My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

from Dance On Fire

August 18, 2012

A GLIMPSE INTO PETE’S LIFE  (c.2000)

“You see an artisan skillful at his craft: He will serve kings, not common men.”  Proverbs 22:29

MY INTRODUCTION

Hello, welcome to my mind. The arts, I believe, exist primarily for the enjoyment of them. Beauty, thoughtful entertainment, and creative imagery fill a void in the human spirit and cause man to functuion happier and more complete in life. Just as God has anointed some as prophets, teachers, administrators, etc. for the rest of us to receive from them, so he has anointed some with talents in various forms of the arts for others to receive blessing from as well for the worship of our ultimate Creator.

There is truth in the saying, “You are what you eat.” What a person chooses to take into their minds becomes a little part of them as it shapes their view of life. Until recently, the message coming from the mainstream church generally rejected most forms of creativity. For so long the church had lagged behind with cheap imitations of what the world has done, usually after it went out of style. What if the best selling authors, the best movies, the most popular musicians were mostly Christians? We’d be living in quite a different society.

The greatest force that influences peoples thoughts and beliefs is the media. We are letting a huge, open, world-reaching mission field lay almost barren for Christ. In most cases, it is a cop out and lazy excuse to say our art is rejected because it has the name Jesus stamped on it. Although it is true that through integrity and moral character, Christians will have to deny many “advantages” offered by an industry dominated by so much sin; for the most part, the people at the top are there because of hard work and talent. And we serve the Creator God who had made us in his image and has endowed his creative anointing on many of his servants. Should we leave those talents buried, or should we risk their investment?

Most art that requires thought represents the artist’s views on life; there is usually a moral or point the artist is trying to convey. Although I don’t feel the need to sum up the gospel in every one of my pieces, I think the outflow of my heart on paper reveals my faith, strength, and love dependent on our Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Subjects of my work range from thoughts on something of interest to the daily struggles of life to the exploration of the human spirit in our relationship with God to pure and simple worship of him. Although we tried to match some artwork to poetry with common themes, all work was created separately and has nothing to do with the other on a specific level.

My deepest desire for my work is that by the grace of God it would somehow lift up and encourage you and move your heart closer to the Lord by knowing him in a deeper way. It is my prayer that in seeing my struggles some would in a sense learn from my mistakes and be encouraged to persevere and press on in what God has called you. At the very least, I hope you find my work interesting and entertaining so that the time you spend looking into my head is enjoyable.

Thank you sincerely…

21st Century Man

Running Running Running on and
Raging he went
Whipped around in a whirlwind.
His life was spent
Taking shots in the dark,
He never kindled the spark
Into a magnificent fire.
He was conditioned to be a liar:
A constant walk on the high wire.
Looking down,
The world went ’round
Without him.
He laughed and he cried-
Took in his breath and he sighed-
And he died.

Twenty-first Century Man-
That’s who I am.

Cycles 

A dark red glow is all that is left
Of the fiery bowl sunken
In the deep dark horizon.
Soon even the trees,
So perfectly silhouetted
Against the evening glow,
Will become a mere whisper
And a shadow.
The stars ride out
In their procession
Deceiving us with their faint light.
Everything is so beautiful,
So mysterious,
But the stepping stones stumble me
And I’ll be lucky to catch
Reflection
Of the lion’s eyes-
Devourer.
Enter the night.

We toss and turn in sleepless struggle,
Being held captive by blackness bubbles.
We don’t float away-
We turn and fight.
We search for light,
Find wisdom where she may be:

Awake,
O mother, sister in heart.
Sell us the fuel
To light the lamps
To guide
The way
To Freedom Road.
Your Father,
Your brother the King,
Our Husband, he calls us…
Plain bright mystery.

The horizon behind us,
The sun left behind.
The horizon beyond us:
A strip of pale blue
Pushes out purple, down black.
The Son is arisen,
My world is renewed;
My vision is back.

Patience

She talks go
But when I go
Red lights flash ahead.
Somehow…
I prefer to stop.
Fire burns red.
My flesh burns for you.

No. Far better
In me
A white fire
Of the core.
Purify…
Soul consuming.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you…

To my God: Jesus Christ, His Father, His Holy Spirit; Three persons in unity: One God Most High. The maker and giver of my talents and everything good in me.

