Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The perfect Christian

It is said that those who aim at nothing are sure to hit it. Likewise, those who aim at mediocrity do not exceed mediocrity. You only rise to the height of the bar you try to reach.

So, I think we should set ourselves high goals – especially in the area of Godliness. We should be Godly in character for two reasons: 1) God tells us to be 2) Godly people actually find life more enjoyable, fulfilling and meaningful than ungodly people. The ultimate goal of Godliness is love of God and people, but as I bought bread at the supermarket, I wondered what that really looks like. Clearly, Christ is the role-model of Godliness, but we seem to give less thought to how Godliness works out in practise:

God is perfect. We should try to be. (Matthew 5:48, 1Pe 1:15-16)

We should not have to catch our tongue from saying something we shouldn’t, for we shouldn’t have thought it in the first place. We shouldn’t have to control our anger, for it shouldn’t get out of control in the first place. We shouldn’t have to try to do loving things for others, for they should come naturally. We shouldn’t have to be sorry for unkind thoughts or actions, because we they shouldn’t have crossed our minds in the first place.

We shouldn’t have to try and not lust, hate, envy, quarrel, gossip, slander, be proud, be disrespectful, hold grudges, be easily angered or upset, and offend people – because being loving, kind, merciful, gracious, and Godly should be so much part of our character that we don’t even contemplate the bad things.

I used to get upset/angry about certain things, but now they do not upset me. I used to be jealous of some things, but now I am not. I used to be proud in ways that now I am humble. By extension of this logic – all the bad things I do, I should eventually not want to do – in fact they should not even cross my mind! Then, when my character is such that I am habitually Godly in some area of my life, it will not be a struggle to do good against my habitual will to go bad.

For instance, I do not need to struggle not to swear, I simply do not – most often it does not even cross my mind to swear when something goes wrong. Now the reason that I do not swear is the same as the reason I do not use offensive language of any kind: I have seen that offensive language can be used to do great verbal harm to others, and I do not want to use words that have such destructive power. Sure, many times swearing is humourous and not harmful at all – but I’d rather be a bit less funny to make sure I don’t really hurt people with my words. For if the words are in my active vocabulary – you can be sure they just might come out in ways I don’t want them to.

I give this example not to boast (it’s hardly something to boast about anyway), but to show that what I’m saying is possible – we can reach a level of maturity where we do not have to control our desires to sin, because we do not have those desires to sin. There is something more powerful than having bad thoughts like everyone else and trying to control them – and it is not having bad thoughts like everyone else.

Surely, this is what Christians should try to be like. No Christians are perfect, and I am certainly not perfect – but all Christians should be growing toward the perfection of Christ’s character. Not all Christians can move toward having Christ’s character at the same speed, but all Christians should be moving. But how? Of course, character is only developed one way: our thoughts lead to actions, our actions lead to habits, and our habits make our character.

If we start with good habits in a certain area of life, it is easier to continue in them. But, if we start with bad habits, they can be hard to change. We all know how hard they can be to change I am sure. But nevertheless, they can be changed.

Do not confuse character with ‘personality’. Being easily angered, for instance, is not part of your ‘personality’ – it is part of your character. Pride is not part of your personality, but of your character. So it is with many other bad habits that people attribute to their ‘personality’ so that they disown responsibility to do anything to improve them.

People have forgotten the importance of role-models in life, so instead they endlessly wrestle in the mediocrity of fighting their own character but not wanting to change it. There are still good role-models out there, but they are getting harder to find. We need to remember there is one role model who we should attempt to be like – the perfect role-model of Jesus. Not only must we remember Jesus should be our role-model – but we must be determined to become like Him and generous to encourage others to do the same.

The curse of media

So now is the time I unleash my full tamed-down attack on music and television shows that aren’t good for people. If a song or program has a negative influence on people, then it is not worth listening to – in fact, it is bad to listen to. There are two issues here, the former being the main one: 1) The influence the music we listen to and TV we watch have on us. 2) Specifically regarding Christian music, what attitudes, values, and ‘spirit’ people perceive in music – is it a light to the world?

1) The way music and TV influence us

Music and TV. Next time you listen or watch some, try and figure out what effect it has on your mind. Let’s consider music today. Turn on the radio and your ears will soon be filled with talk of sex, anger, rebellion, confusion, and general poor thinking. How can it not affect us? Surely it already has!

I believe we tend to become like the people we associate with, and I think a similar thing applies to what we watch and what we listen to. So, if a person was screaming their lungs out angrily right beside you, then you’d recognise the mood of anger in their voice, and surely you’d be affected in some way. Likewise, if someone keeps talking about how attractive some girl is, or how much they hate something, or generally speaking with some attitude, I think we pick some of that up – even without meaning to. You pick up the attitudes of those who are around you – the people you spend time with. Why would it be any different if those people are in the TV or stereo rather than standing beside you?

