Sunday, April 23, 2017
I thought this week I would continue in the same spiritual direction as last week where I discussed the movie, The Case for Christ. The movie discusses a real life story of the spiritual journey of Lee Strobel from atheism to Christianity. This week I want to share thoughts from a book entitled: Jesus Among Secular Gods: The Counter Cultural Claims of Christ. The authors are Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale who are part of the RZIM team that speak often to university students concerning spiritual issues in a material world.
Their book speaks to the current secular mindset that is battling for the minds of people in the world. The secularists have been very successful in our school systems in mind numbing young people to think God is a figment of the imagination and that all life came to be by chance macro evolution. But is it based on truth or a leap of faith on the atheist standpoint? Ravi and Vince in their book clearly point out how the Secular Gods of this current age are based on faith. In my book, Living More Than OK, I point out in the spirituality chapter how the atheists are even starting churches to promote their views. This further reveals that they hold onto a belief system just as much as any other religion. We all are believers in something and I have admitted in my blog and book that I follow a belief in the Christian worldview. The book Jesus Among Secular Gods provides the Christian with ample evidence to believe that Jesus is superior to the Secular Gods.
Some of the “gods” of the atheists they showcase in the book are: Atheism, Scientism, Pluralism, Humanism, Relativism and Hedonism. Reading the book it helps to see that atheists carry differing emphasis just as many in other religions emphasize elements of their belief system. Atheism they point out is the denial of God’s existence. Rightly though, they present that belief is along a continuum of light agnosticism of those who admit they are unsure to what I think of as fundamentalist atheists who are obstinate and fully believe there is no God and that those who believe in God are the root of most of life’s problems. They have no proof that God does not exist yet act like they know for certain there is no God. This book provides a look into the belief system of atheism that helps to appreciate their beliefs along the spectrum of agnosticism to hard core atheism. What is also helpful about the book is that it compares the teaching of Jesus and the gospel to the various belief systems held by the atheists.
I will point to a few areas in the book that spoke to my thinking in hopes to encourage you in checking out this book no matter what spiritual journey you are on. One of my favorite chapters was on Scientism which shows how atheists place their faith in science. I have run into many people over the years who feel science has proven God does not exist. Looking at the facts there is no such proof. In my book, Living More Than OK, I point out that many of our great scientists in the past were of a Christian worldview – Kepler, Newton, and Pasteur to name a few. Vince in the chapter on Scientism discusses how science can be viewed as pointing to God. The rationale behind that is how the universe has a beginning, the universe is knowable, the universe is regular, and the universe is finely tuned for life.
For example just one thought to think about from their book is how did the whole universe begin in the first place? Vince presents 3 options: 1. God created the universe – this is what most Christians and other religions believe. 2. The entire universe popped into existence from nothing with no explanation – This is what most atheists believe. I call it the rabbit popping out of the magic hat in the sky. One moment you have vast empty space then bang- out pops a universe. Personally I believe it takes too much blind faith to believe that. 3. His last option is that the universe or series of universes have existed from eternity (pages 66 & 67). He then explores through the 3 options. Is there pure scientific proof for any of the options. I would say no - it boils down to a faith belief. Our worldviews on the beginning be they from an atheist or theist standpoint boils down to our personal belief.
The chapter on Scientism presents another issue that I have always felt moves me towards a belief in God. That is the section on “the universe is finely tuned for life”. The idea is also called the “anthropic coincidence” (of course I do not see it as a coincidence). When observing life on earth it looks like most everything was designed for the purpose of life on the earth. As Vince states, “If the Big Bang had been even the slightest bit weaker, gravity would have made the universe collapse back in on itself almost immediately, far too quickly for any form of life to develop” (p. 80). For myself the amazing beauty of creation and the complexity points to a creator God. If I go to a museum and see a beautiful statue I don’t shrug and think it came to be from happenstance. How much more is the complexity of the world around us. Just the other day, we were watching a hummingbird enjoying a red flower outside our kitchen. How did this amazing bird just pop into being by non-rational chaotic forces? Or in Springtime I am always amazed at the beauty of flowers. Why such variety and beauty of colors? It is like they were created to be enjoyed. Otherwise why didn’t just all plant life keep it simple with one or two colors? For myself, these are pointers to God.
