Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Archive for the category “Words”

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

Providence, God’s Forgotten Hand

Dear children

I was born into circumstances that would wind up shutting some doors for me for the rest of my life.  There was no way, for example, that I was ever going to become the CEO of a large corporation.  Nor was I ever going to get a doctorate’s degree at a university, or become a rockstar. Still, I was also born into circumstances that would open many doors that were shut to the rest of the world.  There was opportunity for one thing, simply because I was born in America.  I was raised by two parents who loved me, and who managed, probably because of the rural setting of my childhood, to keep the ugliness of this world at bay until I was older.  I was blessed.

You likewise were born into a set of circumstances that ultimately opened and shut doors for you, as was every other human being… ever.  The question we must all consider as we contemplate all of this is, did these things happen by mere chance; or were all of the large and small particulars surrounding our lives set forth in advance by God’s invisible hand?  How you answer that question will depend on whether you serve a large or small God.  Is God big, all powerful, and able to protect us from bad things but chooses not to?  Or does He desire for us a wonderful  trouble-free life but  just can’t seem to pull it off?  The answers you give to questions like these will determine your outlook on life, and your response to circumstances, in many ways.

If all that is is the result of happenstance, then not only are all things ultimately meaningless, but we can also safely claim that all is not fair.  Some just so happen to be born with everything, and others with not much of anything.   And the rest of us end up somewhere in between with plenty to complain about as we ever compare ourselves to those who are better off.  It just seems all wrong.  Life just isn’t fair.  With this mentality we are ready to assume our status as victims and join the hordes of Hell who are attempting to turn this fallen world into paradise by accomplishing the impossible; to make all things fair.  Please know that such is a fool’s errand.

But then we consider a sovereign God in light of eternity, Who, scriptures teaches us, knit us together in our mother’s womb.  There were no mistakes.  Nothing just “happened“.  Everything is according to God’s sovereign plan.  God gave us our strengths, and He gave us our weaknesses.  We were born into exactly the circumstances that He planned for us to be born into, equipped exactly as we were supposed to be equipped.  And with this we navigate life’s circumstances, some of which will be horrible.  But when we consider God’s sovereignty, everything changes because everything, good or bad, is providence.

But that word, providence, seems to have morphed into God providing affluence, peace and health, in more recent times.  If God did not provide what we consider good things, then He did not provide.  And in even more recent years the word has seemed to almost disappear from our vocabulary completely as our culture and church increasingly sees the world through the lens of random chance.

But the thinking of Christians has not always been this way.  In the days of old, the farmer would plant his field and then he would pray for rain.  If rain came, it was the providence of God and God was praised.  If the rain did not come, it was the providence of God, and He was praised.  God either brought the rain, or He did not.  But He was praised either way.  We might also consider Joseph.  By God’s providence he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and he suffered.  By providence God did not send rain into Canaan which resulted in a famine.  By God’s providence Joseph was in Egypt to give the family refuge from the famine.  None of this was by random chance.  God had a plan, and he provided for it.  It is how the entirety of scripture reads.

Therefore, providence should be the lens through which you interpret your life, with the light of scripture shining on it.  I can promise you that really bad things are going to happen to you during your short life in this land east of Eden.  But I can also promise that not one small bad thing will happen by mere random chance.  No, all will be by God’s providence.

Again, dear children, we must never forget who we were.  We were “man”.  And man is corrupt.  Our only hope is in Jesus Christ, to be clothed in His righteousness, and for Him to dwell in us.  Nothing bad ever happened to a good man.  So all good things that we receive as “man” are ultimately unfair because we instead deserve God’s wrath.  But if there was one thing not fair that is above everything else, it is that God’s wrath was poured out on His son and not on us, for that also was the providence of God.  That I am not as smart, handsome, wealthy, personable, talented and good as I would like to be is nothing compared to the great love that was poured out for me on the cross.  I am in no position to make claims of victimhood, come what may.  I was redeemed in eternity before a holy and righteous God through His providence.  When bad things happen I get to accept them therefore with praise.   I am redeemed!  Whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, it is well with my soul.  (From the Hymn “It Is Well”)

Now I know that these things that I say conflict with our experience in these vessels of clay.  From our early years this flesh pounds its fists and shouts, “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”  But as your mind is renewed your salvation ought to become a great thing in your thinking.  And for it to become great, you must realize what you were saved from, and that Jesus did not die for anyone who was worthy of dying for.  You are not a victim.  Good things do happen to bad people.  Life is not fair, and we may praise our God through Jesus that it is not.  That is providence.

