Scenario #3: An archaeologist is digging in the desert when she unearths a stone tablet with writing on it. She immediately knows that a human civilization used to inhabit the area around that location.
Explanation: In Scenario #3, the reason the archaeologist knows that humans inhabited that area is by the presence of language. Other animals have ways of communicating with one another. Dogs bark to warn of danger, bees “dance” to point to food sources, dolphins have calls that “introduce” their pod to another one, but these are all considered “low-level communication,” not language. Complex language, spoken or written, has only ever been created on the Earth by human beings (i.e. the source of high intelligence on the planet); therefore, those things which contain evidence of language are necessarily a product of high intelligence (i.e. human beings).
What is it that defines language as separate from communication? First of all, language itself, as defined by the people who study language itself for a living, is a communication system through which specific and intentional meaning is transmitted by the use of arbitrary symbols (sounds or words). But language is more than this definition. Language also must contain morphology (rules for word formation); syntax (rules for word arrangement); and semantics (word meanings in specific contexts). Most languages also have a written coding system (alphabet), arbitrary and separate from the sounds of the language. The symbols themselves have a material form but they are abstract. i.e., they are not connected in any way to the concept they represent beyond the fact that the speakers agree on the meaning. The letter “a” has no connection whatsoever with the multiple sounds that are associated with it. Bat, Father, Dead, Stairs, Language, Creation, Dollar, all contain the letter “a”, but all represent different sounds altogether in context. Language is also creative and adaptable. That is, it can change over time to accommodate to new experiences. Language can be infinitely flexible and variable, words can be combined and split apart, speech can be reordered, etc.
DNA is the programming “blueprint” by which the specified complexity of the human body and all life is built and maintained. However, DNA itself deserves a closer inspection, because on its own, DNA is a marker that points to the existence of God. By the definition of language, DNA transmits specific and intentional meaning (the blueprints and programming for life) through its coding. The coding is a set of arbitrary symbols (a four-letter alphabet, ACGT) that are combined together in different ways to convey different information (semantics). DNA also has specific rules for “word” formation and arrangement (morphology). For example, A only ever pairs with T, and C only ever pairs with G. There are “starts” and “stops” in the genetic code, acting as word breaks and punctuation (syntax). The ways in which the letters and words are combined and the specific context of their combinations change the meaning for the body. The DNA letters combine to make words, the words combine to make sentences, and those sentences tell the cell to make proteins, which perform specific functions in the body.
The DNA symbols themselves have a material form but they are not connected in any way to the concept they represent (alphabet). There is nothing inherent in Guanine, Cytosine, Adenine, and Thymine that convey specific information about how to form a human body, or an oak tree, or a mosquito, or a duck, but when they combine together in specific and intentional ways, they create the blueprints for all life on the planet. In other words, information conveyed by a source cannot be considered in the same category as the source that conveys it. For instance, a book such as the Bible contains information, but is the physical book itself information? No, the materials of the book—the paper, ink, leather, and glue contain the contents, but they are only a means of transporting it. If the information in the book were spoken aloud, written in chalk or electronically reproduced in a computer, the information would not change. The same principle is found in the genetic code. The DNA molecule carries the genetic language, but the language itself is independent of its carrier. The same genetic information can be written in a book, stored in a computer or sent over the Internet, and yet the quality or content of the message has not changed by changing the means of conveying it.
Finally, DNA is infinitely creative and adaptable. In much the same way that the human mouth can only make a finite number of sounds and written systems of language contain a finite number of symbols but language is infinitely variable, the same four-letter alphabet composes the genetic code of all life on the planet, from the smallest virus to the most complex person. Furthermore, DNA can change and adapt to different environment changes. Bacteria adapt to become resistant to medication, people can intentionally breed plants to change the types of crops or flowers they produce, etc.
The language of DNA is so complex that it took humans until around the year 2000 to map the 3 billion lines of genetic code in the human genome, and even with the genome map transcribed, scientists still had little idea about how it was used, controlled or organized, much less how it led to a living, breathing human. Over the past decade, scientists have managed to find out that around 1.5% of the genome codes for protein, another 8.5% acts as start and stop markers (punctuation in the genetic sentences), and that roughly 80% has what the international genetic research initiative ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) calls “functional elements,” scientific jargon for, “it does something.” In other words, DNA is so complex that a multinational team made of some of the best geneticists in the world can’t figure out what more than three fourths of our genetic code says or does or how it works.
In light of all this, DNA clearly meets the criteria of a complex language. And although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, the fact that no language has been created on this planet apart from a human source, except for the genetic code, and humans can barely figure out what 10% of the genetic code says and does, is strong support for the contention that the genetic code as a language must have been designed by a being much more intelligent than humanity, i.e. a God.
