Category Archives: Spiritual Life

Parallel Universes – Living Between Two Worlds and Experiencing “Thin Places”

Christian Theists are those with this belief in parallel universes. One universe consists of rock, and glass, and steel, and clothes, and food, and wrestling, and spaghetti, and scented candles, and perfume, and things we can see, feel, hear, taste, and touch.

But another universe consists of angels and sinister spiritual forces and somewhere out there, maybe even closer than we think, but somewhere in another dimension, there are places called Heaven and Hell.

And we can experience what I would call “thin places” between these two universes, where these two worlds merge together more so than they do at other times in empirical terms.

Philip Yancey writes about these times in our lives. “The time I snorkled on a coral reef and suddenly flashes of color and abstract design flitting around me became a window to a Creator who exults in life and beauty. Or the time my wife forgave me for something that did not merit forgiveness – that too became a window, allowing a startling glimpse of divine grace.” “I have these moments, but soon toxic fumes from the material world seep in. Sex appeal! Power! Money! Military might! (Finding God…).” Our “thin places” get thick again.

There is a certain kind of Biblical writer who experienced these thin places, who were especially in tune with God’s whispers, whispers of love in ancient forgotten dusty places. They experienced these “thin places” and wrote about them. They heard the voice of God echo through human experiences and needs and they journaled about these experiences, and even penned songs and poems and prophecies that reflected what they were hearing. They heard the voice echoing in the every day and they wrote down what they heard and experienced. They are called Psalmists. Psalms help us to recognize God’s voice in the everyday. There’s a plurality of voices in the Psalms. In them, we hear the voices of the communities out of which they came and the voices of the writers who wrote them. They contain voices of celebration and of oppression and of protest and of wisdom and of service and of love and romance and beauty and of righting the wrongs in the world. But in, with, and through all this, there is another voice that is heard. The divine voice. God whispers. And His voice echoes through the text, down through the years, into our present day. It’s a voice that whispers in our thin places, ” Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

I have experienced several “thin places” in my life. I will never forget those times. It could be a scene from a movie, a song at a symphony, a painting in a museum, a panoramic view of a mountain vista, a love note from a spouse, a forgotten poem on a dusty book shelf – but in these locations a word was spoken, and I heard.

I was reading a 48 chapter book not long ago, and every chapter has a number and then goes right into the content. Only two of these 48 chapters have an excerpt from a poem after the chapter number. One of those chapters in this book has an excerpt from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Here’s what it said: “Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush aflame with God. But only those who see take off their shoes.” That poem just filleted me. If we only began to listen, to pay attention, we would hear and see things – God-whisperings, and all the world would be holy ground.

We are always looking elsewhere for God – the great and strong wind that rips mountains apart. “Show me some supernatural revelation of your power, then I might believe you and hear you out.” “Shake this earth at its foundation so that people around the world could feel Your power. Then we might believe in You and serve You and listen to what You have to say.” “Flash flames across the heavens and consume the wicked, then you’ll have our attention.”

But God says, “No. I’d rather just whisper in the everyday in life’s thin-places.” God simply wants to be right where we are at every moment in gentle whisper. The voice of God is all around you. God is not a silent God. God is speaking to us all the time in everything through everyone. It takes a lifetime for us to really understand that God is right in front of us. Most of our lives are spent looking, straining to see and hear God in the cloud, through the miracle, behind the mist, beyond the dark. But it is when we face God in one another, in creation, in the present moment, that the real spiritual journey begins (with help from Chittister).

Thin-places is about encountering God in the places where we usually ignore Him: like at an art museum, or in a fitness center or gymnasium, or a hospital birthing room, in a theater, at an opera, on vacation in the mountains, in a combine in the fields, or on the blog of an atheist. It’s about hearing God even while you may be in a place that you shouldn’t be, like the bed of a stranger or while sitting in divorce court or while cruising for drugs.

What is the gentle, quiet voice of God whispering to you in your thin-place?