To my ex-wife Letecia who has been a source of inspiration and a tool used to shape and develop my character.

To my boys Gabriel and Zed. My two greatest rocks of unconditional love.

To my parents Richard and Catherine, my brothers Paul and Tom. A family filled with love and normalcy I once rejected but now so deeply appreciate your strong stablility in days so uncertain.

To Pneuma Books, the designers of this book, my friend Brian Taylor, who spent much valuable time on it, giving me the opportunity to present my work.

To Vivian Branton-Jones, who gave a shy, punk kid the ability to have confidence in himself.

To Harold R. Eberle, a prophet of God who imparted the commission of God to me.

To Bob, John, Darrell, James, Mel, Alan, and Misty; my buds from high school–almost Tens Years Gone–give me a call sometime.

To the elders and body of believers at Newark Christian Fellowship and East Coast Aflame Ministries. Thank you for the love, support and acceptanct you have given me throughout the years.

“…deep, heart-felt emotion… overflowing into perfectly-placed poetic words. They are a realization of unfulfilled dreams and a longing for perfection as a father and as a human being… desperately reaching… and finding solace in the understanding that only God is in control.”  -Susan L. Heisler, Delaware Artist & Author of Anthology of a Crazy Lady

Peter L. Richardson

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

Every one of us loves to play the game of “what if?” whether we like to admit it or not. We have all thought back on choices we’ve made and thought about what our lives might be like had we made a different choice. Your life could be drastically different even from something as small as spending an extra five minutes brushing your teeth in the morning. Imagine the ripples through time our tiny minute decisions make. Then imagine millions upon billions of ripples throughout time and across the world touching and running into each other and creating waves moving and tossing in seemingly chaotic directions. God sees every ripple individually and can write his story of redemption from beginning to end threading it in and out of each our lives as he calls out to us to hear his voice and read his love letters of forgiveness. Movies like The Adjustment Bureau attempt to explain this phenomena; movies like Sliding Doors pose the question of “what if?” and make us consider the possibility of another fate; and countless science fiction works explore the idea of alternate time streams and parallel universes.

I absolutely love Sci Fi! When I was younger, the idea that there might be another me out there somewhere who didn’t completely screw up his life brought me comfort. Parallel universes, in a way, offer us second chances, or maybe even endless chances and possibilities: Maybe somewhere I am a famous rock star! But maybe somewhere some ancestor of mine made different choices and I don’t even exist. Parallel universes are fun to imagine, but if they do exist, am I truly an individual? Do my choices even matter? No, I believe this universe and this age is all we have to work with, but the concept of parallel universes can help us to understand how predestination might work.

We all know that our universe is multidimensional, but the average human is only aware of three dimensions. However, some scientist theorize there may be endless dimensions (which would result in the possibility of parallel universes), however most put the number somewhere between 7-11 (at least that was numbers the last time I read up on the issue). Most consider time to be the fourth dimension which is how we can imagine the possibility of time travel in science fiction. If time is simply a dimension of the created universe, then that would mean that God, the Creator, exists outside of time. This is why he calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. It something beyond our comprehension, but God has no beginning or ending. He just exists, that’s why he calls himself “I AM.” If God exists outside of time, that would mean when he looks down on his creation, he can see all points of time at the same time. When he looks at you, he can see the moments of your birth and your death at the same time. What does this have to do with parallel universes and predestination? I think this is one possibility of what God means when he speaks of individuals being predestined to do certain works, and how his prophecy continually comes to pass over thousands of years despite human free will. God, before he spoke the Word of creation, saw all the possible outcomes of the different realities of existence should he create beings with free will. In his wisdom, love, and mercy; he chose the one with the best possible outcome for his children to become reconciled to him after giving them the ability to freely rebel against him. We can still ask, why bother with existence if even one person ends up suffering? Alas, we must trust that God is good and knows what he is doing. While I’ve had my fair share of suffering, my personal experience leads me to believe he is just in his ways. Paul puts it this way:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
      How unsearchable his judgments,
      and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
      Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
      that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
      To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

The truth of God’s inherent goodness helps me to understand some of the more difficult passages that support predestination. Consider King David’s prayer to the Lord:

