to thrive so well that I often wonder if we need God anymore?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Do you need God today? What about tomorrow?

Sociologist Christian Smith writes that people (as members of a society) are religious because:

…they hope for superhuman powers to help them realize human goods and avoid bads, especially to grant them blessings, prevent misfortunes and aid them in crises; and because they wish to enjoy the various forms of identity, community, meaning, expression, aesthetics, ecstasy, control and legitimacy that practicing religions offer.

We studied his definition in class this past year. It still has me thinking about the practice of religion in my own life and among the groups to which I belong. I don’t think ANYONE that I know would ever say or believe that they didn’t need God anymore. But how do we know that people need God? What behaviors would we find?

  1. Attending religious services and studies, to express and grow in faith
  2. Praying, alone and in groups, seeking answers to problems
  3. Sharing their faith story in prayer requests and testimonies
  4. Seeking answers to larger (and smaller) questions about the application of faith to daily life

This is just the start of a list. You could probably brainstorm other additions.

When I look at Smith’s definition of religion (it has be very global so it fits all religions throughout the world and history), it makes me wonder if people in my circles are less religious just because we don’t think we need God for much. As long as we have good health insurance, a retirement plan, a steady job, a warm and loving family – why do we need to bother God?

Again, I don’t think we are actually aware that we’ve fallen out of our relationship with God. Because we’ve become so self-sufficient (or so we think), he’s just become like a distant uncle who we visit on the holidays.

I’m probably being way too cynical.

You take a look at your own life and decide.

  1. What and who are on your prayer list? Do you keep one?
  2. What are your conversations about when you’re with other Christians? The weather?
  3. How often do you attend your church and small group? Are you spectating or participating?
  4. Are you and God on speaking terms right now?

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” ― C.S. Lewis

Why not start to journal this year about your spiritual life, about your need for God? Writing each day will help you to refocus and realign, just in case you’ve accidently wandered off into that place where you think you’ve got it all under control.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”   ― A.W. Tozer

 

Time For A Resolution Or Two

It’s 2020, the future seems right around the corner. What did people in the past predict about the world we now live in?

  • In a lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1911, a surgeon by the name of Richard Clement Lucas made a curious prediction: that the “useless outer toes” will become used less and less, so that “man might become a one-toed race.” “This Little Piggy” would get a whole lot shorter!
  • The RAND Corporation predicted that by the year 2020 it may be possible to breed intelligent species of animals, such as apes, that will be capable of performing manual labor.
  • Robots are the typical prediction for the future—and technically, we do sort of have robots now. But global trends expert Ariane Van de Ven had some bigger ideas for 2020. She explained “there will be more robots used as therapists, companions, assistants, and even friends to help people in their everyday,” according to The Next Web.

“Good resolutions are like babies crying in church. They should be carried out immediately.” ― Charles M. Sheldon

Have you given up making New Year resolutions? This seems like a significant year. What should be on your list (if you were to make one?)

I read on the bottle that V8 has three servings of vegetables. I’m going to drink a can each day. Maybe the spicy variety tastes better?

It wasn’t very sturdy upholstery to start with, but when you’ve worn out your chair in front of the TV it’s time to get up off your rear and move more!

I’ve already started getting rid of possessions that I don’t need or use.

Wonder if I can stick with just one of these three months from now?

Your resolutions for 2020 may not work if:

  1. You make them too big – start with smaller bites (eat that elephant one bite at a time)
  2. Your resolutions are too vague, “2020 is the year of getting healthier” – what does that mean or look like? Think of something specific that you change, start there and then soon after, pick something else.
  3. Sometimes we let other people make our resolutions for us, we try to keep them happy, but our own heart/will isn’t really in it. Only goals and changes that you desire stand a chance of actually coming about.

Let me suggest a wonderful resolution that I’ve been working on the past several months. Not so much to fix my life so that I live problem free, but to stop worry so much about all the problems I do face. I’m not living my life alone. I’m never going to live problem free. But maybe I can reduce the worry and stress. Think about this as a resolution for 2020:

Stop Worrying So Much

Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. So don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will have its own worries. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

What I’ve been learning is not how to avoid the cares of life or to make them go away. Instead how to stop worrying about them. They are inevitable. I think that’s why in this teaching from Jesus he uses examples that everyone has to face every single day; eating, drinking and putting on your pants. I think what he’s teaching me is that my worrying about the cares of life doesn’t really accomplish anything but making me more miserable.

