A certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive, especially to a psychologist.  -Sigmund Freud

When I hear the name Sigmund Freud, images of his famous therapy couch always come to mind. But who is this icon of psychology who still has so much influence over modern Western thought? Just a basic understanding of Freud requires a study of his structure of personality, the defense mechanisms, and of course his psychosocial stages of development. The foundation of Freud’s work is the structure of personality; the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is what drives the unconscious mind; it is our animalistic instincts. Based on physical drives like hunger and sex, the id seeks only to please itself. The ego represents the conscience mind, it thinks realistically and logically, it makes plans. The ego knows how to satisfy the needs of the id, but it also knows when the needs of the id need to be repressed until appropriate times. The superego is the moral code that a person develops through the laws of society and the values of parents that have been instilled in the individual since birth. The superego influences and exists in both the id and the ego. Ideally, it creates balance between the two, but often there is conflict, which creates anxiety in the individual. The ego responds to anxiety by using various defense mechanisms. The purpose of the defense mechanisms is to reduce stress; everyone does this from time to time, but it can become a problem if an individual begins to rely too much on them and try to avoid reality. Examples of defense mechanisms are: repression, denial, reaction formation, projection, displacement, sublimation, rationalization, regression, identification, and intellectualization. Freud believed that the personality developed through the psychosexual stages of oral, infants exploring with their mouths; the anal stage, where toddlers are supposedly are obsessed with their feces; the phallic stage where young kids like to play with themselves; latency, where older kids get to just be kids, and finally the genital stage where adolescents begin to discover and pursue the opposite sex. If kids make it through these stages with minimal problems, they’ll grow up into healthy adults.

Freud obviously is invaluable to modern psychology, as he laid the foundation for many forms of therapy that have helped generations of people overcome multitudes of problems, but I find many of his ideas outdated to say the least with some bordering on the absurd and can only come from a worldview that rejects God as an ultimate authority of morality. While there are many details of Freud’s theories I have trouble with, his psychosexual stages are where he and I most significantly part ways. I believe that human beings are sexual in nature, and we all need to develop a healthy understanding of our sexuality. However, I don’t think our sexual natures are truly awakened until adolescence unless there is some kind of abuse or neglect which results in early exposure. Kids aren’t obsessed with their poop, nor are they trying to get off when they play with themselves, they are just exploring their bodies. Boys don’t want to have sex with their moms and girls don’t want to be with their dads. Thankfully, Erik Erikson offers his take on the stages of psychosocial development which are much more realistic and reasonable.

According to Freud, the development of personality, including the formation of the id, ego, superego and defense mechanisms, depends upon an individual’s “psychosexual” development during his/her childhood. What happens, or doesn’t happen, to an individual during five important stages greatly determines who he/she becomes as an adult. Freud believed that each stage is based on biological drives and the child needs to explore and satisfy sexual needs through the pleasure principle in order to successfully move on to the next stage. Erik Erikson, a student of Freud’s sister, Anna, who took up her brother’s work after he died, supported the idea that individuals each have stages they must work through, but he rejected Freud’s pleasure principle and emphasized that success in each stage is dependent on how the individual relates to the outside world, calling the stages psychosocial; in addition, Erikson has added three additional stages into adulthood and old age. Following is a short comparison of each stage.

Freud called the first year of life the oral stage, in which a child explores his world and seeks to find gratification through the mouth; their basic needs are founded in nurturing mothers. Erikson calls this stage trust vs. mistrust. He states that if an infant does not get his basic needs met during this stage, he may develop an attitude of mistrust later in life. Freud considers ages one to three to be the anal stage, when a child’s focus in on the anal zone. Erikson calls this stage autonomy vs. shame and doubt, in which the child begins to test her limits in the world around her. How her parents respond to the testing, and where they place the boundaries on their children, can greatly influence the child’s ability to be autonomous as adults. Freud calls the ages of three to six the phallic stage. This is when the child supposedly has unconscious sexual desires for the parent of the opposite sex, and therefore considers the parent of the same sex to be competition; this is called the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls. Erikson calls this stage initiative vs. guilt. During this stage, children begin to develop a sense of competence in the tasks they choose to perform. If they are given freedom to experiment, they will develop a positive self-image and take initiative later in life; however, if they are not permitted to make their own choices, they may develop a sense of guilt over any decisions they make as adults.

