Saturday, July 31, 2004

Nurture and Nature - the heart of the intellect

This is a big topic, and so this is a big post - the product of my thoughts over many years and many hours typing. I have considered writing a book about intelligence, and perhaps one day I shall. I am sure you will find this commentary as interesting as it is opinionated. It covers psychology, human development, education, and parenting - to add a speck of thought away from the theological and closer to the practical.

Nature or nurture is a topic has been debated much, with much research that allegedly 'prooves' this or that. I believe it goes beyond an academic level, to all areas of a person's life - mind, heart, personality, and character. I will not answer either one way or the other, but my answer will seek to illuminate the true hand-in-hand relationship between both external and internal influences on the intellect.

But a few caveats (qualifications) first: I am biased toward thinking it is our own decisions that make us intelligent or otherwise. Secondly, I am probably biased due to being a comparatively educated and intellectually successful person who has been raised by good parents. I suspect there are more than a few who would differ in opinion because they may not like the implications of what I'm about to say.

Those caveats being said, let us begin. Intelligence can be divided into roughly seven categories; linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, visual, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (see this page). I will define intelligence as the ability to learn - not the level of proficiency in each of the above categories - for I believe this should be the true measure of intelligence. Though I have no formal qualifications toward this topic, I believe my observations hold some truth. There are several crucial factors that I believe heavily influence intelligence. These factors are: intellectual stimuli, teaching, character, and metacognitive ability (explained below). I will discuss each of these below, but first, we must look at the concept of learning.

The essence of learning is shown in using two pieces of knowledge to determine another piece of knowledge. Leaning is like a brick wall, you use two blocks of knowledge you understand to create a block that rests on top. That block in turn can be used as the foundation for more. Simple. You cannot be told what the blocks of knowledge are, for memorisation of information is not nderstanding - each block can only be created by using only the blocks beneath. I believe this process of learning applies in every area of our seven or so forms of intelligence. Some people are better builders than others, and some intellectual walls soar with majestic elegance while others simply do the job, but why?

With few expections, most people are equiped a birth with a mind capable of the greatest feats of learning. At birth, our mind is remarkably adaptable - our thought processes are not rigidly formed and our brain must begin to make sense of the world. Even if a significant portion of our brain is lost or damaged at this age, the rest of the brain can relearn and fully compensate in most cases. And so our mind begins to form thinking paradigms which form what I like to learning strategies. These learning strategies are the processes by which our brain attempts to learn.

It is in the first few years of life that our brain develops these learning strategies. During these years the brain is effectively hardwiring core components into place, because the baby needs to use them reliably to develop functional understanding of themselves and their surroundings. I believe the brain also has a safety mechanism - these hard-wired core components are designed to be self-stabilising. Such stable systems are essential so that our brain doesn't get itself into trouble. The net effect of this self-stabilisation is that the more stable they become, the harder they are to modify.

So it is in the first years of life that none other than our parents (or our politically correct 'caregivers') provide us with the resources our brains require to form effective thinking systems. By the time we are 8, it is very difficult to change some essential thinking systems - and by the time we are 18, it is practially impossible. On this justification, the current educational system can be strongly critised. Millions of our dollars are poored at high-school level into trying to teach a world of imagery to the intellectually blind, and yet what is done for babies and toddlers when such vision would spark their mind to life?

It is the parents role to spark the mind of their child by providing stimuli to enable the intellectual growth of the child - this is the true role of a teacher. Intellegence can never be taught, for it is only learned. The role of a teacher is to help and guide and motivate the child on that path of learning. Only a part of that role involves being a fountain of knowledge which quenches the thirst of the child's questions, for most of a child's knowledge comes from other things. Children learn huge amounts when they play, when they talk, when they learn to kick a ball. Teachers must help them learn from the things they enjoy.

By the time a child reaches high-school, it is largely too late. At that age, the brain is largely hard-wired and self-stabilising toward the thinking systems that child has learned at a young age. And it is at this age where a third factor governs further development, character. Some may critisize this assessment, but I have seen ample evidence for it with my own eyes. It is those who have the determination, the patience, the self-disipline, and the vision who continue to learn. Essential elements of character are instilled in the child at an early age by non-other than the parents, and at this time its fruit is truely revealed.

We have all seen it too many times. The trouble student. The bully. The intelligent-but-ill-behaved brat. Sadly, it is largely too late for them also, for character can also become hard-wired in our brains. Without the motivation, drive, and self-disciple to learn, they see little purpose in their school work and seek other ways of filling their time. And there are all too many options these days, not only can one misbehave without fear of any real discipline - for gone are the days of the cane - but one can experiment with drugs and alcohol far more readily. Students know drugs and alcohol are not the answer, but they dull they question. In fact, once a student reaches the barrier of self-discipline, they tend to go one of two directions - to answer the questions, or to ignore the questions. Both work for a time.