For you created my inmost being;
      you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
      your works are wonderful,
      I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
      when I was made in the secret place,
      when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
      all the days ordained for me were written in your book
      before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

And later the Lord himself says to the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
      before you were born I set you apart;
      I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

We use these scriptures to expose the sin of abortion, and rightly so, but if we take them in the most literal sense of predestination, and apply them to all humanity, could we not conclude that God is really the one behind the abortions? In this sense, he created all the lives who were aborted and purposed them only to die. But why stop there? If he preordained every single moment of our lives doesn’t that mean he designed, created and purposed every evil thing that has ever happened? And if that’s true, doesn’t that mean God is ultimately the author of evil as well as good? It is no stretch to imagine from here that this God could create and purpose some to be saved and create others with no choice but to be bad and fated for eternal damnation, even though they had no choice in the matter whether or not to rebel!

I believe God uses and manipulates sin and evil for his purposes, consider the stories of Job and Joseph, and consider Paul’s famous statement in Romans 8:28, but he does not initiate or design it. That is against his nature. When God delivered the Law to Moses, he proclaimed of himself: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). And later the Apostle John simply declares, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). You may ask why God would punish children for their parents’ sin? But I don’t think that he punishes anyone for anything they didn’t do. This is a proclamation of love. Think about how many times you said you would never turn out like your parents, but how often do you really act like them? The influence of our fathers is strong. I think it just takes three to four generations before the sin that gets passed down can really be rooted out once a man decides to follow God. God is also stating to us that while he forgives sin, he will not allow it to continue for very long. We humans confuse discipline and training with evil. We think that anytime we experience discomfort there are demons behind it, when usually we are simply paying the consequences of bad choices. There is a war in the heavens that we are caught in the middle of, but it is not until you truly begin to do good for the Kingdom of Heaven that Satan takes any notice of you, and we can ultimately trust that, like Job and Joseph, God will use the evil that others bring upon us “for the good of all those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

This brings us back to the concept of parallel universes. God had the option of creating a multitude of different realities before he chose ours and spoke it into existence. I believe he chose the one with the optimum amount of good for as many of his sons and daughters as possible. He knew creating beings with free will would inevitably cause pain and suffering once these beings began to rebel against his ways, yet he determined that having true relationship with his created beings was worth the risk of rebellion. He knew sin and rebellion would separate us from him, so he designed a way for us to be reconciled to him through his plan of the cross, and he gives us each the opportunity to accept his gift and enter into intimate relationship with him and allow him to develop our character into the true potential of our callings, or we have to choice to reject his gift and stay eternally separated from him, continue to live selfishly and pay the consequences of our actions.  Because he exists outside of time, he knows the end game, and he knows every choice we will make, and being a loving father, he is deeply and intimately involved in our lives, but all our choices are still our own to make.

It is much easier for me to believe that God lit the spark of creation aware of the suffering that rebellion against him would cause, and therefore designed a way out to be saved for those who would choose to seek him and follow him. I believe that God gives every human being ever conceived the opportunity to make the choice for salvation, because he deeply loves every one of us enough to experience death for us. Paul instructs his protégé, Timothy that “God our Savior…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson, 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God had not told what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”  -C.S. Lewis, “The Practical Conclusion,” Mere Christianity

beginnings…

August 4, 2012

He held in his hands a book ancient as the dark. It had the smell of must and decay, and yet miraculously it held together in one piece. Though this book had been neglected for untold number of years, it was once well worn; the brown hard leather cover dented on the corners, darkened and dipped from the grip of fingers, and broken in the spine; the yellow pages frayed and bent over. There was a bookmark there, as fragile as the pages which he feared to open, turn, and look…

When he was younger one of the places he would hide out when he was neglecting his studies was the library. He wasn’t there to learn; he was hiding: from teachers, from parents, from teenage drama, from life. Once he was in, it was easy to dip from row to row, and if someone looked suspicious, it was simply a matter of opening up a random book and thumbing through, acting like he was looking for something.

