Are You a Practical Atheist?

March 31, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Thoughts

Screen shot 2010-03-31 at 9.25.30 AMIt is my observation that many people are practical atheists. I know this sounds pretty extreme, but from dealing with hundreds of people over the years, I maintain that it is true.

The popular image of atheists is that they are extreme or even belligerent people. Perhaps the image that comes to mind is of a person devoted to a purely secular way of life who gets upset when religion is mentioned. Or maybe you think of an outspoken crank crusading against the public acknowledgment of God.

But atheism has more than one face.  Militant atheists –the kind who believe in no deity– are fairly rare. Most people profess some form of theistic belief. A good many actually have a fairly standard concept of God and Jesus as they are taught in the Bible. For practical purposes, however, some of these folks function as atheists simply because they live as though faith in God had little or no connection to daily life.

So, I repeat my assertion that many people who profess belief in God are actually atheists from a practical point of view. God doesn’t really count for anything substantial with them. He gets nothing from them in terms of what they truly value: time, money, devotion. If they throw him a few bucks now and then or give up a couple of hours on a Sunday once in awhile, they feel God should be satisfied.

Practical atheists feel that their lives are their own business and that, unless they specifically call on him, God should respect that privacy. Only when a crisis comes is there some focused thinking about God and some kind of attempt to contact him.

The Bible tells us, however, that we actually owe God our very beings. If not for him, we would have no existence. It tells us that the reason we are estranged from him is because of our own choices and attitudes. It also gives us the incredible news that Jesus came to offer us forgiveness and re-connection with God. It promises us that, far from being indifferent to our need of him, God is eager to give us restored relationship and eternal life.

Another irony I have observed is that some of these practical atheists even attend church. I can only conclude that they have fallen into a confused logic, believing in God theoretically while living as though he were irrelevant. Either the God of the Bible exists or he does not. If he does not exist then, “ drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” If he does exist as the Bible describes him, then life has no real meaning without him and every aspect of our lives must be lived in light of who he is.

Michael Bogart

Work and Prayer

August 6, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps, Thoughts

prayerThe Interaction of Prayer and Effort

Many years ago a friend of mine quoted a little saying about prayer which I still remember: “Prayer is work. Prayer does work. Prayer brings work.” I have no idea where he got this catchy little phrase, but since then, I have found it to be profoundly true. Here’s why.

Prayer is work. It isn’t always easy to pray. As you begin, your mind may have a hard time focusing on God. It is difficult to visualize a being who is all-powerful and wise, and yet invisible. Perhaps your body refuses to cooperate due to weariness, hunger, restlessness, or cramped muscles. You may battle with doubt or guilt, perplexity, anger or even apathy.

Prayer is work because you must insist on making time for it in your schedule. Your creativity may be stretched to find a quiet and private place to pray. You may have to do some study of scripture in order to learn how to address God, what types of things you may legitimately pray about and what your motives should be.

Prayer is also work in view of the long-term routines required in prayer. It is one thing to pray now and then; it is quite another to pray consistently over a period of years. Over the long haul, it requires effort to overcome the fatigue and discouragement, which may go with praying year after year. Though prayer may be a joyful and even liberating experience, it clearly involves real work at times.

Prayer does work. I am aware of the skeptical argument which says that prayer is just wishful thinking. Skeptics believe that any perceived results of prayer are merely coincidental or are due to the power of a positive mental attitude. Yet I have personally known many people who would point to definite instances of prayers being answered in ways hard to write off as psychological.

Of course, this should come as no surprise to followers of Christ. Jesus promised in John 15:7 that if we abide in him, we may ask whatever we will and it will be done. I take this to mean that if our lives are closely bound with his, we may ask freely because our will and purpose will also coincide with his. There are numerous other biblical passages which say that God hears the prayers of people who humbly pray according to his will.

Serious Christian experience also demonstrates prayer’s effectiveness. Things happen. People change and circumstances work out which could not have done so on their own. True, God responds in his own way and timing. There may be times in which nothing much seems to be happening. But God does respond. It is not at all uncommon for God to answer in a way which clearly grants even the specifics we have requested.

Prayer brings work. That is, prayer often spurs the person praying into action. It does this in several ways:

First, prayer sets in motion a chain of divinely orchestrated events, which require the petitioner to do something. Let’s say you are praying for a job. In due time a position becomes open, but part of God’s answer is up to you. You must fill out an application and attend the interview. God will not just hand you a job on a silver platter. What God can do is bring about circumstances which are beyond your control. But when those circumstances occur, it is you who must act.

Secondly, there are times in prayer when it is almost as if God interrupts and says, “OK, stop right there. Don’t ask me to do something which you know in your heart that you must do.” Maybe you are praying for a neighbor who has lost her job. She is facing real financial difficulties. It may be a good thing to pray for her, but if you can help her personally, prayer must wait. Before you ask God to intervene, buy her a few bags of groceries; fill her tank with gasoline; give her children Christmas presents. God may be saying, “Yes, I’ll provide for your neighbor—starting with you.”

So work and prayer are indeed inseparable. Communicating with God requires some serious effort. God does respond to prayer and things happen. Sometimes prayer puts us in a position which calls us to take further action ourselves. How true it is: Prayer is work; prayer does work; prayer brings work!

Michael Bogart

Are You a Might-Have-Been?