A logical case for the existence of God:
Scenario #2: 1000 years from now, long after America has been forgotten, a group of people stumbles across Mount Rushmore, sees the faces carved into the rock, and exclaims, “My! What a fantastic coincidence that wind and erosion patterns shaped this rock into the resemblance of four different people’s faces! Aren’t the random forces of nature amazing?!”
Scenario #2: In this scenario, the group’s reaction to and conclusion about seeing the faces on Mount Rushmore is obviously erroneous. Not simply because we know from experience that someone sculpted Mount Rushmore, but because Mount Rushmore is so specific and complex a pattern that it could not have arisen from random, chaotic forces. It had to have been purposefully constructed by an intelligence with a plan in mind for what the finished product would look like.
A system of any kind can be described in terms of its level of complexity and specificity. Complexity refers to a system that is intricate but has no independent pattern, while specificity refers to a system conforming to an independent pattern. The letter “a” is specified without being complex (i.e., it conforms to an independent pattern but is simple). The sequence of random letters “vnskguthwpalfjtibw” is complex without being specified (i.e., it requires a complicated instruction-set to describe but conforms to no independent pattern). If you were to dump a bag of Scrabble tiles on the ground, you would create a very complex string of letters, but it would not be specified. Your pile of Scrabble letters may even occasionally group to form small words, which are specified but not complex. Your tiles, however, will not randomly fall into this paragraph, which is both specified and complex.
Taking our Scrabble analogy to the primordial Earth, it is perfectly rational and feasible to postulate that the "primordial ooze" of the early Earth may have contained many different kinds of amino acids (complexity), just as the Scrabble tiles contain many different random strings of letters. It is also perfectly rational and feasible to postulate that, in our vast sea of random amino acids, some may have joined together to form simple molecular chains (specificity), just as occasionally our scrabble tiles will make a short word.
However, postulating that the randomly distributed amino acids in our primordial sea would chance to join together into large molecular chain structures (complex) that happened to have arranged themselves in such a way as to make themselves capable of self-replication (specified), which would then combine together to form single-celled living organisms (and not just one, but many different types), which would then combine together to form multi-cellular organisms, which would then diversify into many different types of multi-cellular organisms, which would also begin eating one another and, through a random process of genetic mutations and chaotic chance, would happen to lead to the development of an ecosphere that is self-sustaining, contains all the plant and animal species that fill every biological niche that exists today, and includes a species of animal that is intelligent enough to ponder the meaning of its own existence, all on a planet that, randomly driven by gravity and other physical laws, happened to form at the exact right distance and orbit away from a sun that, by chance, is also the exact right size and temperature to support life, is statistically impossible.
Additionally, one of the most important laws of physics is the law of entropy (the second law of thermodynamics), stating that closed systems tend to move from order to disorder and not the other way around. Screws fall out, sidewalks crack, cars break down, clothes get holes, paint peels, hot meals get cold, the yard constantly needs edging, ice melts, it is easy to spend money and hard to earn it, you can never find a matching pair of socks; all examples of entropy at work in the natural world. And the only way that entropy can be overcome is by some external force inputting large amounts of energy into the system. In other words, once salt dissolves in water (i.e. it moves from a solid, ordered crystalline structure to something more randomized and chaotic), it cannot recrystallize itself again on its own, not without an external force putting enough energy into the system to evaporate all the water.
Entropy is one of the most important physical forces in the universe, alongside gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear binding forces, relativity, etc., and without it the universe would not exist. However, the entire hypothetical process of spontaneously generated specified and complex life that was explained in the paragraphs above is that of a disordered and chaotic system organizing itself into a more and more highly organized and ordered system, seemingly violating the law of entropy.
An explanation for this violation of the second law can be attempted on the small scale, because while the universe as a whole is a closed system, the Earth is not. Since there is an external force inputting energy into the system in the form of the sun, scientists will say that the sun provides more than enough energy to overcome entropy on the Earth, making life on the Earth not a violation of the second law. But simply adding energy to a system doesn’t automatically cause reduced entropy. Solar energy alone does not decrease entropy; in fact, it increases entropy, speeding up the natural processes that cause breakdown, disorder, and disorganization on earth. If this were not so, then frequent sunburn would make you look younger and live longer.
The apparent decrease in entropy found in biological systems on the Earth requires two additional factors besides an open system and an available energy supply. These are: information to direct the growth in organized complexity, and a mechanism for storing and converting the incoming energy into something usable.
Each living organism’s DNA contains all the code (i.e. the program information) needed to direct the process of building the organism up from seed or cell to a fully functional, mature specimen, complete with all the necessary instructions for maintaining and repairing each of its complex, organized, and integrated component systems. This process continues throughout the life of the organism, essentially building-up and maintaining the organism’s physical structure faster than entropy can break it down (though entropy ultimately does prevail, as each organism eventually deteriorates and dies).
