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Am I a good thinker?

11 Aug

Logical minds are those that operate clearly and rationally.

So, it pays to check, from time to time, the state of our minds.  Are we thinking rationally?  Are our premises true?

Examining my notions and beliefs has preoccupied my thinking this summer!

My conclusions about thinking fall into 2 sections:  How God is cultivating my thought life and worldly truisms that contain wisdom and help in pruning one’s beliefs.  First, the Master Gardener’s work:

Through a series of trials, God has pressed on me the need to abandon worry…..completely!  In a post on my other blog site, I wrote about pulling my thoughts back (numerous times in a day) from the constant pattern of worrying or daydreaming what-if situations.

The night after writing my post, I fell into a different kind of thinking – the quicksand variety that pulls one down into an endless do-loop.  Not ACTUAL thinking but ‘stewing‘!  It all started after that wee-hours routine stumble into the darkened bathroom.  Back in bed, I simply stayed awake and segued into pondering several situations.  Not problems, not trials, just specific issues like:

  • teacher workdays starting very soon and the need to plan lessons
  • researching more portable hiking snacks that fit our Keto lifestyle
  • the need to prioritize and streamline activities during my non-school hours

I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Can you relate?

When I finally arose and headed downstairs, coffee in hand, for my time with God and His Word, I was saying to myself, “Maria, you are such a mess!  Look at what you wrote in your blog yesterday and look at you now!”  I flipped open my Bible to the section in Philippians where Paul addresses worry:

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Square in the head, it hit me.  The problem with ‘stewing’.  It has no purpose, it has no endpoint.  It can go ON and ON!  Most importantly, it doesn’t fit the definition of a REQUEST to be handed over to God.

So, what is the solution?  A grid to sift my thoughts, a form of triage or consideration whereby I evaluate thoughts, draw distinctions and dispose of them:

  • I already have a category set up called:  Sinful worry or meditations on what-ifs, positive and fearful.  Solution?  Stop it and repent!
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 1:  can this concern be formulated into a succinct prayer request to hand over to God to take care of?  Yes? – cast it on Him.
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 2:  what remains from that which canNOT be reworded into a prayer?  If anything, then just stop the thoughts. How?  By God’s power for those who are worshippers of Jesus. AND by substituting new thoughts.  Per Paul’s formula, as follows.
  • Alternative meditative topics for the middle of the night: Think about what is praiseworthy and beautiful and true.  And what is the noblest of subjects, if not Jesus and His death and life for us?

Second, from the category of sources other than the Bible, I have heard two new messages.  Each has caused me to question the accuracy of my mind and my brain:

  1. What I think about me might not be true!

My pattern up to now has been to accept this: I AM my thoughts.

I take for granted that what I believe is true.   Okay, maybe not about political issues or even some difficult cultural controversies.  But when it comes to what I take as TRUTH about me, I rarely doubt those conclusions. What I think about me IS me. What I think about me IS true, for who knows me better than me?

I began to doubt my mind’s ability to be accurate about Maria when I heard a gal on a podcast say we are to verify or authenticate the content of our self-talk:

  • How do I know that ‘I can’t change X about me because I’ve always done ‘it’ that way?  What are my reasons? Where is my evidence?

That startled me because I had never applied Logic to what I believed about me, who I am.  The next day, a surprise guest, a ‘motto’, came to lodge in my mind: Be Flexible. I am NOW practicing doubting and questioning my thinking about me.

The other message that has challenged me positively and been a REAL help is this (again from a podcast):

2. The brain seeks ‘pleasant’. 

I see evidence for this EVERY morning. When my alarm sounds, I GROAN inwardly because my routine is to exercise first thing. BEFORE coffee and Bible.  I have battled conflicting desires for years.  But now I know – that’s not me who paints an unpleasant scenario blocking my morning pleasure.  It’s my brain. That bodily organ whose goal is to organize fight or flight to avoid PAIN.

Obviously, but falsely, my brain views 15 minutes of weights plus 15 minutes of yoga as PAIN.  However, with my mind, I can remind my brain of our reasons why health takes precedence over ‘pleasant’ right now. Thank you very much, Ms. Brain, but Maria’s mind is running things, now.

So…..these new thoughts about nighttime churning and limiting beliefs are the fruit of reading, listening, meditating and openness to new ideas.

To sum up, consider how God reveals truth about Himself through the prophet Jeremiah in 11:20 But, O LORD of Hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and mind….

