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.

“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there once was conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”  -Bono

Americans like big things, and we like them to come easy and convenient. 7-Eleven’s Super Big Gulp just keeps getting bigger and bigger! Pretty soon, they’ll come in keg-size. At the same time, we want all of our news wrapped up in 3 minute sound-bites; just enough to keep us informed, but not enough to force us to think. We want our sitcoms and dramas polished up in a half hour to an hour, just enough to tug the heart, but not enough to move us to change. And if it’s not on the internet, why read anything at all? If I can’t hold it in the palm of my hand; it simply isn’t worth my time. Why work for anything when it’s all handed to me? This culture of apathy and entitlement is the result of a corrupt form of the American Dream, and just as Americans have grown increasingly fat and lazy in caring for our minds and bodies, we have allowed this corruption to seep into our spiritual lives as well. While a few superstars with large followings existed in American Christianity the last half of the 20th Century, the new millennium brought on the advent of the mega-church. Churches with 1,000+ members have popped up all over the country while their leaders boast of the number of souls that are saved and contribute tithes to the ministry, but just as the super-mega-Big Gulp is full of empty calories and has no nutritional value, most of these churches produce little in the way of true converts because they are focused on numbers and membership rather than on crafting real discipleship for their members. In fact, many modern American churches preach little of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in effort to “tickle men’s ears” and become “more seeker friendly.” What does this say of the God we worship if we have to sugarcoat who he is just to get people interested?  Jesus himself said that we would be outcasts in the world, and we would have a cross to bear. How many hypocrites exist in the church because they haven’t really met Jesus yet? How many sincere people have fallen from their “faith” because they were promised a party, and when hard times hit, they had no guidance in how to use their faith to walk through? Jesus doesn’t promise us freedom from trials in this world; in fact, he openly tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but he adds, “cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33, CEV).

Make no mistake: If you align yourself with Christ; your faith will be challenged. From the beginning of this age God Almighty has had an enemy, a rebel angel, whose only real way of hurting Him is to hurt the ones He loves, mankind. Since Satan can’t fight God and win, he has set out to spread his seeds of lies, corruption and rebellion among us. Satan knew that God’s righteous justice would force him to condemn us in our sinful state. Just as he separated himself from God, his desire is to tempt every human being to rebel against God and so be separated with him in Hell. The Apostle Paul tells us, “We are not fighting humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Ephesians 6:12, CEV). We humans, however, do have a choice on whose side we will fight. Stepping out of the battle is not an option. If you choose not to fight, you will get run down and flattened by Satan. The worst part is, you probably won’t even recognize it, he is such a fine manipulator and perverter of the truth, that he can make many people think they are on the side of good when they are actually being selfish. Yet, little by little, the selfish nature increases, and eventually these people end up empty and unfulfilled. The Apostle James states, “We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead” (James 1-14-15, CEV). It seems like a losing battle, and if we stand alone, it is. Think of a tug of war. I once volunteered at a camp that had competitions between the different groups of kids. One was the tug of war. Each group would line up on the rope and struggle to pull it to their side. What if all the teen counselors competed against the campers? They might last a little while, but it won’t be long before they would be dragged away to their enemy’s side. It is like this with Satan’s temptations and our effort to pull away in our own strength. He knows our weaknesses and he plays against them.

So what’s the point? If it’s this hard to follow God, then why bother? Because he has promised and provided a way out, and that way is Jesus. We are born into sin, and that sin requires that God punish us in his righteous justice; however, Jesus took our punishment on the cross, and after dying for us, resurrected himself and gave us access to eternal life. Jesus says, “A thief comes only to rob, kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10, CEV). However, Jesus did not promise to just pull us from our troubles. What he has done, is promise to walk alongside us in them. Think of the tug of war again. We are like a young child camper, Satan is like a rebellious bratty teenager; we are getting the tarp beat out of us, until Jesus, a world class body builder, shows up and grabs the rope with us. It is a paradox in that he doesn’t take us out of the fight, but he handles the fight for us. Without him, we are lost. With him, we can do anything he allows us and calls us to do. But he expects us to fight, first defensively, and when we have learned skill in battle with the enemy, he sends us on the offensive. Why doesn’t Jesus just take us out of our troubles? Because, we would never learn to grow otherwise; we would spend the rest of eternity ignorant and trapped in our sinful mindset. We would be virtually useless for advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and bringing others into a saving knowledge of Christ. Think about a child whose mother always gets him out of trouble; he never pays the consequences of his negative actions. What kind of adult will this young man become? A lazy drain on society at best, a criminal at worst, unless he comes to his senses when the bruises of life begin to beat him down. This is the mentality of American society, and the essence of our apathy and entitlement. We have had too many generations that have fed off the prosperity of the hard working Americans of the past, but not having experienced the opportunity to work for their own achievement, they become dependant on hand outs. The Apostle Paul teaches us, “We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, CEV), but Jesus also encourages us, “This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, CEV). The work that Lord requires of us is simple. He expects us to begin a relationship with him, and to walk with him on a journey that will challenge us and develop our characters into strong and faithful servants and soldiers in the heavenly realms, so we can eventually go out into our call of adventure he has planned for us since the beginning of time. But we must make the choice to take that journey. We cannot save ourselves, our salvation is in faith in Christ alone, and our strength for the journey only comes from believing and trusting him. We must trust him in order to be able to follow him into battle. A Christianity that is only two hours a week just won’t cut it, but there are some practical things we can do to put our faith into action.  