Sometime between birth and death, there is a fourth critial element to learning intelligence that I believe is crucial. The earlier it is attained, the better, and I believe it too is learned and grown given appropriate stimulus from parents and teachers. This factor is the skill of metacognition. The term metacognition refers to the act of thinking about thinking, or the cognition of cognition. It is the ability for you to know what you are thinking, and thus control your own thoughts. Confused? Metacognition includes the ability for you to control, 1) person variables (knowledge about one's self, and others' thinking), 2) task variables (knowledge that different types of tasks demand different types of thinking), and; 3) strategy variables (knowledge about cognitive and metacognitive strategies for enhancing learning and performance).

I strongly believe metacognition is a learned skill, one which can be acquired if directed by good teaching - particularly during primary-school years. However, the class-room is no place for the individual guidance required to develop metacognition, and so it again falls to the parents. There is a strong correlation between metacognitive ability and academic success - and I suggest similar correlations with other categories of intelligence. It is only once a person understands what they are thinking that they can do much about thinking a better way, and seek to improve their learning strategies. Once a person becomes skillful at finding ways to improve their learning strategies, the process feeds back into itself, and the mind grows to be skillful not only at learning, but at learning to learn.

So as you can see, I believe internal (our nature) and external (nurture) influences work hand in hand in learning development. There is evidence to suggest our genetics influence our intelligence, and indeed in some congenital cases this is unquestionable. But I believe we should accept the things we cannot change, but change the things we cannot accept. Parenting, and its influence, has been given far too undervalued, and high-school level teaching programs have been grossly overemphasised as the answer to a deep-seated problem. The problem with our education is not in our schools, but in our homes - not in the classroom, but in the push-chair.

The colourful life of contrast

Good and bad co-exist, and gain definition by their contrast. For example, I think Adam and Eve gained knowledge of Good and Evil by their act of finding out what evil was through disobedience, not by anything magical in the fruit. But I am not talking about moral contrast here, I refer to experiential contrast. How can we really appreciate the mountains if we don't have valleys? How much more vibrant is a painting when there is contrast of colours?

So it is not only with our experiences, but with our sense of achievement and failure. People who live so carefully without taking risks may very rarely feel like a failure, but I daresay those same people rarely feel successful. I think people who attribute most of their life influence to external sources live in a world of little contrast between success and failure. Yet, the people who are more 'self-made' can feel an all-consuming sense of accomplishment, and yet also one of failure. In my observation, emotions tend to contrast from month to month, day to day and hour to hour. Some people cannot bear to face the agony of heart-felt defeat, so they forfiet the chance to feel a hard-earned victory by living a life of midtone. Other people cannot bare the midtones, and paint a life of bold highlights and shadows.

And which is better? Never getting hurt and hardly getting happy or having a life of emotional highs and lows? I guess I could be totally off the mark with this. Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

With unbent mind... =)

Thanks for your comments, please do comment on any posts you haven't looked at yet.

I felt I should clarify my view, and my mind, on the whole God/time issue with one more post. I have unchanged my mind, resorting to a view that God is both 'in time' and 'outside of time.' Many people disagree with me, and I respect other viewpoints also. Let me explain...

I believe God knows all true knowable facts, rather than all true knowable facts AND all 'deterministic possibilities'. A 'deterministic possibility' is the actual future that would have happened given a different choice. As I see it, the actual course of history is a fact, but deterministic possibilities are not fact, and thus uncertain (though predictable with some accuracy using reason).

Now even though God knows the actual future, I believe He still has to decide based on the past and present, just as we do. To understand this, we need to think in a logical frame of reference. Temporal reference frames just lead to time paradoxes. So, let's assume God performs X. Y happens as a logical consequence. Possiblility Z did not happen as a logical consequence, but would have happened if He had not done X - Y and Z are mutually exclusive. God cannot 'undo' action X, and see what would have happened - God cannot uncreate or undo any of His actions because He is God. Further, He cannot logically use only the fact that Y actually happened as basis for performing X, because BOTH Y and Z logically - not temporally - dependent on action X. i.e. Because His actions determine the future, he cannot use that future to determine his actions. Although God knows the future, His actions must still be based on wise reason given information about the past and the present.

Some oppenents to the Open View say that such ideas of God making decisions based on this 'limited' knowledge mean God can make 'mistakes' - but I believe the only reason one of His actions could ever have a negative outcome is due to our subsequent choices, for His decisions are surely perfect. Also, His knowledge of the actual future allows Him to accurately predict it. Thus, God effectively makes choices and relates to us 'in time', but exists also outside of time because He knows the future.

Now some would say that God knows both Y and Z as FACTS, rather than history (Y) and possibility (Z), and therefore knows the exact outcomes that would result from his actions. But such knowledge logically concludes that God actually determines which course history runs, but choosing either to do X, or to not do X - because He knows the exact consequence of either. If He knows the exact consequences of His choices, those consequences are chosen by Him. Y and Z could be anything. Thus if God had absolute knowledge of what would happen, by logical conclusion we reach pure Calvinism and God chooses who is saved and who is not, if you get hit by a car on a certain day, if and when you brush your teeth... It's absurd! I do not believe this conclusion, and see my view as a good alternative which avoids this conclusion.