As far as music goes, I think most people can figure out whether the words of a song a health or unhealthy to listen to, but I think the ‘attitude’ of a song is reflected not only in the words, but in the music itself. This, I think, is the point where there is confusion and controversy. I think music connects with our emotions. We are influenced not just by the words of the music but by its ‘sound’ – its spirit – whether we admit it or not.

As an example, it is no secret that I don’t like ‘heavy’ music. The reason is simple; it doesn’t make me feel any better, in fact I think it has a bad influence on me. Sure, heavy music is aggressive and driven and purposeful and heart-felt and it ‘sounds cool’ – but what do you feel like once you’ve listened to it? I think heavy music is ‘cool’ and I totally understand how people can like it, but I choose not to like it because I find it doesn’t have a good influence on me.

Most of the time, ‘heavy music’ is accompanied by screamed or yelled vocals… The words are only part of what the song conveys to the listener, which is the sum of the words themselves AND the music. I do not believe screamed vocals simply ‘sound cool’ - for such vocals are far from conveying anything like peace, love, hope, or goodness. I suggest that people think it’s cool because it’s angry and opinionated, strong-willed and unwilling to be silenced. People think it’s cool to be shouting out your point at the top of your lungs and breaking the mould and bucking the trend and being different. People think it’s cool to not go with the flow and not accept what everyone else is telling you. Our parents called this rebellion. As Christians, we are called to be not just different and bread the mould, but to be different in a noticeably Godly way. Just because something’s common, it doesn’t change what it is. Just because we’re used to something, it doesn’t make it good for us.

It comes down to this: why do we listen to the music we choose to? The answer, whatever it is, is surely more than mere entertainment. I think we want the music to influence our thoughts and emotions in a certain way – maybe sometimes it is to make us feel more justified about our attitudes, maybe sometimes it’s to change our attitude. Now sure, you can say – ‘it doesn’t have a bad influence on me – it just how the artist was feeling. They have a right to express their feelings.’ But that’s not my point, my question lies in why we choose to listen to those particular things. Why do we like the music we do?

I don’t think it is good listen to music that sounds angry, or rebellious, or arrogant, or perverse, or self-righteous, or mocking. It might be cool, but it might be harmful. Personally, some music makes me have thoughts that are a little more arrogant, a little more angry, a little more rebellious and outspoken, a little less Godly, a little bit more self-righteous or a little bit more like my opinions are more valuable that everyone else’s. Music influences me to think in a way that is reflected in the song – not just the words, but the whole attitude encompassed by the words and the music.

It’s a fact that people like a song mostly because of its ‘sound’ and not by the actual words of the song (and yes, this has been studied by lots of radio companies – guess why all the music on a certain station sounds the same…). So, I suggest that because a large part of why we like certain music is the ‘sound’ of the music, we associate ourselves with that ‘sound’ – and it influences us. Some music influences us in a Godly way, some is the opposite. We should recognise which is which.

Now popular television programs are there to ‘entertain’ us. But apart from wasting our time, television fills our minds with ideals to compare our lives with and things we wish we had. We see a home renovation program and we start to think ‘my house could be better too’. We become engrossed in the dramas that unfold, and we begin to accept such drama as ‘normal’. Pop stars and celebrities are idolised – and we begin to idolise them also. There are emotional battles on screen and after a while, we cease to recognise unhealthy ways to relate to people because we start to imitate what we see. We may not DO the bad things we see, but we begin to accept them. We may not be like the people we see on TV, but we start to accept them anyway. And because we accept them, we accept their behaviour and attitude.

Television blurs the distinction between helpful and harmful thoughts – and it puts ideas into our heads whether we like it or not. You can’t convince me that romantic chick flicks don’t put thoughts in girls heads – just like you can’t make me think sex scenes in movies don’t put thoughts in guys heads. You can say they don’t affect you when you see them, but you know they do. The more we see, the more we accept the thoughts. The more we accept it, the less we recognise them for what they are – selfishness, lust, negative comparison, dissatisfaction… the list goes on. It is no wonder that so many people are struggling to find enjoyment in life these days, because the path to truly enjoying life is to live and think in good ways. The media has introduced bad ideas dressed as acceptable ones and made the path difficult to see.

I don’t watch TV, and I don’t listen to the radio. I don’t miss them, and I am a much happier person because of it. Instead, I base my attitudes and thoughts on the reliable principles given by God, and as I live according to them I find them to be true. What comes out in your life is the result of what comes out of your mind, and what comes out of your mind is the result of what you feed into it. So, I listen to music that only stirs me toward good things, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, contentment, happiness, and Godliness; and I encourage others to do the same.