The first thing you need to do is to pray. You cannot have a relationship with someone unless there is active communication between the two of you. God always hears us and answers us in his time; however, hearing him often takes time and practice. How do we learn to do what he wants? How do we learn to recognize his character and voice when he speaks to us in the quiet of our souls? Read the Bible. The Bible is called God’s Word; it is his message to humans to teach us how to live in peace and joy because he loves us. However, understanding some parts of the Bible can be very difficult for new believers. What do we do when we don’t understand it, or when we are having a hard time following it? Find a mentor. This is where true discipleship comes in. Every Christian needs someone stronger in the faith, or at least equal to them, someone to lean on when struggles hit them as they surely will. You need someone who can answer your questions, you need someone to hold you accountable when you are struggling with sin, you need someone to help you with practical things like moving, you need friends to hang out with that will build you up and encourage you instead of dragging you down. How can you find these people? You need to find a healthy church to fellowship in. Unfortunately, there are many churches that have watered down the gospel at best, and corrupted it into something false at worst, but you must find fellowship. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. You will eventually get shot down. You must trust that God is good and he will bring you to a good fellowship at some point on your journey. You job is simply to keep walking it out with him. Christianity is a religion based on relationship, first to God, then to our brothers and sisters in the faith, and finally to the lost: those to whom we are called to be witnesses of the love and peace that our God offers to those willing to submit and take up their crosses in the training grounds of life.  

 Peter L Richardson

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  The Gospel of John 6:51-56

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospel of John 1:1

A while back my son woke up earlier than usual and he caught me reading my Bible in the early hours of the morning.

“Dad, I know the Bible is important, but why do you read it everyday?” he asked. “I mean, seriously, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s in it by now!”

I was glad he asked, but he took me off guard and I found myself giving him a knee jerk answer that was more religious doctrine than truth, “Well, son,” I began, “the Bible itself teaches us to. In the Old Testament, God says that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The Bible is God’s Word, so we literally need it to survive spiritually, just like our physical bodies need food on a regular basis to survive.”

“But why everyday?”  He replied, “Don’t you learn enough from church every week?”

“It’s like this,” I said, “church is more like a weekend feast or party. We can go more than a day without food, but we are weaker without it. It is the same thing with what God teaches in his Word. If we only fill up once a week, we lose strength throughout the week. We need a daily reminder of the right way to live, and the more you read, the better you’ll be able to understand Sunday sermons, or witness to friends who are seeking or challenging your faith, and even to judge false teachings. When Jesus told us to pray for ‘daily bread,’ I think he meant more than just food.”

“Oh,” he pondered for a moment, “Well, speaking of food, I’m pretty hungry, can I get some pancakes?”

And that was the end of that conversation. I’m not saying I told him anything wrong, but I stopped short of the genuine reason why I read my Bible everyday, and why it’s the first thing I do after I get out of bed. 

Many people see the Bible only as a book of rules to live by, full of stories about people who are just examples of what we should or shouldn’t live like. They consider the Bible to be a blueprint of how you are supposed to live your life: If you just follow these rules then you should get good results and end up generally happy. I agree to an extent, but if you stop there, it really doesn’t matter what religion you follow. If your goal with Christianity is simply to live a good life and follow the rules the best you can, then you really don’t know what the Bible teaches, and your faith is stagnant, dead and useless.

Consider this. Think about a historical figure you admire and respect for whatever reason. He could be a fierce warrior, she could be a gallant queen, or maybe a simple person of good character who was in the right place at the right time and changed the course of history. Many of these people have written their thoughts down and published them; many witnesses of their time have written their testimony of when they met so and so. The more we admire a person, the more we seek to read about them and want to get to know them. The Bible, at its simplest level, is a document about a Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is His proof of existence. It is His thoughts about philosophy, psychology, government, love, and life in general. It tells the story of how he interacted with the world in the 6,000 or so years of history it covers. In it, this God claims to be Creator, and he tells us how he expects us to act and teaches us things about faith and forgiveness. How is this book proof he exists? How do you know Julius Caesar existed? Or Plato? Or Homer? The further we go back the less reliable the witness, right? But let’s take this analogy a bit further. Let’s say one day an ancient library is uncovered, and someone finds letters from your favorite historical figure. Amazingly, these letters are addressed to you! How could this person know about you before you were born? This is what the Bible is in addition to a Rule Book, or a collection of stories and poems; it is a letter from the God of the Universe to you. It is a letter He has written to all of his children. He wants you to know who you are and what your heritage is. He wants you to discover what the meaning of life is and what your individual purpose in all of it is. You may ask, aren’t these letters still just rules to live by? What makes them so personal?

Consider this. Think about a woman who loses her husband in war. What do you think her greatest treasure will be? It will be his love letters to her, the things he left behind that reminds her of the bond and connection they once shared, and even still share. Jesus gives us the metaphor that he is the groom and the church is his bride. It is a classic love story of the knight in shining armor riding on a white horse to save the damsel in distress from the evil dragon, except in this case the dragon thought he killed the knight. But our Savior is not just a great man who died for his beliefs or a cause that was greater than him. No, our Savior’s death was the cause he came to fulfill, because he was the only one worthy to take it on, and the only one who could defeat the very death he allowed himself to endure. Our Savior has risen from the grave and is alive and well and longing for the day he can be reconnected with the bride he loves so deeply. When you open your heart to it, the Bible is a collection of love letters God has written to humanity, to his children. When you study the words of God, it is like studying the desires and thoughts and words of your lover. A man in love will do anything to please his woman; he knows what kind of flowers she likes, he knows the way she takes her coffee, he knows her pet peeves and seeks to avoid them. It just the same with God. He already knows us with an intimacy to the core; he longs for us to know him. The more we read his Word, the more we learn of him. Just like a woman falls deeper in love with a man who proves to know her, and seeks to please her, when we actually follow God’s word and trust him and seek to live righteously, it brings us to a deeper intimacy with him. But this is still not the deepest level the Bible offers us. Letters are good, but without experiencing the man behind the letters, you can’t really get to know him. You can’t have true intimacy with a book. There is more God’s Word has to offer.

