Thursday, June 23, 2016

Doing what comes naturally?

Doing what comes "naturally" sounds good and even normal. Yet our natural state is one of blindness and rebellion from God, not pursuit of him, ultimately leading to permanent separation from Him i.e. death.

Outside of the Spirit of God revealing the Father and Son to us, we can not even see God truly, much less pursue him. (Joh 3:3)

Unless God reveals himself to us, we see nothing clearly. And even with his Spirit we still see through a glass darkly. We will not see with real or total clarity until we see Christ face to face. 

As a result we are also naturally inclined to read our stuff into Gods word(s) to us. We not only view scripture, but our experiences and our world through very distorted lenses. 

Though doing what comes "natural" may sound good or normal our natural state is one of blindness and death.

In the true sense, doing what feels natural in reality is actually unnatural i.e. contrary to our original design.

Pro 14:12  There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." -Joh 3:3  

2Co 4:3-4 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

1Co 13:12   For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1Jn 3:2  Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.



Thursday, June 16, 2016

Willpower or affections?

Our desires trump our will (though they are not entirely separate from it)

To will something (simply choose to act) contrary to our affections does not work long term. Willpower alone does not sustain our actions or change our behavior.

This is a willing not because we truly want to do something but because we think we have to. This is choosing because we believe we must choose in order to be approved/accepted/lovable. This is seeking to earn love. 

Since we can never do enough to gain the love we were designed for this leads to burn out. We may press forward with considerable effort for an extended time but only to find out no amount of effort gives us what we truly long for.

A Shift

When we recognize we are already approved/accepted/loved in Christ the need to earn the acceptance of others (including God) is no longer necessary; everything within us shifts. 

What needs to change is not our wills but our affections. 

But our affections are not something we can simply will ourselves to have and into existence. They just are. 

So where do affections come from? 

They are the result of what we believe is most attractive. 

When we see something beautiful we are naturally drawn to it. This is not something we consciously choose or think about. We simply long for what we believe is most desirable. This is a given. 

We do not choose our desires, we choose what we believe will best meet them.

And what we long for, we pursue/go after. So our affections are central to long-term change but are also directly tied to what we believe is desirable or worthy of our affections. 

Why is something desirable? 

We believe it will give us what we want and/or need.

Why is belief necessary? 

Because we are limited in what we see, know and are able to do. We must trust in order to aquire what we need.

Our belief is based upon our seeing. 

If what is objectively most desirable is hidden from our view we will not desire or pursue it i.e. We will not subjectively experience the desire for it or have the will to go after it. 

If we are lost and dying of thirst and stumble across a muddy, leaf filled puddle, we will gladly drink from it. But if we looked up and saw only 50 feet further there was a crystal clear spring fed stream we would find strength to continue past the puddle to the stream.

And what is it that we want? 

To be valued. To be treated as significant, worthwhile; in a word, loved. Whatever we believe will best provide this is what is most desirable to us.

And why is it we want this?

We are like God who is most valuable. In order to appreciate his value we had be like him i.e. valuable. 

The basis for change listed in order of priority/importance

God ...who is lovely, beautiful and desirable

* Our seeing him as he is i.e. lovely, beautiful and desirable (by faith – a work of the Spirit)

* Increasing affections for God as we see him more clearly 

* Pursuit of God (faithfulness/obedience to him) as we recognize he is desirable above everything else



Monday, June 13, 2016

Values, culture and racism

Culture in great part is the fruit of values. What we value shapes the way we conduct our lives. Over time a people **group with similar values will repeat certain conduct driven by those values which eventually becomes a pattern and part of that groups **culture. 

Is there such a thing as *right or wrong, good or bad culture? It depends. Many aspects of a culture are likely neutral and based on the unique talents, skills and resources distributed throughout a people group. However the degree to which our values are aligned with God's values, is the degree to which our culture will honor God. 

*I am assuming there is objective morality. Many today reject the notion of an absolute right and wrong i.e. there is no objective moral standard. If you wish to explore this issue more click here

**NOTE: 
  • A "group" can be identified by ethnicity, region, religion, vocation and any other common yet distinguishing feature of that group. 
  • Also in discussing "culture" I am including behavior patterns which can be moral, immoral or amoral.  

Certain aspects of any culture are more God honoring than others. Likewise a culture that is less inline with God's values overall will be less honoring to God than one that is. Not because we say so but because God does. 

God says, for example, loving others as we would have them love us is better (a good or higher value) then coveting or stealing our neighbors property or taking our neighbors life. 

A culture built on the former (love) honors God and is therefore superior to one built on the latter (envy, disrespect or destruction), not only morally but practically or functionally. Cultures that ignore these absolutes can (and often do) self destruct over time. 