“Why don’t you stay and work things out?”
“Forgive him. Let her go free.”
“Lead your family. Help them on their spiritual journey.”
“Surrender your broken life to Me.”
“Turn away from your lovers, your addiction, and let Me love you.”
“Use your resources for kingdom gains.”
“Serve your neighbor.”
“Don’t judge your co-worker; become their friend.”
“Go have this difficult conversation.”
“You’re being selfish and are afraid that someone is going to get more attention than you.”

Listen for the whisper.

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Filed under Agnosticism, Atheism, Atheist, Christian Worldview, Empiricism, Epistemology, Spiritual Life, Theism, Worldview

Breathe Deeply, Live Fully – The Present Moment is Sacred

This post is dedicated to my atheist friend (aforcier), who has a better grasp on the present moment than I do (as a Christian Theist ironically enough).

Erma Bombeck wrote a piece entitled “If I Had Life to Live Over Again”? In it, she wrote: “I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains…When my child kissed me impetuously, I would have never said, “Later. Now get washed up for dinner.” There would have been more I love yous, more I’m sorrys, but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute, look at it and really see it, live it, and never give it back.”

I remember the testimony of an anonymous friar in a Nebraska monastery. He wrote it in a letter late in his life. He says some surprising things and admits the need for being in the present moment. Remember, he’s lived an entire life of rigorous self-discipline in such a way that he feels he’s been cheated out of his present moments, and this is what he says:

“If I had my life to live over again, I’d try to make more mistakes next time. I would relax, I would limber up, and I would be sillier than I have been this trip… I would be crazier. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers, and watch more sunsets. I would do more walking and looking. I would eat more ice cream and less beans… You see, I’m one of those people who lives…sensibly hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else, just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead each day. I’ve been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat, aspirin, and a parachute. If I had to do it over again I would go places, do things, and travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over I would start barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.”

So if you have today, enjoy it immensely. Enjoy your job. After you’re done for the day, go get some taco’s. Sprinkle a little hot-sauce on them. Chase that down with some Schwann’s vanilla ice-cream, half-melted so you can stir it up in the bowl. Curl up on the couch and watch a football game. Keep your toes warm by putting them under the family dog’s belly. Make brownies to go with that Schwann’s vanilla ice-cream. Watch a little Andy Griffith after the game. Get lost in a great book.

Or, if you love nature (and all of us do to one degree or another), go outside, and enjoy a quiet place, on a log, by a river, with the smell of decaying leaves wafting through the air. God has created in such a way as to give you present moments. “God could have left the world flat and gray; we wouldn’t have known the difference. Be he didn’t. He splashed orange in the sunrise and cast the sky in blue… Did he have to make the birds sing? Was He required to put stripes on the zebra or the hump on the camel? And the funny way that chickens scurry or the majesty of thunder when it rings? Why give a flower fragrance? Why give food its taste? Why wrap creation in such splendor? Could it be he loves to see that look upon your face when you you recognize for the first time ‘You did this for me.’ (Lucado, Grace I and II).”

Trust God and have fun and make life better for someone else along the way – create a great present moment for them! Get lost in God’s world, even if but for a moment. Tomorrow will bring some unexpected things – and you may even cry about it – but you have today – this present moment.

You see the greatest tragedy of all in life is to assume that life is nothing more than humdrum, that there isn’t anything in it to seize or that there is no one seizing me. That’s the problem with post-modernism – there’s nothing to seize – no larger story going on. We live and we die in a series of disconnected moments. But there is One who is in an ever present sacred “Present Moment.” Join in the mystery of that moment.

Someone once asked Mark Buchanan what his biggest regret in life has been. He said, “I thought a moment, surveying the vast and cluttered landscape of my blunders and losses, the evil I have done and the evil that’s been done against me. ‘Being in a hurry,’ I said. ‘Pardon?’ Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me… Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.”