Consider this. The Bible is more like instant messaging than letters from a distance. The Bible is the Living Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This means that we can interact with scripture: we can question it, seek deeper understanding, and ask for greater wisdom. How is this possible? You cannot talk to a book. But this very book teaches us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospels teach that Jesus Christ is the very Word of God that spoke creation into existence, that raised Lazarus from the dead, and raised himself up, and yes, that inspired the prophets, priests, poets and apostles that physically wrote down the books of the Bible. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

When you read the Bible, you are actually interacting with a Person. It is a two-way conversation. The words you read are coming straight from the Lord; they are his thoughts, desires and hopes he longs to share with you. And your response is instantly known by him. If you scoff at him, he will draw back, not in fear, but out of respect for your individuality and free choice to do so. You will not be privy to deeper revelation. If you seek to follow his advice, he will strengthen your spirit and resolve; if you seek more revelation he will quietly speak to you. When you sit with the Word of God open, and read the words on the page, you are literally sitting with God. It is a relationship as much as the one you have with your wife, your kids, and your best friend. You can speak to God just the same. Consider when you spend time with others; does everything you say have to be a request? Don’t you tell your wife things about yourself that no one else knows, simply to share your heart with her? Don’t you ever sit quietly with your kids, or better yet, play with them, and there need not be words, just the sharing of experience? Don’t you ever just joke around with your best friend, just for the fun of it? God longs for you to share yourself with him and for you to let him inside of you. Sometimes reading the Word will result in more wisdom and maybe even inspire a teaching or word for someone else. Sometimes we will get comfort in tragedy; a word of encouragement can literally feel like a hug from God. Sometimes he will give us direction for a certain circumstance or situation. Sometimes, and more often than not, it’s just a simple conversation that can be full of joy and laughter; it is about spending time with each other and getting to know one another. As Creator, He knows all humans beings inside and out, but he does not force us to know him; he gives us free will. The depth of intimacy between you and God Almighty depends on your desire to know him. He calls us to seek for him. He created us to long for truth, and only he can provide that truth, because he is the Truth. The revelation of the great mystery of the ages is simple: God loves you and wants you to love him back. Now the response to that should radically change your life, but the Truth itself is simple to grasp. That is why many men and women who consider themselves wise by the world’s standards never find him, they can’t accept a Truth so plain, and likewise, why many more simple men and women have discovered the profound mystery of life, and sleep in peace at night.

This why Christianity has been called: “a relationship, not a religion.” Instead of just following a group of rules and doctrines that have been passed down over the centuries, a true Christian has a genuine interactive relationship with his God. The Bible is a key part of that relationship. It is through the Bible that we learn the language and character of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).This takes time, but just as with any other relationship, the more time you spend with a person, the more intimately you know his/her mannerisms, patterns of speech, type of character, etc. Having knowledge of the Bible will guard you from being deceived by other voices disguising themselves as God (or some form of wisdom), including your own.

This begs the question, “What about those people who don’t have access to a Bible?” Obviously, they will lack wisdom and intimate knowledge of their Creator, but they can still have a relationship with God. The Word frequently says that creation declares the glory of God, and the Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans that the combination of nature’s splendor and the moral law of right and wrong that is written in everyman’s heart (in other words, his conscience), reveals the existence of God, and they should seek to know him through him that revelation. It is a mystery we cannot understand in our current fallen state (at least the understanding has not been revealed to me), but God says “If you seek for me, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13), and Jesus later says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Throughout the ages, men have longed to know truth; what they are really seeking is Jesus. I believe Truth-Seekers who are not yet Christians are closer to God than many in the church who claim to know him. The Bible says, ergo God says, “If you seek for me you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” For the seeker who is honest and genuine, God will make the path to the Truth, to Jesus, clear in some way.

Additionally the question must be asked, “What about the thousands of people who claim the mark of Christ but don’t really seek to know him?” Their Bibles and Christian paraphernalia are on display for all to see, but a close inspection reveals a thick layer of dust. Those who just consider the Bible to be a book of rules and guidelines and nothing more can fall on either side of the narrow path. Either the rule of law becomes so strong for them they loose all compassion for others, or they, in their lack of knowledge of God’s character for want of relationship, pick and choose what rules and doctrines aught and aught not to be followed. They refuse to admit sin and repent of it; therefore, they try to manipulate the Word to fit their human perception, rather than let the Word renew their mind and bring them closer to the divine. As the Apostle Paul says, “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom…but they lack any value…” (Colossians 2:22-23). These men and women who come to church week after week and honor God with their lips but not their hearts are in for a shock at the end of this age. Unless they change course, they are destined to hear from our Lord, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). To put it in human terms, it is like the parent who makes no effort to know his child and suddenly is shocked when she ends up pregnant or in jail; it is the husband and wife who sleep side by side night after night, but never locked together in love, and one is shocked when the other suddenly leaves or is caught cheating. With no communion, there can be no intimacy. With no intimacy, there can be no real relationship. With no relationship, there is no salvation. 

So the simple answer I wish I gave my son is this: “I read the Bible everyday because I want to start my day spending time with my Creator and Savior; I love being taught by my Heavenly Father, and I long for personal intimacy with the Lover of my Soul. It is not a task; it is a joy and an honor. I am pleased to be with him, and it is time well spent.”

Peter L Richardson
8/11/10
*This one’s dedicated to Angie, a fellow lover of God’s Word.