During the school years, ages six to twelve, what Freud call the latency stage, kids finally get to stop unconsciously thinking about sex, and just enjoy being kids; this is when they begin to develop relationships with others outside their immediate family. Erikson calls this stage industry vs. inferiority. This is when a child learns the basic skills for success, and what is expected of him or her through society. If the child does not feel he is learning at the expected rate, he may develop feelings of inferiority that last throughout adulthood. Freud’s final stage occurs in adolescence, ages twelve to eighteen, and sometimes continues through to adulthood. This is called the genital stage, when children work through the struggles of puberty, and they begin to focus their sexual energy on members of the opposite sex. Erikson calls this stage identity vs. role confusion which is the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is when individuals search for identity and try to discover their true selves. Many individuals spend years discovering their role and place in the world. Erikson also added three additional stages in adulthood which are intimacy vs. isolation in young adulthood when the goal is to form intimate relationships, generativity vs. stagnation in middle age when the focus is providing for the next generation, and integrity vs. despair in later life when one should be able to look back at life with few regrets. When compared side by side, Erikson’s stages of development just make more sense than Freud’s and offer us a much more healthy analysis for determining childhood issues.

What Freud and I do agree on is his theory of defense mechanisms. I can see a lot of those in myself and in others as well. Freud states that the ego copes with anxiety by using defense mechanisms. Individuals will unconsciously deny or distort reality to reduce stress. The infrequent use of defense mechanisms is normal; however, often the consistent use of defense mechanisms becomes a problem as some individuals use them to avoid reality altogether. There are many types of defense mechanisms; however, the following four are often the most common.

Repression is a defense mechanism in which individuals will repress, or bury deep into their unconscious, traumatic events that occurred during childhood. The individual is unable to cope with remembering the experience, so it is pushed deep into an unconscious level in order to avoid reliving the pain. Often the pain will resurface in some form in adulthood, as psychological issues or in a physical manifestation.

Denial is a defense mechanism in which an individual refuses to accept the reality of some kind of traumatic event. Rather than experience the pain of the trauma, the individual will pretend he doesn’t care, or even pretend it hasn’t happened. Another form of denial is when an individual refuses to admit problems that are obvious to everyone else.

Projection is when an individual has feelings or thoughts she considers unacceptable, and rather than dealing with reality of the negative parts her personality, she projects the negative behaviors on others and becomes judgmental towards them, because she unconsciously is punishing herself through judging the others.

Rationalization is the defense mechanism when an individual tries to explain away an area of themselves, or an event or action they committed in which they feel inferior. Rather than accept the responsibility of the mistake or lack of ability. The individual will make excuses for himself and rationalize the problem away in his mind.

As a teacher, it helps to be able to identify some of these behaviors in my students, so I can deal with them and the problem in an appropriate way, but we all should become familiar with them so we can recognize if we might be using any of them in an unhealthy way. After all, the whole point of seeking to gain a better understanding of ourselves is so that we can have healthy relationships with others.

After taking the time to study his work, I have a better understanding of Freud’s importance in the foundation of psychology that he laid down. Personally, I have always loved the concept of free association. I have an artistic background and have created many of my best paintings, poems, and songs by just letting my mind and hands wander through my imagination. I think that is part of why art therapy is so successful. And although I don’t agree with Freud’s specific interpretation of dream symbols, I do think exploring dreams is an important part of therapy and can be used to discover many unconscious issues a client might be having. Therefore, even though I disagree with many details in his theories, I recognize that if it wasn’t for Sigmund Freud, we may not have the knowledge and understanding of the human psyche and personality that we have today. However, despite my renewed respect for him, reading up on his specific theories has only led to reinforce what I can accept and what I think should be rejected.

Peter L Richardson
9/5/07

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

Andree Seu, writer for World Magazine, begins one of her columns with an anecdote from the Old Testament: “It just so happens that the unraveling of Haman’s plot began when the king could not sleep one night. This is the point at which things began to run in reverse—when the gallows erected for Mordecai were turned on his own neck, and the annihilation of the Jews became the annihilation of their enemies. Everything hinged on the reading of the records of the chronicles of the king on the occasion of a touch of insomnia.” She later declares “I can do nothing to direct my path or to ensure my own well-being or prosperity or happiness, because I cannot see around corners; therefore I will obey the Holy Spirit all my life” (World Mag, 2/25/12).