2) ‘Christian hardcore’ music – how is it seen by the world? Is it a Godly light?

If music affects us in its entirety; and not just because of the words themselves, then what should we think about music that imitates non-Christian music in ‘sound’, and differs only in what the words say? This is probably not just limited to ‘Christian hardcore’ music – it applies to a range of genres, but it serves as an example.

I think music is noticeably different if it has a noticeably different influence on the listener. Of course, Christian words will be different to non-Christian words with swearing every 5 seconds and general bad taste – but what about the ‘sound’ of the music. It strikes me as strange that Christian bands are trying to imitate the musical ‘sound’/mood of non-Christian bands. I think the ‘sound’ of the music reflects the attitudes that go along with that ‘sound’ – and so I view these Christian bands as trying to present Christian messages with non-Christian attitude.

Surely that seems a bit strange? Surely the attitudes of Christians should be distinct from non-Christians – there should be a difference, and it should be apparent that our lives and our attitudes and thoughts are different. What’s different about ‘Christian hardcore’ compared to ‘non-Christian hardcore’? Some would say the words and motivation of the music are different so that makes the music ‘good and Christian’. I say that words are only part of it – and the musical style and ‘sound’ portrays the same ‘spirit’ regardless of what the words are. I don’t really think the motivation (or intended meaning) of a song can have any influence on the listener if it is far from obvious.

Now I guess ‘Christian hardcore’ music, for instance, can act as a channel to communicate Godly messages to non-Christians who like that sort of music. But what does this sort of music convey to people who don’t like that sort of music? There’s a big difference between someone not liking a style of music and someone actually finding it offensive. I don’t mind some heavy music, I think it does sound cool, but I find it offensive because of the attitude I think it’s conveying to me. Now, I’m sure Christian bands don’t want to convey bad attitudes – but what good are their intentions if that’s not what someone perceives they are conveying?

So there are two sub-issues here: 1) Christian hardcore music as a means of communicating Godly words to non-Christians who like hardcore music. 2) How people who don’t like the style perceive it.

The first issue I think is quite possibly a good thing. The second issue I am not so sure about. I don’t think it’s very Christian to offend people – and I don’t think it paints a good picture of Christians if they are offensive. Furthermore, if the ‘sound’ of Christian hardcore music contains a spirit that has some bad attitudes in it – and let me leave you in no doubt that I think it does – then what does that leave other people like me thinking? I’m sure not everyone’s like me, but maybe some are.

Maybe Christian hardcore is a good means of reaching non-Christians – but I seriously question why Christians should like it… not that they DO like it – but that they should.

I think music was made to praise God and rejuvenate and refresh the spirit toward Godly thoughts. And somehow, I just can’t see Jesus screaming into a microphone into a wall of sound – so loud people get hearing damage and can’t really hear what he’s saying anyway. I don’t think Jesus needed to butter up His message with music to make people listen to it – and I don’t think He would have. This is a challenging thought for me as a songwriter and musician. I don’t think He would have hung around very long trying to persuade people who reject Him and what He said, and instead gone to the sick and the needy and the people who wanted to hear and talk to Him.

But then, I guess this is not the 1st century, and we’re not Jesus.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Stupid interpretations of Romans 8:28

As I read through Romans to made my paraphrase, which is available in current form on my other blog, I am learning heaps. Sadly, I am learning there are several verses that mean completely different things to what most people think. Rom 8:28 is a classic example.

I think now I finally understand Romans 8:28... And yes, of course, it doesn't mean what most people read it to mean. The key, I think, is that in the phrase "all things work together for the good for those who love God", the word 'things' is not in fact in the Greek - an object is implied there because of the 'all'... usually translators just add 'things' on the end. However, there are three meanings of the word 'all' here are ambiguous in the Greek, and may not necessarily imply 'things'... so what could it be referring to?

Now suppose I said, "Robert, Jo, and Sarah were sitting at home. All went together to the supermarket." How would you interpret that? Clearly, you'd say: "Robert, Jo, and Sarah were sitting at home. They all went together to the supermarket. "

You would not, suffering from a rash of incomprehensible stupidity, say: "Robert, Jo, and Sarah were sitting at home. All things went together to the supermarket." No, you would be an utter and complete moron to think that all things - your toaster, your oven, your telephone bill, the theory of quantum physics, the deeds done to you, and the deeds you have done - ALL go together as one massive collective to the supermarket. No, you would think, "He's just been talking about Robert, Jo, and Sarah, so he probably means them." You'd realise the CONTEXT.
So why, after Paul has been writing about how the God helps people to do good things, do people suddenly think he's not talking about the God working together with people? There is practically no difference between saying "all things work together for the good of those who love God" and saying "all things went together to the supermarket."