For skeptics and doubters that the Bible has any validity at all, both historical and spiritual, check out the 8/15/10 teaching, “How can the Bible be trusted,” from Pastor Dan Betters of Stone’s Throw Church:

http://ax.itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/stones-throw-church-audio/id379274171

http://www.stonesthrowchurch.com

Why God Preferred an Adulterer and Murderer to a Man who was Impatient and Lacking Trust

Saul Attacking David, by Guercino, 1646

Saul Attacking David, by Guercino, 1646

“Your faith was strong but you needed proof
 You saw her bathing on the roof
 Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
 She tied you to a kitchen chair
 She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
 And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah”
     -from “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands; Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” 1 Samuel 18:7. Right from the beginning of his story, David is already more popular than Saul.  He has gone down in history as the good king, while Saul spent the last years of his life wrecking his reputation. However, when you examine their lives and their performance as Kings, Saul can arguably be considered the better of the two. While he sought to take David’s life many times, it was clear David would be the next king, and it was not unusual for a king of that time to seek to protect his throne. Saul certainly sinned against God, but his sins did not bring civil war and plague against Israel like David’s did. So how is it that he received such a bad reputation, while David became honored as the ideal king? The idea of good and evil in the Bible is always grounded on a spiritual plane. In fact, the only true battleground of this war is the soul of every man and woman; therefore, it is my opinion that there really are no good guys or bad guys in the Book of Samuel. Jesus himself confronted a follower of his and declared, “There is no one good, but God” Matthew 19:17. What marks a man as righteous in God’s eyes is simply faith in Him. The Book of Genesis testifies this concerning Abraham; “[He] believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” Genesis 15:6. It is faith in God that leads to obedience to Him.

Saul was ultimately rejected as king because he was disobedient to God. He did not kill King Agog of the Ammonites, as he was commanded to, and he did not wait for the Prophet Samuel to make sacrifices. Both actions show Saul taking matters into his own hands, as if he knew better than God. Yet even with his lack of trust, I think that Saul’s greatest sin was his unrepentant attitude. When he was confronted by Samuel, he couldn’t understand what he did that was so bad, and he tried to justify his actions. Unrepentance breeds more sin and pride and, unchecked, eventually leads to total separation from God. This separation left Saul wide open for “evil spirits” to torment him. Meanwhile, God began to raise up David in popularity and Saul realized the inevitable outcome. His separation from God and the torment of evil spirits left him unable to think clearly, and he became insanely jealous of David and obsessed over killing him. Evil had, in a sense, won the battle of Saul’s soul. However, before he rejected God, Saul was used mightily. It was Saul who unified the twelve tribes, and he began the campaign against the Philistines that brought safety to many Israelites who previously lived in uncertainty during the time of the Judges. He was even blessed to have the gift of prophesying from the Lord! Saul was a good guy who ended his life in a bad way.  

David is praised as the good king, the correction of a mistake. But God doesn’t make mistakes. When Saul saw red for David, he fled for his life and spent many years as refugee wandering in wilderness areas. Many other refugees and outcasts followed him, and David learned how to be a leader. More importantly, though, was that in this time David learned to be totally dependant on God. He had no choice; he was taught humility before the Lord and he developed into a leader that would remain totally submitted to God. When it came to matters of the kingdom, David always sought the Lord. However, as good as David was, when he became king, pride still seized his heart and caused him to sin. Saul’s sins were acts of foolishness often made in the heat of emotion; he almost seemed confused whenever he was confronted by Samuel of his sin. David’s sins were thoroughly plotted acts made in the coldness of his heart.

David already had a few wives when he became king. After he got the power, his lust became greater than his faithfulness to God. He decided he could have any woman he wanted. When God allowed his married lover, Bathsheba, to become pregnant, David was faced with another test, but this time he failed miserably. He feared for his reputation more than he feared God, and he abused his power as king to try to cover up his sin before his subjects. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was off fighting in a war for his God, his country and his king. David brought him home hoping he would sleep with his wife, and that everyone would just think the child was Uriah’s. The problem was Uriah refused to sleep in the comfort of his own bed and in the arms of his wife while his fellow soldiers were forced to sleep in tents in the midst of a war. When David realized this plan wouldn’t work, he sent Uriah back into the war and gave his commanding officer orders to put Uriah on the front lines and basically leave him stranded there. To all of Israel, David would simply look like a man who fell for the mourning widow while he attempted to comfort her.  

If sins are measured, David’s look far greater to me than Saul’s. However, the main difference between David and Saul is that when the Lord confronted David through the Prophet Nathan, David’s heart broke and he immediately repented. As punishment, God caused Bathsheba’s child to become ill and die as an infant. In the presence of the whole kingdom, David wallowed in anguish before the Lord as he appealed for the life of his child. He had been disobedient to God, but he admitted his guilt, and he fell submissive before God once again. David dealt with many consequences of this sin for years to come, but God gave David assurance of his forgiveness and restoration when Bathsheba became pregnant again. She bore David’s youngest child, Solomon, who inherited the kingdom and became known as the wisest man of his time. Unfortunately, Solomon also inherited some of David’s weaknesses as well. But in the end, David went to his grave with his heart right before his God. Despite the trouble this incident brought to his kingdom, David’s actions afterwards revealed a genuine trust and submission before God. In fact, later the author of 1 Kings credits David as doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and not failing to keep his commandments—except for the case of Uriah (15:5). There are no good guys or bad guys in this world. Only the potential to do good or to do evil, to serve God or to serve our own pleasures at the expense of others. In this age, we will often fall from grace and cause harm to ourselves and others, but when we trust in the forgiveness of God through Jesus, it is his love for us that causes us to want to be obedient to him and to live a life that pleases him.

Peter L Richardson
4/28/97

For a better take on this subject see Charles Stanley’s “Serving the Purpose of God,” his May 23, 2010 sermon, which can be found at: http://www.intouch.org/site/c.cnKBIPNuEoG/b.4943223/k.492B/In_Touch_Ministries__Video_Archives.htm

Psalm 51 (New International Version)
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
     according to your unfailing love;
     according to your great compassion
     blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
     and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
     and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
     and done what is evil in your sight,
     so that you are proved right when you speak
     and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
     sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
     you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
     wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
     let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
     and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
     and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
     or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
     and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
     and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
     the God who saves me,
     and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
     and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
     you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
     a broken and contrite heart,
     O God, you will not despise.

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
     build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
     whole burnt offerings to delight you;
     then bulls will be offered on your altar.

