What’s ‘Spirituality’ About? [v110]

APRIL 2008

ARE YOU ‘SPIRITUAL’?—Many years ago, one may have been asked, “What’s your religion?” It used to be such a simple question to answer. But today, people say they’re “spiritual, but not religious”—or were raised in one faith, but are now practicing another. Maybe you’re a Baptist (or other ‘denomination’), but think of yourself more as a “seeker” who is “anti-religion.” Or you may ‘term’ yourself as a “Muslim,” a “Jew”, a “born again Christian,” a “Kabbalahist,” a “New-ager,” or just trying to figure out life and find your own “path.” […to mention a few, but not to the exclusion of any other belief system]. The old categories don’t seem to work because the religious ‘landscape’ has changed so much.

So, I thought I would consult one of the ‘experts’ in the field of “spirituality,” Beliefnet. It ‘bills’ itself as the “leading multi-faith portal [Internet site] on religion, spirituality and inspiration.” They continue saying, “We are independent. We are not affiliated with a particular religion or spiritual movement. We are not out to convert you to a particular approach, but rather to help you find your own… An e-community designed to help you meet your own religious and spiritual needs—in an interesting, captivating and engaging way.”

Their “first installment in a guide to spiritual teachers and religious thinkers, contemporary and classical” lists people that you’ve probably heard of like Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, John Gray, Thomas Moore, M. Scott Peck, Neale Donald Walsch, and Marianne Williamson (list not inclusive).

In addition to this area, almost every “substantial” belief system has an ‘area’, as well as having a special area devoted to what the “celebrities” believe. So, it’s a pretty broad ‘cross-section’ of what people are thinking when the term “spirituality” comes up.

In one of their ‘premiere’ articles, author Robert C. Fuller sites that one in every five Americans (roughly half of all the un-churched), identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”—with confusion stemming from the fact that the words “spiritual” and “religious” are really synonyms. Both connote belief in a “Higher Power” of some kind—implying a desire to connect, or enter into a more intense relationship, with this “Higher Power.” And, finally, both connote interest in rituals, practices, and daily moral behaviors that foster such a connection or relationship.

Before the 20th century the terms “religious” and “spiritual” were used more or less interchangeably. But a number of modern intellectual and cultural forces have accentuated differences between the “private” and “public” spheres of life. The increasing prestige of the sciences, the insights of modern biblical scholarship, and greater awareness of cultural relativism all made it more difficult for educated American to sustain unqualified loyalty to religious institutions. Many began to associate genuine faith with the “private” realm of personal experience rather than with the “public” realm of institutions, creeds, and rituals. The word “spiritual” gradually came to be associated with a private realm of thought and experience while the word “religious” came to be connected with the public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal rituals, and adherence to official denominational doctrines.

Forsaking formal religious organizations, these people have instead embraced an individualized spirituality that includes picking and choosing from a wide range of alternative religious philosophies. They typically view spirituality as a journey intimately linked with the pursuit of personal growth or development. A woman who joined a meditation center after going through a divorce and experiencing low self-esteem offers an excellent example. All she originally sought was a way to lose weight and get her life back on track. The Eastern religious philosophy that accompanied the meditation exercises was of little or no interest to her. Yet she received so many benefits from this initial exposure to alternative spiritual practice that she began experimenting with other systems including vegetarianism, mandalas, incense, breathing practices, and crystals. When interviewed nine years later by sociologist Marilyn McGuire, this woman reported that she was still “just beginning to grow” and she was continuing to shop around for new spiritual insights.

McGuire found that many spiritual seekers use the “journey” image to describe a weekend workshop or retreat—the modern equivalents of religious pilgrimages. The fact that most seekers dabble or experiment rather than making once-and-forever commitments is in McGuire’s opinion “particularly apt for late modern societies with their high degrees of pluralism, mobility and temporally limited social ties, communications, and voluntarism.”

Spirituality exists wherever we struggle with the issue of how our lives fit into the greater “cosmic scheme” of things. This is true even when our questions never give way to specific answers or give rise to specific practices such as prayer or meditation. We encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world. An idea or practice is “spiritual” when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life.

In the past, I have discussed the “meaning of life” ( http://www.thesearchformeaning.com ) and if there is a “purpose for life” ( http://www.spiritedesign.com/pdl ). Every one of us has to ‘decide’ these questions for ourselves—what’s ‘true’ for us—in addition to what will happen to us when we die, and ‘where’ do we believe we will ‘end up’.

All of us looking for truth would do well to bear in mind that, in life, we must make judgments, separating the “wheat from the chaff,” so to speak—and we do it a hundred times a day. This kind of judgment is necessary for our very survival.

If we must discern between truth and error in our physical life, what makes us think we can change the ‘rules’ in our spiritual life—which may have eternal ramifications?