Of course I said pointers to God. I did not say proof of God. Just as I say the atheist cannot prove there is no God I can’t say there is definite proof of God. God is so great why doesn’t He give us the proof? Don’t ask me -- ask God. Personally I think it goes back to faith. God is wanting us to have a faith relationship with him. As for atheism don’t believe the lie they try to foster that they are scientific and rational and Christians and other religions are ‘believers”. Atheists need just as much belief if not more for their belief in life with no God.
Reflection: Take some time to read Jesus Among Secular Gods by Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale – buy it or ask your local library to search it for you. Think through your belief system be it theistic or atheistic – why do you believe what you believe? Take some time to explore the wonders of creation around you. What is creation saying to you? Was this amazing wonder created by a Designer God or just popped into being like a rabbit popping out of a magician’s hat?
Monday, April 17, 2017
I remember reading Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, back in the 1990s so I was surprised to see a movie out about the book. The book is about his spiritual journey from being an atheist to becoming a Christian. There were numerous interviews in it with Christian theologians and philosophers, therefor I wondered how that would come across on the movie screen. There are not many people who want to go to a movie just to see a bunch of interviews with religious scholars.
We went to see the movie, The Case for Christ, on Easter Sunday and it turned out to be the highlight of the day. Instead of a dull series of interviews there was a driving narrative of his personal journey to disprove Christianity with the passion of a journalist seeking truth. In the narrative there is also a legal reporting case that goes on so the viewer can see the consistency of the drive Lee put into his journalistic work and the drive he put into his personal quest for spiritual truth.
In the movie there is a particular reason he was emphasizing Christianity that also explores personal relationships. That was another addition to the story that kept personal interest in the movie. The movie did not go into all the interviews included in the book. Instead the movie focused on a number of very important interviews that helped shape the change in his thinking.
In my book, Living More Than OK, I emphasize our worldviews and personal spiritual journeys are an important part of our lives. There are a number of religious faiths and each person travels their own journey. Mine has focused on Christianity. I never had an antagonism towards Christianity like Lee had but I have had my times of doubt. I believe it was C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaefer who points out that God does not make it so clear that we are forced to believe in him. Instead there is some room for doubt so that we may with our free will step out in faith towards God or away from Him.
I liked in the movie how it shows his one atheist friend who admits both sides- God believers and atheists need a leap of faith. I have always been upset with those who simply call Christians “believers”. Christians are guilty of the trap as well. “Believers” – what does that mean? Everyone believes in something. The leap of faith for the Christian is a leap into the arms of a loving God. The leap of faith of the atheist in my point of view, is a leap into random nothingness of chance chaos. The choice is a no brainer for me.
The movie reminded me of a debate I heard online between John Lennox, a mathematician/Christian apologist and an atheist at a European University.. The atheist argument brought out that Christianity is like a fairy tale believing in Santa. Mr. Lennox had a powerful thought in response. He reminded the audience that no one comes to believe in Santa Claus as an adult. Lee Strobel’s skeptical journey that led him to a rational faith in Christ began and ended when he was an adult. He used his professional skills as a journalist in his search so he was not caving to a fairy story.
There are many things that can be learned in the movie. It can help anyone of any religious faith system, (and I include atheism as a faith system), to understand the important of thinking through why they believe what they believe. Our differing faith beliefs shape our worldviews which shape how we live in this world so the Case For Christ can help in reflecting on that part of life. As you watch the movie listen for the line “you didn’t want to know the truth”. Think about how that line relates to more than just his interaction with that character in the movie.
Reflection: What faith tradition are you a part of – atheist, Judaism, Buddhist, Christian? Why do you follow this belief system? What are the factors that shaped your faith journey? Make it a point to see the movie The Case for Christ
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
A few weeks ago with my family, I saw the movie, The Shack. It is based on the fiction novel, The Shack, by William P. Young. I am glad to see it is still being shown in the local theater which means it has been receiving a steady stream of viewers. I have been busy doing some research for my PhD dissertation so have been away from the blog but recent events brought the movie back into my mind. Here is New Braunfels the news has been filled with the tragedy of a group of women senior citizens from local First Baptist Church. Coming home from a prayer retreat a bus with 14 senior citizens was hit by a young man in a pick-up truck killing all but one person. The truck driver survived as well. It turned out he was texting and ran into the mini bus. I could go off on texting suffice it to say “put your phone away when you drive!”.