“No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life.”   -Francis Schaeffer

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

I didn’t even find the work attractive. Upon closer inspection it wasn’t hard to believe that this work was made mostly out of discarded junk, secondhand furniture, and endless amounts of tinfoil. Had it been any of the “junk art” works I’ve seen before, I may have passed it by without a thought. However, knowing the history behind James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, one is struck with a sense of awe at this man’s lifework.  

Hampton's "Throne" found in his garage.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish" — Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version) posted on the wall of Hampton's garage.

The legacy that St. James left is truly amazing. Had he lived long enough to retire and go into ministry full time, this man surely could have started a new religious movement. What is most intriguing about St. James is that it is difficult to decide whether he really had some kind of prophetic insight for the end times, or if he was just insane. Traditionally, most of the world’s new “prophets” spend little time developing their so-called-brand-new vision from “God” before they run out to start their new religion. Standing on their new platform in the spotlight, they proclaim their new message and so-called-better-way, but St. James was an extremely humble and patient man as is revealed in his Throne and his life. Being a janitor one becomes accustomed to humility, and being African American in the early part of the 20th century, one’s level of expression is suppressed to say the least. This man collected old secondhand furniture and decorated it with gold and silver tinfoil and purple tissue paper, and he meticulously formed it all into a throne for the King of Kings to rule from upon his second coming. This throne and the objects surrounding it, all with specific meaning, were created with an incredible amount of artistic detail. How many hours did he spend searching secondhand shops? How often did his eyes comb the streets and trash piles looking for the perfect item he needed to complete a piece of the work? How many sleepless nights did he spend pushing and molding his tinfoil into the right shape to match the details given to him from dead Biblical patriarchs? As he put so much of his heart and soul into his work, how in the world did he not talk about it to anyone he knew before his death? It’s easy to pass this guy off as crazy, but if you are a Bible-believing Christian, there are a few things you are forced to deal with.

In truth, St. James shares a lot of the characteristics of the Old Testament prophets; look at all the crazy stuff God called them to do! With that perspective, St. James is not unordinary. But then, look at the object itself; will Christ in all his glory of the second coming really rule from a throne made of junked furniture and tinfoil? Who knows? If you really believe in Him, consider how he went around and shocked most religious people the first time he came down here. Doesn’t he specialize in making beauty from ashes? You could reason that Christ’s greatest work of art is to turn the trash of our used up and broken souls into something beautiful and worthy of his glory. Consider also the Jewish Temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. Even in all its splendor, it was still considered only a crude earthly shadow of God’s dwelling in heaven. The details were revealed to Moses by God, and each object had religious symbolism. Who is to say that Christ hasn’t remodeled and given His new plan to St. James, each object bearing a new distinct religious symbol? We can criticize his visions of the dead. Biblical prophets usually received their revelation through visions of heaven and through communication with the Spirit of God, but it is not unheard of for angels to bring humans messages from God. Is not possible that God would send his greatest human servants, who have passed from this world, to speak with his servants who are still in the flesh? Christ, before his crucifixion and resurrection, was visited by the spirits of Moses and Elijah. Communication with the dead is strictly forbidden in the Bible, but maybe we’re just not supposed to initiate the experience. Another issue we could raise is if God called St. James to receive this great revelation, why did he die before he could reveal it to anyone else? In the Book of Hebrews there exists what is considered the “Faith Hall of Fame.” One of the characteristics that make some of the faithful so great was their obedience to God despite the fact that they never saw their visions come to completion while they were still in the flesh on this earth. Perhaps James Hampton never intended to go public.

The Bible teaches us to test all prophecy and spiritual visions by the scriptures. I confess my arguments of St. James being a legitimate prophet are weak; however, I cannot contradict his work with my knowledge of the scriptures. If only we could read his Book of the Seven Dispensation; however, it is written almost entirely in a code that no one can break! Is this some kind of heavenly language that can only be interpreted through a revelation from God? Or is it really bad code that St. James himself just couldn’t keep straight? One wonders if he could actually go back and read over his own book. The Bible states that the followers of Jesus will be known by their fruit—their character. Of what we know of James Hampton’s outward life, there is nothing to suggest he was anything but a Christian of good character. He believed strongly that the Church of Jesus Christ shouldn’t be split into different factions and denominations, but should exist as one body. I consider myself a creative Christian, and I have had to argue with strict religious people that even though not all of my art and poetry is not a direct expression of scripture, it is all an act of human worship to my God as I pour out my heart and soul onto paper. Only God knows if he called Hampton as his prophet, but there is no doubt he had a strong love for his God that was expressed through his good character and outward humility. I believe that Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly was a very personal, unique and intense way for him to worship his Savior. His ability to use simple raw materials to produce such an interesting and grand work of art is a feat in itself, but the true greatness of his art is the passion and devotion to God that existed in James Hampton’s heart.

Peter L Richardson
Spring 1999

James Hampton’s
“Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations Millennium General Assembly”

 
 

James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly

James Hampton's "Throne" is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Throne was constructed by James Hampton (1909 – 1964), a janitor for the General Services Administration, over a 14 year period from 1950 until the time of his death, after which it was discovered in a garage he rented near his apartment in Washington D.C.  Made of scavenged materials, minutely detailed and finished with glittering foil, The Throne is composed of some 180 pieces, occupies an area of some two hundred square feet and stands three yards in height at its center.

 

 

Learning how to overcome the mountain.

Faith

Faith, PLR

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you whatever you have asked for in prayer believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24

Anyone who calls himself a Christian should know the verse above. If you’ve been around in the church long enough, and have explored your faith beyond the four walls you were second-born into, you have, no doubt, encountered that verse coming from a middle-aged man in an expensive suit and slicked-back hair. Under the stage lights he proclaims the word with a deep booming voice and a greasy smile, and he implies that God exists simply to provide you with everything you need. He will often follow that one up with “The Lord gives us the desires of our hearts” (Psalm 37:4). You just gotta believe and you will receive! Next he’ll tell about God loving a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and how Jesus multiplies all your seed, so if you’ll just humbly take out your checkbook, the Lord Jeezyus will give back to you ten times the amount you give to this ministry, and you will be blessed just as the Lord has blessed me! How many souls, desperate for truth, desperate for attention from somebody or something, desperate for money, tried this man’s advice and came up with nothing? You can be sure the check was cashed anyway. What is the final conclusion? God must not exist, or even if he does, he doesn’t care about me. We have all had some kind of negative experience that corrupts our view of God and makes it difficult to trust him. Some us were turned off of by hypocritical preachers, some got burnt by Christian friends or family members, many of us had a rough time with our fathers, and we project our daddy issues onto our Heavenly Father.