Since we are made in God’s image, shouldn’t we as well test our heart and mind to know if what we are thinking is true, good and helpful?

 

 

 

Using reason to evaluate feelings

7 Apr

There was a man named Manoah.  He enjoyed a God-centered marriage to an unnamed wife who ‘happened’ to be barren when the story begins.  One day, an angel appeared to her and told her she would soon be pregnant and have a son.  (The son turns out to be Samson).

The wife ran and got her husband and filled him in on all the details of the conversation.  He believed her. (Smart man!)

The angel next appeared to both of them, reiterated the same message and agreed to wait while Manoah prepared a meal for him.  But this divine being did not eat the goat and bread set before him on a rock, instead caused fire to consume it. He then disappeared in the flames.  Manoah realized at once that this angel was the LORD and feared for his life.

Read his panicky reaction from Judges 13: 21b-22. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”

The text doesn’t SAY he was frozen in fear, but I can imagine his emotional state.  If I cried out to my husband, “We’re gonna die because….!” there would be A LOT of emotion.

Manoah’s wife did not share her husband’s panic.  Instead, she responded with REASON, with truth.  This is what I want us to look at, her assessment of the situation.  She calmly fed her husband with facts, in a way that he could evaluate whether his feelings were well grounded or false.

Judges 13: 23  But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Apparently, that was enough to settle Manoah, because the next verse in the text simply announces that she bore a son.

When Mike and I read this account last week I remarked to him, “Look at her logic!”  I love seeing how God encourages us to use our biblically informed minds to reason through situations.

I find that I often churn with emotion when I am not thinking biblically about a situation.  Here’s a simple and very real example.  I’m coming to the end of my Spring Break.  And like many of my students and colleagues as well, there is this reluctance to get back into the saddle, plunging into the fast pace of the workweek.

As I tried to THINK my way scripturally through this dread, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a new application about why we are not to worry.  I’ve written about the battle against anxiety and angst on my other blog site. What helps me fight the sin of unbelief  (at the root of worry) is the idea that when I think about TOMORROW, all I see are the potential circumstances minus God’s provision of grace.  He gives ‘manna for the day’.  And since it’s not yet tomorrow, the pre-planned grace is invisible to me right now.

My variation of that tactic was to think about the idea of what I’m going to call ‘joy-moments’.  I started telling myself yesterday each and every time a ‘dread’ thought popped into my mind, “Maria – God has planned moments of joy and delight for you on Monday – whether with your colleagues or students or in an email or a turn of circumstances. You just can’t see them yet.  All you are imagining are the bare circumstances unadorned by God’s goodness.”

Today, I found the biblical warrant for that idea.  Psalm 16:11b states ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy.’ Before today I assumed that this promised condition referred to my future in heaven when I am face to face with Jesus.  But this morning, a Saturday, I had time to think. And I realized that Jesus’ presence TODAY, on this earth, is promised me.  During Jesus’ explaining the ‘Great Commission’ He promised that He would be with us all the days of our lives.  And the writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 13 argued that we can “…..be content with what (we) have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So here is how I used my reasoning abilities to fight the emotion of dread about going back to work:

P1 – As a Christ follower, I have the promise of His permanent presence.

P2 – The Bible teaches that in His presence the believer experiences joy.

C – As a Christ follower, I can expect to experience joy each day, from being aware of His continual presence.

No, I don’t know what that joy will feel or be like, but I trust God and His Word.

And that is ENOUGH of a rope to cling to when I’m battling anxiety.

Your worries might very well be weightier and more serious today than mine.  But these every-day fights for faith are where I live.  And I am a BELIEVER!   I’m in that category of Christians who confess:  ‘Help me, Jesus, for I’m fighting unbelief!’

And God’s answer to my prayer?  He has given me reason AND His Word, to think my way out of some of these emotions that seem to want to keep me locked into ‘churn’ and sadness.

What do YOU do when your negative feelings tend to dominate?

Do Christian beliefs rest on ‘blind’ faith?

23 Mar

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”  John 20:29

I love Venn diagrams!  Creating categories helps me think through possibilities and provides a way to understand what something IS because I can see ‘what it is NOT!’

Take screwdrivers.  When I’m new to a concept, in order to picture it through descriptive words, I have to know what the other possibilities might be.