Culture in itself is not sacred. Only God and his standard of love is. To the degree a culture embraces God's standard it becomes sacred. To the degree it doesn't it is not.

A classic illustration is when a spiritual awakening occurs within a particular people group or community. Before such an event occurs, a group might display certain characteristics that are destructive and harmful such as a high murder rate or a high level of substance-abuse, familial abuse or infidelity etc. After such an event many of these kind of behaviors either diminish considerably or altogether disappear. That group or community becomes more kind, more diligent in good deeds, stable economically or experiences a reduction in crime rate. Such events have occurred to all kinds of people groups historically irregardless of race or ethnicity of the group. For some examples click here.

Culture and race are not one in the same

Though cultural values and race are often very closely connected they are distinctOne does not automatically or necessarily follow the other

To say it another way, we must identify and isolate bad behavior and distinguish it over against a supposed "bad group." There are no bad groups per se. A particular behavior on the other hand can be right or wrong within any given group. 

The standard is entirely different. Morality is the standard, not group identity. The focus should not be a group but on inappropriate (i.e.immoral) behavior. Certain behavior is inappropriate no matter which people group participates (e.g. virtually everyone recognizes things such as lying, stealing or murder are always wrong. They undermine trust and a society can't function well without morality i.e. recognition of right and wrong behavior). If we do not distinguish the two, we fall into the common mistake made today that all people within a given group are bad because a particular behavior is common to a group e.g. all cops are bad because there are some bad cops or all Latinos are gangsters because some Latino's are gangsters, or all liberals or conservatives are bad because some are bad etc. 

Many wish to connect race (or group) and culture together as if they are one in the same. They are not. Because of this if someone questions a certain aspect (behavior) of a groups culture (regardless of which group) some will cry racism when it has nothing to do with race i.e. it's not genetic it's spiritual, moral and philosophical i.e. what are their beliefs and values. (Keep in mind I am assuming there are absolutes i.e. there are things that are always right or wrong e.g. loving our neighbors verses desiring or stealing our neighbors stuff etc.)

For example if theft or murder or abusive domination (or whatever vice common to a group) is more statistically common within a certain people group, to point out this fact is not racial, it's moral.

Values that are contrary to who God is and who we are (as God's image bearers) corrupt any group regardless of it's ethnicity/color/race etc.

The objective standard of loving and honoring God has absolutely nothing to do with one's race or the color of one's skin and everything to do with the beliefs and disposition of one's heart. All peoples are equally able to display God's glory or not display it because all of us (regardless of race or background etc) are created in God's image.

To say it another way there is nothing innately valuable or odious about any culture simply by virtue of ethnicity or skin color. Determining what is good or bad culture is measured by a totally different standard than ethnicity. 

Anything within a culture that seeks to honor God should be embraced and anything that dishonors him should be abandoned, regardless of what group these qualities are or are not present in, be that western, eastern, middle eastern, African, Latin, Asian or any other culture or people group.

What made western culture flourish morally, in work ethic and materially etc over other cultures had nothing to do with the skin color of those in that region and everything to do with the influence of Gods values/standards/laws expressed in and through God's people (the church). This was a major foundation for the development of the European culture during the Byzantine period and later on in the Reformation.
Of course along with strengths were also vices. Vices and strengths are a part of all cultures depending on how closely a people group adheres to God's direction or not. Vices are due to our rebellion from God's prescribed directions. The issue becomes which culture is more virtuous with less vices. Again we must look to an absolute standard outside ourselves to determine this i.e. to God and his law of loving him with all we are and have and our neighbors as ourselves. 
What we call "Western Culture" in turn spread to North America via the pilgrims and separatists who had a high regard for God's laws/design. This is not to say the church (made up of fallen people) was (or is) perfect but simply recognizing the nature and extent of it's more positive than negative influence.

To say it another way, if the racial make up of that same group that came to the west were for example Latin, Asian or Negro verses Caucasian, and had the same value system, the outcome would have been *exactly the same.
*There may be slight genetic variations within a given people group possibly resulting in a minor difference in how those values would have been carried out e.g. as a people group Asians tend to have higher IQ's and are smaller in stature than Caucasians. However, how much of this is environmental is uncertain. Some say 50/50, others have difference %'s. Asians growing up in the same western Europe region with the exact same environmental factors such as diet and climate etc may in fact turn out exactly the same in group characteristics similar to Caucasians (larger in stature with a slightly lower IQ). On the other hand, Caucasians living in the locations Asians lived with the same diet, my turn out smaller in stature with a higher IQ. For an interesting discussion on this particular point click here
However overall, to say one race is superior to another or preferred over another merely by virtue of race or skin color (i.e. genetics, which was the Aryan argument used by the Nazi's) is the essence of racism no matter who holds such sentiments and what color one's skin is.