But the truth is, he was looking for something: for truth, for purpose, for need; he was looking for someone to rescue him; rather, for someone he might be called upon to rescue. He was looking for the fulfillment of his soul; the meaning of life. Yet as pain and emotion began to bubble up from his gut and take the form of words in his mind, sometimes those words would escape and hit the books he hid among. Most of the time they would bounce back in a silent cry of desperation, but sometimes they connected and caught words and titles and names and brought back ideas and the start of understanding was with them…

-Peter L Richardson

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

This whole series on Predestination came as a result of someone inviting me to his church. I met the Lord through a nondenominational congregation, and I’ve always been aware of the tension between the doctrines of predestination and free will, but I always chalked it up to another paradox beyond my comprehension. I had no idea that there have been church splits over this issue. This man called me a name I frankly never heard of before (Arminian), and challenged me to begin attending his church and Bible study to find out the truth of his Calvinism, so I did. Most of the people who attended the church obviously had a deep love for the Lord, and they even were very active with evangelism (a bit of a contradiction, it seems to me; why evangelize if God has every one who gets to be saved picked out already?). It is not my intention to criticize anyone who believes in predestination; most are my brothers and sisters who will be with me in heaven someday. However, when taken to its extreme, Calvin’s teaching on predestination is a doctrine I cannot accept. I essentially ended our debate with this statement: “If Calvin is correct in this matter then I stand with Satan!” In my defense, I was thinking of John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost who claims his rebellion is a result of God’s tyranny.

I simply cannot worship a God who creates humans with supposed free will knowing they will rebel and sin and deserve punishment, and then he creates a way out, but only provides the way out to a randomly selected few. My problem is not that only a few can be saved, we all deserve death, but that God chooses the few by allowing them the revelation of salvation while the rest of mankind doesn’t even get the opportunity to really know and accept that way. This is a God who creates human beings who have no other destiny than to burn in hell for eternity. They are not even given the option to say yes or no to God’s salvation because he chooses who can and can’t believe. Was Christ’s sacrifice not sufficient to truly cover the sins of all mankind? No, the God I worship is not cruel, he is just and merciful. His justice demands payment for sin, but in his mercy he took the sins of all mankind upon him, not just a select few. The way to salvation has been paved by Jesus, but we make the choice to walk the path and take up our cross to follow him, or to walk the path of selfishness that leads to hell. If I am wrong and Calvin is right, what does it matter? I have no choice but to believe what I am destined to believe.

In Matthew’s Gospel, he testifies of Jesus rebuking those who refuse to believe in his message and warning them of the coming judgment. Jesus ends his rebuke with this statement:

               “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

                Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:27-30)

Jesus first says that no one can know the Father unless Jesus chooses to reveal Him to them (presumably in order to be saved from the coming judgment). This seems to support Calvin’s doctrine of Predestination, but the problem is Jesus immediately says: “Come to me ALL you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Does this not imply that if you choose to follow Christ, he will not reject you but rather “will give you rest” (i.e. salvation)? He doesn’t say come to me all you who are weary, and I’ll pick and choose who gets rest by some standard that I won’t tell anyone how to meet. No. These verses seem like a contradiction, but they are not so difficult to understand with an open mind, or more appropriately, an open heart. Is it so hard to believe that those whom Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to are simply the ones who choose to follow Jesus?

Later, in Matthew 13, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Weeds in which an enemy plants weeds among a “good” crop of wheat. When the crop comes in, the Master tells his workers to wait until the harvest to separate them because pulling the weeds might harm the growth of the wheat by pulling the good stalks up also. We learn this parable means there are many in the church who are hypocrites; those who claim to follow Jesus and know the Father, but in fact, only serve themselves and their own desires. We humans cannot know a man’s true heart, but God does.

I believe emphatically that God chooses those who choose him. He knows our hearts. He knows those who are truly committed to him, and he knows those who are only pretending to follow Christ for their own means. He knows those who are seeking for the Way, the Truth and the Life, and he knows those who are only seeking to please themselves. He knows those who follow his example of sacrificing their lives for even their enemies, and he knows those who commit murder every day in their hearts by taking as much as they can at cost of others in need. To those who commit to living righteously, he says “If you seek for me with all your heart, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29, Proverbs 8:17, Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7). Those who do not truly know the Father are in danger of being thrown “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13: 42). They are left in the dark, not because Jesus chose not to reveal himself, but because they choose not to seek after him. God leaves signs pointing his way all over our lives, it up to us to follow.