No view diminishes God, for He cannot be diminished. This view does, I think, diminish the classical ideal of God created by man and largely influenced by pagan Greek philosophy. It helps explain in my mind why God acts the way He does and why the world is how it is. It means we actually have real free-will, rather than the contradiction between free-will and a God who knows exactly what would have happened.

My own view is, I suppose, a fusion of Arminianism and Open View, although I was not influenced by proponents of the Open View - I thought this by myself several months ago. Furthermore, my view supports that God can genuinely regret His actions, and be surprised, and yet also know the exact future and predict things exactly. Sure, there are still some tricky verses, but there are either way, and this one seems to fit with a good deal of the ones on both sides of the argument. So, let me summarise...

  1. God does not control us, but treats us as people, not puppets.
  2. God acts based on limitless knowledge of the past and present, but that knowledge does not include the future outcomes that would have resulted had He acted differently. This means we have a true choice, and means God truely can regret or be surprised, change His mind and have a true relationship with us in time.
  3. God also acts in the knowledge of the actual future, and can therefore declare it accurately. In this sense, God is 'outside of time' - but I prefer to think of it simply as God seeing what's ahead of the present, rather than existing ahead.
Ultimately, our ideas about God should spur us to love and serve Him more, with greater passion, rather than less. It is for this reason why I reject the Calvinist and Arminian views, and I reject the nominal Open View because of some difficulties with prophesy etc. I am therefore led to take my view, because as scary as it is, I think my choices really matter.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Who we choose to be

I hope you don't mind that these posts are a little serious. I just like to get these sort of thoughts down, but mindless babblings I prefer to verbally plaster on unsuspecting friends =)

I had a thought yesterday after reading the story about Abraham and Isaac again. God had to test Him to see if Abraham would put God first. This is the thing that struck me, surely God would have known Abraham's heart before the test - so couldn't He have known and not needed to test him?

But I realised this: what if our character is literally built through the decisions we make? Character may not be some inherent part of our heart, but rather the sum of the decisions we make. Futhermore, we cannot built character by thought alone, but rather by real-world choice. After making a habit of choosing to be kind, we can say we are kind in character because we habitually are kind in action. I have often made the distinction between spirit, heart, mind, and body, but I am now not so sure there is such distinction. Our actions and our heart are intimately interellated, just as our minds and our hearts and our minds and our body.

How can we really have made a decision unless we act on it? Could Abraham actually 'put God first' in his heart without choosing to do something which requires it to be so? It's just a thought until we act on it, for true choice necessitates the foregoing of one alternative by committing to the other. Faith without works is dead, and I think so is character without action, because character is built on action.

How can we become patient in character without choosing to be patient in practise? How can we become trustworthy unless we are actually trusted, or become kind in heart unless we show kindness? The thoughts go hand-in-hand with the actions. I think our actions are motivated by our hearts, certainly, but there is a distinction here, I think. For example; first, comes the will to act kindly in the heart; then the action itself. It is in the action that the choice is made, not simply in the thought. Likewise, it is the action that builds the character, not the thought.

I have never been able to build character by thinking about it. I don't think Abraham really loved God more or less than Isaac in His heart before He was tested. I believe He put God first when He was presented with a test, and chose through action to put God first. How can we choose God over other things in our hearts until we are forced to make a real choice?

A baby is born with comparatively little character - plenty of personality, but they haven't had the exerience to develop much character. Would it make sense to scorn a baby for not being humble? No, because a baby has not the life experiences to build that character trait (attribute). The child needs the choice to develop that character through choices in order to develop that character at all. The child needs the opportunity to be proud or humble in a given situation, and then choose humility. Then that child has learned something of humility.

And so this, I think, is why God cannot simply look at our hearts and know how we will act, for our heart may only contain an unanswered question - unanswered because we have not responded to it with action. God knows our hearts through and through, certainly, but our hearts do not contain our responses to choices we have not made. Character is not simply shown by our choices - it is made by them, and so we should be careful what we make.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

The high-wire of contentment

It is there in the back of my head, the dull but incessant thought that my life should somehow be better. Somehow, I should be using my time more effectively. Somehow, I should have deeper friendships. Somehow, I should spend more time with my family. Somehow, I should be doing "God's plan" for my life. Somehow.

So after so many years, why do I feel no closer to this dream? If anything, life seems to be unravelling and spilling out of my hands like too much spagetti, rather than becoming neater. I have decided it is because of mindset, and it is a fine line that lies between complacency and hectic discontent. Lean too far one way, and we fall into becoming slack and slothful, but too far the other and we find ourselves trying to please everyone.

I believe it comes down to comparison. Somewhere deep in our hearts, we have a set of ideas about how our life should be. These ideas include our work for God, the 'significance' of our lives, models of what relationships we should have, and notions of 'normal days' where everything goes 'right'.

