PART 1: The Goodness Delusion

This Monday I had the opportunity to teach at my Pastorate, which is a small home church that meets every other week. In this group we are studying the attributes of God in an attempt to learn more about him and in so doing learn more about us and our relationship with him.

This week, after a very interesting discussion last week concerning the will of God, I decided to talk on God’s goodness. In preparing for this lesson I had spent some time pondering several points. I was planning to cover the first two briefly here before going on to cover the third more extensively but just kept on writing on the first point so I split it into three parts instead. So here is part 1.

First, what is goodness according to man? Goodness according to man is what we deem worthy of our approval. If it is a created product it is good if it meets the expected function it was intended for, or the function we expected it to fulfil. A product may be good to the creator because it fulfills the function he expected but be bad to you and me if we expected it to be or do something different. The same thing occurs when it comes to art. The piece of art is good if it meets with my approval despite the original intent of the artist. It is hugely subjective.

The problem is that we maintain this same subjective understanding of what is good and bad when it comes to morals. A person is good so long as they live up to the expectations of their moral code in their own eyes. We dictate a person’s level of goodness based on examining them through our moral code, despite the fact that they, in their opinion, may have a completely different moral code. You might say so what? “To each his own.” How very postmodern. However none of us truly do ethics that way. We all bring our foot down when it comes to men like Hitler or Stalin. We say “They are bad and compared to them I am good.”

The best part about humans, and I mean that in a sarcastic way, is that we fall short of our own moral and ethical codes and thus we are forced to re-write the moral code to suit our own failings. Where do we stop? We don’t! “He’s basically a good boy, he just makes mistakes sometimes.” No He’s basically a horrible rotten sinner just like the rest of us, just like me. Where is our right to dictate the ethics of Hitler and Stalin if we are so week in our ability to set a standard of base ethics for all of humanity?

Just as the rest of humanity, the Church is full of fallen humans called sinners. In the Church, The moral failures consistently lead to a re-interpretation of the scripture to suit the readers understanding of goodness in an attempt, by the interpreter, to ignore the standard of goodness expected by the Bible. If a Church is re-defining the message of the bible to be more palatable for a modern audience they are trying desperately to re-define the standards of goodness in the Bible to meet their own moral or ethical code rather than allowing the morals and ethics of the Bible to change them.

Goodness according to man is subjective, flippant, frivolous, self gratifying and it changes with the wind all in an attempt to delude ourselves into believing that mankind is basically god, sorry did I say god…I meant to say good…

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Christian Slavery or Christian Love?

Continuing my study of small books of the Bible I decided to look at the book of Philemon. I must confess I couldn’t even remember the name of this book and were it was in the bible, other than I knew it started with a P and was in the New Testament. I just remembered that it was the one about the slave who was sent back to his master. I was looking at this book again because I remembered it had to do with reconciliation, mercy and goodness, which I’ve been thinking lately.  This unassuming book written by Paul to a house Church leader, Philemon, is well worth the read. It examples how goodness, mercy and love are meant to be lived not just taught.

It’s so simple in its story yet so rich in its message. Onesimus, a slave who ran away from Philemon, is being sent back to Philemon, his Christian master, by Paul after having met the apostle Paul and having his life changed. This letter was written by Paul on behalf of Onesimus. Paul is entreating Philemon to take his former slave back and treat him well. That’s it, that’s the extent of the story, a runaway slave who became a Christian is being sent back to reconcile and serve his Christian master again.

The depth of the book however is so rich and touching. Paul is appealing to Philemon to take back Onesimus and treat him like a brother rather than a slave. The amazing thing is that Paul, knowing the character of Philemon, knows that he will not only great Onesimus as a brother but will even do more than that,  but treat him with love. He will not do the minimum required in reconciliation but that Philemon so reflects the character of God that he will do so much more.

Phil: 21 “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

It is a stunning account of reconciliation of the indebted to his debtor, the transformation of a useless slave to a useful brother.

This book does not recount the gospel explicitly, nor is it full of theological discourse or apologetics but it is full of love and Christian principles. It is the application of the Gospel to life. As Christ forgives us, us who had been indebted to Christ unto death, so to is a Christian asked to forgive the slave who ran from his rightful master.

It may be noted that essentially Paul is sending a runaway slave back to his master, back to slavery, but we cannot use this as a justification for slavery, as some might, we must use it to breakdown the barriers of slavery and reconcile slave to master not to equal footing but to brotherly love. If a man loves his slave as a brother and a slave loves his master likewise what risk of inequality is there? None!