Living systems also have the second essential component—their own built-in mechanisms for effectively converting and storing the incoming energy. Plants use photosynthesis to convert the sun’s energy into usable, storable forms (e.g., proteins), animals use metabolism to further convert and use the stored energy from the plants they eat, and other animals eat those animals to use the stored energy their physical bodies contain.
While the “open system” argument can explain how already existent living organisms may grow and thrive, and it can explain the source of the energy needed to form organized protein chain molecules from random amino acids, it does not offer any solution to the question of how life could spontaneously begin this process in the absence of the program directions and energy conversion mechanisms described above, nor how a simple living organism might produce the additional new program directions and alternative energy conversion mechanisms required in order to produce the vast spectrum of biological variety and complexity observed on this planet.
In light of all of this, we can clearly see that the “open system” argument fails to adequately justify the violation of the second law that is seen in the development of specified and complex life on the Earth, and that a system can have randomly generated specificity, or it can have randomly generated complexity, but not both. Therefore, the premise that living organisms with specified complexity randomly and spontaneously developed within an entropic universe not only violates one of the most important laws of physics, but is so astronomically improbable that it takes more faith and feelings-based, biased, emotional conviction to justify this belief than a belief in a world designed by an intelligent entity existing outside of our “closed-system” universe. Therefore, the specified complexity of the natural world compels the rational person to infer an intelligent designing force guiding the formation of that world.
The burden of proof then falls on the person who is so biased that he or she denies the obvious rational conclusion in favor of the absurd improbability.
A logical case for the existence of God:
Scenario #1: A homicide detective is investigating a murder. He begins his search for the murderer at the end result of the action (i.e. the crime scene). He uses blood splatter evidence to trace the trajectory of the bullet. He finds the bullet and analyzes the firing pattern to determine the gun it was fired from, etc., working his way back to the murderer (watch any episode of CSI to see this in action).
Scenario #1: In this scenario, a major assumption that the homicide detective makes is the belief that every action has a cause that precedes it, and thus the series of events leading to the murder can be reconstructed and traced back to the originator of the crime, i.e., the first cause of the murder. Whether that is an affair, or money, or abuse as a child, whatever it is, there is the assumption that something (or some-things) happened. And that something(s) set in motion a chain of causal events that led ultimately to the resulting action, i.e. the murder.
This basic premise can be taken even further, because everything that exists in the universe can be traced down the chain of causality all the way to the beginning; one event causes another, which causes another, which causes another, ad infinitum. In other words, the whole universe is a vast, interlocking chain of things that come into existence because other things cause them to be. Our murderer would not be here to murder anyone without billions of causes, from the marriages of his parents and their parents all the way back through the development of the first protein molecule to the cooling of the galaxies and the Big Bang.
Everything that comes into existence must either exist by itself (i.e. by its own essence or nature), called an Independent Being, or it must exist because of something else (it was brought into existence/caused), called a Dependent Being. If it is an Independent Being and exists by its own essence/nature, then it’s being-ness is sufficient to explain its own existence, and it cannot have been created because that would mean it was caused to exist by something else, and thus it exists eternally. It cannot not have these qualities and still exist as an Independent Being, just as a triangle cannot not have three sides and still be a triangle.
If, on the other hand, something is a Dependent Being and exists not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Dependent Beings cannot cause themselves. They are dependent on their causes. But does the universe as a whole have a cause? Is there a First Cause, an uncaused cause of the whole chain of causality in the universe? If not, then there is an infinite regress of causes, with no first link in the great cosmic chain. If so, then there is an eternal, necessary, independent, self-explanatory being with nothing above it, before it, or supporting it. It would have to explain itself as well as everything else, for if it needed something else as its explanation, its reason, its cause, then it would not be the first and uncaused cause. Such a being would have to be God. If we can prove there is such a First Cause, we will have proved there is a God.
Why must there be a First Cause? If, as previously mentioned, the universe contains only Dependent Beings, then the whole universe is unexplained without a First Cause. If there is no First Cause, each particular thing in the universe is explained in the short run by some other thing, but nothing is explained in the long run, and the universe as a whole is not explained. If there is no First Cause, then the universe is like a train moving without an engine. Each car's motion is explained proximately by the motion of the car in front of it: the caboose moves because the boxcar pulls it, the boxcar moves because the cattle car pulls it, etc. But if there is no engine to pull the first car and the whole train, the train cars cannot move of their own accord. The universe as a whole existing wholly independent of some First Cause is like a train moving without an engine.
