PART 2: The Goodness Delusion

I’m a bit of a perfectionist which is always very difficult to live with when your far from perfect, so when it comes to art and drawing, writing fiction or blog posts I’m never truly happy with what I’ve done. But with that attitude sometimes I find it difficult to even finish something which I think stunts my growth as a writer or an artist. So, although I’m not fully happy with this post I think I just need to post it and move on. Maybe coming back to it again some other time and fleshing it out some more. I’m happy with the general direction of the post but not necessarily the full breadth and depth of my argument. In any case here you go.

PART 2:

The second question I thought about was what is goodness according to God, and how does it differs from mankind’s understanding of goodness? When we are confronted with God’s understanding of what goodness is we find it un-palatable. You don’t like it, it’s doesn’t sit well with us and we probably would rather dismiss it, I still do sometimes in favour of my own interpretation.

I said in Part 1 that what mankind believes is good is something that meets our standards and thus is worthy of our approval. If that is the case for mankind, if the quality of goodness of and object or person is based on our approval, if the thing is good when it meets our standards, than it should come as no surprise that it is the same with God.

According to God, God was, God is and God always will be the standard of what is good. That to be good a person must act and be as morally and ethically upright as God himself to be good, which we are not capable of.

MATTHEW 19:16-17

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

Only God is good and to be good we must keep all the commands which we are incapable of doing.

PSALM 14: 1-3

1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.

2The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

3They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

God created everything and by his standards it was good. The created thing, the universe, the planet, the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the animals on the land and the humans he made to walk on this planet were good! That means they functioned as he intended. (Gen 1:31)

Romans 8:28 is an interesting verse. It says

28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

So what is this verse saying? What is good? Becoming morally like him is good and being called according to his purpose. This is not a promise of earthly wealth or health or anything like this but rather it is a statement that those who will be saved by Christ for their faith in him will become conformed, morally conformed into the image of Jesus Christ the son of God, who is God, and will work things out for the good of his purpose.

It’s not about us getting something it’s about us being transformed, renewed to the state that God wanted us to exist in the first place and then being part of his purpose and plan. Unsurprisingly it is clear from this verse that it is an act of God not man in which we can become good, there is just no other way!

The Psalms are full of verses stating the goodness of God, the Bible is full of them as well but here is where we find it un-palatable because sometimes, or many times, we find God doing things we don’t understand in the Bible, things we just don’t think are in fact good.

We’ve established that mankind determines what is good based on what meets their standards of what is good which contradicts God’s understanding of what is good. To solve this problem we could go to Job where God descends on the poor wretched man who is crying out in pain and God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” Saying who are you, oh man, to question your almighty God? What Does God owe you? And in truth that is a sufficient answer in some ways but in others it is not. It is sufficient in that the creation has no right to demand of the sovereign creator an explanation but it is insufficient because it is not the full message of the Bible about God’s goodness. Certainly it acknowledges his majesty which God wants you to know and acknowledge, but God also wants us to truly know and experience his goodness.

So we come to Question number three:

If God is truly good prove it!

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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…

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.

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.

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.

Why Blog?

I’m an intern at a Northview Community Church in Abbotsford BC doing a 10 month internship program. I’m also a student at Prairie Bible College finishing my degree in Pastoral ministry. One of the requirements during my internship is to write a journal or a log book. Looking at today’s culture and the world around me I think that the best way to log my time, or write my thoughts is in a blog format. So many pastors today do it this, so I think I’ll do it as well.

Before we go any further you might be saying, “Well Andrew, just because some people are doing it this way that doesn’t make it a good idea.” I agree. You see the first thing I want to write about is culture and Gospel and blogging kind of fits in there.

In the North American, mostly America, “anyone” who is “anyone” has a blog, either written by them, about them or for them, but also anyone who wants to get their thoughts and opinion out there for others to see. Why? Because blogging is a form of communication that is used to tether us to one another and further expose people to our thoughts. We follow the blog of those we attach ourselves to or associate with; we blog to our tribe, our people, our friends, those who we share a kinship with. From what I’ve seen there are four ways we use a blog and I just want to touch briefly on them and why I think Christians can be involved in blogging.

First is spreading further Knowledge. If someone is a pastor, or a teacher, or someone respected for their wisdom, a blog can be immensely helpful in getting information out to those who follow you. Those who trust you, those who claim an association to you and are submitting themselves to you can learn from you. This reason is, I think, one of the best reasons a pastor should blog. They have been entrusted to teach a groups of people so they should teach in a way that is culturally relevant. People today blog, they read blogs so pastors can blog because it helps teach and build the body. To preach even an hour once a week is great but what better way to expand further, nuance something deeper than to blog further on the subject. (a podcast is good too.)

Second is for the purpose of news. If someone has associated themselves with a group, or congregation, they want to know what is going on, they want the latest news and gossip. We are an information culture and we want more. What better way to connect and keep people up to date than to tell them what is going on in a blog, a method for getting out personal and corporate news. We do have to be careful as a church. News is one thing, a helpful thing, gossip is not. We have to stay away from using our blogs as a method of gossip. Giving your opinion is good, but if it is directed to harm and hurt others it is never okay for Christians, which leads me to my next point.

A third reason people blog is to attack and criticise. There are so many Christian websites devoted to groups of Christian “watchdogs” who ransack the internet for every last quote of their most hated Christian speaker and then they pick it apart and tear them down. They claim to be “Bible believing, scripture reading devoted Christians” But from what I can discern their only purpose is to nip at the heels of the church and weigh it down. I do think that the church needs to be intentional about keeping strong orthodoxy and sound doctrine, but attacking other Christians again and again online is not okay, nor is it okay to attack people who aren’t Christians. One of the pastors I follow was attacked a few years ago by another well known pastor online in blog posts and articles. When asked if he had gone to the other pastor with their concerns, as is biblical, they said yes but the other pastor hadn’t gotten back to them yet so he had to address the issue and he did so online. So does that give us free reign to air our dirty laundry on the internet for all to see? No. We need to check ourselves, we need to watch ourselves. We can have differences, and there is a time and place to discourse about wrong doctrine but using a blog for a platform of attack is not right, nor is it effective because the attacker simply sounds like a fool. We in the church are not perfect, nor do we see eye to eye all the time. Even when we blog we must think about treating our brothers and sisters in Christ with love and respect as well as our enemies. We can challenge another’s view point for sure but to attack them and drag them through the mud with arrogance and maliciousness is just wrong, so wrong.
Fourth, I think a blog can be used for discussion which is what I hope I can use this blog for. On a blog we can give our opinions, our thoughts etc. We can open our thoughts up to others and we can say, “this is what I’m thinking and why. What do you think?” and we can discus, change and grow. We can address other peoples doctrine and we can even say another person is wrong and discus why but out in public, which the internet is we do not let our discussion turn to anger.

In these four uses of an online blog, knowledge, news, discussion and attack, there are three that I hope I can engage in and one I hope I don’t fall into. You see the internet is part of our culture, and part of our lives and adapting to meet culture is not wrong but adapting the Gospel to culture is. We are in the world and need not hide from it, but we need to avoid being of the world.

There you go, my thoughts on the medium. I hope I was able to convey my message. In the future I hope to blog about the sermons or lessons I am preparing or events I am participating in and make this a little more personal.