Tag Archives: Christianity

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – Part 3

We’ve talked about how human beings rank fairly low in the animal kingdom in regards to physical strength and durability, and we’ve looked at how man’s superior intelligence evens the score by giving him an edge in the survival game. But there’s a third factor to consider.

There is an almost undefinable essence that truly sets man apart from the other animals.

Scientists attribute this uniqueness to our DNA. Philosophers call it our soul or spirit. Others identity it as our conscience, while many more call it personality, individuality, persona, or nature. Whatever  label you choose, it comes with an overabundance of quirky eccentricities not found in the other species cohabiting this world.

Personality

Yes, I agree that humans and animals have personalities, but only man can claim the vast complexity of traits that set us apart from them. A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) identified 638 primary Personality Traits. After dividing them into three categories, they classified 37% as positive (ex: amiable, courageous, optimistic, and reliable); 18% neutral (ex: ambitious, determined, self-conscious); and a staggering 48% negative (ex: abrasive, apathetic, discontented, imprudent). (Ref: http://ideonomy.mit.edu/essays/traits.html)

While the list is fairly comprehensive, it is nowhere near complete, especially when you consider the infinite number of possible combinations. And that’s before you take other factors into consideration. Factors like …

Emotions

Plutchiks Emotion WheelRobert Plutchik, professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, set out to classify emotions into primary categories. Working with the Dalai Lama and using scientific approaches to analyze facial muscles used in heightened levels of emotion, he determined there are eight primary states: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy.

Of course, there many, many more feelings than these eight, but based on similar muscle usages, Plutchik concluded that all emotions fall into sub-categories under the primary.

Fact or hypothesis? It’s your decision. But  the question arises – Do animals have emotions? Let’s consider two definitions pertinent to this discussion:

Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. It encompasses a wide spectrum of both positive and negative physical and emotional experiences. Most scientists today are in agreement that all vertebrate animals, which includes mammals, our winged friends, cold-blooded reptiles, and the creatures of the sea, are sentient beings.

Sapience, on the other hand, is defined as good sense, intelligence, wisdom, or the ability of an entity to act using a mental faculty to apply appropriate judgment (Homo sapiens  – Latin: “wise man”). Sound judgment requires the ability to assess conditions in a complex and dynamic environment, apply a moral code, analyze risk factors, calculate outcomes, and derive a best case conclusion. I believe we can all agree this ability belongs to man alone.

So, to answer the above question,  yes, I believe all animals experience emotion. Consider the threat of danger that triggers fear … which in turn triggers survival behavior (the fight or flight response). This is inherent to all animals, man included.

Emojis

On the other hand, I believe sapience is God’s gift to man alone.

Spiritual Needs

For the duration of a pregnancy, the mother’s body provides everything a baby needs: nutrition, oxygen, temperature control, and waste management. At birth, when the baby is separated from the mother’s body, the newborn must learn quickly how to regulate all of these things for himself, while experiencing a nightmare of new sensations – light, sound, taste, temperature fluctuation, movement restriction, and hunger. It’s a scary place.

Each newborn babe, whether animal or man, comes into this world with an innate craving, a need for connection, acceptance, comfort, and safety.Newborns

Those needs don’t change as time passes. Wolves roam in packs. Red Snapper swim in schools. Geese fly in close formation as they relocate with the seasons. Man searches for a place to belong within families, communities, social groups, schools, workplaces, organizations – and yet he often moves on. Changes jobs. Makes new friends. Searching. Always searching. Always wondering. Always asking questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is this all there is?

Christians often claim there is a “God-sized hole within our hearts that only the one, true God can fill,” which leads us to yet another question; Is this a biblical concept, or just fanciful rhetoric?

My answer is no. And yes.

Back in the 1600s, Blaise Pascal, inventor, mathematician, physicist, theological writer, and apologist, said in defense of Christianity:

“What else does this craving and this helplessness proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object. In other words, by God himself.”

But we can also attribute a story from the Bible where the Apostle Paul was witnessing to the Greeks. Now the Greeks were notorious for all their idols, even a monument to an “unknown god” – kind of like hedging their bet, I guess. In case they missed one.

In Acts 17:22-27, Paul says:

“Then Paul stood before the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “People of Athens, I can see you are very religious in all things. 23 As I was going through your city, I saw the objects you worship. I found an altar that had these words written on it: TO A GOD WHO IS NOT KNOWN. You worship a god that you don’t know, and this is the God I am telling you about!

The God who made the whole world and everything in it is the Lord of the land and the sky. He does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 This God is the One who gives life, breath, and everything else to people. He does not need any help from them; he has everything he needs. 26 God began by making one person, and from him came all the different people who live everywhere in the world. God decided exactly when and where they must live. 27 God wanted them to look for him and perhaps search all around for him and find him, though he is not far from any of us.