Many Christians like to quote the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, which is often interpreted as, “If you love God, everything is going to work out okay!” But the question is how and when? If you keep on reading, this verse is set in the context of predestination, and some conclude that the “okay” really only happens after death in heaven and it is only for those select few God has randomly chosen to accept through Jesus. But is God really that limited?  Here is the verse with the next two that follow:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

The key word here is “foreknew.” At the moment God decided to create this existence we are a part of, he, being omniscient, knew the outcome of it all. He knew that Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit, he knew Cain would kill Able, and that much of mankind would reject him and choose to live wickedly. Therefore, he wrote into the story, into history: His Story, the plan of salvation through the Godhead person of the Son, Jesus. He predestined, or predetermined, a way out of judgment for the human creations he loves. He knew beforehand every human being who would reject or accept him, yet he still considered creation worth the trouble. Now, the scripture says those he foreknew he predestined–> those he predestined he called–> those he called he justified–> those he justified he glorified. I believe it works like this:

Predestined: God has a predetermined plan for every human being’s life. Before you are born he has laid out the blueprint of your life, and has called you to fulfill a plan and purpose. This plan and this purpose will be discovered when you begin to seek out truth, wisdom and love.

Called: As you grow, you discover your desires and your talents through nature and nurture. Some things are written into your DNA, while others are born out of life experiences. No matter what time and place you were born into, God has “written” in signs pointing to him and his plan for your life. All of it is a part God’s greater plan for the universe of this age; however, you make the choice of how closely you follow the plan. (I should mention that God’s plan may at times come with great risk and peril for your life; however in general, he will call you to do the very work that you find yourself passionate about and naturally skilled for. The trick is using your gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God in service to mankind instead of just for your own pleasure and means. This service comes in many forms and sizes.)

Justified: We all have the seed of rebellion planted in us. It is passed down from generation to generation, and it is only through the grace provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are able to be made justified. If you choose to follow God and his principles; he will work on your behalf in order for you to do the work and follow the call he has set before you. When your will begins to line up with God’s will, he “levels your path” and answers your prayers. Salvation from eternal death is the free gift of God, but once that gift is accepted; your action of obedience is required for God to be able to complete the work of developing your character and leading you to discover your destiny.

Glorified: Beginning here on earth and continuing later in heaven, God will honor and reward you for choosing to be obedient to the plan he predetermined, or predestined, in your life. (This honor is often not as the world considers honor to be; most of God’s greatest saints pass through history without fame, but they are certainly written into God’s book of life and learn to live their time on earth with a joy and contentment few humans fully understand.) Some would say at this point that God is no longer sovereign if we can stray from the plan and that if we have such free will it diminishes his power. To quote Paul: “by no means!” In my opinion this is where the paradox that is beyond human comprehension comes to light. The fact that God is still accomplishing his plan and purpose despite the free will of billions of humans throughout time just proves how omnipotent and omniscient this God of ours truly is!

This concept also works in the negative. Paul continues to discuss in his letter to the Romans God’s sovereign choice of hardening the hearts of the Jews during Jesus time and the early church so that the gospel would be spread out among the entire world and offered to the Gentiles. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh’s standoff with Moses during the Exodus. Scripture says that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart in order to display his might and power to the Israelites, and later to the world through scripture, in order to build up their faith in him. However, this does not mean that he blocked Pharaoh’s will at any time. God can look into the deepest areas of our souls, into the very essence of our being. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Consider the analogy of a parent who has a good relationship with his child. I know my son pretty well, I know what to say to calm him down when he’s upset, and I also know how to get him excited when he’s feeling down. I could also use that knowledge to push his buttons and provoke a negative reaction in him. True, that is manipulation, but I ask, is manipulation wrong if a greater good will come of it? Perhaps so, considering we are limited to a human perspective, but when it comes to God, who defines himself as love, who claims to be good, can we trust him to manipulate “the clay” at his disposal for the greater good of mankind? Your answer depends on whether or not you believe he is really good.

That is a matter we all need to settle in our own individual hearts. What’s important for this argument is to understand that God did not possess Pharaoh’s heart or use mind control on him for the Exodus. He just knew how to push his buttons. God simply (fore)knew that if he called Moses to stand up to Pharaoh, his pride (and perhaps the threat of losing his cheap labor) would cause him to say “No; absolutely not!” God could have broken the Israelites free right then and there with his power and glory, but the Israelites probably weren’t quite ready for freedom at that point. God knew a hard response from Pharaoh would serve to develop their character and faith, both as individuals and as a people. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” Consider how a watercourse is directed and manipulated by men. We cannot actually cause the water to flow, but we can manipulate where and how it flows by putting up barriers and dams and obstacles and digging ditches. In the simile here, the water is the desires and fears flowing from the heart of the king, and God puts up barriers and dams and obstacles and digs ditches to get the king’s heart to flow in one direction or another.