All humans have free will and can act in and therefore manipulate the march of time. We are each responsible for our choices, both good and bad, and we will pay the consequences for those choices unless God intervenes with grace and mercy and we accept his work in our lives. But there is also a danger of taking the doctrine of free will to extremes as well. Open Theism is a belief that God is not omniscient out of choice because He chooses not to know the decisions of free individuals ahead of time. This is not something I support or believe in. The next logical step from Open Theism is Agnosticism. If God doesn’t know our fate, even out of choice, how can he ensure our security in the end? Is this a God we can put our trust in? And if this God has no real understanding of our fate, how can we be sure he even cares? The next step from Agnosticism is Atheism. How then can we be sure that he even exists? But if you listen closely, you can hear his call to you, and if you answer his call and begin to seek after him, he will begin to work in such a way in your life that you cannot but help to bow before his omniscience, omnipotence and love.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“PROVIDENCE is the doctrine that God orders events in history so that His purposes are achieved. The challenge is doing this while respecting human freedom. Some theologians abridge God’s providence; some curtail human freedom. A better way is to say that God takes human free choices into account in His planning. He does this by knowing how every possible person would freely choose in whatever nondetermining  circumstances God might place him in. By creating certain persons in certain circumstances, God knows exactly how they will freely choose and can plan accordingly. On this view everything that happens is either directly willed by God or permitted by God, including where and when people are born.”  -William Lane Craig, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” On Guard

 

Anyone can fake independence, as long as the infrastructure holds up and the checks keep coming.  –Janie B. Cheaney

It’s easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing- that’s the Lord’s test.  -Mahalia Jackson

Anyone can tell you about the detrimental effect of poverty on families. Some may even be able to articulate the downward spiral generational poverty creates for the children being raised in environments lacking in nutrition and proper nurturing, and living under the threat of constant danger. It is easy for those of us on the outside to make quick, dismissal judgments on the parents and their lack of motivation and seemingly lack of care for their children. Despite our sympathy for these poor kids, we often fail to genuinely realize that without significant intervention, they will likely grow up to become just like the parents who are judged today. Studies indicate that children of low social economic status are more likely to underperform in school and become involved in delinquent behaviors such as drug use and sexual promiscuity. It is also well known that children raised in safe, caring, and stable environments have the greatest chance of success. So how do you bridge the gap and break the negative cycle of poverty? It is a daunting task that requires man power that just doesn’t realistically exist, even with volunteers of the biggest hearts and the best intentions. However, one program has found a way to gather workers right from the communities and neighborhoods that need the most help. The program is based on the simple but, in this case, profound idea of mentoring.

Julie O’Donnell, Elizabeth Michalak, and Ellen Ames present a study on inner-city mentoring in an article entitled: “Inner-City Youths Helping Children: After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” The study identifies all the typical risk factors involved with inner-city neighborhoods in poverty, but they focus on the problems of peer bonding among friends who are involved in anti-social behaviors and therefore become negative influences. Rather than simply educating children about the risk of negative behaviors, the program involves collaboration between the youth, their families, schools and agencies within the community. It is based on the Social Development Model which “emphasizes bonding as a key protective factor in children’s resistance to problem behaviors.” This model theorizes that “Bonding is a sense of belonging…once children feel bonded to a social unit; they want to live according to its standards and norms.” Recognizing the strong influence of peer bonding, proponents of the Social Development Model screened older youth, who exhibited pro-social behavior, from the community and trained them to be mentors in after-school programs to younger children from the same community. Because mentors shared the same risk factors of the children they were helping, they received extensive training and support networks. They were also paid and they received consistent rewards and praise for their involvement in the program, which is called The Collaborative After-school Prevention Program. Mentors were assigned a group of no more than seven children, and while they focused primarily on social skills development, they also provided practical help with homework. Even though it was not required of them, most mentors became involved in other community activities like assisting in coaching sports teams, street clean up, and rebuilding community homes. In addition, more than 50 percent of mentors went on to college after graduating high school. And what about the younger children who were the focus of the program? They improved their study habits, stayed more focused on their homework, and improved their social skills. Equally important, it provided a safe place to be and kept them off the streets. As one mentor put it, “It gives them another place to be children. Out in the streets they can’t be children; they have to be part of the hood. They know how to load a gun before they know how to tie their shoes.” Perhaps the most successful result of the program was that the children also became bonded to the mentors and ultimately to the “pro-social units and began to internalize their standards for pro-social behavior. These protective factors should reduce problem behaviors,” which was the main goal of the Social Development Model.