Therefore, the universe must have a First Cause, and that cause must be an Independent Being. If there is no Independent Being, then the whole chain of causality in the whole of the universe is dependent on nothing and could not exist. But it does exist. Therefore there is a First Cause, that First Cause is itself uncaused and must then be an Independent Being, and this Independent Being is necessarily eternal and explained and justified wholly by its own being-ness, i.e. God.
The Gift of God
We have all been given a great gift – a treasure beyond measure, a pearl of great price. Some aspect or aspects of God’s nature have been gifted to us, as we are made in His image by His hand. Satan sees this gift, and despises it – not because he is invested in or interested in us, but because he hates God. So Satan sets out to squeeze it, to bind it, and to cover it up. He cannot destroy if because it is the gift of God. But if we agree with his deceptions, he can convince us to hide our true nature in a cave of self-protection that becomes a prison for our hearts. He can bind our hearts up in lies, so that the “weeds” in our hearts choke out our true nature, preventing it from pouring out into the world.
Against Satan’s intentional and cunning strategy, we have a very powerful weapon: the truth of Christ. Rather than constructing a wall of self-protection of our own design that we build around our hearts, which only hardens our hearts and cuts us off from our own feelings and our true selves, Jesus’ truth is a shield that protects us from the very thing that causes us harm - the lies of the enemy. The more truth we know, the stronger our shield of protection. Jesus’ truth also is effective at pulling out weeds. When the weeds are thinned out, more and more of our true selves can shine and grow in the sun of His love. As our true natures begin to flow freely from our hearts, we become more and more fulfilled, have more to give from our hearts, and know more fully our true value and worth, which according to Christ is worthy of dying to save.
Ask Jesus for truth, every moment of every day, no matter what the situation or circumstance. It is a prayer worth praying without ceasing.
The Truth about Suffering
Everyone experiences suffering at some point in their lifetimes. Suffering is painful and difficult for us all. The things that bring suffering do not come from God. It is not a “test.” It is not a “punishment.” It is not some form of twisted “lesson” for you to learn. Suffering is the unfortunate consequence of the presence of sin in this world, and we all must endure it in one form or another. We are in this world as soldiers behind enemy lines, fighting the battle against evil and ushering in God’s Kingdom, and suffering is the cost of doing business, so to speak.
However, in the face of impending suffering, or after it sweeps through our lives, we sometimes have a hard time staying focused on the truth we know from the Lord. Here are some important truths to keep before our eyes as we walk through suffering:
2. Suffering does not define us.
Our identities are established by God, and are stable and secure and unchanging, no matter what circumstances we go through. It is God Who says who we are, not the world, and not our experiences. So in the midst of our suffering, we can always go back to the truth of who we are as a stable foundation on which to stand, along with the certain foundation of Who God is and how much He loves us. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).
3. Suffering does not determine our feelings.
We often feel like our experiences toss us to and fro like waves and wind, but the truth is, our feelings during and after difficulty are based on how we perceive the suffering, and what we believe as a result of the difficulty, not by the difficult experience itself. Our feelings are our own, and we get to choose them. Paul admonishes us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). The way we choose them during suffering is choosing how we think about and how we perceive what we are experiencing.
4. Suffering is transient and temporary.
When we are going through suffering, it can feel as if the experience will never end. However, the saying “this, too, shall pass” is true of suffering. While this truth may not help much in the middle of the difficult experience, it can be a relief to know the experience will end. Specifically related to loss, even though a loss through death is for the rest of this life, the loss is still temporary, because when we join our loved ones in heaven, everything will be restored, and we will see our loved ones again. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18).
5. Suffering will be redeemed.
God is our redeemer, and as Job states: “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes.” (Job 19:25-27). Paul describes God’s redemption this way: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). We can look to the redemption of God, no matter what the difficulty, because His ultimate redemption has been demonstrated on the cross and in the empty tomb, and we know He always fulfills His promises.
6. God is with us in the midst of suffering.
God never leaves our sides. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). Just as Jesus did when He stood outside Jerusalem and wept for His children, or when He stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and wept in grief over the impact of death, He weeps with us. Throughout our experiences, He stands with us, holding us up, and bringing us comfort. We can take heart in knowing that we are never alone.
7. Suffering does not write our stories.
Our suffering may be a part of our stories, but it does not get the write our ending and it does not determine our future. Out of great suffering can come tremendous growth, maturation, character, perseverance, and hope – if we walk through the suffering with God. Paul puts it so well: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:3-5).
As you face suffering and difficulty, may you fix your eyes on Jesus, Whose love never changes, Who will never leave you or forsake you, and Who will bring healing and redemption to your heart.
Change or Homeostasis?