After much thought, I have realised such ideas are driven by our heart's desires. We desire to be loved, so we believe we should have loving relationships that fulfill that desire. We desire to be admired, so we believe we should be doing things to inspire admiration from others. We desire to be successful, so we believe we should see evidence of our success. Our wishes for significance, respect, peace, 'goodness', security, and certianty lead us to create a mental world that we think would fulfill our desires.

While good desires are not wrong, we can create such beautiful mental worlds, and we are grossly disappointed when we compare our idealistic mental world with the one we experience. This, I believe, is the source of discontent. Discontent erupts from the colliding mismatch between what we experience, and what we think we should experience. Lo, and behold, it is not rocket science!

Certianly, it is good and healthy to have dreams and aspirations, and to seek to do our best with what we are given in life. Yet, what good does it do comparing where we are to where we believe we should be? Would it do any good when starting a marathon to think, "I should be at the finish line"? No, the end goal motivates us and pulls us through the journey, it does not tend to make us feel better that we have not reached it.

Yet, we are constantly bombarded by what our lives 'should' involve. Look at the media, look at the culture of most Western countries - it has become such a part of our society, and our churches, we scarcely see it there. Little wonder we are discontent! Yet look at some 3rd world countries, many people there are truely happy and content, not because they have great circumstances, but perhaps because they expect nothing better.

We are told in the much-heralded Christian conferences that we should be significant, have impact, have influence, and change the world. While it is true that the church should indeed be light and salt in the whole world, it is so only on a corperate level. Yet, we feel like we 'should' personally change the whole world in an amazing way because 'God wants us to'. No wonder I see myself falling so short of the good Christian mark, it is not that I am not reaching far enough - it is that people tell me I should be able to do the high-jump with no pole.

God did not command us to be great people of influence and impact, He commanded us to love, and share the Good News of His love with others. Is it loving to focus so much on getting the world to love us and to love God that we leave no time for those we love? It is more blessed to give than to recieve, and this is especially true of love.

So, the great ideas of 'impact' and 'influence' preached at us can perhaps do us more harm than good, for they so focus our eyes upon the distant horizon that we stumble upon the ground we walk. Yet, at the same time, we must not spend so much time looking at where we are that we forget where we are going.

Jesus called us to be perfect, even as the Father is perfect. Jesus Himself was perfect. And yet, Jesus did not convert the world. In fact, He had trouble making even his followers believe Him. So why are we told we should personally be such spiritual, financial, and relational superstars? Jesus called us to be servants. The least, not the greatest. The body, not the head. If anything, we should seek to become less of ourselves, to allow more of God to shine out though us. It is the desire to serve better, and to love more, that should prevent complacency - not the desire to make our experience line up with our idealistic mental picture.

Fulfillment comes from what we give far more than from what we get. Focusing too much on what we desire leads to us believing we should have what we desire, and discontent with the lack of what we desire. Focussing only on the here-and-now can lull us into laziness, instead of walking on and growing emotionally, mentally and spiritually as will obey the Lord who calls us on. Yet, focussing on our direction with thankful hearts for our progress results in a balance between contentment and action. So let us set our eyes not on our feet, for we will not move, nor on the distant horizon, for we will stumble in discouragement, but on the steps ahead while appreciating the beauty that adorns our path. Perhaps then we will find we are walking the high-wire of contentment.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Why I think I was wrong

Well, after a Bible study last night taken by Andrew I have now adopted the Open View (see His comments). Instead of thinking God is outside of time, I think He's in time just as we are. There are two major ways of thinking of this.

View One: God knows all that can be known, and the future is not actually 'known' - even by God. God sees only a raft of possibilities and probablities based on His knowledge. Quite literally, the future is possibility which hinges upon individual choice - and God does not know exactly what individuals will choose. See the last post as to why this knowledge cannot allow Him to know exactly what we will do, as there is Biblical support for this. However, being all-powerful, what He says He will do in future, He is capable of doing (take Judgement for example).

View Two: God can look ahead as well as back, and see the actual future and actual past. However, this means (as did my previous post theory) that God still is faced with decisions and a degree of uncertainty due to our free choice. My argument for this is in the next paragraph - just skip it unless you want your brain to hurt =)

Consider this. God can look 'ahead in time' and see an action that He chose to make, and the consequences of that action. But, what He sees only is so because of His choice - it is a logical consequence. Therefore, in order for God to 'choose', there must have been the neccessity for God to decide which action to take. Before He actually chooses, the choice is not made and therefore the future remains only as possibility until He actually chooses, and acts a certain way. But of course, God knew this would be His choice because He knows what the actual future is.

In this (quite confusing and probably wrong) way, God is still in time as we are, and has to make choices as we do (but with lots more wisdom and thought about what could happen), but He knows the actual future and so can accurately foretell what occurs. The only thing I can think of that really throws a spanner in here is when God says that, for example, the actions of Israel "did not enter my mind." Such verses strongly indicate to me that God in fact does NOT know the future. This is why I think I must now believe the first view.

