Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Archive for the month “June, 2015”

One Way To Free Yourself From The Surly Bonds Of Common Deceptions

Dear children,

Sometimes different things get mixed up and start swirling around together in such a way that makes them dangerous.  They can get so out of hand, in fact, that they wind up tearing lots of stuff up while standers-by watch, wide-eyed and gasping with hands over their mouths.  If you could pretend for a moment that separating the debris from the wind in a tornado would render it harmless, that would go a long way in helping me to explain what I want you to understand here.  For the truth is, in a lot of different things that seem to bring confusion, if we could separate the parts that make them that way, it might bring clarity.  In short, we need to be able to look at the whirlwind while discerning the dust from the wind.  I have learned that it is possible to train oneself to do this.  If I could teach you to do the same, perhaps I can help save you from some confusion, or at least to better understand the confusion that you will be finding yourself emersed in.

The difficulty in getting this across is first one of words, for I must attempt to explain it well enough, and with enough examples to get you started, while at the same time not bore you too much.  So, in order to attempt that, I’ll simply move right into a few kinds of examples of what I’m talking about:

Education and morality -I was working with a man recently who told me that his 16-year-old step-son was living alone in another state.  So I asked him how the boy was coming along without adult oversight?  He answered by telling me that the young man was making good grades.  But that didn’t answer my question.  He was confusing good grades with morality. You will find this to be quite a common thing.

As for me, I’ve seen news reports where young people have gotten into terrible trouble. The response from those who knew one of those involved was all too common. They always seem to be shocked. And, they’re shocked because, after all, the kid did make good grades.  You are living in a culture that idolizes education, and as such, I think it may be a little challenging for it to separate its little god of education from its morality. So when you are older, know your children’s heart as much as you are able.  Don’t confuse their smartness, or their accumulated knowledge, with their goodness.  And remember that really smart people can be really evil too while mental slowness is by no means a sign of a moral handicap.  I’m personally thankful for that one.

Another similar thing to education that gets mixed up with morality is health.  I asked a woman once why she thought her daughter’s fiance was a good man for her.  She seemed as though she had been caught off guard by the question. It was as if the thought had never occurred to her.  After thinking a bit she finally said that it was because he was healthy.  “Oh”, I said.  Still, many others confuse beauty with morality. But probably worse than anything else along these lines is the confusing of feelings with morality, as in, if it feels good, it’s moral.  But all of these are totally separate things and should be discerned from each other when deciphering the realities that whirl about you.

The institutionalization of sin – As I write this we await what might be the greatest spectacle of hubris ever put on display by man.  Nine judges are going to decide if a square can be a circle. Of course, that’s not what they’re really deciding, but it might as well be because deciding whether or not a man can marry another man is equally as absurd.  Of course, the court’s decision will have no bearing on reality, but rather it can only succeed in changing the meaning of a word: “marriage”.  It will also determine in many ways whether or not we will be a nation that plans on living in reality or some fantasy land.

But be that as it may, the Church has for some time been in a difficult place concerning such cause-celeb sins of our day, only because so many in its midst have not separated the debris from the wind.  As is typical, there are many things that are happening at the same that must be understood separately if they are to be understood at all.  For example here are two things that work together.  On the one hand, Jesus clearly taught His followers to love their neighbors as themselves. And I am inclined to believe that Jesus did not mean to exclude those who practice any certain sin as being our neighbor.  But, on the other hand, there are political movements afoot that are much greater than any one individual and we must not confuse a poor soul with a political movement.  These movements appear to have as their goal the wiping away of all vestiges of God, family, and Church as the Bible defines these entities; preferring instead to redefine them in ways that are more malleable and palatable.  They approach under the cover of compassion, and they seem to only be requesting from the Church what Jesus commanded of it anyway.  But Jesus also taught that the Church is the light in this world.  He never taught us to have compassion for political movements that seek to justify sin.  Sadly, many Christians bristle at the suggestion that there should be any resistance to these movements because they are simply unable to differentiate between resisting collective evil and loving an individual caught up in that evil.

We are to preach the Gospel to the individual, which includes repentance and forgiveness.  We are to shine a light into dark places in this world, which we know will cause it to hate us, and our Savior.  But Jesus tells us that some will repent and become redeemed children of God.  We are to be the very hands of God, pulling individuals from the torrents of collective evil, and not fearing what man thinks of us for daring to call those torrents evil.