All animals follow the primal, never-changing eat-sleep-procreate dictate set out for their lifespans, but only man seeks for more. Call it ego, the soul, a conscience, spirit, chi, or life-force, only man seeks acceptance and a reason for his being.Heart of Clouds

For Christians, the truth lies in that ‘God-sized hole’ in our hearts, the one that Jesus readily fills with love and a peace that passes all understanding.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – Part 2

I think we are in agreement that the human body is a unique system of systems. So why then is it encased in such a fragile shell?

In the physical realm, humans rank pretty low on the survival totem pole.  We don’t have the luxury of natural body armor like the armadillo, or a defense system like the porcupine. Neither do we have the ferocity and strength of a grizzly bear, or the speed of an antelope. We can’t smell like a bloodhound, hear like an elephant, see like an eagle, or feel vibrations like a bat.

And yet we don’t just survive, we thrive. How?

Creation - Dominion

Here are 5 reasons (not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination) that I believe sets mankind apart from the other animals.

  1. clock-70182_640Man is aware of his own mortality. He is conscious of time passing, not like the seasons fade one into another, but of generations gone before and generations to come. We conceptualize. 
  2. Man has an inherent spiritual nature, religious even. The vast majority of people believe and/or pursue some form of spiritual or religious faith. We wonder about what comes after we die. 
  3. Man keeps records. We (sometimes) learn from what has gone before, make plans for the near and distant future, and are always searching for ways to improve or better his life. 
  4. the-thinker-1431333_640Man is a thinker. We reason, question, create, learn, anticipate, apply logic, and discern truth. We also harbor prejudices, vanity, pride, ego, and nurture grievances and seek revenge … unlike other animals. 
  5. Man communicates at a far more superior level than the other animals. We use complex language forms, both verbal and written to connect with other humans. We use this language to satisfy a deeply rooted yearning for community, a need to communicate with others of our kind, to connect.

So, the human body is a (physical) complex machine run by a (mental) sophisticated intelligence. But what about motivation. What drives us? That’s the part I call the “Thou shalt and Thou shalt not” factor.Creatures of logic

Next, we’ll look at what makes man tick.

 

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made – Part 1

The human body is an odd and vastly complex creation.

It comes with an amazing variety of systems to keep it working. These include a circulatory system that moves blood, nutrients, gases, and hormones around the body; a digestive system to ingest food, break it down into usable nutrients, and remove the waste byproducts; and a DNAurinary system that aids in the removal of waste and digestive byproducts.

We have an immune system, the body’s first line of defense against disease, injury, and harmful pathogens; and a lymphatic system that works hand-in-hand with the immune system to help in the fight against infection and to stabilize body fluids in the tissue and cells.

Our nervous system controls both voluntary (conscious movement) and involuntary (like your heart beating) movements, and directs signals to the rest of the body; the muscular system aids in movement of blood and some body functions, but also works closely with the skeletal system which allows the fundamental structure for physical movement.

The respiratory system brings vital oxygen into the body, infuses it into our blood stream for distribution to all cells, and removes harmful carbon dioxide byproducts. The integumentary system is the body’s largest organ—the skin. It protects our internal workings from the outside world, is a barrier against bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens, helps regulates body temPregnancyperature, and assists in the elimination of waste through perspiration.

And let’s not forget the reproductive system that allows the creation of life-a miracle in itself.

All of these systems have to work in concert with all the others every second of every day. No time off. No vacation. And sick days means overtime work.

Now let’s take this a step further. In addition to the complex machine described above, these delicate creations require five things to survive:

  1. Water dropletsOxygen – The most essential need. After a mere 15 minutes without oxygen, brain damage will be so severe most cannot recover.
  2. Water – a human body cannot survive more than 3-4 days without it.
  3. Food – protein, carbohydrates, fatty acids, fiber; certain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium; and vitamins A, Bs, C, D, E, K. And this is only a simplified list.
  4. Protection from the elements – We require a constant core body temperature in a very Temperaturespecific range. At 104°F a body begins to hallucinate; at 107°F the central nervous systems begins to break down; at 111°F the brain overheats and causes death. Conversely, if the core body temperature drops to 94.1°F the body will fall unconscious; at 86° the body loses its ability to control body temperature; and at 82.4° there is complete muscle failure.
  5. Sleep – Extended lack of sleep will eventually result in headache, temporal and spatial distortion, memory and cognitive impairment, hallucination, loss of muscle control, and if paired with any other system failure, could lead to death.

BANG! It all just happened? Riiiight! I think not.

Computer codeYou could as easily throw a million lines of code into a paper bag, shake it up, and come out with a complex software that will calculate the necessary thrust for a rocket trip to Mars, pass twice around the moon, make a fly-by of Venus, give a nod to the sun, and then land safely at home again. On earth.