Human beings seek homeostasis and resist change. Homeostasis feels easy, comfortable, familiar, and secure, and we like to feel those things. We prefer those feelings over the alternatives – difficulty, discomfort, unfamiliarity, and risk. The problem with this choice is that homeostasis is the enemy’s purview. Change is a constant in the realm of God. Growth, transformation, restoration, redemption, reclamation, deliverance, revolution, development, conversion, sanctification, emancipation, rescue, salvation, and freedom are all terms of change.
In every day of Jesus’ life, change was His constant companion. One day 5000 people followed Him to hang on His every word; the next day all left Him except His 12 closest friends, and even the 12 were questioned by Him if they would leave Him also. He moved from place to place to place, never knowing if He would be received or rejected. He spoke change with every word: change from the Scriptural interpretations of the Pharisees, change from bondage to sin, change from a life lived for self to a life lived from love. The Beatitudes list change after change after change in attitude and action and result. Jesus called His disciples to leave everything behind of their old lives, and taught them change as a lifestyle: “36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” (Luke 5:36-38). Paul also speaks of the truth of change: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
If we are to be followers of Christ, we are choosing to reject homeostasis and to accept growth and change as our way of life. The consequences of discomfort and unfamiliarity will come along with our choice, yes. But the freedom, joy, and peace provided by Christ fill us and carry us through, superseding our desires for homeostasis in exchange for a life lived more abundantly. Simply put, you can’t have it both ways. You cannot live in the Kingdom of God (with all of its inherent change) and maintain homeostasis. To choose Christ is the discard the old completely, and to fully embrace the adventure of a life lived for love. - Donna Lane
Attitudes for Joy and Peace
Scripture teaches that certain outlooks and attitudes produce joy and peace. We are suggesting adopting these Scriptural positions through “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5) because what we choose to focus our thoughts on directly produces how we feel. Here are some of those attitudes.
Our circumstances do not determine who we are, how we feel, or what we choose. Because God has ordained that we have free will (the freedom to choose), we have both the right and the responsibility to walk our own path based on who God created us to be, rather than basing our choices on what others think of us, what others do, or what happens to us in our circumstances. God would not suggest that we give thanks in all circumstances unless it was possible for us to do so. In the midst of difficulty, we can choose to focus on those things outside of us that are happening to us, or we can choose to focus our hearts and minds on what Jesus has done for us, His love for us, His presence with us in the midst of the circumstances, and every good thing He has provided for us, because these things are unchanging and ever-present in our lives.
However, gratitude is not possible without an acknowledgement that I need help. The truth is, I need Another. I am built for relationship. If I believe it is all up to me, or if I believe I can save myself or do enough to “earn” love, or determine my own value and worth, or protect myself, I will miss the great gifts of Jesus’ love, His protection, and His valuing of me. I won’t even see them, because my eyes will be focused on myself. Instead, I will foster resentment in my heart, because my beliefs leave me feeling like I “should” do it myself or I “have to” do it myself, and I will feel fear and shame instead of loved and loving. Resentment is the antithesis of gratitude.
So we encourage you to decide to focus your hearts on those things that are stable and sure (who God is and who He says you are), those things that are good and right and true, and express your gratitude for those many gifts. Then check your feelings, and see if you don’t begin to feel peace and joy.
It is interesting to note that joyous and peaceful people are not those who have experienced little or no difficulty; they are not the ones who have had it “easy.” Paradoxically, people whose lives have been relatively easy or without struggle often are quite dissatisfied, feel quickly overwhelmed, tend to give up readily, and feel entitled to things continuing to be easy. These people often do not know how to cope or respond when difficulties arise, and consistently seek the easy road instead of the righteous or truth-based road. But difficulty will arise for all eventually. In fact, we are promised by Jesus that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Rather than avoiding or ignoring difficulties, joyous and peaceful people are those who persevere in the face of struggles, and walk through struggles to the end with Jesus. The verse we have chosen to capture the Biblical perspective on perseverance is: Romans 5:3… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
One of the “roles” the enemy suggests that we play is the Victim role. Several elements make up this role, including abdicating responsibility, giving up freedom to choose, powerlessness, blame of others or circumstances, hopelessness, helplessness, and paralysis. Perseverance demonstrates to us that we are not victims, that we can push ourselves farther than we first believed, that we are capable of more than we realize, and that we are worth fighting for. According to Paul, perseverance produces character in us; in other words, inner strength, and the ability to stand up, take responsibility, and face adversity with honor, discipline, and values. In the face of perseverance, circumstances lose their “power.”