Judging others – Sin destroys.  So, we have on the one hand your sin.  And then on the other we have my sin.  And the two are similar things in that they both destroy.  But they are different things too, in that we are two different human beings.  When a loved one calls us out on our sin we have a choice. We can feel attacked, and we can make counter-accusations, but in doing so we cause a destructive whirlwind.  If I, your father–or someone else who is a friend–points out sin in your life, it is a loving thing for them to do and you ought to see it as such.  It is foolish to evade such love by daring them to “judge” you because they themselves are not without sin.  If anyone wants to discuss the sin in my life, let us do so. There is much to discuss. But let us not discuss my sin at the same time as we discuss theirs.

If we dare not help each other pick the splinters from our eyes, we will end up both blinded, and the best we could ever hope for is to not wander into a pit. Blinded is where much of Christendom lives today, but you don’t have to live there.  Thank the brother who loves you enough to hold you accountable. And don’t be afraid to love others enough to hold them accountable.   It is important to understand that no one else’s sin makes your sin not sin.  Desire to live righteously.  Ask the one who points out your sin to help you overcome it as you help others in any way you can.

______________________

So here I have given you just a few examples of how some things that would otherwise confound can be better understood.  I hope that you will train yourself to disassemble them and grasp and interact with their component parts separately.   If you work on thinking in this way it will become your second nature, and you will be all the wiser for it.  I pray that you would grow in this area.

Your father

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Beware Of Church Forms

Dear children,

When I was a child my dad had our driveway paved with concrete.  It was an exciting time for us because we would have a place to ride our bicycles and roller skates.  He began the project with an old farm tractor, scraping the driveway as level as he could.  Then those who were experts in concrete came out and set up little wooden barriers along the sides of where the driveway would be.  Next the cement truck came and poured the formless “mud” in between the barriers, which are called forms.  It filled the area, flowing out against the forms, and adopted the shape of what would become our new driveway.  Once it hardened, we threw the forms away.

But think about it.  Did the concrete need the forms to become a useful driveway?  Not really.  The concrete could have just as easily been poured right out onto the ground and the top smoothed out for a place to drive.  But there’s something about the order of the straight edges that is more pleasing to our eyes.

I would learn later in life that more things use forms than just concrete; many more things in fact.  One of those things is the church.   In some ways the church is like wet concrete in that it has liberty.  The Bible really doesn’t say that much about how we ought to do church, so in some ways the whole Sunday morning observance is formless.  It’s like the cement truck pouring out wet mud for us to do with as appeals to us most.  Some like to simply pour the mud out and let it flow wherever.  Others like to build elaborate forms that make elaborate shapes.  And then there’s everything in between.

But like concrete, the church also hardens.  It takes jack hammers and chisels to change the shape of hardened concrete, and pretty much with church forms too, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  This is true… well, maybe mostly or somewhat true, for every church form, even the “formless” forms.  Yes, some like to think that since they didn’t use a form that they are still malleable.  But that’s not true.  Just try to put some shape into a hardened pile of concrete and you’ll see what I mean.  The formlessness is itself the form.  And others like to think that because they have elaborate forms, that their forms make them orthodox, or at least protect them against unorthodoxy.  That’s not true either.

I just read of a pastor who surprised his congregation one Sunday by installing a pulpit and wearing a suit and tie.  In other words, he tried to changed the form of the service a tiny bit.  He said that even though his preaching style didn’t change, nor his message or doctrines, he was accused of being a false teacher by some, changing his doctrines by others, and still more unpleasant things by yet others.  He was shocked by the response.  My guess is that if a preacher who wears vestments and uses a big elevated pulpit, removed the pulpit and wore a tee-shirt and skinny jeans one Sunday, the result would be much the same.  Why is that?  It’s because the forms are important to us as man, and we all need to realize that so that we can actively distinguish between truths and forms.

Western “Church” 1  has an overall shape something like this:  We sing some songs as a form of worship, and then we listen to a message.  You would be hard pressed to find a church that doesn’t fit this basic form. Since the Bible is not specific on exactly how it’s done, there is liberty to do it this way, or to not I would say.  But within that form you will find many different sub-forms.  Some want upbeat songs with lots of instruments, and others want more solemn songs, or no instruments, or whatever.  Some people want a preacher who gives a little chit chat, and others want a preacher who yells to make his points.  So each believer goes to the particular church that suits his particular fancy, and that’s kind of how it all works; and that’s fine I guess.  But be on your guard.  The mere existence of all of these forms can invite decption into your midst and your minds.  Here’s how.