Again I say … riiiight!

Yes, I’m a Christian. No, I’m not trying to persuade you to my way of thinking. All I want is for you to start using that amazing computer in your head to figure things out for yourself …

Why you believe what you believe?

Ask questions. Don’t settle. Find the answers for yourself regarding what you believe or don’t believe. Stop accepting what the world is dishing out.

Novels, “Brexit,” and the Bible

One of the keys to good novel writing is to plunge your main character into a pressure cooker of trouble and keep piling it on until they think they can’t take anymore.

Overwhelm characters memeThis might come in the form of physical danger, mental pressure, or emotional turmoil. Whatever, you really lay it on. Of course, you also throw your hero or heroine a rope once they’ve reached their darkest point, when they’re about to lose all hope and give up. But then they escape and, oh the sweet relief! Maybe they don’t get away unscathed. Most likely they’re changed forever, definitely scarred, humbled, and much wiser, but they get to go home.

Great Britain’s recent vote to withdraw from the European Union (EU), popularly called “Brexit” (or Britain’s exit), seems to provide such an example. Once a man tastes freedom, he will fight tooth and nail to keep it. Keep nibbling at his sovereign rights, and the pressure builds.

This vote was an historic event, a mandate issued by an unheard of 78% voter turnout. The powers that be—those who deem themselves the leaders and governors of the world today, whether in public positions or behind the scenes—don’t get it. They can’t believe what happened. They’re still spluttering. “How can this be? It’s not according to our plan.”

(I have to interject a funny here. It always amazes me how creative and witty people can be, regardless of the gravity of circumstances. While I would love to take credit for this ingenious meme, I can’t. I’m just not that imaginative. There’s a ton more out there, too. It does, however, prove yet again how much truth there is in humor.)

Brexit

Chuckles aside, the bottom line is the people of England are in rebellion, plain and simple. They’ve had enough. This same sentiment is rising in the United States. By the people and for the people seems to have been lost somewhere along the line. The new mantra is by the politicians and for the politicians. I suspect we’ll see a similar adventure in our November presidential election.

No one knows what repercussions will stem from this momentous event, but if you take a good, hard look at the greatest novel of all time – the Bible – well, I think the pressure is just beginning.

Yes, I likened the Holy Bible to a novel. It’s the PRE-historic story—meaning a history of the world before the world had history. Which leads to a conundrum. If history is written before it actually occurs, does that make it fiction until the events happen?

Too deep for me.

Prophecy defined by Merriam-Webster:  a statement that something will happen in the future; or the power or ability to know something will happen in the future.

Prophecy defined by me as a Christian: Belief in the Bible as God’s promise of what has happened, what is happening now before our eyes, and what will happen.

Belief is very comforting for Christians. Years ago, my old grandma lay dying in the hospital. She said, “I’m going home today … or I’m going home. Either way, I’m going home.”

I HAVE A SUPERPOWER!!!!

I have a Superpower! Pow!

You do, too.  But all too often, we don’t utilize it to its fullest extent … or at all. You see, this magical, supernatural, miraculous, mysterious force is … prayer.

In the quiet moments of a newborn dawn, before the birds rouse from sleep, before the sun bursts forth in all its glory, when no one else is about, and before the world in all its busyness gears up, I like to sit and open my mind to GOD. No words are needed. It’s enough for me to “feel” HIS presence and bask in HIS love. And I believe it is enough for HIM that I open myself and welcome HIM in. You see, words can’t adequately convey what lies within our hearts, but HE “knows” our inner thoughts.Breath

Psalm 94:11 The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath.

 

 

 

Then there’s the beauty of GOD’s creation. I’ve seen circular rainbows, seas of deepest blue and clear, turquoise-green, raging oceans that calm to sheets of silk, exotic creatures, indescribable Smooth Waterflowers, colors that defy description, storms that touch here but not there. These times require an immediate response, an awed reverence with praise for an Almighty Creator who is an artist extraordinaire.

Psalm 103:22 Bless the LORD, all you works of His, in all places of His dominion; bless the LORD, O my soul!

Sometimes, though, a more structured communication is needed. A time where I can approach the throne of GOD on behalf of others, to ask for solace, strength, comfort, healing, restoration, and peace. It’s where I can confess my own shortcomings and ask for forgiveness, and present my own concerns, worries, hopes, and dreams. Vocalizing such requests cements them in my mind, and puts them into perspective. The process gives me comfort.

HE does this for me. He makes sense out of the craziness of this life.

CloudsJames 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

There are also moments of great need when I can reach out to HIM because my efforts have failed, and the problem remains hopeless and impossible. That’s when I recognize my true Prayerhelplessness and vulnerability. That’s when I cry out with gut-wrenching sorrow, anger, helplessness, grief, despair, resentment, and desperation; with tears and sweat and passion that leave me empty … and ready to be filled with his grace and mercy.