If God needs to put up obstacles and/or level our paths to develop our character and bring us blessing, doesn’t that mean that our minds and hearts are still our own to make choices and respond how we want? Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just use mind control and force us to go one way or the other? God knows our hearts through and through and he knows our thoughts before we even make them; however, it is still our own will and mind that makes the thoughts that make choices as we respond and react to the world we live in. This is just one example of how God is able to work around and despite our free will. This is how he is still sovereign, yet we are still responsible for our choices and the consequences we bear for them whether good or bad.

God used the 10 plagues of the Exodus to harden Pharaoh’s heart and to reveal his power to the Israelites, but Paul uses this story to explain why God might harden the hearts of the Jews in order to bring salvation to all mankind. He also tells us that God desires for all men to be saved, and this includes the Jews. He almost rebukes his Gentile audience as he explains that God will eventually “graft” the Jews back into his kingdom. We see today more and more Jews coming to salvation as they realize the messiah they have been longing for was Jesus, and the promised kingdom is a spiritual kingdom that includes all peoples. Not even Judas, who was so important to God’s plan of salvation, acted outside of his own free will; yet it was God’s sovereignty that caused all things to fall into place at the chosen time in order that we who would choose to follow God’s way would be saved. Andree Seu ends her column with this thought: “Line up your ducks in a row, if you please. But God sees beyond your row, and it will be better in the end, every time, for the person who yields to the still, small voice of the Spirit. For God is the Lord of the ‘just so happens.’”

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

Peter L Richardson 2010-2012

Something from the experts:

“It is logically impossible to make someone do something freely. That is as logically impossible as making a round square or a married bachelor. God’s being all-powerful does not mean that He can bring about the logically impossible…Some goods, for example, moral virtues, can be achieved only through the free cooperation of people…The idea here is that given human freedom, God’s options are restricted.”

–William Lane Craig, “What About Suffering,” On Guard

Vivian: In Memoriam

April 19, 2012

Without life you become earth, the bearer of herb, rock, seed, root. You are the energy of ocean, the force behind mountains. You are gravity. You are echo. You are the mother of dreams, the father of song, the child of eternity.  -Vivian Branton, “Absence”

Space is the place
you dropped out of
Like an angel
into my dark night.

Drifting through the cosmos
all stardust unawares
When your hand reached down
spun me ’round
And planted a compass
and a drum in my heart.

Like seed in the dirt
Your vibrant rainbow voice
dropped
courage,
faith,
wisdom,
truth
Into the cracked holes of my soul
Until I began to believe
in the dream.

Now you return to the ethereal chorus
Singing in the great cloud of witness.
Your tune weaving in, out and around
stands out from the rest,
Your heartbeat rythmn
competes and completed with the best.

But your mark is still among us earthdwellers.
Your garden grows deep within my own,
and now I spread the seed
you once planted in me;
I set the compass for
drifters in the sea.
Fruit grown from the kindness you once shared with me:
“Ya know what I mean, jellybean?”

I will not waste your legacy.

Peter L Richardson
4/15/12

 

In “Blending Native American Spirituality with Individual Psychology in Work With Children,” the authors, Darline Hunter and Cheryl Sawyer, discuss the many ways that counselors have been successfully integrating techniques based on Native American philosophy to help children who feel disconnected from society develop healthy social  connections. They begin by emphasizing Alder’s theory that in order for individuals to be emotionally whole and healthy they must become fully integrated in and feel connected with society as a whole, and they must become a contributing member of society. They continue to discuss various ways children feel and  become disconnected from society, and the negative impact on their behaviors and emotions. They state that when the “basic needs of all humans (belonging, mastery, independence, generosity) are not being met…children become alienated and act out their senses of disconnectedness” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006).