Once you’ve accepted the truth of the gospel, it is almost easy to believe in salvation from Hell, and we abstractly anticipate a place that is better than the life we live in today, but do we really believe God for all the promises he gives us for today, for living life right now? Does God follow through with his Word; does he really hear us in the darkness of the night as we cry out in the desperation of our souls? The Bible says that God’s word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11), and that without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Many times unanswered prayer is viewed as a lack of faith, and if we just simply muster up enough belief, God will come through for us. This gives us a picture of a God up in heaven looking down, shaking his head and wagging his finger at us: “I’d like to help you out here, but your faith meter just doesn’t have enough juice! Gee, I’m really sorry.” However, Jesus also tells us, “Which of you fathers, if your son asked for fish, will give him a snake instead?…If you then, though you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13). God is our father, and he delights in all his children. He wants to bless us, but let’s face it; sometimes the motivation of our asking is not always righteous. We are real good at justifying what we think we need, but God is a wise father; he knows when to hold back and when to give. How many parents give their kids everything they want when they want it? Of course, good parents provide for all their kids needs and then some, but doesn’t a wise parent train their children to be responsible? It is only after their children have proven they are trustworthy that they are able to gain more freedom and more privilege.  There is a level of faith that produces miracles; if there wasn’t God would be a liar, but before we get to that level, we must be raised up and trained by God. Faith begins simply by learning to trust that God is good. The end of Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith because we must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. This implies that God is simply happy with us when we acknowledge that he’s real and he’s good and we appreciate the good he brings us. However, this is where we begin; like any good father would, he also tries to push us to reach our full potential.

Hebrews Chapter 11 can be considered the beginning of God’s faith hall of fame taking us all the way back to Abel. It starts off, however, with a definition of faith: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). The Revised English Bible translates it a bit differently; “Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.” Is it possible that faith is an actual spiritual substance? Think of Love. When you love someone, there is a bond, a connection that reaches beyond our physical bodies and we can feel their love even when they are not present. Might not faith work the same way? When we believe God, despite our circumstances, our faith reaches out through the spiritual realm and actually changes the natural realm. It is the substance by which we allow God’s blessing to flow in our lives and also to forbid the enemy to work. In Proverbs 3:5-6 Solomon says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” And later the Apostle Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). For a Christian, faith is believing in something from God that you don’t actually have yet; you can’t physically hold it, or you can’t see it at work in your life.  It is trusting God to do what he promises. The key here is that we can only trust in what God has already promised us he would do. Many people have a “name it, claim it” philosophy of faith. They view God more as a candy dispenser or a genie in a bottle; however, submitting to God’s direction in life (acknowledging him in all your ways) is a prerequisite to walking on straight paths. Graham Cooke, a modern day prophet, teaches that the first step in asking God to work in our lives is simply to learn to listen to him. We need to find out what He wants us to do, and what he wants to do for us, and then we can ask him for it in confidence.

What do we do, then, when it just seems like God is not coming through on his end of the bargain? There are a number of Biblical answers depending on the specific circumstances of your life, but we can take a lesson from the man who can be considered to be the father of our faith, Abraham. Genesis 15:6 states, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” He forged the path that eventually led to Jesus; that our salvation comes not by works, but by faith in God (Romans 4). However, even Abraham had his moments of weakness and lack of trust in God. According to what scripture has revealed to us, Abraham was the first human being to interact with God since the flood. He proved he was God’s man through an amazing act of trust. God basically told him one day, “Hey Abe, pack up your stuff and start traveling. I’ll tell you where you’re going when you get there.” Abraham, did not just put together a bindle and hop on the next passing train, he was an established landowner with a wife and many servants. This was a big production. On his way to wherever he was going, however, he also showed an amazing lack of trust in God, and he risked the honor of his wife, Sarah, twice! In his fear of being murdered for her beauty, Abraham lied to two kings and said Sarah was his sister. Fortunately, God stepped in and kept both kings from taking advantage of her. If either of them had slept with her, it would have compromised the famous promise that God would later give to his servant Abraham. This is the extent of faith that most Christians show. When God calls us out of the world and into the Kingdom of Heaven, we approach this new adventure with fear and trepidation, but with a new hope and excitement for something better. However, when trouble comes, we are quick to compromise our virtue and make our own way out to save our skins.

Abraham eventually wandered into the land of Canaan, and God said, “This is it; this is your new home.” Abraham made peace with some of his new neighbors and he went to war with a couple others. Eventually he settled himself in and established his new home as his. He became very rich, but as the years went by, and as he and Sarah grew very old, he still had not produced any children. One day God came to him, and said, “You know what, Abe; I’m going to bless you even more. Look up at the stars; see there? That’s how many descendants you’re going to have. In fact, I’m going to use your offspring to bless the entire world.” Abraham cleared his throat and simply mentioned, “Um, God, I’m not sure if you noticed, but Sarah and I, we don’t have any kids. Just how do you plan to make this happen?” God replied, “You just trust me.” Abraham did, and God considered that trust, that belief in what he had said was going to happen, to be more important than all the righteous deeds Abraham had committed, and more amazingly, more important than every foolish thing Abraham had done. Abraham probably went straight home, put on a little Al Green, and made Sarah feel like she was still in her twenties. We would expect the story to end with: “and nine months later a bouncing baby boy was born…”, but that’s not how it happened. Ten years later: nothing. This is the stage of faith that takes us beyond just believing in salvation for the afterlife. This is the part of the journey that is long and tiresome and full of thirst. This is what makes or breaks many Christians; more often breaking us. Most of us do what Abraham and his wife Sarah did, we screw it up by taking matters into our own hands. We still believe God will come through; we just think he needs a little help getting there. Sarah, like most women of her time, wanted to be a mom. So she suggested to Abraham, “Hey, look, I’ve got this servant, Hagar; we pretty much own her, right? You sleep with her, and get her pregnant, then when she gives birth, we’ll just raise the child as our own.” Even if you don’t know the story, you can guess what happened next. After carrying the child, named Ishmael, around for nine months, Hagar was not willing to give him up. This lack of trust in God coming through on his own and in his own time caused soap-opera-level drama in Abraham’s little piece of the world, and has had repercussions that have fallen down through the ages until today.