A tragedy like that causes some to wonder why God allowed that to happen. A group of senior saints coming home from a prayer retreat die? Many of us often have events like that in our lives. The texting aspect of the story reminded me of a young college student I mention in my book, Living More Than OK. His dream was to be a welder to help his mom and brother. That dream was ended by a young girl driving paying more attention to her phone instead of Heath riding his bike across the street to his dorm. At first he was paralyzed and then due to poor healthcare he died much too early a couple years later. Where was God in that? I in my past have had life events where in my depression would hear myself say Why God? If honest -- most of us have had moments like that.
That honesty is one element of the story line I appreciated in watching The Shack. The story the author is telling in the movie reaches out to us whether presently in a time of doubt; or remembering times of doubt in life. It is an excellent movie to encourage those going through times of grief and spiritual doubt.
Another aspect of the movie I appreciated was thinking through who God is. That is one area where there was much Christian debate about the movie. At first I had some difficulty with it but then I remembered the book the movie is based on is a work of fiction. I have looked into the author’s blog and he does not equate his book on equal par with scripture. Considering that this movie is based on a work of fiction, I felt and those with me believed he provided a helpful look into the relational aspect of the Trinity. The Christian concept of the Trinity is difficult to fully explain and will be a mystery this side of heaven. Yet the story line does provide a glimpse into the relational aspect of the Godhead. That relationship carries on with the importance of God’s desire to reach out to fallen man with grace and mercy to live in a relational fashion with his creation of humankind.
After watching the movie the discussion revolved around how the messages from the story were better than we had expected. The Shack is a powerful story to help those who are seekers think through the possibility of having a relationship with God. As well it is an honest story that seeks to deal with some of the harsh pains and difficult situations we face this side of heaven with grief and questioning God. It is worth seeing but go with a friend so as to continue the discussion afterwards.
Reflection: Think through times of grief or difficulties in your life. What feelings and thoughts came to you? What brought you out of the depression or low feelings? What does it mean to you to be in a relationship with God?
Monday, March 6, 2017
I was in a study the other night where the discussion was about keeping our eyes on the finish line of hopes in our lives. In reality, reaching for what we really want in life is part of keeping a focus on the end goal but we discussed in our group, how too often we get off track looking at the sidelines of life which distracts us. A little book, Keep It Simple: Unclutter Your Mind to Uncomplicate Your Life by Joe Calloway gives insights on keeping your mind focused on what is important. It can be ordered through Simple Truths.
Joe Calloway is Executive In Residence at Belmont University’s Center For Entrepreneurship. He helps organizations and businesses improve by leadership development and team improvement. He is an author as well of numerous business books on helping companies be the best they can be. In the small book Keep It Simple he is focusing in on individual self-improvement.
A major problem in our lives is that they become cluttered by the unimportant stuff of life so we never get around to what is important. How many times have you heard yourself say, “I will get around to it one day”. Then life passes by and we never get around to what we felt was so important.
He emphasizes to spend most of life energy in keeping it simple. Create your life goals in a simple and easy to understand manner. Take some time to quiet your life and think over the 3 most important things in your life. “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I saw let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million, count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail.” (Henry David Thoreau). Create your goals you want to accomplish based on the few important things in your life. This reminds me of how Stephen Covey used to say focus in on the “Big Rocks” in your life. Most of your energy should be towards what is most important to you.
Another important point he brings up is in cleaning out the clutter of your life create a “to let go of” list. Time mangers encourage “to do” lists but the “to let go of” list is to help unclutter the distractions that are keeping your eyes on the sidelines instead of the goal line. Examples of the let go’s are negative habits that are getting us off track.
He gives a number of principles to follow and for me the one that stood out to me was “Be better tomorrow than you were today”. I like that principle as it reminds as we keep a clear focus on the important goals they can be reached better if we keep improving ourselves. He gives other principles that are just as noteworthy so I would encourage you to find a copy of the book through your local library or favorite bookseller. Keeping it simple frees up life energy to make the most of your life.
Reflection: What are the 3 most important things in your life? What is cluttering your life that you need to get rid of? How can you simplify your life?