The authors follow up discussing the need for an effective therapy for disconnected children with stating the similarities between psychotherapeutic goals and Native American philosophies. According to Adler, individuals need to have “a sense of harmony with the universe…contact with others…[and] empathy for others” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006). This is similar to Native American philosophies of being “in harmony with nature…[being] valued above and beyond possessions…emphasiz[ing] self-sufficiency…and respect for the elderly” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006). Hunter and Sawyer go on to describe how certain Native American values and beliefs coincide with many of the goals of psychotherapy. One example is the Medicine Wheel which teaches children the need to be connected with the self, with others, with the natural environment, and with the spirit world. Next, therapists use Pet Therapy to help children learn how to safely bond and empathize with other creatures, and to teach them how to be responsible and take care of others. Therapists also use Nature Therapy where children learn gardening. They get the experience of putting their hands in the dirt, and they learn the value of patience while waiting for the fruit and flowers to grow. Children are encouraged to share what their gardens have produced with others, helping them to experience being a contributor while learning the value of purpose. The therapy emphasizes a need for belonging and the need for mastery.  Children learn to belong through “talking circles” where they learn to accept and respect others, and they learn the value of listening to others as well as expressing oneself. They are taught to value mastery through the Native American belief that “someone with more competence is not a rival but a resource and that achievement is sought for personal reasons, not out of competition” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006).

Hunter and Sawyer support their findings with research from a variety of authors and experts. They present the need for disconnected children to receive effective therapy to help them become integrated into society. They show the various links between psychological goals and Native American values. They spend time stating details of the different techniques therapists use that are based on Native American teaching and rituals. The authors show the effectiveness of the techniques by stating the results of specific case studies to let the reader know the practical application of the therapy. The only weakness in the article is that Hunter and Sawyer never make it clear which specific age groups are best served by the therapy. Some sessions seem very juvenile, and are not likely to appeal to teens, while others seemed to deal with complex ideas that might be over the heads of very young children. Despite these weaknesses, however, the article is a valuable resource for anyone who works with children who are at risk and may be dealing with issues of isolation.

Peter L Richardson
9/17/2007

Hunter, D. & Sawyer, C. (2006). Blending Native American Spirituality with Individual Psychology in Work with Children. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 62, 234-248.

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

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

Just yesterday I got to participate in God telling one of his daughters that he still loves her, despite the overwhelming pain in her life. Earlier in the day my mom e-mailed me and invited me to dinner with her, my father and my brother’s family: fresh caught home fried beer battered fish. Trouble was, they were eating at 4:15. I’m not accustomed to eating so early, usually I’m just getting around to leaving work at that time, but who can resist home fried beer battered fish? I decided to rush through my afternoon duties and go straight to their house. In the meantime, my son called me from his mom’s house and asked for a ride to take his girlfriend out to dinner, and her parents would pick them up. They wanted to catch the early bird special, so they needed to get there before 6pm. My parents are not offended when I eat and run, so I told him I’d take care of him. On my way out of my parents’ neighborhood, there was a woman pulled over with front end damage and a flat tire. As I slowed down, I noticed she had her head down on her steering wheel. I pulled over and knocked on the window. Startled, she looked up with tears streaming down her face. I asked if she was okay, and she blurted out: “I don’t know how to change a tire!!”

She was physically fine, but her day started off bad and seemed to only get worse. Turns out her husband of 21 years had left her that morning, and the day was now ending with an accident. I let my son know I was going to be late, and began to work on her tire. I didn’t have the right kind of jack, so I called my father, and he came down to help. We got her set up to drive home, but advised her to get her car to a mechanic as soon as she could. My son gave up on me, and had to find a ride with someone else. As I drove home disappointed that I had let him down, I realized something. I would not have been there to help her if he had not asked for the ride in the first place, I would not have even been in the area if my mom had not invited me to dinner. Here was this woman, distraught and depressed, really in need of something positive to happen, and it just so happened that I came riding by and felt guilty enough to stop and help her. I’ve been in her shoes before, and I know what a little kindness does. Did God move time and the universe in such a way that I would be there and be willing to help her out? Not that I did anything to really be applauded for, a better man would probably have done more, but how much worse would her day have been if I had just decided to drive past? Because I almost did.

These are the moments when God’s sovereignty and our free will come into contact. I have to admit with shame that more often I choose to take care of my business and find ways to justify. Does God bring others to help when I choose not to? How much control do we have in our own fate? Does God allow us to blow it for others when our free will mostly leads to selfishness? But then, how does he seem to control the pulse of the universe despite us running around screwing things up? The Bible makes it clear that God is all powerful and sovereign, yet it is also clear that we human beings, from the very beginning of creation, have the freedom to make our own choices by which we are judged. The Bible teaches both predestination and free will. Some look at this as a contradiction, and proof that Christianity is a false religion, but there are many other paradoxes in the universe that science cannot explain.  If you choose to believe the Bible, then you have no choice but to believe that both predestination and human free will are true. But how? I am no expert, but these are some of my thoughts on the matter.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, the Apostle Paul states: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