Finally, some time later when Abraham was 99 years old, God visited him in the form of three men. As they ate together, God said, “It’s time. This time next year, you will have the son I promised you so many years ago.” Abraham finally got his child of promise, a child with the wife of his youth, the love of his life! Hebrews 11:11-12 honors this moment, “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” This should be a time of celebration, and it was, Sarah named her child Isaac, which means “laughter,” but it did not come without conflict. Abraham still had an illegitimate child that was technically his firstborn. The conflict between Sarah and Hagar became so great, that Sarah demanded Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away to fend for themselves. He did so with much regret after God assured Abraham he would take care of the child and his mother. Unfortunately, this rivalry would not end here. One of the main conflicts between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East is whether or not Ishmael, Hagar’s son, or Isaac, Sarah’s son, is the true child of promise from God. When we take matters of God’s promises to us into our own hands, it is doubtful we’ll provoke racial wars thousands of years in the future; however, we can cause just as much turmoil in our personal lives, and at the very least delay the true blessing God wants us to have, if not forfeit it altogether.*

So this is it. End of the story. We learn that we just need to wait for God. Not so fast, though, there is at least one more level of faith God wants us to have. Years later, it is debatable as to how old Isaac actually was, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac—to give up the thing he had waited so long for–to give up his only son. This is totally out of God’s character. He is not into human sacrifice. Why would a loving God ask something so horrendous? When I became a Christian, I chose to serve Jesus because of who he is, because I became certain that he loved me, and he was wholly good by the testimony of his Word. If my earthly father asked me to kill my son to prove my love for him, I’d consider him a psychopath, and I’d never let him near my children again. So, why was Abraham willing to do this? Hebrews 11:17-19 has the explanation: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promise was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” Abraham was willing to commit this act because of his confidence in God’s character—that he is good and trustworthy—because he knew that God had made a promise through Isaac, and God does not break his promises. God stopped Abraham’s hand before he could drop the knife on his son; he called out to him and provided a ram for him to sacrifice instead.

Graham Cooke says that there is no security in what God does; there is only security in who God is. When God calls us to something more than we are experiencing at the moment, when he gives us a promise, we need to believe him despite what we see. This is the faith that takes us over the edge, faith that causes us to step over the side of a boat onto water in the midst of a storm. Most Christians will never make it to that level, but God wants all of us to be more willing to take risks for the sake of furthering his Kingdom, for bringing more people into the salvation that we enjoy. Jesus said it only takes the equivalent of a mustard seed of faith to overthrow a mountain of problems, but most of us cower at the sight of molehills. God wants us to love him more than the objects he uses to bless us; he wants us to trust him with our possessions, even with our very lives. The evangelist A.W. Tozer once said, “Pseudo-faith always arranges a way out incase God fails. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second ways or makeshift substitutes. For true faith it is either God or total collapse.”

If God knows all things, why does he test us in the first place? Can’t he just see into our hearts and know how we are going to react, and know whether or not we will believe? I believe so, but he also chooses to give us free will; while he knows exactly what we believe or don’t believe about him and the principles he wants us to follow, he does not force us to believe in him or to follow him. But he also sees the potential we all have if we actually did step up and learn to completely give ourselves over to “acknowledge him in all our ways.” No man can live the perfect moral life that Jesus led, but by faith we have access to the grace and power that Jesus displayed. God wants all of us not only to be saved, but to experience as much freedom from sin as we can, so we can therefore be used to demonstrate his love on earth. He wants us all to reach our fullest potential in whatever he has called us to do on the earth. James 1:2-4 states: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” When we cry out to God for help, what God is most interested in changing is not our circumstances but our character. Faith does not always remove us from bad situations, but more often, God uses our faith in him to mold us into stronger people who can move through difficult challenges without giving up. When our character is developed enough to express thanksgiving, joy and peace in the midst of a trial, God will then be able to use us to bless others who are still learning to overcome their problems. You can see this process in the life of Abraham. What if God gave him Isaac as soon as he moved to Canaan? Would Abraham have been willing to trust God enough to be obedient to him, even when it didn’t make any sense to do so? We can see that with each new challenge God brought to Abraham, his faith increased a little more each time until he was able to meet the main challenge. Abraham’s obedience to God had tremendous literal and symbolic significance that laid the groundwork “for all nations to be blessed through his seed.” Real faith does not cause us to sit around and make random requests from God to make us feel better, but rather it causes us to take action in our obedience to God. James 2:20-24 states: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the alter? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” As we acknowledge God’s ways, he makes our paths straight not so much by reconstructing the road, but by making us stronger, swifter and more agile. Before we can have the faith that lifts up mountains, we need to first learn how to climb up the rock-face and trust that God will catch us when we fall. It is only after we learn to trust God that he can trust us with the kind of faith and authority that moves mountains.

*This is not to say that when God promises us something we have no part in its coming to pass. Often Christians make the opposite mistake of doing nothing. If you believe God has called you to be a teacher, you should probably make sure you get to college and study hard while you are there. If Abraham had decided that he was just too old to romance with the missus, he may never have gotten his promise.