In addition to the successful results of the program, research supports their findings. Studies show that children from low social economic status are at greater risk for many developmental problems. Often parents simply can’t be there for their children because they are forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, or they simply don’t have the emotional or mental abilities to care for their children. Kids who could otherwise be spending hours in front of the television or, worse, be out on the streets getting exposed to dangerous situations of drug use and possible violence, are in a safe environment learning both social and study skills. Another factor to consider, according to Kelvin Seifert and Robert Hoffnung in their book Child and Adolescent Development, families of low social economic status run a greater risk of child abuse (329). The emphasis on the bonding between mentors and the children in their groups would provide a safe place for a child to express his/her concerns to a trusted role-model; who could identify the problem and report it to the program directors. They also state that children from neighborhoods prone to violence tend to adopt highly aggressive behavior modeled by their peers (422); this program shows children, through their mentors, that they can make choices that result in positive consequences. Aside from family influences, children learn most of their social behavior from peers of their own age as well as a few years older (415).  This program offers children the ability to learn positive behaviors from older kids in their communities. The mentors have a higher chance of relating to their group members because they have shared common experiences and are working to overcome the same issues. Thus, the Social Development Model not only has proven results from its program, but the research also supports its effectiveness.

For those who take the time to implement it, a program like this could produce positive results for all members of the community. While students of both peer groups obviously benefit the most from this program with their new social and academic skills, and with the new friendships which will undoubtedly last for many years, teachers have a significant reason to invest their time in the program in any ways available. Students who go through the mentoring program will become more compliant and not only cause fewer disruptions, but with the training they receive, they will likely become positive peer role-models within their classes. These students, who may otherwise neglect homework, would receive regular help with it which would increase their ability and confidence in the classroom, and also result in better test scores for the teacher and school in general. Students and teachers are not the only ones who benefit; parents would have the confidence of knowing their children are in a safe place for at least a few hours a week. As their children increase in social skills, they will bring their new understandings of relationship to the home, and perhaps bring positive changes to the whole environment. The program could also identify areas of specific needs in the families, and point them in a direction to receive resources and help they otherwise might have been ignorant of. This program, if it is given the proper resources and funding, benefits the entire community.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing a program like this is getting the whole community involved: “The Collaborative After-school Program was a partnership among the YMCA, three elementary schools and one middle school, the department of social work at an urban university, a church, a child guidance center, an art museum, and the county probation department” (O’Donnell). That is a lot of support and a lot of collaboration. The task of gaining the support needed among local community centers is daunting in of itself, let alone coordinating and working together to make the program affective. I think it is possible to make it work; however, and very much worth the effort. This program brings together a vision I’ve been developing within myself for a few years now. I find myself disappointed and disillusioned by public school’s lack of ability to truly help out these neglected and abused children. We simply allow them to disrupt the educational process until they either shape up, or we ship them out, but there is no real help and evident care for them. On the other hand, I volunteer for an inner-city youth ministry at my church where we mostly just go and play with kids. While there is significant bonding going on, and I’ve seen very positive changes in many kids, we tend lose them in adolescence, especially the boys. A program like this would offer purpose for the older kids and give them a reason stay involved. I don’t know the best steps to take from here, but this article offers the direction I’ve been looking for in my desire to help out poor families in practical and lasting ways. I definitely plan to research this topic further.

Peter L Richardson
11/25/2006

O’Donnell, Julie, Michalak, Elizabeth A., and Ellen B. Ames. “Inner-City Youths  Helping Children After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” Social Work in Education 19.4 (1997): 231-241. Academic Search Premier. 21 November 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Seifert, Kevin L., and Robert J. Hoffnung. Child and Adolescent Development 5th Ed. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, 2000.