There are those in the church who teach that the predestined in this passage are those humans that God has decided to hand pick for salvation. There is nothing in them that deserves this honor, apparently God in his mercy just randomly chooses who gets to go to heaven and the rest of us get the punishment we deserve. According to this philosophy, if humans make a choice to follow God on their own, that is a work, and we are only saved by grace. I believe the “we” who are predestined here is the collective church, not individuals. In this scripture, Paul says “And you [speaking to individual believers] were also included…When you believed, you were marked…with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Thus, we can conclude that these predestined were not chosen by God until they made the choice to believe in Christ and therefore bear the mark of the Holy Spirit.

When God created the universe and decided to create beings that could think for themselves, he wasn’t surprised when our ancestors decided to do just that and rebel against him by not following the laws he set up in the universe. These laws were created out of love for our protection. It is not like God is up in heaven with a stick waiting to beat anyone who screws up; God’s moral laws are more like his laws of physics. If you walk off a cliff there will be consequences for trying to defy the law of gravity. God knows the boundaries of his creation, and if we are obedient to his principles, we will live happier and more fulfilling lives. However, just as God knew free will would allow individuals to reject him, he also knew many of us would choose to seek obedience to him and return the love that he offers to all humanity. It is when the individual chooses to “believe” that he joins the ranks of God’s people who are “predestined.” Therefore, it is not the individual who is predestined—or predetermined by God to be saved or not saved—but rather it is the way to salvation that was predestined from God’s first thought of the creation of our universe and age. And that way is Jesus.

I tell the story of the woman with the flat tire because this is the proof for me that not only is God  sovereign, but he rules his creation in and through love. I have been that woman more often than I have been the one being used for the rescue. This is why I know that I have free will also. Rebellion is in my heart even though I know following God’s will is better. I know I have a choice because I frequently make the wrong choice, yet I know that God is in control because when I call out to him, he is always there to catch me in my fall and lift me back up again.

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

-Peter L Richardson 2011-2012

Something from the experts:

“We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit…that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with his own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise.”  -C.S. Lewis, “Work and Prayer,” God in the Dock

Alcoholics Anonymous

February 25, 2012

As soon as I walked through the door of the old brick church she saw me. “Oh my,” she stammered. “It’s so nice to see a familiar face here; although I never would have expected you!” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled. It was a Saturday afternoon, 3:00. “Is this your first meeting?” She asked, “You look nervous.” I paused with an “Umm, yes, but…” and she cut me off: “Well don’t worry; everyone here accepts everyone. We’re all struggling with the same thing. That’s whole point of AA!” By this time, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was there on assignment. I was working on my masters in Guidance Counseling, and my professor required each of her students to observe a group meeting and write a paper on our observations. I decided to simply thank my greeter for her kindness, and we were called in so the meeting could get started.

Even though I knew the reality of this fact before I walked in, I could not help being surprised by the variety of people who were seated around the circle of the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There were definitely all of the stereotypical alcoholics in the room, some were even obviously under the influence, but there were people from every walk of life: a young man right out of high school, a successful businessman, a teacher and even a sweet little old grandmother. Everyone seemed to be in a different place with their recovery, but there was an atmosphere of acceptance and support throughout the whole meeting.

When the meeting started off, however, I found it to be a little dry. The leader, an alcoholic herself, began by reading off AA’s mission statement and purpose, then someone read a summary of the twelve steps, and another volunteered to read something about the need for a higher power, all very formal and non-motivating, but what happened next changed the direction of the whole meeting. The woman leading asked if there were any new comers. I nervously shrunk in my seat because I didn’t want to admit why I was there. Fortunately a woman put up her hand and stated, “This is my first time at any meeting.” What happened next made it clear to me why the Alcoholics Anonymous Program has been so successful for so many people for so long. One at a time someone in the room welcomed her, told her how they understood where she was coming from, shared their experience of their first time, talked about what it took for them to overcome their addiction, and finally how their lives had changed for the better since they’ve made the commitment to stay sober. Their stories were very real, and therefore very touching and inspiring. While individuals were sharing, a list was going around for the ladies in the group to put their phone numbers on so the new member would have someone to call and talk to “whenever you need it, any time of the day or night.”

