Archive for June, 2013

Wired For Worship

Posted: June 28, 2013 in Worship
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I’m in Michigan with Teenserve this week, so just for fun, here’s a clip of Phil Joel (formerly of the Newsboys) and I teaching/leading worship:

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MORALCOMPASS

One of the gulfs that divides the Christian and non-Christian cultures is the issue of whether human beings are born good, bad or neutral.

Over the centuries, many non-Christians have argued that human beings are born good and it is only society that corrupts them.  However, since Freud, non-Christians have more often argued that humans are born morally neutral and we learn concepts of morality from those around us.  In other words, there are no in-born moral impulses of any kind.  We enter the world as blank slates, waiting for those around us to inscribe the arbitrary moral code that will guide us later in life.

Christians on the other hand, have long maintained that human begins are born sinful, inheriting an irresistible tendency towards evil, though this should not be misunderstood as a belief that all human beings are as evil as they could possibly be.  Different people will give in to this sinful impulse in different and varying degrees.  The key is simply that no one will ever be able to…or even have any natural interest in…completely avoiding the not-good impulses which come from this sin nature.

I have maintained for several years now that these options are overly simplistic.  I’m not an optimist about human nature.  I do not believe we are born good or even neutral.  However, I also believe that the standard Christian belief that we are born sinful is too simplistic a position as well.  The main problem with this view is that holding it consistently requires that we deny that any non-Christian can do any good and I just don’t believe this is true.  (Psalm 14:3 – “no one does good” – need not be taken as a doctrinal declaration but as a poetic description of general tendency)  In fact, I have seen non-Christians do great good.  I have seen non-Christians be altruistic and make great sacrifices for others.  Now, I’m not saying that these acts can earn them salvation.  I believe, as Isaiah 64:6 says, that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags…even the good that we do is tainted by our sin and so is useless as evidence of our “goodness”.

Instead, I believe human beings are born deeply conflicted.  We have a sinful nature from birth that cannot be completely suppressed or denied and yet, we have impulses towards good that exist simply because we are made as the Image of God (Gen 1:26-28).  Apart from Christ, our capacity for good will always be overshadowed and poisoned by our sin nature, but most people will experience the ongoing frustration that comes from experiencing these two contrary impulses.  This is one of the things that leads people to seek for a Redeemer.

Anyway, just this morning I read an article about a psychology study that seems to support my belief on this issue of our inborn moral nature.  In a recent study at Yale, babies between 6 and 10 months of age were shown a little moral drama involving geometric shapes in which one shape “helped” another climb a hill while another shape thwarted their efforts.  After watching the little show, the infants were allowed to choose from the various shapes.  Over 80% of them chose the shape that was acting as the helper!  This study was repeated numerous times with different shapes playing the different parts and it made no difference.  Whatever shape was seen to be helping the climber was selected by more than 80% of the infants.  This strongly suggests that these very, very young children have an in-born sense of justice that motivates their behavior.  In another study at Yale, babies watched a puppet pass a ball to two other puppets.  One puppet returned the ball and the other ran away with it.  Then these babies had the chance to “punish” one puppet by taking away a piece of candy from a pile associated with it (the puppet).  The vast majority of the babies chose to take a treat away from the puppet who had absconded with the ball.  Some babies even smacked the bad puppet!  Again, these babies seem to be acting out of an in-born sense of justice and perception of right and wrong.  The idea that we are blank-slates with no inherent moral compass does not bear up well in light of these studies.

But anyone who has worked with children also knows that this in-born moral compass doesn’t exactly dictate saintly behavior, either!  Selfishness, dishonesty and downright meanness are evident from a very early age, in  spite of our best efforts to teach them to act otherwise.  On the whole it seems clear that, while we do have an in-born moral compass, we also have an in-born distortion to it that twists our behavior into sin.

So rather than saying we are inherently good or inherently evil, wouldn’t it just be better to acknowledge the messy reality?  We are inherently conflicted and only Christ can straighten us out.