So, over the past several months, as my life has been in a kind of collapse I’ve been learning to not worry. Here’s what I think has helped:

  1. Knowing and experiencing the fact that I’m not alone. The cares of life haven’t gone away, but I’m surrounded by lots of people who love me, pray for me and bear me up when needed. Just knowing this removes so much of the constant anxiety that eats away at the spirit.
  2. What always helps is to honestly look back at my past. When I see that my life lived near to God has always been a time of far less worry, it helps manage today’s fears. I’ve been here before. I’ve lived to tell a story of success. I’ve not avoided the dark days, but I’ve gotten through them with God’s help.
  3. The need to have complete control over my life is an illusion and a waste of energy. There’s too much out there that just can’t be controlled. Ever find it necessary get somewhere in a hurry on a late Friday afternoon in Houston?  The better plan is to control yourself – love God, love others. Control what you can as best you can – you.

“What is the New Year but the perfect place to live out what we learned in the old year?” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

What did you learn in 2019? What do you need to learn in 2020?

 

 

The Ghosts of Christmas

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We live out each day surrounded by memories and in so many ways these mark out the pathway toward each one of our tomorrows.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” ― Virginia Woolf

I’ve been in my house alone for four months. The TV going just so there’s background sounds on while I’m doing my chores. But there are other sounds in the house that seem to be haunting my days and nights. Some I can explain, others…

  1. I’ve written before about my haunted refrigerator that moans and groans. It causes my grandson to stop and look around when we are here together. He wonders who else is hiding in the house. It’s just our marked down appliance painfully making ice all day and night.
  2. Early this fall the derelict hot water heater in the attic had a spigot dripping. It could only be heard late at night by the rare overnight visitor in the guest bedroom underneath. It’s very old and I’m certain it’s going to go any minute. I’m just glad it’s not over my bed!
  3. There’s been a history of varmints in my attic. They are back for winter. This year the squirrels (above my bedroom) go in and out each morning and the opossum makes his exit at night. Lots of traffic to try and corral. They get noisy at times, late at night especially.

As Christmas decorations have gone up there are other haunting spirits that speak, sometimes softly and at other times very loud. My house is now even more bathed in memory. Christmas was my wife’s favorite time of year. It’s a season filled with treasures of memory to take me with joy into days, weeks and months ahead.

This time of year can bog any of us down with urgent tasks that must get done. There are events, festivities and family gatherings crowding the calendar. Extra meals, gifts and decorations must all be purchased and prepared. Despite online, curbside and next day, our days remain fraught with increased activity. Year after year, nothing seems to change.

This year, stop and sit down for a few minutes each day and collect your memories. Write something down in a journal. Make a list in your phone. Like treasures, arrange them in your heart so that you don’t miss any part of this holiday and new year. Don’t let your busyness steal away those moments so important to remember.

Researchers have long known that (1) your current mood influences what you file away about your experiences into your memory. If you are in a perpetual bad mood, you will tend to only remember your negative experiences.  And (2) your current mood tends to determine what kinds of memories you retrieve. If you’re in a general good mood, you will tend to pull up only positive memories from the past.

This means our memory making and retrieving are influenced by our emotional feelings and attitudes. 

“He was consious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares, long, long, forgotten.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

What is it that’s always floating in the air about you? What treasured memories are worth holding onto? That bad mood is going to poison not just today but your future as well.

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.” ― Guy de Maupassant

You will of course create new memories this holiday. I am only urging you to stop with those you love and be more intentional about remembering bits and pieces of your past. Share a laugh, get the details right, and cry a little. Use these to hang on to all that really matters from days gone by. This will keep you in a happy mood, and it will lock away the good stuff for a rich future (for you and everyone else).

“I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

What if This Were Your Last Christmas?

Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.  – Psalm 90:12 (Contemporary English Version)

I’m not trying to be morose, but instead eager to challenge all of us to be more intentional about making the moments in our life count.

“Forever is composed of nows.” ― Emily Dickinson

If this were your last Christmas, who would you want to be sure to spend time with?

