Matters of Faith: Meditations on the practicalities of believing in something we can't see. 

With all the advances in science and technology, one might think modern humans would give up on religion. But they don't. Why is that? Could there be tangible benefits that come when a person decides to believe in something that can't be seen, or proven?

Matters of Faith. May 6th, 2015.

 

Bob Marley was one of the most respected and loved musicians of all time. There is not a single American you could meet who would not know exactly who he is.

 

I’m also a huge fan for life. Why? His music, Reggae music is relaxing and soul-stirring - it will surely touch and stir your soul. But Bob Marley’s greatest gems can be found in his lyrics.

 

 

 

At first you may listen and think they are just a bunch of simple words. But if you read them carefully, you will find lyrics  based on the Bible, ancient poetry, ancient and modern history, love, and the international geo-politics of the 20th century.

 

What is so amazing about him is this, if you look at and listen closely, you will certainly find something that might even help you become a better person; a happier person. One of the songs that does that for me is called “Crisis.”

 

 In this song, we are advised to live a life of gratitude to God - even when things go terribly wrong.

 

“No matter what the crisis is, give Jah (God) all the thanks and praises.”

 

But does this make any sense? Why should we walk around thinking about giving thanks to some invisible entity up in the sky? And if we chose to believe in that invisible God, why would we thank him just when our lives are in a big mess?

 

When I was younger, I could not really understand Bob’s meaning. When I got older I could understand, but I really couldn’t follow it in my own life. Now that I’m older older, I understand Bob, and finally I have the faith the follow his philosophy.

 

Bob’s song is about an essential truth to living a life of faith. First, be aware of and be thankful for every day and every moment you live. Nowadays, this has morphed into a term called “Mindfulness.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness

 

Second, life can be tough sometimes. Things can and will go wrong for us.  So when things go wrong in our lives what do we usually do? The human nature in all of us means that usually, we get down, we complain, we sometimes get depressed. We certainly don’t feel like giving thanks to the invisible God at those moments.

 

But faith is all about going against our normal human nature. Faith is about not doing what our crazy brains tells us to do at first. That’s because following our brain will usually just make us feel down. But following our faith will certainly make us feel up – or at least not too down…

 

The concept Bob is trying to explain works like this: when things go wrong, thank God for the problems that come. Actually, we should even be happy that God is giving us such problems - even if they feel like problems impossible to fix or get through.

 

But instead of feeling down about the troubles, make a conscious choice to feel good instead. It’s that simple.

 

But what about big problems you may ask, its hard to keep your grace when the problems are really big. Should we still give thanks and praises when it seems God is punishing us?

 

The answer is Yes, give thanks for even the big problems, even the impossible problems.

 

Bob says “no matter what the crisis is.” No matter means No Matter. Big problems, small problems, hard problems, complex problems, it doesn’t matter. Drop the anxiousness. Drop the fear. Give your thanks all the same.

 

But how strange is that? What kind of person doesn’t feel anxious or afraid when he/she’s struck by a crisis?

 

A person of faith is that kind of person.

 

Indeed the Bible says “I know o’ Lord, that your judgements are right, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” Psalm 119:75.  (The “Psalms” are poems written about 2,500-3,000 years ago).

 

And here the poet is saying that although he is “afflicted” (a negative term meaning a sickness or a bad circumstance or a crisis that befalls a person) he still trusts his God. He trusts that God is giving him those problems on purpose and for a reason; a good reason.

 

And if you can keep your head, keep your cool; if you don’t panic or get depressed, and if you can keep cheerful and even have gratitude during your tough times, then one day you will know what the reason for the affliction was. And then you will be thankful you had the troubles not just because you survived it, but mostly because those troubles somehow made your life better in the long run, and that somehow you are a better person for pushing through it.

 

Gratitude. Mindfulness. Two extremely big and extremely important words - get to know them. Get to understand them and they will help you live a practical, fulfilling, and happy life with fewer anxieties and less fear.

 

 And that’s what faith is all about.