From my brief perspective, it seemed that the power behind these meetings was not really dependant on the program itself, but on the people in the program, their willingness to be transparent, their ability to accept anyone, regardless of their outward differences, and their determination to help each other stay focused on their goals. They obviously cared for each other and they shared a bond that goes beyond the common experience of addiction; it was a bond that is made through joining together in the struggles to overcome the addiction not just in themselves, but in anyone who is willing to make the change. A bond that reveals what any group of humans can accomplish when there is a willingness to accept one another for who they are, give each other support and encouragement during their weakness and trials, and celebrate together their successes and accomplishments, all while acknowledging a higher power with humility and submission. It was no surprise to me when I found out that the Twelve Steps are originally based on Biblical Principles handed down to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter L Richardson
May, 2007

Digging for Truth:

January 14, 2012

          Thoughts on Evangelism

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Every man and woman will be called to give an account of the life they lived. Each individual person in history is responsible for the choices they each made in life, in particular, the response to God’s call to receive forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus. But how responsible are we who believe for delivering the message? Is it possible that people I have known, and even loved, will experience hell because of something I did or because of something I didn’t say? In the great commission, Jesus has called us to be his witnesses. We are called to go into all the world and proclaim his truth. I tend to think of this calling as something like a courtroom drama: As a witness, I am called to the stand to give my testimony, and I take an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Whether or not the judge, jury, media and public all believe me is up to them. I did my job and gave witness and their fate is now in their own hands. But the question that often haunts me is how reliable is the witness?

Recently, I was thinking about the fruits of the Spirit Paul lists in his letter to the Galatians, and it occurred to me that truth was not mentioned as one. I found this peculiar, and as I began to ponder I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me: “It’s because I AM the truth.” I thought about this, and I believe it goes deeper than Jesus’ statement, “I am the way, and the truth and the life…” (John 14:6). All the fruits of the Spirit are actions, things we should be doing as result of the Holy Spirit living in us and guiding us to the truth. The ebb and flow of life causes us to move in and out of different kinds of action in various degrees; sometimes we are called to love, sometimes we are called to be gentle, sometimes we are called to forbear trials. But the Truth is a constant. It just is or it isn’t. Jesus calls himself “the” truth, and he calls Satan the father of lies (John 8:44). We can choose not to accept the truth; we can choose to believe a lie, but that does not change what, or rather who, the truth is. I can believe water is dry all I want, but that doesn’t change the truth that it’s actually wet. As the scriptures proclaim, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  And that is where the fruits of Spirit come in. If Christians were actually living by the guidance and the actions of the Holy Spirit; if we were actually doing love, peace, kindness, goodness to others on a consistent basis, would the world trust our testimony as witnesses for the Truth more? Bringing the lost into the kingdom of heaven starts with our testimony, but it doesn’t end there. We are also called to be harvesters.

I think sometimes Christians look at the wickedness of the world and rather than be witnesses of the truth, we instead choose to become the judge and jury. Out of fear of our own corruption, we place judgment on the lost and lock ourselves behind stained glass windows and Christian contemporary t-shirts and CDs. Our lives cease to give witness because they become symbols of judgment to the lost. We use the words of Jesus to justify the reaction of the people who reject us: Well, the word says the path to destruction is wide, but the way to life is narrow, and not too many choose it, but I’m sure glad I did! (Matt7:13-14). But how are we to know who will or will not be among “the few” who find their way? The Apostle Paul was so unlikely to believe in Jesus that after he dramatically found the Truth, most of the believers thought he was trying to trick them so he could persecute them (Acts 9). When Jesus declares himself as the Truth, he also states he is the only way to he Father. Could it be the metaphor of the narrow road and small gate to life simply means that Jesus is the only way? But back to fruit. 

Two chapters later (Matt 9:35-38), Jesus also declares, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,” and then he tells his disciples to pray to God to send out more workers. This sounds like there’s a plenty big harvest that current workers in the kingdom of heaven need to be bringing in. So what is this harvest? How does it grow? And where does it come from? Think of how farmers get a harvest in the natural world. They till the ground, they plant the seed, they water the seed, God makes it grow into mature plants that produce more fruit with more seed, and in the right time they collect a bountiful harvest fit for a feast. Paul states, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are Gods fellow workers; you are God’s field…” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).Even though a farmer in the natural can’t make seeds grow into mature plants; it still takes some work on the part of man to produce a good harvest, and when he does so, it even takes work to bring in the bounty. Our job as Christians is to do the same kind of work to bring in the lost.