We are all slaves to sin set free by another, Jesus Christ, in Christianity. The issue is not slavery, its bigger than that, it’s about love.

Jesus Christ is our master who lovingly reconciled us to him but did so much more. God the father has made us co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and Daughters of God himself, adopted into the family of God by faith alone. When you think about it we should be slaves who grovel before him and plead for mercy but should not receive it because we are not owed it nor do we deserve it because of our sin. Yet, God in his goodness, love and mercy came to us even while we were still disobedient slaves, and didn’t even recognize our need for forgiveness and mercy, and he died on the cross for us.

A man might treat a good slave with kindness but what kind of man would treat a disobedient slave with mercy and elevate him as a brother? Christ would and so should we.

The Redcoats are Coming the Redcoats are Coming!!

In this post I take some time to reflect on something that’s been on my mind for a few days. It isnt neccesarliy related to Church but it is an expereince that’s impacted me.

As I watched the legion veterans march out on the parade ground this remembrance day I felt a sense of pride and honour. These are men and woman who fought for us and gave a great deal, and they are the lucky ones, who served their country well and lived. You see I am reminded of what I have learnt about them, what I have come to know about their achievements through story and media and it is not their individual actions that I remember but the sacrifice and the accomplishment as a whole as a group, Individuals stepping up to act in amazing ways for a cause that is bigger than just them.

But what happened next I was not prepared for. The RCMP or Royal Canadian Mounted Police marched onto the parade ground as well, and I remembered, I remembered the stories and the media that I have been exposed to and I remembered that and all I felt was sadness and disappointment.

I remember as a child I wanted to be a member of the RCMP, to be a part of something greater than I was as an individual and belong to something. For the Americans their history books will forever associate the red coat of the British forces as that of occupier, as I write this I think of the old saying “the redcoats are coming the red coats are coming” that the Americans associate with Paul Revere’s wild ride.  But for Canadians that red coat was a source of pride a representation of law in a wild time and a force for peace that helped unit us from coast to coast with rugged determination; a force bigger than only one man accomplishing an insurmountable task.

However, in the last five years, my awe for the RCMP as an organization has been tarnished again and again and again. What do I remember when I see the red coats marching out on parade? I remember a man on his hands and knees being kicked in the face by a member, I remember watching a Polish man die at the hands of four members in an airport; I remember the stories of woman who say that if they complained about sexual harassment on the force they were blacklisted. I see those red coats and I remember it all and it makes me sad.

I try to remember the awe I had for those red coats and the men and woman who wear them but I am sad because I think it’s gone.

This remembrance day I did remember.

I’ll take “What is your point?” for $500 Alex

I came to a realization that I don’t know how to ask a good question! I mean that’s not fully accurate. If I know the subject well or know that I don’t know something I can usually ask a decent question, but when it comes to asking someone else a good question where I want to draw them to a conclusion I’m out of practice. I have, on occasion come up with some good ones in conversations but that’s a little different.

What I’m faced with in the Church this week is writing some questions to help the congregation go deeper in study during the next series of sermons. In the series we will be covering John, and we are in the midst of developing the booklet that will accompany the study. I’ve been given John 1:14-18…not the easiest verses but also some very profound verses. So yesterday I attacked the task with vigour and tried to develop some really good questions.

What I found was that it is very difficult to develop a good question. Sure I came up with some question but really they were rather weak.

Since yesterday’s failure I’ve been thinking about a better way of doing things and I’ve been running some thoughts through my mind about how to ask a good question and so I’m going to flesh out those ideas here.

1. Develop the main points being taught in the content.

Take the time to understand what the content I’m trying teaching is saying and summarize its main points for my own knowledge. It’s from these main points then that I can develop the questions. This step is when I can look at commentaries and other sources to support or shed some light on my own study of the subject. Here I can also develop questions from the content based on questions I had about the topic.

2. What are you trying to teach from those points?

My goal is to teach the main points therefore I need to have a clear understanding of those key points. I then have to ask myself what points would make the best questions, which one’s will lend themselves to being taught in question format.

3. Who is your target audience and what is their education level on the topic?

I can write questions earlier than this step but now I really need to consider who my hearer is and word the question in a manner that they can understand.  For children it will obviously be different than adults. When dealing with a Church congregation I also have to consider that there are going to be some who went to Bible school, some who have studied the Bible on their own and some who have very little knowledge about the scriptures.