Peter L Richardson
2000/2010

God will provide the lamb

God will provide the lamb, PLR

Isaac
for Gabriel

Oh Isaac!
All my years I have yearned for you.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
I used to lie awake wondering,
“Who would you be?”
Trying to picture your precious smile,
The love that dances in your eyes…
your beautiful deep eyes,
when you look on mine.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
The Lord is our Father,
His judgment is right,
But when your tiny fingers grasp mine,
I want them sealed there forever.
Oh Isaac!
Your peaceful night.
The steady beat of your heart:
The hand of love your Father placed on you.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
Yesterday we began the journey;
Today I bind your bones.
Where will the Lord provide the Lamb
When He calls me to raise my knife?
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
There is still so much to see!
Oh Isaac!
The Lord’s hand is upon you,
You are child of God,
as am I.
I am only your brother.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
Covenant child…
Who can separate
what God has joined together?
Oh Isaac.
Forever I am with you…
Forever.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
My son. I love you.
My son!
My son!

Peter L Richardson
7/31/1994

A Spiritual and Literary Comparison of Biblical and Classical Literature.

“In those days as well as later, when the sons of the gods had intercourse with the daughters of mortals and children were born to them, the Nephilim were on the earth; they were the heroes of old, people of renown.”  Genesis 6:4 (Revised English Bible)

IV.     CHRISTIANITY VERSUS PAGANISM

The poets of Greek mythology seemed more concerned with finding a way to explain the origins of phenomena they did not understand rather than seeking to develop religious dogma, but in their commentary on the mysterious world they lived in, they also made a clear statement about their gods: this is who they are, and this is the best way to deal with them. By the time of Jesus, the worship of the Greek gods was adopted by the Romans, and it dominated their entire empire. Only philosophers and intellectuals regarded the myths simply as fantastic stories with little meaning and only worthy as analogies for teaching lessons and for preserving heritage. The Bible is more than a book of rules, more than stories meant to exult the history of a people group, even more than a guide of how to live a moral life. Even with all the different authors of the books of the Bible spread out over hundreds of years, there is a common theme throughout each book to display Yahweh’s glory and his authority over his creation and his love for all mankind. In The Book of Exodus, the author explicitly tells the account of Yahweh’s power over the Egyptian gods. Later, when the Babylonians break the walls of Jerusalem and take the Jews into exile, the various authors of that generation explicitly attribute the fall of Jerusalem to the judgment of Yahweh for their breaking of the covenant they made with him in the beginning of their history. But just as Yahweh spoke of the coming judgment through his prophets, he also spoke of the day these exiles would return to their homeland and be redeemed through a coming Messiah who would cause all the nations of the world to worship Yahweh, the one true God. I doubt the author of Genesis Chapter Six was specifically thinking of heroes the Greek peoples celebrated while he wrote the account of the Nephilim; however, the subtle similarities of these legends are too close to be ignored, and the contrast of the value systems of these cultures that have had so much influence over the Western world is intriguing. No wonder Western thought and culture is full of so much contradiction and complexity.

The Judeo-Christian tradition taught in the Bible exults itself over Greco-Roman mythology in another way worthy of note. In the prophetic book, Isaiah, in the Old Testament, Yahweh proclaims: “I shall put a sign in them and those survivors I shall send to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, to Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan, distant shores which have never yet heard of me or seen my glory among the nations” (66:19). This is exactly what the Christians in The Book of Acts began. After this new religion sprang up out of Judaism and Jerusalem, it spread throughout the region of Judea, then north though Galilee, and into the city of Antioch which housed the first Gentile church. From there, the Apostle Paul and his companions moved it throughout the provinces of Greece where it spread like wildfire. However, Paul’s original plans were to take the gospel throughout the provinces of Asia. Acts 16:7-9 reads, “they tried to enter Bithynia [heading towards Asia] but, …the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them, …a vision came to Paul; a Macedonian [a man of a province of Greece] stood there appealing to him, ‘Cross over…and help us.’” It seems one of Jesus’ first orders of business as the reestablished Godhead of the earth, after dealing with his chosen people, the Jews, was to convert the Greeks. Christianity eventually spread throughout the entire Roman Empire and was a major factor in putting an end to the worship of Zeus and his relatives. However, Yahweh had already pronounced his judgment on the sons of God in Psalm 82:

1God takes his place in the court of heaven
  to pronounce judgment among the gods:
2‘How much longer will you judge unjustly
  and favor the wicked?
3Uphold the cause of the weak and the fatherless,
  and see right done to the afflicted and destitute.
4Rescue the weak and the needy,
  and save them from the clutches of the wicked.’
5But these gods know nothing and understand nothing,
  they walk in darkness;
  meanwhile the earth’s foundations are all giving way.
6‘This is my sentence: Though you are gods,
  all sons of the Most High,
7yet you shall die as mortals die,
  and fall as any prince does.’

8God, arise and judge the earth,
  for all the nations are yours.

Peter L Richardson
Fall ’97

Avalos, Hector Ignacio. “Satan.” The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 678-679.

Esses, D.H.L., Michael. Jesus in Genesis. Plainfield: Logos International, 1974.

Graves, Robert and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths, The Book of Genesis. Garden City : Doubleday & Co., 1964.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston : Little, Brown and Co., 1942.

Keck, Leander E. and Gene M. Tucker. “Literary Forms of the Bible.” The Oxford Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 12-31.

Ovid. The Metamorphoses. Trans. Horace Gregory. New York: Mentor, 1960.

Sacks, Robert D. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990.

“The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible.” New American Standard Bible. Ed. Spiros Zodhiates. Chattanooga: AMG Press, 1990.

“The Oxford Study Bible.” Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katherine Doob Sakenfeld and James R. Mueller. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Thompson, Steve. “The Astounding Authority of a Believer.” The Morning Star Journal 7.1, 1997.