Many people believe that most religions ‘say’ the same thing. Although religions teach some similar concepts, they do differ. Some religions taught the sacrifice of children into the fire belly of an idol or hatred and vengeance to enemies, whereas some teach a response of forgiveness and love. Some teach a man that a wife is merely a plaything he owns, while others teach him to honor her as a spiritual equal. Some teach ritual prostitution or multiple wives, while others teach monogamy. Some religions teach you shouldn’t help a crippled beggar because he’s reaping his karmic debt, while others teach that acts of charity to the needy are rewarded by God.

However, there are a few things that are the same with all major religions—like basic ethics. Murder, rape, stealing and lying are pretty much universally condemned. But, there’s a bit more diversity, even on the surface, than most people realize. And, when one looks beneath the surface and looks at the foundation of the belief system, huge contradictions emerge.

Some religions say that the primary ‘proof’ of a religion lies solely with the experiences of God’s presence in our lives. But how do you know that what you’re experiencing is actually God? Adolph Hitler was convinced he had a divine appointment with destiny. That was his experience. Does that vindicate the Third Reich? Charles Manson suffered from the same delusion. I’m convinced that you would recoil, with me, at Hitler and Manson and fully condemn what they did—but where does that “judgment” come from? I purport that there is some ‘absolute truth’ that stands outside of all of our experiences, and judges it right or wrong. The experience itself is not enough.

Then how do we ‘know’ what is true? The first way we know something is by authority. Frankly, most of the things we think we know we don’t know because we’ve discovered them ourselves, but rather because someone we trust told us they were so. We trust the words of other people who are reliable. The reliability and credibility of the ‘authority’ is the key issue.

A thing is true if it corresponds to the way the world really is. Simply put, if you know what a lie is, truth is just the opposite. So the second test for the truth, especially concerning religious claims, is to see if those claims ‘fit’ the world.

Hinduism, for example, says the world is an illusion—Maya—we’re not real. God is just dreaming about us and we are part of that dream, so to speak. Our “salvation” involves transcending the illusion and to get back to the godhead.

Now, I have to ask myself, “Is that claim true?” I’ll tell you something, I really don’t think it is. My own cursory ‘examination’ of the world seems to indicate that I am real and the world is real—and I live my life as if it were real. I experience the world first person, firsthand.

Now, I could be mistaken, but I don’t know how I would ‘know’ I was mistaken if I were just an illusion. In fact, it’s almost a nonsensical claim. If I’m an illusion and I don’t really exist as an individual self, then how is it that I could have accurate, factual knowledge that I don’t exist? You see the contradiction here?

Maybe a little limerick I know will help:

There was a faith healer at Deal
That said that pain is not real,
But when I sit on pin,
And it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel.

Furthermore, many “pantheists” believe in reincarnation and the law of karma—reaping what you sow. The idea is that I am what I am and I experience what I experience in this life based on what I did in a previous life. That means that the pain we have was brought on by ourselves—and you’re being blamed for your own pain. Whoa!

All this to say, for me, I think ALL TRUTH rests on the ‘authority’ of Jesus. If Jesus predicted His death and His resurrection—He really did it—and He came back from the dead, wouldn’t that be a pretty solid ‘objective’ basis for believing in Him? It’s the kind of evidence that you would use in deciding a legal case, for instance, any point of history.

[To examine the evidence for the resurrection, click this link:
http://www.4vis.com/sfm/sfm_pres/sp_q2_d3_1of10.html
(Also check out the appendix for more detail)].

To clarify my point, do you believe that Abraham Lincoln lived, that he was the 16th President of the U.S., or that he gave the Gettysburg Address in 1863? If yes, the question is, why? Why do you believe those statements when you never saw him or talked with him? Were you there in 1863 when he gave that famous speech? Have you ever talked to any of them who were there?

Well, I believe I can correctly state that neither of us were there. It’s the ‘witnesses’ that help us believe these things happened–the writings of the people that were there—and that the places and the events they talk about all check out as being reliable and accurate. It’s like seeing ripples on a pond—even though you didn’t see a stone get thrown in or a fish jump, you can trace the ‘ripples’ back to where the disturbance on the water took place.

So, in my view, all other ‘religions’ and Christianity (following the teachings of Jesus) are like oil and water—they can’t mix because they represent opposite and competing concepts—and an appeal to their similarities doesn’t help. We would never say aspirin and arsenic are basically the same just because they both come in tablet form. It’s the ‘differences’ that are critical. That’s true in all areas of life—especially the spiritual.

In my view, all this adds to the legitimacy and credibility of Christianity above all other religions—all based on the person of Jesus. It follows that if it is all true about what Jesus said and did, then all other religions are false where they ‘depart’ from that. It could not be that Jesus is the only way and truth and other religions also be the truth.

Either Jesus is true and all other religions are false, or other religions are true and Jesus is false. There are no other options.