The unfortunate reality is racism is generally a part of every people group and not unique to Caucasians, contrary to increasingly common assertions by the progressive side of the political spectrum.

All groups display different innate qualities genetically that are strengths or weaknesses compared to other groups (again how much environmental factors come into play, if at all, is uncertain). They are each unique and bring something unique and of value to the human family the others don't. This simply makes them different, not necessarily superior or inferior.

This is also true among siblings within a given family (which are obviously of the same ethnicity). Certainly no one would argue one child is better than another (or more or less worthy of a parents love) within a given family. But they will all have their own unique strengths or lack of them.

There can be superior cultures. There are never superior races.

To give higher regard to certain values and behavior over others is good and right. To give higher regard or respect to one race over another is not (which is not the same as having a fond affection for best things in our culture. This normal and true of all cultures). Regarding one race superior to another is the essence of racism, regardless of which people group displays this. This means white's, black's, Latino's, Asians and so on can all have racist tendencies. It is the dilemma of being broken as a human race.

The biggest factor that overrides all of this is our commonality. We are all beings created in the image of God and are equally invited to be in relationship with God. To use a biblical phrase, "God is no respecter of persons."

This was also recognized by the founders of America in our founding documents (though not consistently put into practice). It was because of this world view expressed within those documents that slavery was finally abolished. It was followers of Christ who were the primary reason for it's eventual abolition.

We must always pursue and embrace superior (i.e. God honoring) values but reject racism in all it's forms no matter what culture or sector of society it is found in, for all men and women are all equally in the image of God and all are created to honor God. We must equally embrace all fellow humans as God's image bearers no matter what their race or skin color.

But equally true, we must recognize and be aware there is behavior that is destructive to our fellow man, thereby dishonoring to God as well, no matter what race displays this behavior. Pointing out destructive behavior is not racial or racist, it's moral and deals with the flourishing and betterment of all men and women as well as honoring to God.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

It's about consequences, not shame.

Motivation to obey Christ has *everything to do with consequences and nothing to do with guilt or shame. God doesn't chide, shame or reject us when we do wrong. We should never seek to obey God out of shame or fear of rejection but it is certainly wise to do so out of fear of correction.

A truly loving parent will always "spank" (i.e. correct) their child when they do things harmful to others or themselves. And it will hurt, but that is not rejection. In fact it's just to opposite. Those God loves he corrects. It is precisely because God wants what's best for us that he corrects us.  

A truly loving parent never stops loving us no matter how stupid we act. Are they greatly grieved by our poor choices? Definitely. Angry? Possibly. But not at us but for our sake and that of others. If God is mad, it is only because we are doing things that are destructive to ourselves and **others.  He is not mad at us but angry over the harm we do to ourselves and to others. God is for us, not against us.

Not just destructive to us...

Disobedience is also dishonoring to God. To treat God with disrespect or low regard says to others God must not be that loving or great. This is a problem but not for God, but for those who think God is not worth pursuing due to our not pursuing him. 

Others ask:

If God is loving, how can those who call him father be so unloving e.g. how can such a loving parent have such a spoiled brat for a kid?

If he is great how can those who call him father be pursuing things other than God and finding greater meaning, joy and life in them instead of him?  

If God is the greatest, wisest, most powerful and loving being of all, why aren't his children pursuing him as if this were so? 

We must ask ourselves, if we are loved by God, why are we so unloving. Why doesn't his love create in us a love and compassion for others similar to the love and compassion he shows us? 

It is only because we don't understand the nature of his love and how great it is.

Love as well as consequences should move us

What about our love, gratitude or faith; don't they have something to do with why we do or don't obey God? Of course those who complain about the believers lack of love use this as an excuse and justification for their own indifference to God. 

But in reality they refuse to see the problem is with us, not God; with our unbelief and refusal to enter into and participate in God's love, wisdom and power extended to us in Christ, not because these aren't fully extended to us as his adopted children i.e. the problem lies within us and not within God.

Faith is always a part of the process of obedience and as we mature and experience God's love, wisdom and power we begin to discover from first hand experience he is good, all the time and worthy of our complete trust and faithfulness. In the hard times and blessed times he is always good, loving and patient. This creates gratitude on our part and a response of love to his love, wisdom and goodness toward us. These always create a growing confidence in the goodness of his directions and his ways of handling our lack of trust in him.


*I don't mean "everything" in the sense it is the only thing that motivates us to pursue God. Love, trust and a desire to honor (glorify) God are key motivators as well. These fall on the positive side of what moves us to pursue God. I am referring to negative side. When it comes to the reason we are not to sin, it should be to avoid the pain of consequences, not the shame of failure.  