April 7, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Thoughts

woodland-bridge1At the age of fifty, Celeste Brown wondered how she had made such a mess of her life. She had worked hard most of that time, raising two children and trying to be a good wife. Now, looking back, she wondered what she had to show for it all.

The truth is, Celeste was going through a time of feeling lonely and unfulfilled. It wasn’t that she had no one in her life: she knew people at work, enjoyed a few of her neighbors and had her mother and brother living close by. She had a pretty comfortable life with enough to live on and the ability to indulge some of her wants as well. But as she pondered her situation, she kept coming back to feelings of emptiness.

Josh Miller had been thinking much the same thing for the past few years. At thirty-six he had a challenging job, made good money, had friends and enjoyed recreational activities– but nothing seemed to satisfy. There was a hollowness that seemed to dog his steps. Then, when his wife left him last year, taking their 10 year old, his world just caved in.

Though the circumstances of their lives were different, Celeste Brown and Josh Miller had made the same fundamental mistakes years before they became so unhappy. Both of them were genuine Christians. Because of this, they both knew their eternal destiny with God was assured. They were members of solid churches. Neither were living openly sinful or rebellious lives

In both cases however, their mistake came shortly after their initial step of faith in Jesus. Neither had felt early on that it was important to take their commitment to Christ seriously. They each had their own goals and desires to pursue, and since they believed their salvation was secure, it couldn’t make that much difference how they lived. Jesus Christ, whom they named as Lord, had come to make very little practical difference in their lives. As a result, they experienced a very stunted spiritual growth.

What directions their lives might have taken had they chosen to take their faith in Christ more seriously is difficult to say. Josh had felt a strong calling to the ministry in his early walk with Christ, but instead, he chose a career, which gave him immediate financial returns. His financial success had indeed brought him closer to several of his life’s goals, but in his more lucid moments, Josh wondered whether his success was a blessing or a curse. For her part, Celeste had been painfully aware that her plans to marry Bryan were not God’s perfect will, but she was determined. She had assured her worried parents and friends that Bryan’s open distaste for religion would not affect her faith negatively. Now, she had to admit that at least some of the concerns about her marriage she had resented so vehemently were actually justified.

At the very least, the lives of Celeste and Josh would have been much different had they actually trusted God and seen his will as the source of joy, rather than as a roadblock to happiness. But all that was water under the bridge now. Any joys, growth, ministry and blessing were reduced to might-have-beens.

How sad for an entire life to be summarized as a “might-have-been”. Josh and Celeste are merely characters invented to make a point. The real tragedy is the fact that there are thousands of people whose stories fit theirs. Before I conclude, it is important to make it very clear that I am not one of those preachers who continually push people to be better Christians or be more faithful in church activity. In my experience, that is a quick way to get burned out on the whole business. Jesus came with the message “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” (John 10:10). I take these words at face value: following Jesus is nothing less than the way to fulfillment and joy and peace.

The truly good news for the many people like Celeste and Josh is that they still have a choice. In God’s loving lordship, it is never too late to make a fresh start. So, whether you are 36, or 50, or 21, or 87—simply stop and ask God to help you make a clean and long-lasting break with the old ways. Take the first steps toward that new life of abundance by plugging into a church or group which can help you not only develop new life patterns, but encourage and equip you in serving others. Find some folks to hold you accountable. Take some risks for God (be sure they are the kind of risks affirmed in the Bible). Look for God’s blessings and watch your life change!

Michael Bogart

The School of Suffering

April 7, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Thoughts

I once saw a bumper sticker which said, “Life is hard; then you die.”  When I read those words, they rang so true with my experience at the time that I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. At one time or another nearly everyone experiences the frustration of feeling that life is a huge hassle with little hope for improvement. Some people feel this way a lot and experience depression. A few take it seriously enough to attempt to end their lives, which seem so difficult.

In the early years of my Christian experience, I somehow got the impression that a decisive commitment to Jesus Christ would change all this. I fell into the type of thinking that if I followed Christ closely, problems would resolve themselves, life would be happy and everything would be positive. While it is true that believers experience a new quality of life, it is not true that the problems and hardships of everyday living automatically go away.

Christ’s followers get sick, have differences with people and suffer like anyone else. The difference is not in the circumstances of life, but in life’s source and direction. The person uncommitted to Christ has few effective resources and little hope of rising above the frustration above what they can muster within themselves and their personal network; followers of Jesus have available the power of the living God to cope with life, and the reassurance of eternal life as well.

The New Testament book of Acts, chapter 14, verse 22 states that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Suffering is an essential part of our redemption—not because suffering itself gives eternal life—that only comes by faith in Christ. But the growing experience between conversion to Christ and the completeness we will know in eternity, cannot have its effect without the benefit of hardship. In other words, hardships are the schooling of Christian maturity.

So, frustrations, problems, hardships are not roadblocks to spirituality, but are in fact absolutely essential to it. According to Hebrews 2:10, Jesus himself was perfected in his humanity through suffering. If the Son of God had to submit to the school of suffering, can that training be anything less than essential for the rest of us?

The words to the old favorite hymn “Be Still, My Soul” were written by Katharina von Schlegel. The first verse goes like this: “Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side; — Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to they God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still my soul; Thy best, thy heavenly friend, through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”

Relax and enjoy the journey. Entrust yourself to the wise and loving hand of God. Even suffering can work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).

Michael Bogart