My dad first introduced me to the screwdriver by sending me to fetch a Phillips.  I asked him what one was.  He described the cross-recessed tool.  I had to know if there were other possibilities besides this design.  As I recall, he only mentioned the other common device – the slot drive one.  If your curiosity is piqued, then take a glance at this website.

Back to Jesus’ comment about ‘those who believe without seeing’.  Just like with screwdrivers, I want to know how many possible kinds of believers are there and what distinguishes each from the other.  Are believers merely binary?  That is, are there only 2 kinds – those who believe because they see Jesus and those who believe yet don’t see Jesus?   Or are there other categories because of different distinctives?

I think the ‘world’ outside of Christianity will respond with a hearty Yes!  There are those who believe because they SEE and then there are “the blind-faith kind“.   These folks are often parodied as those who ‘check their brains at the door.’   I’ve even run across some Christians who proudly echo a version of that kind of belief.  When queried about why they believe, they’ll respond with an ‘I just do!’

But is that the only basis for trusting Christianity to be true?

No!  and fortunately not.

We believe that Jesus is God and that all He said about Himself, His Father, the world, the past and the future IS accurate because we have eyewitness testimony.  The written Bible is a document that has been historically validated and stood the test of time.

Yes, the Holy Spirit has to open eyes and hearts to accept that the testimony is true.  But the documentation exists, nonetheless.

So back to Jesus and His blessing on those of us who were not around to encounter Jesus in 1st-century Palestine.  We have the benefit of being able to read every single day the evidentiary accounts of God dealing with Old Testament Israel and her enemies.  And we have written testimony by the apostles of what happened in the life of Jesus and after His ascension.

Don’t forget, many of those who DID hear Jesus teach and see Him perform miracles did not believe.  This fact alone throws into question the adage, ‘seeing is believing’.  It certainly wasn’t for everyone.

If you believe and rest in the fact of Jesus being who the Bible says He is, then thank God for giving you this living faith. It IS a gift.  But it’s not a blessing bestowed in a vacuum.  The Bible exists; be glad about that!  And please practice being able to point to this evidence with confidence when someone asks you why you believe.   As the apostle Peter wrote, honor Jesus for the testimonies:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3:15

 

If that were true, then EVERYONE would….

11 Mar

The mis-assumed credibility of the ‘majority’ can floor me sometimes.

I’m beginning to see a pattern among people when I suggest an idea that they don’t ‘hear everywhere’ in their culture bubble.

What do I mean by ‘culture bubble’?

It’s that comfortable opinion environment we inhabit.  Technology has ‘advanced’ to the point where we can structure our online feeds to friend/unfriend, to curate interests, to ignore or even avoid hearing dissenting views. We don’t even have to HEAR or read or confront a dissenting view most of the time.

We choose friends, watch certain shows, read selected periodicals and books, worship with like-minded culture-bearers, and participate in rallies with fellow supporters.

So it SEEMS as though everyone around us thinks like us.  It doesn’t take much to then assume that how we think IS reality and not just one competing viewpoint.

I first saw this when I embraced a non-prevailing way of teaching French.  Most teachers use the grammar-textbook approach.  When introduced to teaching via Comprehensible Input, my colleagues balked and told me that this way didn’t work.  That was in 2000 and the majority of fellow Second Language teachers still exalt grammar and vocab list methodologies. But I have gathered MUCH evidence over the past 17 + years helping students acquire French this way.  It works!

Then there is Christianity. Despite much evidence for the historicity of Jesus and the examples of changed lives and societies, the majority of people worldwide reject the claims of Biblical Christianity.  ‘Oh, that’s what primitive people used to believe.  But science has proven….”

Then there is the climate debate. My husband would be quick to point out how Climate Change alarmists tend to cling to dogma over data. “97% of scientists believe X, so that settles it!”  Just what is it about the power of consensus that allows many to stay wedded to a questionable belief or even to be smug about it?

I’m not saying that the views of every majority group are by nature false.  But I think we ought to identify and examine our presuppositions.  What you believe guides the evidence you accept as true.  The opposite should be the case – that one follows the evidence to arrive at a rational viewpoint. And a viewpoint that one is willing to hold loosely out of HUMILITY.

How does humility come into this equation?  Logical Joes and Janes should know by now that a human being cannot be privy to ALL truth.  Pride believes that his or her viewpoint IS the truth – something impossible to verify. Only God, who reigns outside of this created world (for He brought its very existence into being), knows the truth.