As someone once said, the mind of man is a 24/7 idol factory, and church forms are not immune to becoming, in themselves, idols.  They, in fact, can become such an idol that the form becomes more important than the content.  Consider that performing is an idol for a musician.  Then it’s easy to see how the “worship band” form can become a performance opportunity for that man.  Many apostate pop-stars in fact got their start right there on the worship team at some church.  Or for the rhetorician want-a-be, perhaps the preachers’ unique style, or ability to engross, can be an idol.  Then there’s the experience worshipper, the form of emotional music with an emotional “message” might be more important than teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs 2  for that person.  There really is no shortage of ways to turn forms into idols.  Some worship families, others youth, and still others liturgy; all of which are fine to a point.  But then again, that’s what makes them a more hideous kind of deception.  It’s all so good and righteous… until it’s not.

You ought, therefore, to watch yourselves.  I would that you simply love God’s Word, and His truth that is revealed within, no matter what form it’s poured into.  Rote singing of doctrinally sound hymns with cold, dead indifference is worse than singing a twenty minute, upbeat ten-word song with great joy and thanksgiving over the truth it conveys.  And, in like manner, all the joy, hand clapping, yelling and dancing in the world can’t make up for singing the singing of a lie to the same kind of music, even if it does have the word “Jesus” somewhere in the lyrics.  Guard your hearts.  Form is not an indicator of truth, and truth is not confined by forms.  Yet, if reverence for God and His Word are not present, then that’s a good indicator that things have gone awry.

It is glaringly apparent that no form has thwarted the deluge of apostasy in our day, but only the hearts of men who have kept God’s Word.  Truth always trumps form.  Always!  So the more you love God and His truth from scripture, the less the forms will matter to you.

I pray for you dear children that God would put an unquenchable thirst for Himself, and His truth in your hearts; that you would see past the distractions that are so plentiful, and that God would bless you with discernment.  I pray that wisdom would reign in your hearts and minds, and that you would not get swept away by this fad or that, but that you would set your faces toward the mark, eyes fixed on Jesus, and that you would walk the path laid out for you.

Your father

________________________

1. We should always remember that “Church” is much more than a weekly service, but here, the weekly service is all I’m referring to.

2. Colossians 3:16

Oh How I Love To Hate

Dear children,

As you know all too well, I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh religiously, but not so much any more.  Not that I no longer like him, it’s just that I began to notice the affect his show was having on me. The thing that drew me to him for so many years was unhealthy.  It was his ability to stir up in me the base emotion of hatred; and I realized that,  not only did he draw it out,  I loved it.  And as Life may have already taught you, such base and unsightly emotions come easier to us than better things like self-restraint and refinement.

It was a revelation to me actually; that I, by my nature, loved to hate.  I was actually drawn to it like a moth to flame.  It was almost as if I loved, in a sordid kind of way, for people to make horrible decisions and say outrageous things so that I might relish in my hatred of them.  “Look at what they’re doing now!  Just look at em!!”

Facebook, I have discovered, is similar.  As I scroll through my feed I see teasers like:  “You won’t believe what so and so just said.”, or, “Look at what this person plans to do with your children.”, or such things as that.  It’s called click bait.  It assumes that I’m ready to be outraged, and will click on their site and provide it with traffic.  Not that I think that those who run good sites should do it for free. But this is not about good sites versus bad sites.  It’s about my heart; and you and your heart.  I still have a great fondness for Rush Limbaugh too, though I like his guest host, Mark Steyn better.  And I hope he’s on the air for a long time to come.  But I try to be mindful of my heart and motivations before listening or clicking, which, as it turns out, I hardly do anymore.

Just so you know, my problem has nothing to do with “conservatism”, it merits or failures.  No, rather it is a sin problem.  And as such it taints man, no matter what “cause” he’s signed onto.  There are lots of conflicting ideologies that are buoyed by people’s hatred.  Your fellow man is liable to hate different people for different reasons.  Large corporations, politicians, genetic modifiers of food, vaccination supporters are just a few of the causes that seem to give us reason to hate.  Some, I’ve found, even hate haters–with a passion actually–with “hate” being defined generally as anyone who holds a differing opinion than the one who is the hater of “haters”.  “Look at those evil HATERS.  Kill em all I say!”