We have a choice, then. Will we agree with the enemy to be the Victim of life, where circumstances dictate how we feel and what we do, and lie down, give up, and give in; or, will be partner with Jesus, stand up in the face of suffering with Him by our side, and persevere through the struggle to the other side? Will we fix our eyes on the circumstances, or on Jesus? We encourage you to persevere, so that you may learn that you have the strength of the presence of Christ within you to rely on. Joy and peace are the results. As Jesus says, at the end of John 16:33, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Some may think that an attitude of contentment arises from things going how you want them to go, having everything you want, feeling “as good as” someone else, or an absence of difficulties; however, this is not the case. Contentment, like every other attitude, is a choice. If I rely on external things, such as the approval of others or circumstances working out just how I want, to determine my feelings, then I abdicate my personal choice and give away all of my power to those external sources, whether those are people or circumstances. Do you see how transient and temporary my joy and peace would be? Any little thing could come along and disrupt my peace, and the worldly state, based in sin, gains great power in my life. Yet, Jesus came to alleviate the impact of sin, so clearly basing contentment on any external sources is not what He has in mind. For this important concept, we have chosen two verses that present different facets of contentment: 1) Galatians 6:4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. 2) Philippians 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The Galatians verses discuss the destructive nature of comparing ourselves to others, and trying to gain contentment through achieving a positive comparison to someone else, whether we are comparing their abilities to ours, or their achievements, or their situations and outcomes. Comparing ourselves to others in any way leads to discontentment. Jealousy and dissatisfaction lead to discontentment. In contrast, knowing who God made you to be, and choosing to be that in every situation, leads to peace and joy. God made each of us with His hand, on purpose, with a distinctive, specific set of thoughts and desires in mind for us. We each fulfill a very explicit and unique place on the battle line against the enemy. He absolutely adores who He made us to be. It is, therefore, a joyful thing to share God’s feelings by “taking pride in (our)selves alone” for being who we are in Christ. Being content with who He made and knowing we are each one of a kind is a peace-generating outlook.
Our second verses from Philippians highlight the perspective that achieves contentment separate from our circumstances. The conclusion Paul draws in verse 13 is that contentment means a focus on Christ, and a reliance on His strength and presence, no matter what our circumstances may be. Paul is clear that it isn’t having plenty that meets his needs; in fact, having plenty and being in need are presented side-by-side as if they are one in the same. Our circumstances are a setting in which we have our relationship with Jesus. That relationship is unchanging, not swayed by circumstantial variations, which gives us a solid and secure foundation on which to stand, no matter what happens. Knowing where my feet are planted, and feeling that sense of safety and certainty, results in a strong and assured peace.
An attitude of contentment, then, is about knowing who we are according to Christ, focusing on and living based on who we are and how we are in all situations, and relying on the consistency of love in the presence of Christ for our strength, our assurance, and our stability.
We mentioned that the role of Victim is one that Satan likes to get us to play in our lives. Another role he likes to encourage in us is the role of the Judge. Both roles, Victim and Judge, abdicate responsibility. Taking responsibility for our choices rather than blaming someone else or shaming ourselves brings peace and joy. The verse we have chosen to capture the Scriptural perspective on responsibility is Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Both the Victim and the Judge are centered on the illusion of control. While they are two sides of the same coin, using control in different ways, both grow out of a root of fear and are established in an attempt to control (situations or others). As the Judge, I never have to look in the mirror and see my role in problems that are occurring in my life, or between me and others, or between God and me. I am too busy looking out at the actions of others, seeking someone or something else to blame for those problems, to notice my own responsibility. However, the truth of God states I am responsible for my own choices, and will reap what I have sown. Not taking responsibility may look attractive on the surface – after all, if it is someone else’s fault, who can find “fault” with me (including me)? I don’t need to defend myself or feel bad about myself then; instead, I can point to others to take the fall. However, the satisfaction or relief is short-lived, because consequences start happening anyway, even if I don’t choose to accept responsibility for them. It is built into the fabric of creation, and is even expressed as a law of physics, that actions produce reactions. The reason God created such a system was out of love for us. Imagine for a moment what our lives would be like if our actions produced no predictable results. How could we ever learn what is beneficial and what is harmful? Without resulting consequences, we would be repeating the same harmful actions over and over again, but never learning. We would also be living in a world ruled by chaos, without order and without understanding or wisdom. So it was love that determined choice and consequence, which gave us responsibility and in so doing produced real freedom. Accountability, then, is part of love, and removing responsibility or consequences for choices ultimately removes freedom.
If I take responsibility I am able to choose differently in the future. Shame (the Victim) is like quicksand that binds us to the same behavior over and over again. Blame (the Judge) keeps us from seeing what we need to change and realizing that we can change. True freedom does not come from avoidance of responsibility; it comes from acceptance of responsibility and all of the very valuable lessons that grow us in that process.