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

“It’s a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his characters—and then he has two natures…History is a broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”  –Peter Kreeft

“You can’t beat free!” Those used to be my favorite words. When I was younger, I used to love getting free stuff. I would take things I didn’t even need if they were being offered for free, but as I’ve grown older and wiser and more jaded, when someone is offering me something for free my first thought now is, “What’s the catch? There’s nothing in this world that’s free.” The more I interact with humans, the more I learn there are only a few I can really trust; however, there is one thing in this life I’ve discovered is truly free. So fully free; in fact, that we humans have trouble accepting it or even grasping it. In Galatians 5:1, Paul proclaims: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The free gift of salvation is one of a kind. It is offered to anyone who desires it, and God freely gives it out at any time you make the request no matter who you are or what you’ve done. What happens after that seems to be another matter for many people. Make no mistake, if you were sincere in receiving and believing God’s grace, your place in heaven is secure, but the experiences of the Christian life has as much variety as the individuals living them out. Some may be called to torture and death as witnesses for the name of Jesus while somewhere around the world there are others, just as sincere, to whom God pours out riches so they can use the resources for his good will. Both are giving their lives to God, and both will receive honor from Him in the next age. The path for such honor and trust from the Father is never an easy one.

In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul exhorts us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” This scripture tells us we have to work out our faith; we have to put effort into believing and trusting in God’s salvation. “With fear and trembling” implies that our faith is something that needs to be very well protected, to be in awe of, and something we need spend time developing and working on. However, immediately the scripture tells us that it is actually God doing the work. Some interpret this to mean we are left out of the equation—that we take no part in our salvation and the development of faith whatsoever. Even the act of believing in God can be made only if God decides to give the revelation of the truth and therefore let you in on the secret that Jesus is the way to salvation. They claim that if it is the individual who chooses to follow God after hearing the Truth, it would be works that saves him and not God’s grace. I do not believe it has to be so black and white.

Obviously, we are saved only by grace. There nothing more clear in the New Testament than that truth, and we find the same theme throughout the Old Testament: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Even our ability to believe in God’s salvation is dependent on his grace. But the key word I use here is ability. Every human being from Adam to the last child conceived before the Lord’s Second Coming has the ability to believe. There comes a certain age, and I believe it is different for each person according to their genes and experiences, when we must make a choice: Follow God, or follow “Me” (the self). Once we reach this age of accountability and the choice is officially offered to us, we have every breathing moment after to decide to follow God’s path or follow our own way. There is a place in our journey where choosing to follow God leads to our salvation, but making that choice does not add anything to God’s work in our lives and in our hearts. We have not taken anything away from his sovereignty; for in his sovereignty he chose to give us free will. Before creation he already knew the consequences of our rebellion, yet he chose to do it anyway.

To be clear: The act of, the moment of, the birth of our salvation, of the new life being sealed in us is all done by the Lord and there is nothing we can do with it except to say, “Yes, Lord! I believe.” Working out our salvation simply means that after our first submission to God we continue to make the same choice over and over again to let God in and do his work in us. We cannot renew our minds without the Holy Spirit; we cannot become new creations or have our hearts washed clean by our own will; we are dependent on God to do it all. But we must make the choice to submit to God’s work in us by following the principles he teaches in his Word and spending intimate time in prayer and worship with him, so we can learn to hear his voice and follow his guidance and wisdom. God does not force salvation on anyone; neither does he turn away anyone who desires it. It is a free gift, but in order for the gift to take effect, the gift must be received. If a man comes to me and says, “Pete, I have prepared a great banquet in your honor! All the work is done: the food is prepared, the guests are invited; I have even booked all your favorite bands to play. All you have to do is show up.” I can choose to trust this man and come with him to the party. Or I can consider him a fool who is trying to play me and walk away in disbelief. Can’t you see that all the work has been done by him, but the choice is still mine to receive the gift? God’s free gift of salvation works the very same way.

When the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt and presented his Law to them through Moses, he offered them a choice: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). The Law was brought to us to reveal two things: First, God’s expectation of righteousness with the promise that if we could manage to live up to it, we would have nothing but blessing flow into our lives. Secondly, we could never really live up to God’s expectations because we are too morally weak and frail. Bringing the Law set the stage for humanity to understand our need for salvation. Today God offers us the same choice; only instead of following a complicated and impossible law, we only have to commit to entering into relationship with Jesus and follow his principles by accepting his free gift of salvation through the cross and his resurrection.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.”  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.” –C.S. Lewis, “The Trouble with ‘X’” God in the Dock