 

 

My New Year by Jane Hackenberg

 

(Inspired by Philippians chapters 3 and 4)

Reaching forward to all 2015 offers

Pressing on toward God’s call

Doing what it takes to know more of Him and His power

Rising above struggles

 

I rejoice

And rejoice again

Displaying a gentle spirit

Working for harmony

In the Lord

 

Guarding my heart and mind with the things of the Lord

Practicing to stay focused

Not distracted by circumstances, criticism, and obstacles

 

Setting my mind on God who gives me everything

 Capturing and recapturing my thoughts

Dwelling on the true, right, pure and lovely

 

Steadfast in prayer and thanksgiving

Consistently living in His peace

Diligently remembering, noticing

 

Standing firm

All by His grace

Undeterred

A solid house is evocative of life growing up in the Midwest of America.

Joshua 25:15. I get these pictures in my email every day. I read this one and I couldn't think of anything to say. But then I observed the picture of the house a bit closer. It looks so solid, so strong. Then my mind started to work...

 

This verse seems to be about family and what the focus of that family should be. It seems to be a parent discussing, perhaps with a child. And the fundamental question appears to be, what kind of family are we to be? What will be our identity? Whom shall we serve? It appears to be a disagreement, a family quarrel.  ("IF serving the Lord seems undesirable for you...") These are not harmonious words. There must be tension in the air.

However, the leader of the house is firm when s/he declares without equivocation ("as for me") 

that our identity shall be this: we shall serve the Lord.

We shall serve the Lord.

 

But why serve the Lord? It's 2014, why serve an invisible God somewhere in the sky? Why is it so important to hold on to such fairy tales?

 

Here's why: because the parents of a household would feel it great honor if they were able to lead their youngsters to grow up to be good Christians.

 

Good Christians are kind, helpful, and polite people. 

So for this type of father, or mother, it is not enough to encourage children to work hard in school, to get married, and in the end make lot of money. In traditional American culture, that's an empty and unsuccesful life. Without kindness, empathy, without service and self-sacrifice, all those things would be empty.

I grew up in the traditional American culture - traditional African American culture that is.

An interesting aspect of that culture was this: whenever you stepped into the house of an African American family those days, almost without fail, you would see three pictures on the wall.

The first picture would be of President John F. Kennedy; a true and genuine American hero. He encouraged Americans to serve others.

The second picture would be of Dr. Martin Luther King; a great moral leader. He encouraged Americans to love each other - no matter what.

The third picture would be of Jesus Christ. The story goes like this: Jesus Christ sacrificed his life in order to teach us a lesson about love, and how we ought to have it without conditions.

 

Thus, Jesus Christ encouraged the parents of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to raise their two young boys to grow up with the desire to serve the Lord. By serving the Lord, they served their nation.

Therefore, with these three pictures, African American families would be making a bold and certain statement: within this house lives a family faithful to the nation, faithful to the race, and most of all , faithful to the Lord.

As a kid, I knew that inside this strong black house there would be no cursing or bad behavior allowed. Manners were a must at all times. But this would also be a house of warmth, care, and love towards all visitors.

 

Because this is simply what it means to serve the Lord.

 

Vocabulary used: Evocative. Something that reminds one of days past.

One of my favorite movies is a musical love story called "Brown Sugar." My favorite line from the movie is this: "Simplicity is the fine line between eloquence and plainness."  The movie is fifteen years old but I've never forgetten that unique sentence.

 

-Eloquence is is a word that means fluent, forceful, and appropriate speech.

-Plainness means boring.

 

This single sentence from the Psalms fits this definition precisely.

 

The sentence is not long but full of meaning. The vocabulary  is distinct, yet still useful in the day-to-day.

 

The sentence is perfect because of its...well, simplicity. Not too hard, not too simple. Just right.

 

Religion should be this way too.

 

New vocabulary used:

Abtruse. adj.  Difficult to understand. 

Psalms. This section of the Bible consists of the songs and poetry of the ancient Hebrews. They were written down about 3,000 years ago.

 

Faith can be very simple or faith can be very complicated. Which one do you prefer? Here is a hint. If someone tells you that faith is complicated, stop listening to that person. Faith is not easy, but it is not complicated. 