Don’t throw your moments away. You have this moment. Live it fully, breathe deeply.

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Filed under Atheism, Atheist, Christian Worldview, Christianity, Happiness, Intelligent Design, Larger Story, Life Purpose, Parenting, Post-modernism, Present Moment, Spiritual Life, Theism, Universe, Worldview

30 Days to Live – Born February 22, 1968 – Died January 31, 2009 | How will you live your dash?

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” –Randy Pausch

Those words were spoken by a guy whose book I recently read entitled, The Last Lecture. Doctors estimated that Randy Pausch had three to six months of good health remaining. He didn’t waste those remaining months. He spent time with family, with friends and with colleagues. And he wrote a book.

The Last Lecture is a collection of life’s lessons and reflections, by a man with just a short time to live. Ironically enough, his book is more about living than dying. He talked about the importance of overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, and seizing every moment, because in his case, life had to be squeezed into just a few short months and ten cancerous tumors in his liver were not going to cheat him of even 10 minutes that he had left.

Many college professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to ruminate on what matters most to them as a professor and as a human-being. They are invited to talk about their lives and the life lessons. Carnegie Mellon invited Pausch to do the same, and Pausch’s lecture became a book.

In preparation for a lecture series that I’m doing called “30 Days to Live”, I’ve been living as if it’s my last 30 days.

What if you had only 30 days to live? How would you live? Who would you want to be with? What would you like to say to them? Where would you like to go? What would you like to do? Would you modify your weekly schedule to allow for more together time? Would you still watch the same amount of television? Would you still fret over the same tit-for-tat stuff, hold grudges or get bitter? Would life’s little irritations even matter to you? Would you talk to God more? Would you admit that He existed? Would you go to church more? Would you spend your money differently? Would you follow through with your good intentions? Would you need to connect with a family member that you had distanced yourself from? Is there an apology that you would need to make? If you had only 30 days to live what unfinished business would you need to take care of? Is there a son that you need to call? Is there a daughter that you need to hug? Is there a parent you need to sit down with? Is there an issue that you need to resolve? If you had 30 days to live, how would you live? Are there habits that you would give up? Are there lifestyle changes that you would make? Is there a letter that you would have to write? Is there a task that you would need to do? Between your date of birth and your date of death is a dash. This post is about that dash and about the lecture you leave behind while you live.

After reading Pausch’s brief book, I couldn’t help but think about the last talk, post, or lecture that I would be forced to give some day. And since I only have less than 30 days to live (at least, that’s how I am living these days though no diagnosis has been given to the contrary and I’m healthy so far as I know), I had better go ahead and write about a few things that I need to share, something to remember my life by and to get communicated what I need to say to the people I love. What would my last lecture sound like assuming that I only had 30 days to live?

1. Live in the present moment. Savor your days and simple things. If I have any regrets in life, it would be this one – that I always looked ahead to the next thing without fully enjoying the moment. I don’t know where my 20’s went. My 30’s are just a blur. My 40’s are just beginning and I want to savor every moment.

2. Read and learn as much as you can. Learn like you’ll be here forever but live like it’s your last day. Be a student of the Bible because in it we encounter God.

3. Develop and live by a biblical, Christian worldview, knowing what you believe and why and how Christianity is true. Don’t ever abandon the faith. The Gospel is true and is the hope of the world. Christianity answers the deeper questions of life like no other belief system in the world. Where we came from, why we’re here, what life’s purpose is, what went wrong in the world, what God is doing to fix it, why the bible is so special, what God eventually does to resolved suffering and evil, and how we know there is life after death – all of these questions are so ably addressed by a Christian worldview. No matter what happens, don’t abandon the faith. Christian Theism is defensible and the resurrection changes every thing.