The latest example that leaves me puzzled about this tendency toward ‘majority-bias’ is the prevailing view of many regarding nutrition and health.  I’m aware that some DIS-regard the idea that what we eat powerfully influences our bodies.  But the medical explanations from doctors and researchers who have spent years studying this topic are worth thinking about. Then there are the many first-person reports I continue to read.  Accounts from men and women who have switched to a plant-based diet.  It appears that there is a growing body of data that seems to indicate that what you eat can be more influential than genes or even predispositions toward illnesses and disease.

But when I suggest a vegan way of food to those who take meds, AND who suffer the side effects, AND who feel crummy AND who are overweight, they scoff.  Politely.  And say things like, “If this were so, then my doctor would speak up. In fact, we would be seeing this in the news and all over the internet!”

Well, maybe so or maybe not.  But shouldn’t we follow the evidence to where it leads?

 

Extreme - Plant based diets v. surgery

 

Language Clarity or Confusion? The Protestant Reformation

10 Oct
October 2017 has arrived and along with it another century’s culminating celebration of the birth of the Protestant Reformation.  Books, articles, conferences, and tours have focused on educating and further reforming our generation of believers who are 500 years closer to Jesus’ return.
My favorite British podcast, ‘Unbelievable’ hosted by Justin Brierley recently featured a polite conversation between a nominal Protestant-turned-believing Catholic and a religiously-raised Catholic who embraced historical and Biblical Protestantism.  Speaking with restraint, both sincerely believe their church’s doctrine and did indeed explain their beliefs with clarity.
My curiosity mounted as I waited to learn what compelled the current Catholic to hold to what appears to me as false teaching.  At first, he ticked off what my reformed denomination holds is true:
  • We are saved by grace alone, through Christ alone
  • Jesus alone saves; our works don’t earn us salvation
  • Salvation is a gift of God, even the faith to believe God is a gift
So far…..so good. But then came the ‘hic’, the point of diversion:
  •     We must ‘cooperate’ with God’s grace.
Voilà!  Here is one place where historic, Biblical Protestantism parts company with Rome and her teachings.  What in the heck does ‘cooperate’ mean and how is that a gift or good news?
I imagine a spectrum, a continuing line of required effort.  On one end the energy to be expended is minimal:  “Don’t hinder,  interfere with or try to block God’s work”
Moving along the COOPERATION line I picture the next bit of advice: “Actively work with God!”
Passing that polite but not yet desperate midpoint, the pleas for greater exertion and more good works grow insistent: “If you don’t join in, God won’t be able to succeed in placing you in His eternal presence!”
Really?  Does the Catholic Church actually think we dependent, derivative, created beings have the power to thwart Almighty God’s purpose?
Cooperating with God’s grace sounds nice, non-threatening and civilized.  But as a concept that Catholic leaders use to teach and encourage their followers, it misleads millions about God.
Words matter.  Especially about eternal issues.  Either God saves us and our forever destination depends solely on Him as the Bible teaches OR we have a key role to play in the outcome. This is how the issue must be framed.  By the way, this hypothetical proposition is called a Disjunctive Proposition.  In the way I believe this argument must be framed, either the first disjunct is true or the 2nd one.  They both cannot be true.
Whatever degree of human effort the Catholic Church teaches is necessary for salvation, this idea that one must ‘cooperate with God’s grace’ continues to mislead generations toward eternal separation from God.  Words can be cruel albeit comforting in their confusion.  And the Bible teaches that God will judge teachers harshly who have twisted His word.
Since words matter and can have eternal consequences, let us as logic lovers be careful in how we use God’s gift of language.

Why some people aren’t Christians or ‘Preppers’

24 May

Ps 78:32  

In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe.

I was listening to someone explain how & why he had lost faith in the God he had enjoyed throughout his childhood.  It happened like this: he fell in love with a gal in high school who wasn’t a Christian.  That relationship led him to question what he had been taught from church and the Bible about why there are some people who aren’t Christian. The evidence he saw around him upon investigation caused him to abandon confidence in the truth of the Bible and what he had learned at church.

As he detailed the events, he offered this distinction:

  • I don’t claim to prove whether God exists or not.  I just don’t believe in God.