This passage from the 4th chapter of Philippians is a good example. Two short sentences focused on a single word - Rejoice! 

The beginning of the words is re - do it again and again. The middle sounds like joy. Joy is perhaps the highest form of happiness. 

So here, the Bible tells us to be happy, joyful, and then to do it over and over again. What could be more simple than that?

Thus, one might ask the question why do people have religion? One of the many answers is that religions tells us to be happy. When we obey we get happiness. Not complicated-ness. Just happiness.

 

People who make trouble in the name of religion are the ones who are not really paying attention.

We are discussing faith, religion. What is the value? Here is a verse from an Old Testament chapter called “Proverbs." Proverbs is a term that means short stories with great wisdom. This one attempts to provide practical advice to parents as they raise their kids.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Sometimes a single vocabulary can create big meaning. In this case the key word is “train.”

Train does not mean teach in the traditional sense. Train means something more direct, more intervenetionary (not a real word, but it sounds good).

In other words, here the man who was inspired to write this Proverb is saying that parents must be strict, consistent, even repetitive with kids. They must repeat themselves. They must force their children to develop good habits. That’s what the word train means.

Train them in what? The answer is train them in good character and good values. These two “goods” lead to a happy life.

Do we want our children to have a happy life? If so, we must train them when they are young. We cannot just let them do whatever they want to do. I think the classroom is the same. So says the Proverbs.

It feels great to know we are loved. Our parents and grandparents give us the sense of being loved without conditions. We feel this love most perhaps when we are children.

 

So to the person of faith, there is a reward for giving the religion your loyalty (and money). The reward is the feeling, the confidence that comes with knowing that God loves you day and night. Like a parent tucking a kid into bed at night, the faithful woman or man will go to sleep with a feeling of happiness and warmth.

 

I often think about Chinese society in this way: perhaps because Chinese families are so strong, believing in love that comes from an invisible God is not really needed.

 

But in the west, life is not nearly so certain so people often turn to faith.

Here are two nice things religion can offer people: 1. Forgiveness. 2. A chance to start over.

 

July is "Ramadan," a month long holiday for Muslim people. During Ramadan they do not eat or drink anything, anything at all, as long as the sun is up.

 

They will typically eat a small breakfast about about 5:30 AM. And supper is eaten anytime after 7:15 PM. They keep at this for 30 consecutive days.

 

This is not an easy thing to do. But if you so, you can be forgiven for all the mistakes you made in your life up to this point. You get to start over.

 

Why is this attractive? Who doesn't have regrets? Thus, the practical effect of this month is to help a person overcome negative thoughts, negative memories, or any type regrets from their past.

 

The get a new start in life. I think that's nice, and practical. Without all that negative baggage, a person might be able to achieve greater succes in the future.

 

Ramadan Mubarak (Happy Ramadan) to all my Muslim friends.

Fear. Ever felt it? We all have. So what does religion say about fear? It says don't.

 

To the right is a verse from the Bible.

 

Thus another practical benefit from faith. That doens't mean it's easy. I'm sure people who have a religion experience fear all the time.

 

But then they read passages such as this one and feel calmed.

 

Practical.

Some Chinese friends will ask me why to western people follow religion? I say that people who follow faith do it for many reasons, some of them quite practical. According to the Bible, Jeremiah 17:

 

 

"But blessed are those who trust in the Lord, and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.

Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. "

 

 

The practical benefit we can learn from these verses? Trust in the Lord, and the truster can have a feeling of stabilty, of vitality, no matter what challenges and trials life may throw in her direction.

 

The simile is of a powerful tree, not just strong above the surface, but with deep roots in the ground and in the water. This tree won't blow down in a storm. A person can be that powerful. Wouldnt that be nice? This is what faith promises.

 

I imagine that in Chinese culture, such reassurance might not neccessary. Chinese families are strong. The Chinese government is strong. Between the two perhaps one can get all the guidance, direction, and protection one may need in life.

 

But in the west, where people often have to push through life on their own, such verses can provide great comfort both in good times, and in times of challenge.