Note that in both these situations, God cannot change what He actually does. Just as we cannot change the past, God cannot change an action He performs. Thus, God can regret his actions, as He says in the Bible. The things that remain involve prophesy and foreknowledge.

Prophesy can be considered in two ways. Firstly, prophesy interpreted as what God believes will happen - and being God, His guesses are quite accurate (but not always accurate). This one works quite well for some cases. Secondly, prophesy as a declaration of God's intent. This one works quite well for many prophesies. This second one also works in with foreknowledge. After looking at many verses speaking of predestination and foreknowledge, I have reached this interpretation: Knowing the possibility of people rejecting Him, God decided beforehand that in such a case He would send His Son to redeem them. He knew that this plan would see them transformed into His likeness, etc, and therefore could speak accurately of foreknowledge and predestination.

Note that I think all these verses on predistination and foreknowledge are in a general - not a specific - sense. For instance, "whom he did foreknow" is not referring to specific people, but rather those people that He knew beforehand would be transformed to the likeness of His Son by the plan of Salvation. It's not 'whom He knew beforehand, who He knew would be transformed to the likeness of His Son by Salvation'', but rather 'any people (whom) He knew would be transformed to the likeness of His Son by Salvation beforehand.' Note the similarity of words and phrasing, but difference in meaning. He foreknew the general path of Salvation - not who exactly would take that path.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The fashionable preaching of enthusiasm

Please continue to comment on my previous posts - if you can't handle dual-topics then take a hard-pill. =) This is a large post, but it says a lot and I'm sure it will get you thinking. I will be very interested in your comments.

It is not my intent to be cynical or undermining of the church. I believe we are to be unified and support one another. And yet I also believe there is a time and a place for correction. I present this in a opinionated fashion, and I trust you have the discernment to take what is good and right and leave the bad. I present it so opinionated because I fear if I do not, you may miss any truth contained within - and I like making strong points =).

One week past Get-Smart and Hillsong, and familar stories begin to emerge... "I just feel so flat now"; "I've been really low, and I just can't seem to get on with the day to day"; "I was so sure my life was radically transformed, but now I feel just the same as I did before".

It seems the church has become accustomed to such phenomena. In fact, people talk how we can "maintain the momentum" from "spiritual" conferences, as though all we need is more enthusiasm. And yet, it seems few compare the effects of modern conferences with the preaching and meetings of the Acts church, and indeed the preaching less than a century ago. We do not need more enthusiasm, we need more obedience.

What is the purpose of modern conferences? What is their focus? What do they seek to achieve, and what means to they use?

Which is of greater power, leaving a conference feeling empowered to change the world for Jesus, or leaving with Words of truth blazing in your spirit so brightly both you and the world cannot ignore it? Is it Biblical to focus on becoming "people of influence", instead of being the humble obedient servants of the Lord, to whom all praise and honour is due?

People feel flat after modern conferences due to the lack of Biblical teaching. Listen to what is preached, and too often you will hear the same kind of thing. We are so used to it now, that when someone preaches it from a slightly different angle we are amazed and consider it revelation. We have grown so complacent toward it, we do not stop and think what other things we could be hearing. Certainly, though, the Spirit in His grace will still speak to those who listen, and still heal those who ask. The mere fact that those attending conferences get on their knees and pray, and take the time to listen more than they usually do is, I fear, sometimes the only time the Spirit can speak to them. It is no wonder such people think the conference was powerful, if it was the first words they had with God for some time!

There are great "communicators", as they are known today, who work up within the listener a fit of emotion. Excitement and happiness, emotions are powerful while they are felt. Yet, when emotions fade away, only words remain, and unless those words are Truth that sets us free and stirs in our hearts a longing after God's own heart, only words they will always remain. This is the reason many feel flat after conferences, for their minds clear and they realised their hearts have changed little, and so their thoughts change little, and so their lives change little.

Satan also uses emotion, emotions like jealosy, rage, and lust - He needs to use emotion to influence us because he cannot back up what he suggests with words of Truth. But Truth; the power of the Word of God. God does not need to try and instill in us anything except for His Word, for real spiritual excitement is born from obedience to His Word upon the heart. Truth and obedience, not enthusiasm, changes lives. To illustrate, how can we continue to drive only in second gear once we know there are more gears to our car? And why would we continue to stumble over our furniture if we know there is a light in the room? Why would we continue in sinful in ways when a better way is made known to us? Indeed, when the Truth enters us, we truely are changed. We may be excited and inspired by inspiring yet empty words for a few days, but the Word gives us so much more! How much more excited and full of rejocing would we be if after a year, the Truth we heard has turned our life around? This is the test, then; a powerful message is proven over time, in the hearts of those who hear it, not by how excited people are to hear it said.