Surrender is about letting go of the illusion of control. As long as we believe that we have control over anything, we will create anxiety within which destroys our peace and robs our joy. I want to emphasize what I am saying here: there is no such thing as control. We like to hedge around this issue with such statements as “I don’t control others, but I am in control of myself” or “I’m not in control but God is in control.” In buying into these thoughts, we are continuing the illusion that there is such a thing as control. There is not. God is Sovereign, which means He has the authority and right to rule, but He does not determine outcomes, because He has given us free will along with a role as participants in the working out of His will. Satan also exerts his usurped authority to impact things in this world, if he can get us to cooperate by believing his lies. Thus, many factors impact what happens and how things turn out. We have no control because control does not exist. For example, I decide I want to write this post about surrender, and sit down at my computer with every intention of writing it; however, my computer doesn’t start, or refuses to open the internet, or loses everything I have written so far for some unknown reason (technology does this kind of thing to me all the time!). It didn’t matter that I fully intended to write the post. My action does not determine the outcome, and God’s will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven (thus the instruction to pray for it to be so). What do we have, then, if there is no such thing as control? What are we surrendering to? God asks us to surrender our whole selves into His hands and His heart. He asks that we walk with Him through every circumstance, no matter what the outcome, knowing and trusting that He loves us. The verse we have chosen to capture the Biblical perspective on surrender is 1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.
Have you noticed in your own life that things do not always go the way you want them to go? Have you experienced that sometimes bad things happen? If we believe that control exists, it is the logical conclusion that when bad things happen it is our fault or it is God’s fault. This response, while the logical extension of a belief in control, does not endear us or bring us closer to God, and ultimately leads to self-loathing as well. The next logical conclusion is that I must live in fear of the bad thing happening, and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, either by controlling situations and others, or by protecting myself. The fear-based response of trying to exert more control where there is none, and the shame-based response of blaming myself or God, is very self-defeating. It increases my anxiety rather than making things better for me. Satan loves it when he can get us to agree with control. Trying to control and worrying about outcomes - in other words, approaching life with fear - destroys peace. And the more we distance ourselves from God, the less joy and peace we have in our hearts.
God gives us choice to replace control, so making choices without an expectation of a particular outcome, and resting with God after making the best possible choices we can make according to His guidance and leadership, increases our joy and peace. We have a partner Who loves us dearly as His precious children. Rather than trying to control, doesn’t it make more sense to abide with Him, listen to His voice in every circumstance, and walk through every situation holding His strong hand? When we choose this path, outcomes are not as important as the journey itself, and being with Him is everything.
Forgiveness is often misunderstood. It does not mean the sin against you doesn’t matter or didn’t happen. Nor does it mean those who sinned against you are off the “hook” for the sin. Jesus is clear that He hates sin, and desires that no one would sin. Sin matters; sin has real consequences. Instead, forgiveness simply means you know you are not the judge – that you allow Jesus to take the sin against you so you don’t have to carry it, and that you know and trust He will deal with it well. The verse we have chosen to capture the Biblical perspective on forgiveness is Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
An important aspect of forgiveness is found in the last sentence of our verse: we forgive because we know we have been forgiven. At times, when someone sins against us and we suffer the consequences of the sin of another, we forget how often and how deeply we have sinned, and that Jesus suffered the consequences for our sins. But when we remember our own sin, and we recall how Jesus carried our sin for us, we are more likely to allow Him to carry the sins of those who have sinned against us.
Giving the sins of others against us to Jesus to carry has a wonderful result – our burden is lightened, because when we carry sin of any kind, we are weighted down by that sin. Even more than the consequences of the actual sins of others against us, allowing those sins to bleed away our own joy and peace is much more damaging to us. It doesn’t take the offender to acknowledge their sin, to repent, or to ask for forgiveness in order for us to forgive. Forgiveness happens between God and the forgiving person alone. In fact, carrying the sins of others, where we have no authority to do anything with or about the sin, leaves us feeling powerless and trapped. Forgiveness, as defined by giving the sins of others against you into the hands of Jesus, frees us, places the sinner in the hands of the Lord Who can do something with the sin, and restores our peace and joy.