Monday, February 27, 2017
When we see many of the problems around us in the world it is easy to be overwhelmed and think “What Difference Can I Make?”. The question makes sense as the problems we see are so huge and by ourselves we are just one person. We can understand better how to be difference makers through the book, The Power of One: How One Person Can Make a Difference. The book is co-authored by BJ Gallagher and Steve Ruttenberg. BJ Gallagher is an author and motivational speaker and Steve Ruttenberg is a entrepreneur.
By reading the stories, quotes, and poetry they have compiled, your eyes can be opened to the power you have to make a difference in the world around you. We can’t solve all the world’s problems but if we are open and willing, the stories here show how we can impact our surroundings by doing something instead of giving up. An important quote given to remind us of this is: ”The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference, that you have lived at all.” (Leo Rostin, Polish-born Writer). Thinking of the quote I would add that your happiness quotient will increase as you desire to make a difference in other people’s lives.
The stories provided in the book show how by a simple smile or an act of kindness can make a difference in another person’s life. Some of the stories show how one person’s actions can have an exponential effect on many people’s lives. The consequences of what we do can have positive impact on other’s lives. Another quote they include in the book speaks to this. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” (William James – philosopher and psychologist). If we keep open to the needs around us and living out kindness and generosity we will be surprised how often this James quote comes true in our life journey.
Reading the Power of One, as I read the stories of single individuals making an impact of the world reminded me of one of my favorite, one person making a difference stories. I have mentioned the story before of Jon Sundt who is the founder of the organization, Natural High, which encourages young people to discover natural passions in their lives so as not to fall into the drug scene. Thinking of the Power of One, Jon’s organization was created out of sorrow and grief in the early 1990’s. He had lost his two younger brothers to drugs and wanted to make a difference so others would not have to endure the pain his parents and he went through. Instead of being stuck with the question “But What Difference Can I Make?” he became a difference maker by doing something. You can go to naturalhigh.org for more of the story and see what this great organization does in schools across the country.
Natural High finds musicians and sport stars to share their passions or natural highs. These stories can motivate young people to move away from the lies of the drug world that tells them to enjoy life you need to smoke, snort, or shoot to get high. Instead they can learn how to enjoy life in drug free ways. As a counselor I have used their videos with all age groups to encourage people to look for their own natural highs for a better life. Here is a sample of their videos that can be seen on Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRW_-dDKnkU If you know an educator or school counselor k-12 let them know about Natural High.
Another important quote from BJ Gallagher and Steve Ruttenberg’s book is “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” (Anne Frank – diarist). Realize that you have power in yourself to make a difference in the world around you. It may be as simple as smiling at a cashier to brighten someone’s work day. It may be posting a positive quote on Facebook or Twitter to make other people think positive. Or it may be the start of solving a problem that may affect thousands if not millions of people. Move beyond being stuck on the question - What Difference Can I Make?
Reflection: Think back to a time when you made a difference in someone’s life? What is your favorite story of someone making a difference in the world? What is one way you can make a difference using your power of one today?
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
On our life journeys we often look for inspiration to help and guide us through the days when we settled into plateaus of mediocrity or are overwhelmed by life’s demands. At these times I myself appreciate looking at other people’s thoughts on the life journey and seek to learn from them. Live The Life Of Your Dreams by Laura Ponticello is such a book. She provides 33 inspiring tips to help in the continual growth of the inner life. Laura is an author, personal coach, and motivational speaker. You can find out more about her at lauraponticello.com
Although her books are geared towards women, the principles can be appreciated and connected to the life journey of men as well. In this book her 33 life inspiring tips revolve around 7 key themes of 1. Think Big, Dream Big 2. Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back 3. The Art Of Self-Talk 4. Take Time For Yourself 5. Sacred Spaces for Healing 6. The Power Within 7. Live Life With Passion.
I will touch on 5 of the tips that stood out to me. First of all her tip # 5 is Pursue Something With Passion. Having passions in life keep life purposeful and urge us to continual growth. That is one element of life I promote in my book Living More Than OK. I like how in this section she encourages “Explore a new side of yourself” so during your life journey seek out new activities or hobbies to enjoy to add to your life.
Her tip #16 is Sit with a Prayer. She encourages those who have a passion for following a spiritual life make prayer an important aspect of your life. The sitting with a prayer caught my attention as she is reminding us to look at some of the great prayers that have been written down and meditate on those. She uses the prayers of St. Francis as an example. There are also books on the prayers of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great protestant preacher from the 1800’s that can be used in sitting with a prayer.