4. Is your question grammatically correct? Will the reader be able to understand what you are asking?

This is probably the hardest part of the process for me. Grammar and spelling are not my best strengths but they are so important when you are trying to ask a good question.

5. Does your question lead the reader to a conclusion?

Does my question lead the reader to the answers I want them to reach? If I ask a question and they are simply left perplexed than I have failed. It needs to challenge them somewhat but a study question needs to lead back to the main points of the content so they learn.

6. Can your question be answered to simply, for example is it only a yes/no question?

A yes no question does no good unless you are testing someone’s knowledge about facts. “Did A cause B? Yes or no.” Better to ask “What are some of the causes that contributed to A causing B?”

7. Does the question only ask their opinion or does it teach them something?

In the case of questions related to Church ministry what I want to accomplish is draw people back to the Bible rather than their own opinion. It is not that a person’s opinion is not important but simply asking someone their opinion when they haven’t studied the topic is like asking me “how do you feel about quantum physics?” ahh its cool I guess..

Conclusion:

Well these are some of my initial thoughts about asking a good question…now I need to get off to actually doing it. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll post them up here later and people can give me some feedback on them.

Hey Jude!

I really wanted to study an entire book this week and I must admit that I chose Jude due to it’s length but also due to my lack of knowledge concerning its content. The book has very similar content to material written by the apostles but uses some unique references to apocryphal writing. Jude doesn’t appear to use the apocryphal works in a canonical or authoritative way but rather as examples.

I want to note that the book of Jude has very similar, and parallel teachings, as 2 Peter 2 does and upon reading the two the similarities are absolutely evident. However, in my brief study of Jude I don’t spend time examining these similarities but rather I am simply outlining the key points and thoughts of Jude itself.

The Book of Jude

The Book of Jude was written to contend against those who have snuck into the church, those ungodly people who are set aside to be condemned (3-4). Why are they condemned? Because they reject all authority including Jesus Christ’s, they change the faith to fit their desires of sexual immorality and reject truth based on their “dreams” or visions. (4) They use visions as their basis of authority. They blaspheme out of their innate sinfulness (7-8). They are compared to the unbelieving Egyptians (5), and the angels who rebelled against God (6), they are guilty of like sins to those of Sodom and Gomorrah (7), They are useless, not producing any good works (12) and finally they are easily swayed, this way and that, by their own false teachings and feelings. (13)

Jude tells us that these ungodly men will suffer destruction; in fact it is for one’s like this that God is coming to judge the world. They will be judged for their actions, their unbelief and their blasphemy against God (14-15.) Jude summarizes who they are, they are “…grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favouritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 16)

These people have so offended God that their destruction is assured. They deserve nothing else. How could God do anything but destroy them is a question we have to ask ourselves?

Now Jude turns to the true holy followers, to those who are part of Jesus true disciples and tells them they need to remember that the apostles said that people like this would come (17-18). The ungodly cause division and so not have the Holy Spirit, but you those with the Holy Spirit must keep themselves in God’s love, they must build their faith through prayer in the Holy Spirit waiting on the mercy of God (19-21).

The holy are also encouraged to have mercy on those who doubt, which are not the same as those who reject and blaspheme (22).

In closing Jude acknowledges that Jesus Christ is able to keep his chosen from stumbling and able to present them blameless to God, and that he is glorious, majestic, has dominion and authority over all time (24-25).

Thoughts on Jude

Jude is writing to a church with some very big problems. These ungodly are as terrible and as opposed to God as you can get, yet they have made their way into the Church. Jude is trying to shine some light on them, to make the faithful aware of them, to cause the faithful to contend against them and save those who might be swayed by them to their destruction. It is interesting that Jude makes no mention of trying to save them but rather assumes that those who have crept in to the church have no hope but are doomed to certain destruction, yet he contends for those who are still on the fence. Jude wants the faithful to build their faith and save those they can while handing the ungodly over to God for judgment.

It is interesting that Jude identifies these individuals’ sins, exposing them, but makes no mention of expelling them. Perhaps, by his appeal to the beloved he hopes, when he says to contend, that he desires them to step up and remember the truth about their faith. Although there is no direct admonishment to throw out the ungodly from their midst there is definitely an indication that they must separate themselves from these people doomed to God’s judgment by keeping themselves in the love of God. His language is so strong concerning these individuals you are almost astounded by his lack of instruction as to how to handle them other than to look to their own faith and save the doubter.