I think it’s possible that any of us could find a cause that we feel is worthy of our hate, though perhaps not all of us.  Your mother doesn’t seem to be drawn at all beyond her strong dislike of misguided thinking into a hate benge.  I’ve met others who were the same way, as far as I could tell, and I was perhaps more than once inclined to hate them for their lack of hatred… except your mother.  I love your mother.

The book of Hebrews tells us that each of us has our own particular sins that beset us, and against which we ought to strive against becoming entangled with; except for those who believe God did away with law, and who apparently don’t believe anybody can sin at all anymore because God loves them unconditionally, and there is no law to break in order that sin can even exist in the first place. They are free to run their race unencumbered I guess.  It’s a strange world.  You’ll have fun figuring it out.

But back to our love of hatred. Please don’t think that I’m saying that we ought not strongly disagree with and oppose lies and harmful worldviews.  We should.  We should even become upset when they prevail.  But there’s a difference between opposing lies and loving and basking in hatred.  Love should reign in our hearts; and by “love” I don’t mean we should  accept and approve of everything that popular culture tells us is good and righteous.  That would be love, yes, but it is love of self, as in “I love myself way too much to subject myself to the disdain of popular culture.”  True love however is much more involved.  A father who loves his toddler will not approve of him playing in the busy street, for example…, even if the child wants to real bad–and even if the child hates the father for the moment for making him stop–because he’s likely to get killed or hurt.  Real love also doesn’t, for example, exclude us from “destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God 1 either, for the same reasons.   In a more eternal sense, love would never downplay or otherwise attempt to hide the more unsavory points of the Gospel, like the fact that man is by his nature sinful and is in dire need of some Good News.

I had a phone company call me, and try to persuade me to do business with them, many years ago.  It just so happened that this company was one who had thrown itself headlong into supporting things that ought not be supported by anyone.  Here was my chance I thought.  So I let that guy know just how bad his company was and how I would NEVER do business with it.  His reply was a punch in my face.   He simply said, “Well thank you for your time sir, and God bless you.”  And then he hung up.  He might have actually meant it, or he might have, in a roundabout way, been calling me a hypocrite.  One thing’s for sure, if his main goal was to get under my skin, he certainly succeeded.  And please dear children, unless you really mean it, don’t tell people God bless you, especially when you really wish they were dead.

As you know, there are still companies that I won’t do business with for the same sort of reasons.  And I wish that others would do the same.  But you won’t see me in a rage over it, not at those who don’t see the need, not with a representative of the company, nor the company itself, nor by yelling it in the streets.  That’s because I don’t hate them, but I do hate what the heads of some companies are promoting.  I work for a company that promotes the same sort of nonsense.  Should I hate myself?  None of them are doing anything that should surprise anyone, especially the Christian who understands man’s carnal nature.

There is one group of people who are still able to make me quite angry, though I can honestly say that I don’t love to hate them.  It is the people who call themselves christians, and who have rejected the Bible, its message, and the Gospel, and have replaced it cultural opinions, and who are attacking the Church of God, as if from within, with great zeal.  These make me very angry.

I did learn that I had a problem, and God, I believe helped me to merge onto a different avenue.  You too will find yourselves on side roads, rabbit trails, and even in an occasional wreck.  But it is my prayer for you that you will find yourself always back on the narrow path, on the road to, as John Bunyan put it, the Celestial City.  Guard your hearts, as you resist evil, against loving hate.  Weigh your motivations.  Beware of myopia, and involvement in causes that are too singular in nature.  Tether yourself with a short line to the Gospel.  Never get too far from it, and its wonderful message.

Your father.