4. Love your spouse with a mature love. Allow all of your learning and growth in life to translate into a love for your lover, where mistakes can be talked about and true intimacy can be achieved. I want to thank my wife for all that she has given to me over the years, so selfless in caring for children, allowing me to pursue degrees, and setting me up to enjoy daily life. Donnette, I have to say thank you and please live your life knowing that you were loved, even though my own selfishness seemed to indicate otherwise and hindered me from understanding how love was supposed to work. I offer my sincerest apologies for inflicting hurt. I also want you to know that my happiest memories in life have you somewhere in the picture or on the slide of life. College, career, moving, graduate school, children, and life transitions – you are in all of them. The dates, the baby’s first cry, the first job after college, the Christmas mornings, the trips home to see family, the great dinners, the songs sung, the little moments of humor and silliness – only you babe.

5. Be absolutely crazy over your children. Don’t placate or pamper them. Shoot straight and let them feel the consequences of their actions. But be the safest place in the world for them to go to talk about anything and everything in life. Have no “off-limits” topics. Talk about anatomy to theology to just plain old life and be fully there when you talk. Tell them what is important to you. Make it clear how they can live their own life, but that if they wanted to honor you as a parent, how best to go about that.

Megan, I love your ways, so considerate and kind. I love how you laugh when you’re really tickled. I love your curly hair, to see you lost in a great story, to hear the word “Dad” mid-sentence to just make sure I’m still there and plugged in to what you are telling me. You are wise in so many ways, a lover of music, and passionate for animals and left-out people. I absolutely adore your artwork and sketches. You be a work of art; make life beautiful with whatever you are given to work with. My sense is that you will graduate from IWU someday, get married, have a family, all the while, creating, sketching, painting some of the most beautiful things one could imagine.

Will, you have no idea how much you mean to me. You are quiet, yet so fun loving and ornery. You are a man I will always respect, for getting on the mat and wrestling for something you believe in. As you get older, you are looking more like I looked when I was your age. You don’t have to achieve anything for me to love you any more than I do. God has given you the ability to process your thoughts slowly, deeply, and thoroughly. When it’s all done, I love hearing what you have to say. Your love for the outdoors, for adventure, for the mountains and rivers, pulls me back to my roots and primal instincts. God has given you the gift of appreciating His nature gifts and living from them. When you kayak tour and hike and climb and travel and experience all of this, know that I will always be in those moments with you. My sense is that you would love to see the world and that college and/or the military or a career will be the vehicle that takes you along this path. In all your journeys, there will be one cheering for you as you explore and lead a God-honoring life.

Levi, I could not imagine life without you. God has given you some great abilities and I want you to use everyone of them for Him. Honor God with your life. Really enjoy knowing and loving Him through your gifts. Is there anything more honoring to God than that? My sense is that you’ll go to a Big Ten school, study engineering, play a sport, and build that home for unwed mothers that we’ve talked about someday. Whatever you do, use your words, sharp intellect and athletic ability to honor God and win great victories for His kingdom. You honor your mother. And when people want to know what you attribute to your life success, you tell them that there was this little 5 foot tall woman who fixed the greatest meals in the world, invested so much time in your upbringing, and who showed you how to be tender and kind.

6. Always partner with a local church, serving others in the community, helping to reclaim a fallen creation, fulfilling the cultural mandate to steward the creation as well as to make disciples of Jesus. My mother wrote in her journal that her one great wish for all her family would be that all of her children would be a part of a local church all their lives. “Mom, here I am, leading one. I have championed that which you so deeply have believed in.” The church is the hope of the world when it’s working right. I would also add that I appreciate my immediate family, my brothers and sister. You always carry your family with you. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t recall some memory or experience that you had as a child with your family. Randy, Becky, Jeff, and Rob (and your families), remember our mothers request and legacy. May the family circle be unbroken when we are all together once again.

7. Cultivate a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t become a “religionist.” Follow Christ with passion, go against the cultural tide if you have to, and make Him your greatest pleasure. Do life as he asked us to do it.

8. Have a passion in life that you care deeply about. Don’t worry about what other people think. Live from your passion, always showing gratitude for those who help you along the way.