Due to Jude’s use of language concerning the ungodly, who assumed authority through visions in verse 8, referenced as “Shepherds feeding themselves” in verse 12, that they are in fact the leaders of this church and Jude is instead writing to the congregation. Whatever the case it is clear that Jude is intent on God being the Judge and the faithful are to strengthen their faith and save those who can be. The mercy Jude talks about does not seem to be for the ungodly among them but rather the unbeliever or the doubters; a unique distinction, mercy for those who are in doubt but destruction from God for those who claim to be part of the body but clearly live in sin and rebellion against him.

Jesus vs “Jesus”

I recently was invited to a lunch meeting of a local Christian Business group. This particular event was held at a local restaurant where we listened to an itinerant pastor. This was an interesting event because this pastor died for seven days and visited Heaven before being sent back to his body. Not every day you get to hear someone claim that.

After listening to him I just felt disgusted. All he kept saying was essentially that if you have faith in Jesus he’ll give you wealth and health, if you have faith you’ll be blessed with money, that same old tired teaching that faith leads to health and wealth. I mean how do we keep teaching this? Point to one disciple of Jesus in the first century that experienced wealth or didn’t experience death in the most horrible fashion for what they taught.

To his followers, my Jesus promised pain, he promised to his followers that they would be humiliated and made fun of for their faith, that some of his followers would suffer and die poor and in pain. Christians are not supposed to live for wealth! Christians are supposed to live for God, love him and others and for that they will be and are persecuted and killed.

Today I’m studying Jude and in verse eight it says “yet in like manner” to fallen Angels, Sodom and Gomorrah and the Egyptians,  “these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious on (Jesus Christ).”  It made me think about this false teacher, this false prophet. This “Preacher” His claim to authority is an experience where he met with Jesus, a “dream” that in of itself could be a claim to authority, that’s what happened to Saul who became Paul after an amazing experience of meeting the risen Christ.

But, do we rely on someone’s visions simply because they declare it? NO. We check it against scripture, against truth, against the word of God written down by faithful witnesses who knew Jesus, walked with Jesus and talked with Jesus. Even Paul after meeting the resurrected Jesus Christ went to Peter the chief Apostle and made sure he checked his understanding about who Jesus was before heading out to teach. Like the ungodly in Jude we don’t let people teach from their dreams simply because they had them, they have to be in line with who Jesus actually is.

This preacher I heard claims to have spoken to Christ yet all I hear is a false teaching, that if you have sorrow and debt, high blood pressure and sickness you lack faith. It’s just health and wealth theology which doesn’t line up with scripture at all. So if this man doesn’t teach the same Jesus than what “Jesus” did he meet?  Maybe he’s just lying and never had this transcendent experience, which I am inclined to believe he didn’t, but if he did die and rise again, If this is the message of that “Jesus”, than I am more inclined to believe he met a demon speaking a false Gospel.

I don’t want to be quick to dismiss someone’s experience, although that is how I’m naturally inclined, but I do want to be devoted to checking if it’s true. How do we do that? Same way Paul did, check with the witnesses, the Bible, and see if what they are teaching is right. I could pull a verse here and there and justify any number of evil and disgusting things that mankind now blames God and Christianity for.  Whether it’s the Inquisition, the Crusades, slavery, Holocaust, whatever it is we can justify it by claiming “I had a vision, I read a verse out of context, I had a revelation from God that supersedes what’s written in the Bible.” Whatever it is if it doesn’t line up with the Jesus that is talked about it scripture – ALL of Scripture – then it’s just evil humanity trying to justify evil acts, even if they claim they are Christian.

You see, I am told that my religion has caused every problem with the world, all the wars are caused by my faith and my God. But I tell you this: that all the evil in this world comes from me and you and every other sinner that’s walked this world and the only thing that gives this world hope and redeems anyone is Jesus Christ. Don’t blame him for the evil that man commits. If you are pointing at Jesus I’d point right back at me and you as the problem; if I was allowed to point, my wife tells me I shouldn’t point.  😉

I’m saddend by that teacher, I mean I really feel sad about it, but angry as well because I know that more than a few people in that room agreed with him and believe in that “Jesus” he is preaching and that he is the same one in the Bible, but he’s not. If Jesus is just there to help them gain wealth and health they haven’t met the real Jesus, the offensive Jesus, that tells us all we are sinners, whether we believe it or not, and he’s the only way to be saved. I don’t want anyone to go to hell, I want everyone to meet the real Jesus, the one that lived a sinless life that we couldn’t live and died the death on the cross to us from going to hell all because he loves us.