Your father

Is God Really “Good”? Are You?

Dear children

There are some words that we use… that I use, which I have termed “neon words”.  I call them this because it seems that every time I hear them they shine bright in my thinking and generally suggest the need of a definition.  These words are so common that we often make assumptions that they mean the same thing to everyone when they don’t; and that causes a lot of confusion.

Today I want to talk about one “neon word” in particular.  It is used often and it often communicates very little between people.  That word is “good”.   Here are a couple of things to think about when you hear it:

First, the word “good”, when you think about it, appeals to a standard.  It in fact must.  No confusion there just yet.  The problem comes when the source of the standard is unclear, or whether that standard is subjective or objective. For example, if someone says: “Chocolate ice cream is good”, good appeals to a subjective standard. It does not imply that the goodness of chocolate ice cream is, or ought to be, universal. But imagine if the speaker, or hearer, was making assumptions about that the statement.  Suppose someone understood that statement in universal terms.  That would change everything?  The statement would then be an objective and would appeal to a universal standard which would make it an objective truth.  But, when we’re talking about ice cream it is easy to discern that the statement is not making an objective or universal claim.  But trust me, it is not always quite so clear.

Consider, for example, the statement, “I am a good person”. Unlike the goodness of ice cream, this is appealing to an objective standard. While ice cream is subject to personal tastes, in order to assert that I am a good person I must then compare myself to another standard completely; a standard that is independent of, and outside of, myself, and which is universal.

With a little thought we can see here how, if we confuse the source of the standard, not only will our communication suffer but so will our thinking. Consider for a moment the statement: “Mr. Smith is a good teacher”. What is most likely heard is that Mr. Smith conforms to some objective standard for teaching. But the person saying this might well be communicating that Mr. Smith makes him feel good about himself while in Mr. Smith’s class. Mr. Smith may well not be a good teacher at all but rather good in the skills of personal relations. There is no way the hearer can know without exercising a little curiosity about what is meant.  He must ask some questions like “Why do you say that?” Or maybe someone thinks Mr. Smith, although he has great interpersonal skills, is a rotten teacher.  That person may ask, perhaps sarcastically: “If he’s a good teacher then I’m wondering what your idea of a bad teacher would be?” Such questions are seeking to understand the standard being used.

We’ve all probably heard the phrase “God is good”? Does standard does this statement appeal to?  Is it a subjective or objective standard? Is God “good” because His character aligns with a definition of good derived from my own personal desires? To correctly convey the reality that these words represent, these questions must have answers. Is God’s character being compared to a higher standard than even Himself? What standard does one appeal to in such a statement that God might be judged as having measured up to it? Our own personal standard? What if, as I believe to be true, “God” is the standard? In that case we can rightly say with Job “Though He slay me, (a bad thing) I will hope in Him”1  and it would make sense? But if God’s goodness is subject to my own personal preferences, then not only is God diminished, but so is the word “good”. In such a case we can only say “God is good” when we, say, get that one thing that we’ve been wanting.  But we can’t then also say “God is good” when we then lose that one thing for what ever reason.  That would necessarily make God bad, would it not, since his goodness or badness is measured against what good or bad thing happens to you?  To judge God according to what you think ought to be, or a standard based on your own likes and dislikes will lead you to a misunderstanding of both, the meaning of the word good, and the very nature of God.