** We often assume he's against us if he is for others, but he's for *both us and them; just like he is for both himself and us. Our happiness is intertwined with the happiness of others. God first, then others.

We are interrelational beings because God is an interrelational being as Father, Son and Spirit.

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For a further discussion on the uselessness of feeling guilt and shame click here.

For a further discussion on why God hates evil click here

For a further discussion on an "anatomy of motivation" to obedience click here



Saturday, June 4, 2016

What is normal?

We have often heard the question "what is normal?" That question seems to get increasingly louder with time. Is there such a thing?

Though there is not a direct definition of "normal" within scripture, who and why we are is clearly laid out. Since we, as a culture, have abandon the source of what/who defines us and all things, we have lost sight of this.

To determine what normal is we must first recognize we do not define it. If there is a Creator/Designer of us and all things, (which means things are or are not designed to be a certain way) he must define this.

So what exactly is it?

Normal is operating according to our design (as opposed to operating merely by our desires or an "if it feels good do it" approach to life. In this approach feelings and/or desires trump design).

If we are indeed designed to operate in a specific manner, to go contrary to this ultimately is contrary to how we function best, no matter how much we may feel otherwise at the time.

By definition (as well as in reality) anything that operates contrary to it's design will not operate well and eventually stops operating all together. This is the nature of what it means to be designed.

There are no examples of true fulfillment long term in letting our desires dictate our choices. 

And what is that design? 

We are created like God. 

But what is God like? 

He is love.

How and why is he love? 

Because he is a being of relationship between three persons; Father Son and Spirit. He gives and receives love, honor and value between those persons. God is love because he is relationship.

Why were we created?

·      So we too could be in a relationship with him, receiving and giving love honor and value (glory) from and to him in the same way (like) he does within the persons of Father Son and Spirit. To say it more precisely, we were created so we could be brought into and participate in (be partakers of) the giving and receiving of love honor and glory between the Father, Son and Spirit. In order for us to do so we had to be made as much like God as possible without actually being God.

·      We were also entrusted to oversee (have dominion) and *care for the others things he created.

·      We are also like God in our ability to create and then to oversee and *care for the things we created. 

·      Lastly we display what God is like by being fruitful, multiplying and extending his love and glory to others.

However we can not fully understand the "why" of our creation unless we understand that all of the above has been severely marred. We still have the capacity for all the above (and to a limited and distorted degree still display these attributes) but we have also rebelled from this original design because we believe(d) we can (could) gain our own sense of love honor and value apart from God the source of these things. In short we believe(d) the lie that would can (could) be our own god and we now pursue a course based on what we think is best, not on what our designer knows is best.

*genuine care (love) for something other than ourselves can only occur when we are fully participating in and experiencing the care (love) of our Creator. When we do not experience his care (due to cutting ourselves off from him and it), we use created things to care for ourselves instead of caring for them out of honor for our Creator.

So to recap, normal is being like God. How?

·      Being in a relationship of love with God, receiving and participating in (be partakers of) love and giving love to him in response, as he does among Father, Son and Spirit.

·      Overseeing and caring for the rest of his creation as stewards of the ultimate overseer of all things.

·       Using his creation to recreate, thereby bringing honor and glory to him by  demonstrating his creativity and beauty as the ultimate Creator of all things.

·      Being fruitful and multiplying (i.e. by bringing forth other image bearers), filling the whole earth with his love and glory, just as God was fruitful and multiplied his love by extending it to his first image bearers, Adam and Eve.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Freedom of choice?

God gave us freedom of choice. If we had no choice there would not have been the forbidden tree in the garden. 

Our choice involves the freedom to pursue him or attempt to be our own god. 

He continues to give us freedom of choice. 

He does so for two reasons. He wants us to choose him 

1. Freely

    AND

2. Willingly

Freedom of choice allows us to experience why we are not designed to be our own god i.e. To let us see firsthand that being our own God does not work. 

Allowing us to experience the fruit of our free choice persuades us to also willingly 
choose pursuing him; to choose operating according to his design (as his dependent creatures) versus being our own god i.e. He leaves our choose intact but seeks to change our "wanter." He's about changing our wanter, not stifling or removing our 
chooser. 

The bottom line… God wants us to choose to be who he made us to be willingly and freely. He does not force us or program us to do so.  

Love that is not freely chosen is not true love, it is programmed. There is no true love without real choice. 

An old expression says, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."

However this expression fails to recognize that you can always salt the oats. This is not a violation of the will but the creating of awareness; an awareness of need. God allows us to experience our true need/condition so that we will freely choose the best option.

Adam and Eve had never experienced death/evil and could not fully appreciate the benefit of good from God until they had lost it by turning away from their dependence on God. Eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil resulted in them experiencing evil/death (harm) firsthand.

For a further discussion on choice click here.