Sitting around the table a few days ago and thinking about these things, I asked the kids, “If you only had 30 days to live, what would you do and who would you do it with?” The consensus was that they would want to do things with their immediate and extended family. But the specifics of what they wanted to do varied. (I give these is grocery list fashion)

Levi, would want to take in a Colts game. Visit the 5 places he would like to go to the most (California, NYC, Hawaii, Alaska, and Dallas.) Experience 0 gravity. Go to Cedar Point one more time. Help all abused dogs. Go to a BCS football game. Go to Michigan Wolverines football game with uncles and cousins. Try the worlds hottest pepper and get on the wall of flame at Wings Etc. See Dad run a NFL play or catch a pass in a game. Visit all Big Ten Stadiums. Solve a Rubik’s Cube.

Will would visit the Grand Tetons and the Boundary Waters and go to WV to kayak with the dogs.

Megan would adopt some death-row dogs and donate her money to the Humane Society. Hug everyone she cared about. Stay in a cabin in the mountains. Eat as much as she wanted. Would not exercise.

Donnette would go to KC and spend time with family there. Spend time with parents in Quincy, IL. Go to Israel and Ireland with family. Teach her kids how to make a few of their favorite recipe’s. Make a CD at Gaither Studios with encouraging songs, songs about being faithful, loving God and then donate CD’s to prisoners, crisis pregnancy centers, nursing homes and others needing encouragement. Somehow be able to share her heart on a big scale with her nation for the burden she carries for them. Tell them to look to God’s Word on the key issues like family, sex, faith, abortion. Go buy a beautiful dress and not worry about the cost. Then go have dinner and attend an outdoor concert with me in KC or Colorado. She would hope that she wouldn’t have to do any grocery shopping or laundry.

I would take half a month and see the world with my family: tour Jerusalem and sail the Sea of Galilee; sat down for lunch in Greece and stand in the amphitheater of Rome; fly over the Swiss Alps and stay in a mountain lodge; visit a few key stops on Paul’s missionary journeys; spend time with a C.S Lewis guide in England and see his home, Oxford office, and pub he lunched in; do Alaska and Australia and European villages and towns. I would show my kids how to use my library and write books with it. Take some time for extended family and church family friends and any atheist friends who would care to talk about the deeper spiritual questions. Spend a day or so with children who are not expected to live very long. I have no desire to ride a bull, jump out of a plane, or visit a celebrity. I would spend the next 15 days or so at home with the people I love, sharing my thoughts, appreciating the moment. Last meal: Donnette’s homemade pizza.

Randy Pausch, Born: October 23, 1960 – Died: July 25, 2008. He was 47. Joey Nelson, Born: February 22, 1968 – Died: January 31, 2009. He was 40 years old. How will you live your dash?

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Why are there so many Atheism Blogs?

Why are there so many atheism blogs? I saw recently how one guy collects them all in one place so you can “feed” on a life without God, literally hundreds of blog links, enough reading for several years.

My question is: Why? Why this persistent, diligent pursuit to prove or convince themselves and others that there is no God. Something I read some time ago seems to address this question.

Charles Colson tells about Irina Ratushinskaya, a young girl in the Soviet Union years ago. She was trained in Communist schools and indoctrinated in atheism. She said she could never figure out why her teachers all pitched such a furious battle against someone they said didn’t exist. “God doesn’t exist.” Irina began to question: “Can’t they tell they are giving themselves away? Adults tell you there are no gremlins or ghosts. They tell you once or twice, and that’s it. But with God, they tell you over and over again. So He must exist – and He must be very powerful for them to fear Him so greatly.”

You see, something inside is telling the atheistic bloggers – God really does exist. Rather than yield to his love, the atheist will convince himself/herself that God doesn’t exist and in so doing, proves that he in fact does exist, but that they are unwilling to acknowledge it. The sheer volume of atheistic blogs testify to the existence of one they refuse to acknowledge due to mulish pride.