The Holy Spirit is not the spirit of enthusiasm. What a great mistake to confuse the two! How wrong it is to think that if a speaker stirs sufficient emotion, the heart is surely forever changed. The great fashion of stirring emotion within the church probably achieves nothing but clouding its vision and creating such a clamour that it overpowers the quiet but mighty voice of God. The preaching in vogue is so greatly focused on what we can do, and so little attention is paid to who we are; it places such emphasis on our works, and so precious little on God and the condition of our own hearts. Such popular preaching may make us think we are forever changed to 'impact' and 'influence' the world, but it is not our opinion that matters. Yet, if a speaker brings Words that cut and shape our very heart, then we do not need to merely think we are changed - we will know!

How common is the preaching that everybody likes to hear! This sort of preaching is full of entertaining stories and wit, and brings smiles to those who hear it. This sort of preaching makes people feel better about themselves, and encourages them to think they can "do great things for God." Oh, what great men and women of God they will think they can be, and what little they are told of what it takes.

Now it is true, God can use the least of us. In fact, God opposes the proud. God uses the humble, the broken person. The least is the greatest in the Kingdom. And yet, all we ever seem to hear is preaching that calls us to be great, and little is said about service and sacrifice and forfieting our own agendas to serve only God. No, it seems 'good preaching' is deemed so if it is enjoyed. Yet, the preaching everybody likes to hear is most often not the preaching they NEED to hear. For the preaching the church needs to hear would open its eyes to how powerless it has become, by trying to change the world when it is themselves that first need changing! The sort of preaching the church needs would cut it to the heart, and bring a wave of repentance and earnest seeking of God Himself. It would call the church to be servants rather than heroes for the kingdom. Surely, it would put Jesus back in the position He rightfully deserves - as the head of the Church and not as the cure for our problems. Surely, the preaching the church needs would humble the church, for it has become proud and confident in its own programs and seminars and eloquent story-telling.

Most good preaching does not always makes us feel good at the time - we feel good once we have obeyed it and experienced the joy that comes from obedience to the Word of God. Surely, such joy lies far deeper than our emotions.

Why is it that modern preaching bears so little resemblance to what it had 50 years ago? Not simply in style, but in content? There are many differences in the messages preached. Gone are sermons on the need for repentance and fear of the Lord, the Judgement of God and the Law. Sermons in vogue are on the Love of God, and how God wants to use us and change the world. Such new preaching seems all well and good, but there is little good in knowing how much God wants to use us while not being told what is required for Him to do so. When was the last time we were convicted and cut to the very heart by a sermon? Look at Jesus' teaching, look in Acts, learn of the preaching that brought great revival to New Zealand only a few decades ago. It does not take enthusiasm to bring revival, it takes obedience. Enthusiasm and motivational talks do not cause obedience, rightousness and humility - it is the other way around! If we began to truely seek God in obedience, humility and rightoueness - then surely God would move. Surely we would be excited about what God is doing - instead of always getting excited about 'what God is going to do'.

It is time the church stopped pretending, and took a good look at the true state of itself. How strongly does the church hunger and thirst for righteousness? No, most of the church is content to have rightouesness as an after-dinner mint after eating and drinking their full of their own self-rightousness! How often does the church pray earnesly? What is the church truely focussed on, is it becoming the likeness of Christ, or is it on feeding itself? How much an emphasis is placed on getting more people in church, and yet there are so many luke-warm 'Christians' in the church perhaps it would be better if the church had less! Yes, God surely has just the same thoughts toward luke-warm Christians now as He did during the early church. How very much greater a pure and righteous church would be than the mud-filled water of self-righteous and self-seeking people in quenching the thirst of a dry and barren world in need not of programs, inspiration and enthusiasm, but of the Word of God.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Mindbending - be warned, ye of brittle mind =)

Well, it seems my last post prompted some fierce controversy... I imagine this one will prompt even more. This is really only intended for those who like to think about these things and find them helpful. How I understand God to work in a purely allegorical sense has nothing to do with my experience of Him - but it may help me resolve some confusion in my head... and perhaps help when people ask difficult those difficult questions. I think we have a VERY poor understanding of what God is like, and what it is like to be God. Obviously, His ways and thoughts are far higher than ours. In my opinion, our misconceptions about how God acts lead us to false conclusions about his character, and possibly visa versa. So, here's a little analogy for you. This analogy is meant to help you understand what follows, and it is by no means prooving anything.

Imagine a painting. The canvas represents our world, and our lives are like lines of paint on the canvas. Note that God is not painting anything, we are simply leaving paint behind us as we travel through time, like snail-trails or slug-slime =). The horizontal direction represents time. God sees our world like we would see a painting, it simply is what it is - the past, present a future all in one lovely package. You could imagine that we humans could be represented by lines of paint 'travelling' accross the canvas, moving up and down according to our choices 'in time'. Our choices dictate which direction our line travels as we are swept accross the page by the force of time. Note also that what we leave behind is 'history' and cannot be changed, just as tomorrow cannot be changed from the view-point of next-week, because it is 'history'. I hope you are with me so far, if you are not - bail out now before it's too late.