To add happiness into your life her tip #20 is Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy. Break away from the business of life and take a happy break savoring a cup of coffee or tea while reading a book or listening to a favorite song.
If you enjoy walking, her tip #25 is Walk With A Purpose. Go out for a walk but have a purposeful mindful attitude of gratitude while you walk. Walking with a grateful heart will allow you to observe positive things around you on the walk. Maybe you will notice a flower bed you never noticed before or a landscape idea you may wish to add to your lawn.
The last tip that I will share here that stood out to me is tip #28 Gratitude Is Attitude. When you carry a grateful attitude into your life there is more positive energy to keep you moving forward. Think over each day what you are thankful for in your life and you will see it makes a difference in your outlook for the day.
Her other tips are just as helpful as these 5 but I want to keep you in suspense to look for a copy of the book through Laura’s website or by request at your local library. As you move through your life journey for the best inspiring life keep looking for new ideas to inspire you on your journey.
Reflection: Of the 5 tips from Laura’s book I shared which one stood out to you? What are 3 personal ideas you use to inspire yourself in your day to day life?
Monday, February 6, 2017
I just came back from the 23rd Annual SPI Counselor’s Institute on South Padre Island, Texas. The event was put together by the hard work of the Tip of Texas Counseling Association, a great group of counselors from the Brownsville area. While I was at the conference sessions and presenting; my wife and daughter enjoyed some time shopping on the Island and nearby Port Isabel. Personally I felt I had the better time learning from the various presenters.
Some of the topics I enjoyed the most were learning strategies for dealing with anger; understanding the emotional needs of millennials, and re-wiring the addicts brain which looked at neuroplasticity. I was also glad to sit in again on a creative vision journaling session conducted by a dear friend Dr. Marsha Nelson. If you get the chance to attend one of her sessions they are life inspiring. I was also glad to see a former Counseling program classmate and friend, Rosa Linda Cruz and picked up a copy of her children’s book, My Favorite Bubbles. I have a hyperlink on her title if you are interested in purchasing it. I plan on using that book with younger clients in my counseling work.
Usually after a conference I do a post about a favorite session I attended. This time I want to focus in on the session I did twice. The session was “Bibliotherapy Tips From Mr. Bookhead”. I appreciated the Counselors who attended it and brought to the discussion their insights. I usually do not like being a talking head for a whole hour so I try to draw out thoughts from others so we can all learn from each other. That came to pass at this conference as many were open to sharing their thoughts.
I take the definition from the American Library Association “The use of selected reading materials as therapeutic adjuvants, (enhancer of treatment), in medicine and psychiatry; also guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading. (AHIL Quarterly, Summer 1966, p. 18.From http://www.ala.org/tools/bibliotherapy). I emphasized that it is not a miracle cure but it is another tool that counselors can use in serving their clients. This tool can help clients gain insights into their particular problem area. This tool can also promote communication between the client and counselor concerning their problems so as to move to solutions.
We discussed the various types of literature to use Fiction books, non- fiction books, Magazine articles, Chapters in books, Poems and Song lyrics. Some of the book titles attendees suggested were: “When God Winks” by Squire Rushnell, “The Outsiders” by S.E Hinton, “7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey, “Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes” by Eric Litwin, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” by Aesop, “The Bible”, and “Dynamic Catholic” by Matthew Kelly. They all provided a wide variety of meaningful books. Of course here I need to mention my book, Living More Than OK, as the purpose I wrote it was for personal self-growth of individuals on their life journey. It can be purchased on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
I also looked at songs by having them discuss through the song “Story of Your Life” by Matthew West and discussed a poem from off the website https://www.poemhunter.com/poems/change/page-1/24402/. Poem hunter is an excellent poetry website to gather poems from various topics. I wrapped up the session also discussing how counselors can use movies and videos for self-growth and overcoming problems. Some of the meaningful movies they shared where: Angry Birds (2016), Saturday Night Fever (1977), Good Will Hunting (1997), and Finding Nemo (2003).
So I will let the reader decide what is more fun learning or shopping? For me when it comes to conferences learning is always more fun.
Reflection: Think through what is a book that has had special impact on your life? Think over the movies you have seen what is one that has had special impact on your life?