[Click this link to read about Jesus claims:
http://www.4vis.com/sfm/sfm_pres/sp_q6_d1_1of10.html ]

Many of the “guides and gurus” featured on Beliefnet teach a ‘philosophy’ or a “way to live,” and other “motivational” speakers like Tony Robbins, Jack Canfield, and Brian Tracy tell us that we need to have a ‘guiding vision’ that all things in life can be ‘filtered’ by.

Well, Jesus put forth a very simple ‘vision’ for one’s life—that one author is termed “The Jesus Creed”—to love God and love others. A ‘paraphrase’ of what the Bible says, author Scot McKnight is suggesting that this is what Jesus meant by being “spiritual”—and is the ‘essence’, or ‘vision statement’ for EVERYONE’S life! Wow, that’s a pretty STRONG STATEMENT!

But, if Jesus is who He says He is—as Scot believes—God incarnate, then it would be something we SHOULD ALL INVESTIGATE and try to emulate if we believe it to be the truth.

Back in the first century, a Jewish ‘expert’ in the “Torah” (the Law) asked Jesus what was the most important thing for “spiritual formation.” Jesus’ answer turned history upside down for those who followed Him. “The Jesus Creed” is an ‘invitation’ for you to explore Jesus’ answer to that man in depth—it could literally ‘TRANSFORM’ everything you believe about “spirituality!”

[Excerpts from: Beliefnet; Robert C. Fuller; Bill Kraftson; Scot McKnight]

Blessings…Mark

P.S. A good resource about all this is the book “Jesus Among Other Gods.” It provides the answers to the most fundamental claims about Christianity, such as: Aren’t all religions fundamentally the same?; Was Jesus who He claimed to be?; Is the Christian claim to His uniqueness valid?; and can one study the life of Christ and demonstrate conclusively that He was and is the way, the truth, and the life? In each chapter, apologist Ravi Zacharias considers a unique claim that Jesus made and then contrasts the truth of Jesus with the founders of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism with compelling insight and passionate conviction. In addition to an impressive breadth of reading and study, he shares his personal journey from despair and meaninglessness to his discovery that Jesus is who He said He is.

LIFE’S DEEP THOUGHTS (v110) for APRIL 2008
If you have a ‘neat’ story or some thoughts about an issue or current event that you would like me to try to respond to, I would be glad to give it a try…so, send them to me at: mbesh@comcast.net

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During the coldest months of the year, sales of vitamin C and Echinacea go up as people prepare to battle the flu.  Pharmacies and doctors’ offices offer vaccinations to increase immunity to the pesky virus.  Resources for fighting the flu include making sure your immune system has a boost with extra vitamins, taking precautionary measures of flu shots, avoiding people who are sick, washing your hands and getting plenty of rest.

Throughout the Bible, differences are noted between the worldly and the spiritual.  There is worldly wealth versus spiritual wealth, worldly teaching versus spiritual teaching and worldly health versus spiritual health.  Ephesians’ chapter 6 talks about spiritual health.  Paul is urging believers to build up their spiritual immune system so they are prepared to step into spiritual battle.

The Bible offers resources to make sure each person is spiritually strong.  What is your strategy to combat a spiritual virus?  What is your plan to be spiritually healthy, and not weakened by a spiritual flu?  In the same way you work to stay physically healthy, you must take steps and measures to remain spiritually healthy.  Equip yourself with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer.  You don’t just need one or two of these to fight the battle effectively, you need them all.

There are spiritual disciplines that can help you to become spiritually strong.  You must put on the full armor of God.  Some of these disciplines are solitude, prayer, obedience, Bible study, confession, generosity, serving and worship.  What are you doing to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle?  How can you make sure you are staying healthy during every season of your life?

Don’t be surprised when spiritual battles come; be ready.  For the real battle is not against the worldly forces, but the spiritual ones.
[Kelly McFadden]

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A son in college wrote home, saying, “$chool is really great. I am making lot$ of friend$ and $tudying hard. Plea$e $end me a card a$ I would love to hear from you. Love, your $on.”
The father wrote back, “I kNOw you are an hoNOr student, but do NOt forget that the pursuit of kNOwledge is a NOble task. You can never study eNOugh. Love, Dad.”

Raising children is costly, even when we try to cut back on expenses. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family with a child born in 2000 can expect to spend about $233,530 on food, shelter, and other necessities to raise that child to age seventeen.
 
Our primary investment, however, is a spiritual and emotional one—to pour our love and faith into the hearts of our youngster by spending time with them.

Florence Littauer recalls a conversation with her daughter, Lauren. “I know what should be engraved on your tombstone, Mom,” said Lauren. Florence asked what she had in mind, to which the girl said, “Not now, later.”

Don’t put off spending time with your children. It’s an investment in eternity.
[David Jeremiah]

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DEEP THOUGHTS
“The best use of life is love.
The best expression of love is time.
The best time to love is now.”
[Rick Warren]

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I hope you enjoyed some of these insights. Share them with your friends and colleagues, so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from—and more to share with! Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” especially if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:27].

Mark

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Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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