Now here is an interesting thought I had about this: in this situation, God sees what happens, but He does not see in the same way what does not happen. I.e. He sees what is drawn on the canvas, but does not see in the same way what 'could have been.' After thinking about this muchly and getting confused, I concluded that if God is as most people believe, He could perfectly predict what 'could have happened' - had our choices been different.

So here's where it gets mindbending, be warned. In his interactions with the world, He must act 'in time' - e.g. He pokes a certain location of the painting. What He adds affects us in some way, it affects our choices. Now if God knows exactly how we'll respond to anything and everything He does, He will know the exact outcome of every possible action He could do. OK, and now for the mindbending... Let's assueme God can and does do anything at all. This means that due to this knowledge, He would know exactly what 'strings to pull' to save every person on earth. In fact, He would in fact be directly responsible for the fate of every person.

This is a conclusion I do not agree with. Essentially, it could be likened to herding sheep. Yes, the sheep have a 'choice', but really they are under the control of the shepherd and the sheep-dog - they don't really have true free will if it is controlled in such a way. Now, I am aware that there are those of you who would disagree here, saying that the sheep think they have a choice and that's all that matters. But adherents of this view must deal with the logical conclusion of this view, that God intentially and purposefully sends millions of people to Hell. This is in direct contradiction with Scripture, where God states He desires that every person should have eternal life and not perish. I therefore believe that it is truely our choice whether or not to reject God.

So, there are two alternative conclusions I am led to. The first is this: God restrains his control - some things He chooses not to do, because it would override our real choice in the matter. I can live with this, and indeed it seems reasonable, but I find little justification for such a view from the Bible. Most of the time, God seems pretty passionate to do all that He can for our good, and so surely He desires to do all that He can to save us?

So I describe what I see as the alternative: that God does not know perfectly how we will react to his actions. Probably sounds like heresy, but hear me out. =) We were created in God's image. We were given an identity with many similarities to God's own. Perhaps, just as we do not fully know how other people will react to our actions, God does not know fully how we will react. Perhaps, in creating us to be people, He had to neccessarily make us totally distinct, seperate, beings from Himself - just as one person is seperate and disctinct from another.

Time for more mindbending, loosely based on the previous. Throughout the OT, it seems like God yearns for His people to love Him. He creates Adam and eve, knowing that they would disobey him... but here's the trick. Could He have known that without actually giving them the choice, and allowing them to choose? One can only see what a painting is when there is paint there. For centuries it seems like God tried several different methods to get his People to love Him. Often it worked for a while, but then the people stopped listening again. Many times, God expresses His anger at the choices His people made, sorrow, and seeminly even regret (Gen 6:7, when He saw how wicked people had become). Why would God regret something He completely controlled? Why would God regret making people unless He did not know what they would do unless made them, and gave them a true choice? Why would God regret making people unless He had to make them, and give them a choice, wihout knowing for certain what they would do?

My point is this: God knows what we choose because He gives us a real and true choice, which is only possible if He does not control our choice. The first justification of this is that He chooses not to control our choices while being capable of doing so, therefore making Him responsible for our eternal destiny and making the concept of 'Judgement' trivial. Alternatively, He does not - even cannot - control our choices because He does not know what we will choose until He gives us the choice, and we actually choose something, because He created us in his own image.

Now just before you lay into this, I am well aware of all the verses in the Bible about God knowing our thoughts. This is true, He knows our thoughts, and indeed our hearts. But to him, out thoughts and the condition of our heart are like the paint on the canvas to him - do not be confused about this. The real crux is not what our thoughts are, but why we choose to think them; not where the paint goes on the canvas, but why it goes there.

Please include in your comments any parts that aren't clear, or confusing, so that I can make this post as clear as possible.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Sovereignty and control

There is a common belief in the church today that I believe is heritical. It is the widely preached, and widely accepted, belief that "God is in control." Now before I set about dismantelling this statement and showing its error, I must define exactly what I am talking about.

God is sovereign, and indeed - as Creator - has control to create or destroy. He is the ultimate power in the Universe. This infinite power gives Him the ability to control everything He so desires - but it does not mean that He does. God's sovereignty means that His rightful place is King and Lord of all, the Most High.

But consider this: Is a king always obeyed by those in his kingdom? Does the fact that he is the king enable him to fully control the actions, even the very thoughts, of those in his kingdom? Of course not! People have every choice to disobey the king, to think poorly of him, or to go about the kingdom committing crimes of every sort.

I believe it is the same way with God and people. In His love, He has given us the ultimate freedom - the freedom of choice, even the freedom to reject Him. Without this freedom, I do not believe we could ever truely love God - for true love can only be given freely, uncoerced. It is our inherent freedom that it seems God respects and upholds - and I believe He never breaks it.

So much does require our freedom, that He will let us reject and disobey Him. He lets us grieve Him - and surely we do. He lets us disobey his command to love others. The free will He has given us can even be used to hurt others, to bomb innocent blood, or to pilot a plane into the side of a building. Yes, I think God knew all about what people would do with that freedom - but so much did He value real love, that He was prepared to suffer the cost - the cost of our rebellion.