If it’s not too late, when you are planning your holiday agenda think about the people that you need to connect with. Surely there’s a name or two on your heart right now. Someone who needs some time with you.

Maybe all it takes is a phone call (remember those?).  A good old fashioned note or card can make up for so much distance. Why not share your real self with someone who’s drifted away?

What about those holiday obligations that really hold no meaning for you? Why waste time with social engagements filled with strangers? Who is it that means the most to you? That’s the list you ought to be making and checking twice.

Who is it that needs a little more time from you this year?  There will always be a “Last Christmas” person in your life who needs a little more of your time, effort and love. It will be worth it. You already know that people last longer than any present under the tree.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay  an invincible summer.”  ― Albert Camus

If this were your last Christmas, what would you want to be sure to talk to others about?

There’s always something on the “do not bring up” list when families and close friends get together infrequently. That’s not really what I mean by this question. When we spend time with people that count the most to us we often don’t talk about things that really matter. This isn’t necessarily deliberate. We are swept up in social norms that can keep us at a distance. There are unwritten rules about saying too much that might frighten someone else off or make us appear too vulnerable.

Everyone needs to hear how much they mean to you and how much they are loved. None of us ever hear this enough. That’s the only gift that ever matters in the end.

If this were your last Christmas, what kinds of unwritten rules would really matter to you? Which rules are you and I following that ultimately keep us from building  deep bonds with others? Telling someone the truth about how much they mean makes that truth become ever more real.

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”  ― Walt Whitman

What do you need to say to someone this year? It can be as simple as saying “you’re life matters to me.”

If this were your last Christmas, what would you leave behind (stop wasting time with)?

“Are not half our lives spent in reproaches for foregone actions, of the true nature and consequences of which we were wholly ignorant at the time?”  ― Herman Melville

What are the actions, words and habits that keep getting in the way of what you really need to accomplish? We spend too much time in backwashes of regret simply because we don’t or won’t make adjustments to the simple practice of how we live each day.

You’re not going to have time to spend with others until you stop spending time on other things. You won’t talk about things that matter unless you think about them ahead of time. Leave behind what never matters so that you can be certain to grab the moment before you.

The largest obstacle to making moments count in our lives are the fears we imagine. Fears about what others might think. The overwhelming need to keep safe our own fragile ego. And another moment has slipped past, because we couldn’t leave behind our protective armor.

Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise. -Psalm 90:12 (Good News Translation)

What if this was your last Christmas?

Don’t let this Christmas get wadded up and pitched out with the used up wrapping paper. Nothing dramatic, just make it a point to be intentional with your time and attentions.

Who do you need to make contact with? What do you need to communicate to others? What bonds needs to be strengthened? What needs to be accomplished today before it slips away forever?

“The older one gets, the more one feels that the present moment must be enjoyed, comparable to a state of grace.”  ― Marie Curie

Jumping in With Both Feet

I did it again the other day.

I jumped to conclusions again.

I blamed people – always out to get me, always trying to do the wrong thing.

When I thought about it, when I heard the whole story, I was embarrassed…again.

Of course no one was trying to do me any harm. It was only a series of odd events that just lined up wrong.

“Be careful of what you assume, what you assume often becomes what you consume” ― Constance Friday

I teach students and friends that blaming people (and their character) is not the best first step to take.  Usually it’s the situation that’s the cause of things. But, I’m not always very good at taking my own advice. I too frequently jump to conclusions, believe the worst and seldom give the benefit of doubt to others.

Isn’t that the way it is with you? Emotions take control and feelings start to run our mouths. We start talking way ahead of our thinking (including reflecting and praying).

Why is it so difficult to give everyone else a break? This is actually a common phenomenon, a cognitive bias in human thinking that we all share. Correspondence Bias occurs when we believe other people mostly do what they do because of their dispositions (personality) and we attribute our own actions to the situations we encounter. She’s always late because of her lazy character. I’m late because there’s typically bad traffic at this time of day.

Do you see how this can cause all sorts of problems with other people we work with, in our families and even our close friends?