Second, it doesn’t help that we live in a time in which all standards are considered relative. The idea that an objective standard exists has been rejected because it is believed that there is no objective standard except what man determines that it is on any given day.  With this view we need not examine our own lives according to any standard other than the one we create for ourselves… which would of course be subjective. Using this sort of reasoning a mother, having just been convicted of horribly abusing her children, could still proclaim loudly to the court that she is a good person, as happened a few years back here in Arizona. Why shouldn’t she say it? To what objective standard would anyone appeal to argue differently?  We are all, after all, little cocoons wherein our own self-created reality, and its standards, aligns with our own desires. We can see why then that any suggestion that there is a standard that exists beyond our own personal tastes and pleasures is met with fierce opposition.

But it gets more confusing yet. You will hear that it is not good for you to impose your standards on others, and we are not to judge others either, as if the world outside our cocoon is now somehow subject to the subjective standards that exist on the inside. The fact that we feel better about ourselves because we are living according to a standard we created ourselves, for the purpose of making ourselves feel better about ourselves, hides the fact that we are now twisting ourselves into logical pretzels and are in reality functioning in an absurd world.

In this world the very word “good” is rendered meaningless and in many cases — according to any given person’s subjective framework — it is no longer distinguishable from “bad” so that good for some becomes evil for others. 2   Yet the word lingers in our language as if there were still a standard from which its meaning could be derived, while at the same time that standard’s existence is denied. The language therefore becomes confused and communication between souls breaks down so that we live in a modern-day kind of Babel.  3

In such a world it is then pondered, why are people these days so isolated? Why can’t we all just get along? Why is there such division and loneliness? One reason is that they have killed and dismembered a key and core concept. They have treated a foundational thing like the idea that is represented by the word “good” as if it were a pre-born child and ripped it from the womb of our thinking, and having thrown it into the trash bin, have celebrated the freedom to do so.  But such freedoms are not free.  They come with a price that apparently very few realize that we are paying.

So dear children.  Hold fast to the foundations laid long ago by God.  Don’t think yourself in a position to judge God, but instead cry out for his mercy as he judges you according to a perfect standard that was laid before the foundations of the earth; a standard that all have fallen short of.  As Paul admonishes us, so do I, cloth yourself in Christ that you may rise to God’s holy and perfect standard in Him, and therefore become good in the sight of God.

Your father.

The Word Grace

Dear Children

Jesus came as an expression of the reality of God.  That is why John called him Logos, which is Greek for “word”, which means the expression of a reality.  It is for this reason that I study words, and spend so much time harping on them.   Satan is clever in his corrupting of words and thereby the corrupting of our thinking.  We must ever be on our guard concerning words and their meanings, and think about them in depth, even over many years.  I doubt, for instance, that I will ever stop thinking about that word “love”.  It is a word that I have been studying for years now, and to corrupt a word that is so central to the Gospel is to corrupt the Gospel itself.  Grace is another word that is worthy of similar examination and contemplation.

When I was a young man years ago I was flying alone in a small plane late at night.  The fog had become so thick below that I was not able to complete my approaches at my destination, and I only had a few minutes of fuel left.  My next plan was to attempt an instrument approach to another airport nearby that had two runways side by side.  Then, even if I could not maintain the approach, I could still feel certain that the area between the runways where I could “crash” onto the airport if I had to, was clear of obstructions.  I felt pretty comfortable with my prospects with this plan, but I did not feel comfortable that I had enough fuel to carry it out.

As I flew, alone, in the clear that night, a half mile or so above the thick fog below, it was quiet on the radio except for a conversation between a controller and a pilot on the ground somewhere.  It seems that this pilot wanted the controller to call a friend to pick him up because the only phone available at the little airport was inside of locked offices.  The controller was refusing and kept explaining that it would set a bad precedence.  But the pilot was determined and complained that at that late hour the controller was only talking to one other airplane, which was me.  The controller suddenly said, “Wait a minute!, what is the weather like where you are?”  The pilot told him that it was completely clear where he was sitting.  The controller came right back to me and said that that airport was closer and that I could make a visual landing there.  I asked him to vector me to the airport and in a few minutes, by the grace of God, I was safe on the ground.