Does God control the events in the world? Did God orchestrate the Oklahoma bombing, or the attacks of September 11? Of course not! It would be absurd to think God would do such things! Would He cause a drunk driver to swerve and kill a young child in a car travelling the other way? Such thinking is abhorrent! God does not want such things to happen, and indeed probably tries to stop such things.

The crux is this; God does not allow murders to rampage through schools, He simply gave them freedom to choose - even to choose to not let Him intervene. The responsibility of sin sadly lies with people, not with God.

This is all quite frightening, of course. Aren't we told that God works everything together for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? (Rom 8:28) Surely God wonderously makes everything happen only be "good" for Christians? In my opinion, this is one of the most mis-understood verses of the Bible. Again in my opinion, I believe the correct connotation of the original Greek is given in the Good News Bible, "We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose."
There are substantial differences here. God is not pulling strings - it is simply a reassurance that in all things - no matter what the situation - God will always act for the good of those who love Him. That word for "good", means eternal good - not just 'good.'

Now do not misunderstand, however, that through God's redeeming Grace, he can take the 'bad' we have experienced and redeem it, for the days are indeed evil (Eph 5:16). This is the wonderful power of God, to take what sin has done (not sin itself), sanctify it and allow it to be used for good.

Indeed, what a marvellous God we serve, who can work such wonder! The miracle of a redeemed life is surely more incredible than healing. Indeed, power to redeem the choices we make with our freedom is a far greater power than merely controlling what we choose. God is Sovereign, and all-powerful, but He has let us control our own lives. This is why we must choose well, for the evidence of humankind's poor use of freedom is surely destroying the people who live here.

Futile evangelism

Here's a thought I had today: Back in the Old Testament, several cities and nations turned away from God. God got angry at them, and sometimes told them to change their ways. When they didn't, He often either destroyed them or deserted them.

Have a think about our nation - those who have rejected God. Surely, we can all agree that many people in this land have and continue to reject God. So if God is unchanging in character (no necessarily in thoughts toward us, for they depend on our actions - as in all relationships), why would his reaction be any different to that of old? Obivously, He is not destroying NZ - perhaps for the sake of His people here. But surely He is angry at those who have rejected Him? Surely He could turn away from those who reject Him, just as He did back then, because they tell Him to go away.

So, if God has turned away from someone - will He be with us if we try and save those people? If God knows that they have rejected Him - and continue to reject Him, I have found in my life God does not force His way in.

Perhaps then, it would be more worthwhile praying that God would show grace and favour to such people before going out in our own strength to try and throw words at them (see previous post). If their hearts are hardened - we cannot be doing much good. Our evangelism could be futile.

But of course, to completely throw my previous argument, we are the empowered servants of God. Brothers of Christ himself. So when we show favour to someone, in a sense we are being the hands of God and thus giving them the favour of God. Nevertheless, this was an interesting thought I had today.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Words are not enough...

We don't really understand the significance of phrases like "Don't touch the hot element on the stove or you'll get burned," until we experience being burned. Likewise, we don't really understand the word "skiing" until we do it. In the same way, we don't really understand what "being filled with the Holy Spirit" is, until we are. We don't really understand God until we know him, and all the words and explainations in the world don't provide us with experience.

Just as words aren't not nearly as informative as the experience they describe, so God is far bigger than what we say about him. Words in and of themselves don't really have much sense - it's the meaning behind them that makes sense. Mathematics looks like a whole lot of random lines on a page, and it's only when one understands the meaning behind the maths that it makes sense.

So I think that's sometimes why God doesn't make sense to people. They look at the words and the way things look on the outside and can't see past them - because to understand God very much at all we have to experience Him. So when we describe God to other people, of course it doesn't make much sense - they haven't experienced it for themselves and they can only hear the words we are telling them. But the words don't mean anything to them until they experience God.

Now interestingly, God has given us the Bible... and it is full of words. Here's an interesting thought, which was the greater - the prophesy of the Messiah or the fulfillment of that prophesy? Obviously, it's fulfillment was far greater. Likewise, which is greater, the directions about how to walk with God, or walking with God?

Too often I think we stop at head knowledge. It's like we think it is enough to know the ways of God, even to be able to describe them to others in great depth, without actually walking in them ourselves. I think Jesus rebukes such people... hearers but not doers of His word. People can argue about words and interpretations, but they cannot tell you that your experience was 'wrong.' Surely, there is no greater foundation for our faith and our light as having our feet solidly walking the ways of the Lord.

If we sit by the path and talk about where it goes, then it is no wonder we people are not willing to follow us as we travel nowhere. Jesus said, "Follow me." He didn't say, "understand all my teachings." Understanding was secondary, because only by following Him do we understand His teachings. They cannot be understood by intellect alone.


PS: Seventh Fret no longer exists.