By “presence” we mean more than one thing. Presence indicates living in the presence of Jesus, focused on Him at all times and in all things. Presence also means living in the moment, being fully present where you are with what you are doing, and being fully who you are in the here and now. These concepts are integrally and inseparably related; for I cannot be fully present if I am not in His presence, and I cannot be fully in His presence unless I am completely present and wholly myself. Because we have different aspects of this idea joined together for the exploration of this final attitude, we have chosen multiple sections of Scripture to capture the Biblical perspective on “presence.” The first is Psalm 16. The whole Psalm extols what comes from living in the presence of the Lord, but here we will pull two verses to focus on. Psalm 16:8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Our second verse is Jesus’ teaching on living in the here and now. Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Our third verse shows the importance of being fully who you are in Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
First, let’s talk about living in the presence of the Lord. He is with us always, as He promised He would be, so the choice to be “present” with Him is ours, and it is based on what we choose as our focus. Our physical senses are inundated by the worldly perspective, but we have a choice as to where we will “fix” our eyes and what we hear with our ears. We can surround ourselves with truth, love and beauty, and we can place constant reminders in our surroundings to keep our thoughts on His truth. We can choose not to indulge in focusing on sin-based behaviors and lie-based thoughts. We can speak truth to ourselves and aloud to others, so that our ears are reminded continuously of that truth we know from Him. But most of all, I believe the most critical aspect of living in His presence involves centering ourselves on Him, talking to Him, listening to His responses, and watching His actions and reactions. As He said, He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19) and He is in the Father and the Father in Him (John 14:10). Later, Jesus goes on to enjoin us to remain in His love (John 15:9) and to pray that we would be in Him as He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (John 17:21). From these teachings of Jesus, we can see that it is both possible and preferable that we remain “in Him”, as He was with His Father, focused only on what His Father was doing and saying. To live in this manner means choosing to pray without ceasing, as we are taught by Paul to do (I Thess. 5:17): prayer defined as an ongoing, two-way conversation with the Lord, where we ask Him for truth in all circumstances, where we take the time to listen and look for His direction and guidance, and where we allow Him to pour out His love in our hearts.
Now let’s explore being present in the here and now. Focusing on the past or on the future is actually focusing on something that is not real. The past is over and cannot be altered, or even experienced, in the here and now; therefore, it is not our present reality. The future has not happened yet, and is only our imagination of what might be, not the reality of what will be. Nothing about our imagining is real, because it hasn’t actually occurred, and may never occur. Thus, the only thing we have is right here, right now, this present moment, today. In James, the author warns against focusing on tomorrow, observing “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). And Jesus instructed the disciples to pray “give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). It is clear, then, that we are to live in the present moment, fully immersed in now. Further, living in the now removes anxiety and creates peace, as Jesus presents when He teaches about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (Luke 12:24-31).
Finally, what does it mean to be fully present as who God made you to be? Being present means being honest, open, genuine, transparent, and vulnerable. It means not hiding, and not self-protecting. As prophesy states, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place” (Isaiah 28:17). Jesus is truth and light. We cannot hide ourselves and be in the light and truth at the same time. We cannot pretend to be something other than who He made, or put on a mask or false face, and be in the light and truth at the same time. He put His light – some aspect of His nature – into each of our hearts to shine into the world, and show Him to the world. We are here to bring the Kingdom of Heaven into the world, for it is within us now. So, knowing who He says you are – and if you don’t know, you can ask Him to show you and/or tell you who He made you to be – and then living out of that truth is the essence of being fully present. Living fully as He made us to be in His presence is the ultimate joy, the truly abundant life, and total immersion in the peace that transcends our comprehension. - Donna Lane
Satan begins as early as possible planting seeds of fear and shame in order to gain increasing amounts of authority in our lives, usurped from the authority given to us by God in His gift of free will. Our freedom to choose is increasingly stolen by the enemy as we relinquish our freedom in exchange for a false promise of safety from whatever we fear, and a hiding place to cover up whatever shames us. His goal is to deceive us into believing in the illusion of control, which enables him to drive us like a horse under his whip, while our eyes see only our own feet on the road and our own head setting off in a direction. In reality, he is steering us through fear and shame toward his desired results.
The only way to be truly free, paradoxically, is to surrender to Christ. If we willingly let go of the illusion of control, which feels like we are giving up control but in reality is severing our agreement with the enemy in fear and shame, we are actually regaining our freedom and authority in Christ. Where Satan increasingly limits our choices, Jesus offers us grace to render our sin irrelevant which removes our fear and shame, and infinite choices which is the definition of freedom. In order to gain my life, I must lose it. When I lose my life for the sake of Christ, only then will I find it. - Donna Lane
I am not a fan of the idea of a “Bucket List,” mainly because I believe that something is seriously wrong if it takes fear of impending death to motivate individuals to pursue the desires of their heart. I prefer the idea of “Lifejoys” as a list of things to share with Jesus. To me, sharing experiences with Jesus that are meaningful and special to me – those things that I get excited about and truly enjoy – makes the experience that much more joyous. Imagine listening to beautiful music with the Creator of all music, seeing a special place in the world with the world’s Designer, or doing something outside of your comfort zone that you’ve always wanted to do with your Very Best Friend by your side, sharing the whole experience with you. What could be more wondrous?
Donna E. Lane