First, we must till the ground. We till ground by proclaiming the word of our testimony. We speak the Truth, and we speak it boldly and confidently, though also with love and humility. The Truth is the most absolute thing in the universe. It cannot be broken, so it is the tool needed to till the fallow ground of the souls of those who are lost. John Milton says, “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”  Jesus is also called the Word of God (John 1). It is essential for a Christian to study the Bible and to know it, and to be in relationship with it, because the Bible is the Word of God which is Jesus, and when read with humility and with intention of communing with God, scripture becomes a source of wisdom, love and life because God is the source of all those things. So we get to know the Truth and we proclaim Him and we till the ground of the community of souls living around us. Tilling the ground is essential for making good soil for seed to grow in, consider the parable of the sower: worry, deceit, and lust for material things keep a soul’s ground fallow, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:23, italics mine). Later Paul says, “How can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’” (Romans 10:14-15). However, if the farmer only tills, he will not get any fruit. Sowing must be done.

This brings me back to my original verse:But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). We are called to sow the seeds of the fruits of the spirit simply by doing the actions of the fruits of the spirit: We show kindness to others, we bear trials with patience and peace, we show love even to our enemies, when someone strikes out at us, we are gentle in return, we are faithful and trustworthy, we are full joy even in the midst of tragedy because our hope is a real and genuine hope, and it is this fruit that is proof that the Holy Spirit is real and he has joined himself to us. We sow the seeds of the Holy Spirit in others by living our lives in the maturity of character his influence creates in us. Just as an apple seed will grown into an apple tree under the right conditions, so kindness begets kindness, love begets love, joy begets joy. However, just as a farmer needs to do more than till the soil, only sowing random seeds rarely produces mature Christians. Consider the words of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army: “To get a man soundly saved it is not enough to put on him a pair of new breeches, to give him regular work, or even to give him a University education. These things are all outside a man, and if the inside remains unchanged you have wasted your labor.” The soul must be tilled with the Truth before the fruit of the Spirit can take root. But neither can the seeds grow without sunshine and water.

Consider the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). He called himself the living water and declared that if we drink his water, we will never go thirsty. In our modern society, it is hard to imagine what true thirst really is, but consider how amazing a drink of cool water is on a hot and dry day of hard physical labor. Jesus offers us this refreshment to our souls. Jesus also declared that he was the light of the world (John 8:12). His light gives us understanding and it enables us to see clearly his truth verses the lies and corruption of the devil and the world and even the lies that we tell ourselves. His light exposes our sin and allows us to deal with it and get healthy. We can only live in the light of God and only drink from his springs if we live in the presence of Jesus. The only way to live in the presence of Jesus is to know him intimately and invite him into our daily lives. We must seek to have a relationship with him and choose obedience to his way. When souls tilled with Truth and rooted with seeds of the spirit see how living in obedience to God brings blessing to those who do so, they will seek to know the Giver of Life. Think of how important the combination of water and sunlight is for life on our planet! For seed to mature and bear fruit it is essential that it get the proper water and sunlight. In the natural world, farmers cannot control the rain or determine the amount of heat and light from the sun, but they can direct a watercourse within reason, and they can position certain types of plants in the best place to receive the amount of light needed for that specific plant. Likewise, we must choose to be in relationship with Jesus. God provides the light and the water, but we must choose to position ourselves take in the blessing.  

Science can teach us something of the process of photosynthesis, but it does not really help us understand the mystery of a seed becoming an abundance of fruit that feeds the needs of many, and that one of those pieces of fruit produces an abundance of seed to bring forth more fruit. So it should be for the believer and the harvest. A man’s soul hears the Truth, and his fallow ground is broken up; he feeds on the fruit of a believer, and he begins to produce the same fruit and longs for the source of it; Godly men and women share the power of God at work in their lives, they demonstrate the blessings of obedience to God; his soul is refreshed by the living water and the light of understanding comes upon him, and soon the seed that took root grows into maturity. The harvesters accept a new brother into the family of God, and he begins his own sowing and reaping for the kingdom of heaven. It seems to me that the church in our society is in somewhat of a drought. Some of us till and till and break the backs of those who long for the fruit of God, but look for it in other places because they only know a God of wrath and judgment, while others spread their seed all over, but because of fear of offending their fellow man, they never speak of the Truth who is the source of their seed. If the American church was truly living in relationship with God and becoming mature and healthy through the light of understanding and the purifying waters of life, it’s a good bet we would be a whole lot busier with the harvest.

Peter L Richardson
12/31/11-1/1/12