____________________

1. (1Cor 10:5)

The Reality Of Man’s Basic Goodness, Or Not So Much

–Continued From previous post–

Reality number 4, Man is not “basically good”

Years ago, while watching the evening news, I saw something that I’ll never forget.  A woman in a courtroom had just received a verdict for something she’d been accused of concerning her children.  I can’t remember what exactly it was, only that is was pretty rotten.  But what struck me was her outburst in response.  As they were taking her out of the courtroom she was in tears crying out over and over, as if defending herself against the real charge, “I am not a bad person, I am not a bad person!”  Had she been living in reality it would have already been settled in her heart and mind that not only was she not a good person, the fact that she wasn’t was probably one of the few things that she had in common with every other person in the room.  That word “good”, in her judgement of self, called forth a standard.  This is true for all of us.  Without first accepting that our judgments demand a basis, it is quite impossible for us to reside in the land of reality.  This is certainly true if we are making moral judgements, and especially true if we are making them about ourselves.

When we are exploring the condition of man, you see, we are not so much attempting to answer the question, “Is man basically good?”, as we are attempting to define an all too common word in the English language.  Man is by his nature quick to run to his own defense when his basic goodness is in question.  He will in general declare it as a self-evident-truth in the same way the convicted woman did when she insisted that she was, in spite of and after all the evidence to the contrary, a good person.  But is this reality?  Is man really basically good?

When we hear someone assume man’s goodness, or appeal to it in defense of a popular sin,  we can know that “good” was generally defined loosely by a bunch of assumptions that are as common as the word itself.  But don’t you make those assumptions.  Know that the word always necessarily refers to a standard.  So to answer the question concerning our goodness, we must first seek the standard to which the word refers.  The standard we humans usually appeal to is no standard at all but rather an emotional opinion, our own.  “I am a good person.  Why you ask?  Because I think so, that’s why.”  But the Bible presents us with another standard, the very standard as it turns out that God will measure us by, and so therefore the same standard by which we ought to measure ourselves while we can.  And that standard is nothing less than perfection.

So if we use God’s standard, it is safe for us to realistically conclude that we, as human beings, are not basically good.  So not only does reality match up with this truth, so does history; not to mention the last 2000 years of church doctrine, all of which are good indicators that we are on the right track for living in reality.  And Indeed, not only does the Bible proclaim this truth once in some obscure passage, but throughout it drives the point home like a hammer driving a nail.  The scriptures insists that man is fallen, that he is not basically good, that he is a law breaker, that he is at war with God and that he is inclined toward evil at all times.  Unless we are masters of denial, it is impossible to read the Bible and conclude that man is basically good.  We must therefore either reject the Bible, or confess what it says, which is that we not only need a savior, we are in a horribly desperate situation and in dire need of a savior.  This truth, as you might guess, is not a popular one–not even among those who claim to love and know God.  But that should be expected I suppose.  Anyone, after all, even if  they’ve done something horrible to their children, can appeal to the sliding scale of their social counterparts and come away content that they’re doing just fine, thank you very much.

So the reality of man’s true condition is an unpopular one, which is probably why the Bible, with all of its talk about love, is still very much hated and despised.  Take Hell for instance.  The Bible paints awful pictures of this place, and Jesus says Himself that, without an intervention,”good” demands that we are all condemned to go there.  Now why would God respond so over-the-top harshly to people who are basically good?  He doesn’t.  If we think He does, then we don’t understand “good” in such a way that sheds true light on our “bad”.

The truth concerning our condition is a stark one.  The standard against which we must begin our judgments of ourselves is a one that only Jesus has ever achieved.  And that was what made Him worthy of a sacrifice on the behalf of those who are inherently bad. If I could never get you to understand anything else about the Gospel,  I would that you understand this:  It is in His righteousness, and in His righteousness alone, that any claim by anyone can be made to goodness.  It is folly to compare ourselves to others for a basis of declaring ourselves good.  It is worse than folly to appeal to our bearing of God’s image.  It is also folly to define good according to a standard that we create for the express purpose of declaring ourselves good.  No, the reality is that man is not basically good.  To deny this is to deny reality.  But to accept it is to open the door to the gospel, the very door that leads to repentance.  We truly are in a bad way, but it is in the depths of our despair that we are finally able to, not only hear the good news, but to embrace it with great praise and thanksgiving.

I pray that you would never lose sight of these few of the many realities that you must accept and which you cannot change, that you would grow in righteousness, and be saved, and renew your mind.  These are starting points; a place to begin.  You need to know that you are living in a society that every day ventures further from reality, so it is of the utmost importance that, as you go out into this evil world,  you not only have a place to stand, but that you are able to stand, and after you have done all, to stand.

Your father

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