Psalm 6:9 The LORD has heard my supplication. The LORD receives my prayer.

Let’s not forget about those dark moments when you’re wrongfully wronged, and  it feels like the whole world is against you.Dark Times 2

Luke 6:28 … bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

And wisdom for the right words when opportunities arise to share my testimony.Friends

 

1 Kings 3:9 Give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to govern your people that I may discern between good and evil …

 

The bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17  Pray without ceasing. This means tuning into GOD … when you’re running late … when you avoid a fender-bender … when someone hurts your feelings … when you lose a loved one … when the doctor gives bad news … when someone seeks your counsel … whenever.

 

FINDING PEACE

 

Is there a “peace that passes all understanding?

I don’t know if I’m normal … or even what normal is. I just know that every morning, from the moment I wake, my head buzzes with thousands of thoughts, ideas, regrets, wishes, hopes, plans, uh-ohs, reworked conversations, edits of everything I read, lists, and prayers. Lots of prayers. You see, I’m a writer. And writers write. All the time. Especially in our mind.

Some days I find this buzz overwhelming. Some days I need an escape, to shut down, and reboot. I need a refuge. My journey has taken years, decades even, but I’ve found that by seeking my refuge first thing upon awakening, that my days go much smoother.

Like many others, I start my mornings with quiet time. Some people fill their quiet time with prayers and Bible study, communing with Jesus, ordering their day and balance. I do all of the above … and then some. But the journey hasn’t been smooth.

PeaceAt first I visualized an idyllic mountain meadow. Picture if you can a narrow path through dark woods. Just when you think you’re lost forever, a light ahead beckons. The trail opens onto a clearing where golden sunlight spills down. You lift your face and feel the warmth as you make your way to the center of the glen. Green grass and knee-high wildflowers abound. You drop to the ground and watch a caravan of puffy clouds sail across the sky. A gentle breeze stirs an earthy mix of verdant soil, sweet blossoms, and clean, rarified air. You’ve found it. Tranquility. Peace. Contentment … and an itch. Something digs into your back. You scratch. Brush away dirt. And remember the overflowing laundry hamper. The dermatology appointment you still need to make. The meal you promised to a sick friend. Your mind is off to the races.

I tried for a long time to make the remote glen idea work but finally gave up. Thinking a more familiar place might work better, I traveled in my mind to the beach—a remote, Caribbean island. Barefoot under the blazing sun, but the sugar-white sand doesn’t burn. (Imagination always trumps reality!) Turquoise water that sparkles with cool promises. Peace - 2Frothy waves lapping at the shore. A sea breeze stirs the air, redolent with the scents of coconut, lush vegetation and the briny smell that only comes from the ocean. A small slice of heaven. And then a crab crawls by. Clumps of dead seaweed wash up on the beach. An alert lifeguard stands from his ten-foot-tall white watchtower to peer out at the expanse. He raises binoculars to his eyes. Blue paste coats his nose. He wears a whistle around his neck. Alert. Diligent. Protective. Because there are riptides. Undertows. Dangerous sea creatures. And predators hiding in the deep. No calm here.

I tried another place. Somewhere remote. Somewhere pure and free from Peace - 3the world. A winter wonderland decked out in a blanket of pristine snow. Cold no germ could survive. But I could—in a warm parka with a hood trimmed in fur. Gloved and booted, I revel in the beauty of an untouched paradise. Until I fell through the snow. Buried. With no sense of direction. And no one to save me.

I’ve stored a whole library of such reveries, all lessons learned over the years until I finally found the real refuge. The only refuge. You see, our world is beautiful—just look around you. But sin afflicted all of mankind, all of the earth, including the animals and vegetation. Just as Esau forfeited his birthright, so too did Adam trade away our heritage in a moment of rebellion. Satan now holds dominion over an earth God bequeathed to man. There is no refuge for us here. Especially not in our minds.

I looked in all the wrong places for the peace that passes understanding only to realize at long last that it doesn’t exist here on earth. Now, I go to Jesus—to His throne room in heaven where His glory spreads a Peace - 4warmth and light so much greater than anything the sun can produce. Where multitudes crowd around Him singing praises. I creep into my niche at the rear of the throng, grateful to just be allowed in. It’s where I feel Him. And then He seeks me out in my little corner, takes my hand, and raises me up. I’m filled with His indescribable and unexplainable peace. Restored. Refreshed. Strengthened. For a little while, all is calm and perfect. When I leave His perfect presence, all I have to do to get through the rest of the day is remember my time with Him, remember His words, and call upon His name.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you  …” ~John 14:27