The best way to break free from this trap is first, become aware of it and then to start to pay more attention. Learning to pay more attention to the situations all around us that cause things to happen to everyone, like:

  • the dynamics of family
  • living in a hurry (too much on your plate)
  • insecure co-workers who keep dragging you into their drama
  • bad traffic on the way to work (and around your desk)
  • financial fears because there’s still so much that’s unknown about tomorrow

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” ― Abraham Maslow

Give other people a break, give yourself a break.

Stop using absolute language when talking about other people (always, forever, constantly, never, every time, etc.)

In the Gospel, Jesus challenges us to think about other people in a dramatically different way, “But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you” (Matthew 5:44). Thinking and then challenging your old assumptions about relationships will do wonders for fixing cognitive biases.

And, it might do wonders for you, the next time you’re ready to jump in with both feet…to look before you leap!

 

 

 

 

On the Road Again

I watched a national tribute to Willie Nelson last night. I think it was a rerun. He ended the event by singing a few songs. The last one was his trademark, “On the Road Again.”  That’s all of our stories – that metaphor works. We are forever on a journey, heading down a road to somewhere.

These days I’m having the hardest time being at the right place at the right time. I’ve got all sorts of calendars, digital “invites” and reminders – but to no avail. I’m still waking up confused at least once or twice a day.

This makes me think about my larger and symbolic journey through life. What kinds of appointments am I missing with my destiny? Did I forget to show up for an important rite of passage? What day of my life is it right now?

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I think about it (while going to get some lunch because I messed up my calendar and ended up with a very disordered day) it seems there are markers in my journey through life. We were on the side of the highway recently, asking for help on the phone and were told we needed to keep driving forward until we reached a mile marker. The help was no use until they knew right where we were.

This same truth applies to all of us. Until YOU know where you are on your journey (what day of your life is it right now?) you’re not going to get very far. Spend some time and be reflective. Start a journal. Talk with someone about things that matter. Take a long walk regularly and talk to yourself. Try and locate the “mile markers” in your present journey. Are you heading forward? Are you moving at the speed limit?  Keeping your eyes on the road? You’re going to always feel that sense of confusion or detachment if you continue to let your life drive on autopilot.

Your relationships all along the journey are essential to understanding where you are, where you’re going and who you are becoming. To end some of the confusion that may be plaguing your day in and day out – maybe you need to reconnect with the people the matter? What about listening instead of talking? How about some honest feedback, from someone who loves you, about where you’re heading? (Most people can’t give us this valuable help because we usually remain too private about our real selves, our hoods too tightly shut).

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton

What sort of goals have you set for yourself? As you pass each mile marker, you can tell that you’re heading the right direction if your actions are taking you toward specific goals already laid out. Most of us aren’t specific enough with our goals and that leaves us driving around in the dark or lost in the woods. We don’t know the next step because we never really nailed it down in the first place. Make a list of your goals and chart out the course your life should be taking. Big and very specific goals help you to see the markers along your way and which direction you’re heading.

I hope next week is better. I’m going to check my calendar twice to be certain. What I really hope to accomplish is pay better attention to my larger journey, take back the wheel from the autopilot more often and become accustomed to map reading.

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”

― Seán O’Casey

 

 

A House Divided Gives Thanks

The past several years I have read to my Sunday School class President Lincoln’s declaration of the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. We always think about the Pilgrims, but it was Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War who created the holiday celebration we’ve just experienced together. What amazes me are the circumstances:

It was the mid point in the Civil War, but no one knew that.

His mother died of a terrible disease when he was nine and his beloved sister who cared for him died in childbirth ten years later.

He only had one full year of school.

At this time, two of his sons had died during childhood (another son would die of heart failure eight years later).

Abraham Lincoln is reported by many to have suffered from depression for most of his adult life. His wife Mary was later committed to a sanitarium due to her deteriorating mental condition.

Mary Todd came from a family that owned slaves and continue to during the presidency of Lincoln.

He worked each day in the White House, while across the street soldiers were being buried each day.

The sound of cannon fire could be heard from nearby conflict.

This family certainly had and continued to endure terrible hardships. I so often wonder how this great man was able to write the proclamation and to inspire his nation to remember all the reasons they had to give thanks.

A Proclamation

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State

 

When I read this  each year, it inspires me to put my life in perspective and to count my blessings and give thanks. What about you?