We generally think of that word “grace” as not counting our sins against us.  But grace means so much more.  In this particular instance, it meant saving me from an eternity of Hell fires while I was yet a sinner, for if I had depleted my fuel on that foggy night, my prospects for surviving would not have been good.  To be saved by God, we must survive until that moment of salvation, and it is only by the grace of God that we do.  I can recount many close calls in my life, and those are only the ones that I am aware of.  But by the grace of God he allowed me to survive.  There are many other ways of understanding grace that were present toward me long before I was adopted into the Body of Christ, all of which were part and parcel to the sovereignty of God.  Why me?  I have no idea why, but I could give you a book’s worth of reasons why not.  I don’t know why.

This grace that I received, even while a heathen, was still an act of being saved by grace.  In fact, every aspect of my life, even before salvation, was grace, even as it is with every other human being whom God saves.  When we focus on ourselves, and the things that our flesh demands, it is tempting for us to see grace in a corrupted sense.  That is, we see it as a permission slip to give in to our every carnal desire and then claim it to be under grace.  Now while it is true that we are covered by grace when we do succumb to temptation, it is not true that grace exists so that we can indulge our every carnal desire.  Beware of those who preach grace in this way.  There are many.  Grace is much much larger than this and the expression of it through the Logos, which is the Word, is an expression that not only demands, but invites contemplation.

So, dear children, I pray that you would set out to grasp this thing called grace.  I pray that the expression of it’s reality would not be corrupted in your understanding of it, nor mine.  And I pray that our Father in heaven would grant us the wisdom to know the expression of grace through the Son in an ever increasing way.

Your father.

Eight Things You Can Do To Be A Better Human Being

Dear children,

It is my very nature to be self focused, self centered, and self aggrandizing.  It is also yours.  So here are eight  things that can become a life-long project for you in the betterment of yourself.   All of these things I wish I had known when I was becoming an adult, and earlier.  But I did not know them, and so have many regrets.  This need not be for you.

1. Repent

Yes, we must repent before God and rest in his forgiveness, and I doubt that you can do any of the things on this short list if Jesus is not in you, actively reshaping your heart.  But that “repent” is not exactly what I’m talking about here, now.  I am talking about being willing and ready to repent concerning people.   Admit when you are wrong, have been wrong, behaved badly, or in any other way have given into your fleshy nature toward others.  Ask forgiveness and then try to do better in the future.  When someone points something out, like say a boss, a family member, a friend, or even a stranger, consider their words.  Contemplate the question: “Why did they say that?”  “Is that really true?”  Ask those who love you to be honest, then allow them to actually be honest.  They are your best resource for learning not-so-wonderful things about yourself that you don’t even realize are there.

2. Forgive

People are going to be people.  They are going to fail, make mistakes, and in many other ways hurt you just as you will do all of these same things too.  There will come a time in your life when you will wish more than anything in this world that you had not said or done something in a moment of anger or weakness.  You will understand in that time what it means to be forgiven by the one you have offended.  Never forget that moment, and recall it when someone is genuinely sorry.  Put things behind you.  The older you get, or the worse the offense, the more difficult this will be.  Ask God for help.

3. Check your motivation

Everything you set your hand to in this life will be the result of a motivation of some sort.  There is no getting around it and that fact is not necessarily a bad thing.  But it is a bad thing when we are motivated by the praise of others, even when what we are doing is a good thing.  You will avoid much embarrassment if you would spend your life working diligently at keeping your base motivations, that is the lust for praise and approval, in check.  You may ask yourself, why am I doing this?  Why am I saying this thing about myself if not to empress?  Do I want to be seen doing this this or that thing?  The answers will be telling.

4. Check your thinking

Your thoughts are indicators of your future doings.  Control your thought life and you will be a long way down the road of controlling yourself, which in itself is a Herculean task.