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How Do I Miss God? – An Ancient Poet Answers

The fool [a fool is one who convinces himself that he knows more than he really knows and doesn’t really need to ask questions] says in his heart, [This is not a private conclusion that he/she comes to and keeps to themselves; it is an act of the will that he continues to say over and over again.] “There is no God.”

God will have no place in my life. A person can ask “Is there a God?” and not be a fool. A person can ask “If there is a God, can I know him?” and not be a fool. A person can go through extreme heartache, and wonder if there is a god. These are legitimate questions. But a person who looks around them and still they conclude as an act of their will that there is no God, that person is a fool, according to an ancient poet (Psalm 14:1). A fool is not stupid or intellectually dull; he’s self-willed, despite the evidence. If you think believing in God is by faith, try disbelieving in Him based on all the evidence. It takes a far greater faith to do so. People often ask the question, “How do I find God?” The question that I want to ask is “How do you miss Him?”

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What It’s Like Not to Know

Sometime ago, I was talking to someone who was raised in a family where the deep questions of life were really never answered. Where she came from, who made her, what she was placed here to do, what went wrong in the world, what happened in our world to make it what it is today, and how is it being fixed, and what I can do to help fix it – were all questions that were never answered for her. Now, picture this. God is never talked about. The Bible is just another dusty, ancient book. The church is irrelevant, talking about things that you don’t understand. Prayer is more like muttering to yourself than talking to Someone and everyone assumes that I should want more of this! We have to realize what it’s like not to know.

This young lady wrote me a letter. She writes: “Pastor Joey, Does it make me different, because I look at things different than others? Does it make me a bad person because I go to church, but don’t understand God? Am I doing the right thing by coming to church on Sunday’s even though I don’t understand? Why it it so important to have a leader like “God”? Why can’t we be our own leaders?… Why does it have to be a religion?… Please help me to understand God and what makes Him so special.”

That’s what is behind much of this blog. Let’s answer these questions in ways that people can understand.

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Something More

G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

Life doesn’t come to us as a math problem to be solved, but scene by scene. Life unfolds like a drama. Sometimes it seems like a tragedy. Sometimes like a comedy. Most of it feels like a soap opera (Eldredge, Epic: The Story God Is Telling and the Role That Is Yours to Play). However life comes to you, written on your heart is a longing for “happily ever after,” a desire for, in the words of Eldredge, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God G. K. Chesterton called it “the divine discontent.” There has to be something more. Maybe you have tasted or are tasting a little bit of Eden in your earth-bound story. But can I honestly share with you that you cannot hang on to it. Age will eventually conquer you. Your time will come to an end. Sooner or later life will break your heart. And then what? It’s only in Christ that we have “happily ever after.” What you have to understand about Jesus is that even after generations of people had spit in his face and His chosen people stripped him naked and ripped his incarnated flesh from His body, He still loved them enough to die for such sick broken people. And even today, after billions have chosen to prostitute themselves before the pimps of power, fame, and wealth, he still loves. Only God could love like that. Some of you have never known that kind of love. This is our true destiny. It’s a love story big enough to live in for the rest of your life. Why don’t you give in to the relentless pursuit of God’s love? God has been working your tangled script for a long time, cutting and pasting, adding and deleting. He wants to write many more chapters. Let Jesus tell you who you are and what He intends to do in your life. The first move back from ruin starts with forgiveness. It takes Christ diving into your mess and while Christ has already done that, He can only do it personally for you, when you say “Yes.” Outside of Christ, you are a spiritual corpse. In Him, you are raised to a new life. The solution to depravity and sin is not more government, more education, more religion. You need raised from the dead. Your job isn’t to get up off the table – corpses can’t do that. Your job is simply to admit “I’m dead and need somebody to raise me.” From that moment, restoration begins in the human heart – to change it and make it like Jesus.

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