Hearing him draw a contrast, I began to see that though intertwined, these are indeed two different issues. (You can listen to the interview or access his written account of the unraveling of his faith at the link above.)  What struck me was the following statement:

  • “I might be wrong about God. But what I’m sure of is that my search for the truth has been genuine and my beliefs are sincere.”

Some questions for thinking logical Joes and Janes:

  1. What added value does ‘genuine’ bring to one’s search for the truth?
  2. Does it matter if beliefs are ‘sincere’?

I’m bothered by his (and many others’ I encounter) almost cavalier, yet ‘sincere’, dismissal of just not believing in God.

Is Christianity a matter of choosing to believe?  And what does it mean to ‘not believe’, or even ‘to believe’ for that matter?  And what about truth?

We have a friend who is a ‘survivalist prepper’.  You’ve heard of those folks. They stockpile vast supplies of food, weapons and other necessary goods so they can live independently for weeks and even months in various apocalyptic scenarios.  My husband and I have not taken those kind of ‘what if’ precautions, although we do have some supplies in the event of a power outage due to storms.

Our friend, who seems very rational, might accuse us of living in denial if we say, “We don’t believe in the realistic eventuality which grounds your preparation.”

How SHOULD we respond to possible mega disaster events?  Just like how we should respond to the possibility of there being a real God.

The only questions are:

  • What evidence is there for a likely event for which we should increase our preparation?
  • What evidence is there for the supernatural God as described in the Christian Bible?

And given the evidence, what is the most reasonable (reason-based) response one should make?

A more honest conclusion on the part of the man who lost his faith would be:

  • I don’t like where the evidence points, because I don’t want to deal with the God that the Bible describes.
  • And as a fully-aware, but perhaps irrational adult, I deliberately choose to put off dealing with what will happen to me when I die

Friends, I don’t know about the odds of an apocalyptic scenario happening in my lifetime.  But what I do know is that there is a preponderance of evidence to give us a high degree of certainty that the triune God of the Bible (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is who He says He is as recorded in the 66 books of the Bible.  Therefore, I assert that we can TRUST the written record.

Only fools ignore that kind of certainty.

 

Do humility and logic go together?

3 May

 

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way. Ps 25:8-9

Danger alert!

Logic can destroy humility.

How can that be?  I thought clear rational thinking was the entire point of this blog?

Yes, but learning to use skills of rational, deductive reasoning can cause us to grow smug. And SMUGNESS reeks of pride, arrogance and insufferableness.

I am a Biblical Christian who loves words and takes God’s Word seriously. Therefore, I believe whole-heartedly that the original text of the Bible is accurate and free from error. Why?  because I accept as true that God superintended its transmission to the authors through His divine Spirit. After all, the God who SPOKE the universe into being can certainly insure the accuracy of the original writings.  Beside that, He even says that His Word is true. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. John 17:17

Here’s the snare.  I can be arrogant and prideful when I think I am right.  Why do I think my views are correct?

  • Because I am a born-again Christian who has been given a new and different nature
  • Because I have learned some logical thinking principles, which empower me

God, however, isn’t content to leave me equipped with ‘right’ thinking, whether content or method.

The message God seems to be sending me through daily Bible reading and various prayers is that since we humans are created beings, there is NO way in God’s kingdom that we finite creatures can be all-seeing and all-knowing.  Those ‘omni’ qualities belong to God alone who is perfect.

How that should translate into my life and perhaps yours, if you agree, is that we can be wrong!  Maybe our conclusions from the evidence WE SEE and KNOW are rightly deduced, but the presupposition behind the syllogism is huge.  Namely that we see and know ALL the facts.  Could there be, perhaps, more to meet MY eye and awareness?

I work amidst kind and friendly colleagues in a middle school in Asheville, NC.  I’m the only one, I imagine, who doubts some of the ‘givens’ about global warming and its attendant problems.  What I’m trying to practice during our lunchtime, round-table informal chats is to listen for the BEST arguments to support their views regarding this climate situation.

Wanting to understand the other side depends first on the recognition that I might not be right. Oh, maybe given the circumstances and facts I’ve seen and read, I can make a case for what I believe and why.  But the possibility DOES exist that I might actually have a blind spot.

This God-worked humility in me, through life’s hardships and knocks and my daily reading of His Word, has initiated a less sure, less-exalted view of how ‘infallible’ or correct I might be.

I believe, that our world needs more ‘Logical Joes and Janes’, but ones who humble themselves enough to listen with care to others’ views.