Our thoughts toward others can also lead us astray.  It is in your mind that you will first make your worst assumptions and judgments about the motivations of others.  Many times, if you will stop and think about it, you will see that you are projecting onto someone else things that you know are true about yourself.  And quite possibly you may be correct in your judgments.  But all this means is that this is a fellow human-being being just that, a human being.  Keep grace on hand.

We can also conjure up thoughts about future actions of others.  We can become angry in our hearts toward someone for something that they haven’t even done, nor probably will ever do, and then get steaming mad about it.  As I always say, think about what you are thinking about.  Catch yourself when you do this and make yourself stop.  Let someone at least actually offend before you become offended.  This will save you a lot of heart ache.

It is in your thought life that will be the battlefield where your worst battles will be fought.  Memorizing, and being familiar with scripture will be your best weapon in this fight.

5. Keep some perspective

We can always ask our self the question, “Compared to who?”.  No matter what our circumstances, it is possible to think of others who have had it worse, or better.  We are all one person in the midst of billions of people.   Things can always get worse or better.  We should be thankful for what we ought, work toward something better, and realize that no matter what happens we will end up one person in the midst of billions, some of which will be richer than you, poorer than you, more or less intelligent than you,  more or less attractive than you, and so on.  So don’t think too highly of yourself, nor too lowly.  Try your best to realize the truth about yourself, and be content with that.

6. Ask questions, listen to the answers

I once read of a study on social interactions.  In this study they put a group of people together with widely varying levels of income and education to study how well they all enjoyed each other’s company.  One might assume that the wealthier and educated people would be drawn to “their own kind”.  But the study showed that the one thing that determined whether the interaction between the people was enjoyable or not was how much each person had the opportunity to share in the conversation.  This, I think, says quite a bit about human relationships.  We generally have no need, as persons, to teach ourselves to speak but we are naturally deficient in listening.  And when I say listening, I don’t mean biding your time until it is your turn to talk, but to listen intently.  Determine to know more about others rather than desire others know about you.

7. Build others up

The best way to build someone up is to compliment them, and there are a lot of ways to compliment.  I personally love complements.  They can change my whole feeling about life in general, as well as my demeanor, even for a few days.  This is true for everyone I believe.  But I do not love to be patronized.  The difference is in the sincerity of a complement.  So train yourself first to admire things in others.  Everyone has something to teach you about something.  Therefore, as you ask questions, seek to learn new things.  Your interest will be a compliment.  Ask for advice from someone you respect in a given area.  That will be a compliment also and will never be misinterpreted as patronizing.  Never be stingy in pointing out things that you appreciate about others.  If you look, I think you will find that all people have many things about them that deserve sincere compliments.

8. Avoid inferiority and superiority complexes

You will never be the smartest, best looking, richest, nicest and most talented person in any room that you will ever walk into for the rest of your life, and you need to know that.  I think I can confidently make this claim as a true thing about you.  But this is not true for just you, it will be true for all others in the room too.  You will have your God-given strengths, and your God-given weaknesses.  You should make it your business to have some sort of idea of what they are for you so you can become comfortable with them.  You will find that your weaknesses are in some ways a gift to others.  They allow others to shine in their strengths.  How does it make you feel when I ask you how to spell a word?  Both of you children are already better spellers than I am, and I know it brings you joy when I ask you to spell a word and you know how.  That is just a microcosm of the dynamics that happen in relationships.  Don’t be threatened if someone near to you is better than you in some way.  Learn to be comfortable with who God has made you to be.  Learn to be happy for others for the blessings that God has bestowed on them.  Don’t ever be jealous.

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These are just a few things that I am telling you now that I wish I had known when I was your age.  All of them can be referenced to scripture verses, but there is one verse from 1st John that I would have you memorize:

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.  (1 John 2:16-17)

As I stated earlier, and emphatically restate now, the picture painted by John in this passage is our natural way.  It will be a life time battle waged in your mind that will overcome your own sinful selves.  To the extent we are able to do that is the same extent to which we may perhaps be able to, not only please God, but to obey his commands of loving others and building up the Body of Christ, and be ever more Christ-like as we occupy this passing world.

Your father

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