Faith and Fathers

Posted: June 16, 2013 in Parenting
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father_with_baby

Happy Father’s Day!  Here are three quick truths about fatherhood that the Enemy would prefer we didn’t know:

1.  Our relationships with our fathers serve as a blueprint for our relationships with God.

Paul Vitz, author of The Faith of the Fatherless, demonstrated that there is a clear link between abusive or absent fathers and a child’s eventual embrace of atheism.  Attempting to explain this observable link, he came to the conclusion that we associate God with our earthly fathers.  When our earthly fathers are warm and caring, we tend to approach God with the belief that He is also warm and caring.  When our earthly fathers are distant and cold, we tend to think that God is uninterested and unapproachable.

2.  Fatherhood is a calling

Remember that old Steve Martin movie, Parenthood?  There was a line in it that said, “You have to get a license to get a dog, but any idiot can have a child.”  There is something ironic about the fact that you have to be approved by someone for almost everything of significance.  You have to pass a test to get a driver’s license.  You have to pass a board to practice medicine.  You have to get certified to teach elementary school.  But there are no restrictions at all placed on having a child.  I’m not suggesting you should have to apply for a permit to have a baby, but the way we treat fatherhood implies that it is something of very little significance and the opposite is true.  Fatherhood is a calling.  That’ why God has so much to say about it.

One of the biggest problems with fatherhood in our culture and in our churches today is simply that, as fathers, our standards for our calling and for our children are not high enough.  Too many of us aim only to get our children to adulthood without having them get into too much trouble.  But God doesn’t say “train up a child…and he or she won’t get into too much mischief along the way.”  Instead, God says “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Pro 22:6).  God is calling us to train up our children for a lifetime of walking with Him.  Train them to do that and “not getting into too much trouble” will take care of itself.

And speaking of the high road we are called to train our children to walk…Proverbs 22:6 is typically translated as “train” but the Hebrew is unusual.  The word here is chanak, which literally means something like “give to be tasted/experienced.”  It was used to describe the putting of a rope in a horse’s mouth to teach it to accept the bit that was coming.  It was also used to describe the process of giving a newborn a taste of its mother’s milk before  its first experience of nursing.  Metaphorically it therefore means training, but of a particular sort:  the sort where someone is trained at a very early age to “have a taste for” something worthwhile.  This implies a process that a) begins very early and b) is more caught than taught.  Proverbs 22:6 is not talking about telling our children what they should do about God…it is talking about giving them a taste for following God.

3.  Fatherhood is a spiritual discipline.

A spiritual discipline is something that prepares us for the presence of God in our lives.  Fatherhood does this in three ways:

a.  Fatherhood forces us to recognize and deal with our spiritual weaknesses.  Galatians 5:22 includes, among other things which are the fruits of the Spirit, patience.  I never realized how impatient a person I was until my little girl wanted to play Candyland for the 100th time in an afternoon…or until I suffered through my youngest daughter struggling to remember her address and constantly forgetting the difference between a city and a state.  But recognizing this previously unrecognized weakness gave me a place to focus my prayers and my attention.

b.  Fatherhood gives us insight into the heart of God.  Until I held my daughters, I had no ability to comprehend God’s love for me.  But at the moment that I held these two girls who were both equally precious and useless at the exact same time, I suddenly experienced a hint of how God feels about me, a man who can do nothing for God that He cannot do much better Himself and yet a man who is loved without boundaries.

c.  The way we practice the spiritual discipline of fatherhood either invites or impedes the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.  According to Ephesians 5:18 (and following), we can put ourselves in a position to be filled by the Spirit in four ways, by speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, by singing/making melody in our hearts, by giving thanks always and by submitting to one another.  The last one, submitting to one another, is explained in more detail in the following verse by a series of examples, one of which is that fathers are  not to “provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). This command to fathers is an example of what submitting to one another looks like in parent/child relationships and it is, as I said, part of a larger set of instructions on how to be filled by the Spirit.  Therefore, the way we practice the spiritual discipline of fatherhood either invites or impedes the presence of God in our lives, our families and our communities.