Furthermore, how can we believe that "all things work together for the good of those that love God" when it is blatantly obvious that bad stuff happens to everyone - including those who love God? The bible even says quite clearly that bad stuff happens to good people. Most of the apostles were executed or imprisoned - countless early Christians were burned at the stake! Surely it takes a massive and completely ignorant leap of stupidity to say that such things were 'for their good'.

If someone held a loaded gun to your head and said - 'this is for your own good'... I doubt many people would believe it! Likewise, when a drunk driver crosses the centerline and makes a great person of God a tetraplegic, it would be the most insensitive, ignorant, senseless, false, and blatently dim statement to say, "oh, it's OK - it's all for your good." Some people go further, saying, "Not only is it for your good - but God wanted it, in fact, God did this to you just to make you a better person on the inside."

Tripe! I couldn't possibly imagine higher levels of stupidity.

It now seems exceedingly clear to me that Romans 8:28 says that the Holy Spirit works together with those who love God to accomplish good things. I doubt any Christian with a head even half-on would say this statement isn't true. And guess what Paul says - he says "We KNOW"!!! Certainly, all Christians know that the Spirit helps Christians to bring about good... surely that is 'working together'.

But don't you think it's a little strange to say "we know all THINGS work together for good" if there is a great multitude of evidence that seems to contratict his statement? You'd think perhaps he'd explain himself if he was saying something that seems to most sensible and unbiased people simply untrue!

So, this is but a small example of some of the things I am finding as I go through Romans. I am using the Greek as best I can, but I find the KJV usually follows it accurately - but lots of the words are out of use or have lost their original meaning. So, I'm using the Greek Lexicons (Thayer's and Strong's) and also looking at how the words are used throughout the whole NT. I also have a really mint (and really FREE) Interlinear Bible package which can be downloaded from here.

Alas, I fear many church doctrines these days have been fabricated over the decades or centuries to explain millennia-old sentenses they cannot understand. It has taken words that originally have quite a simple meanings and turned them into whole doctrines - with masses of literature to clutter the bookshelf, and clutter the mind into confusion. Fortunately, the core essense of the Gospel still remains - though dirtied by the mud of people's religious imaginations. It is there just as clear as it ever was, in the Bible and in people's hearts:

Don't devote yourself to pleasing yourself, because it will only destroy you. If you are devoted to yourself and not to God, you clearly do not want to belong to God. Instead, devote yourself to God and He will graciously accept you no matter what you have done, because it will lead to real life now and forever. This is what it means to belong to God.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The lawnmower and the painting

I just rammed my nose into a lawnmower. Very painful. The handle-bar, specifically. Always the way, I guess – right where you least expect it, there’s a piece of steel.

So here I am, rubbing my aching nose. Pondering...



A canvas hangs, in an empty room
Waiting in shadows of passers by.
Wishing to tell of more than shadows;
Wanting a lingering eye.

Stark light drowns the faded paint
That time cannot erase,
And jaded lines waver,
On the painting’s pale face.

Would people stop if it were changed,
Or perhaps if more the same
As other works in other rooms
More designed to fame.
Would clicking heels and unturned heads
Notice it not there?
For a painting is but empty space
To those who do not care.

Yet there is one just past the lights,
A faithful looker-on.
Who stays all day just out of sight
And seeks to not compare.
Who never lets the shadows or the
Heels get in the way,
And has unending interest
In the single painting there.

What is it in the work He sees?
In frenzied lines, in broken stokes
And sweat upon the canvas soaked?
Why gaze upon a thing so long
that others never note?

The answer lies not in the work
But in the careful hand
Of the One who looks past unturned eyes,
            For He painted this man.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Saved by grace, through devotion (what?!!?!)

Well, I have just removed my last post on faith because I have realised it is terribly worded - so terribly it is really just plain wrong. I have realised that the closest word I can think of that conveys the meaning of the Greek noun 'pistis' is 'devotion'. I think this what is meant by fidelity/faithfulness = 'pistis' - it's got nothing to do with a head belief! Likewise, the verb 'pisteou' would mean 'being devoted'.

I have come to this realisation as I am writing my own verse-by-verse paraphrase of Romans. Interpreting it as devotion suddenly makes Romans make a whole lot more sense. And after having beeing thinking about it for the last hour - it makes a truck load more sense throughout the whole NT.

I don't have time to get it all down here now, it will take me days to get all this together. Sure, it sounds like heresy to say we aren't saved by 'a belief' - but I think deep down we know there has to be more to it than that. Devotion is what it's all really about. So where the bible talks of 'faith' - it means devotion. And most of the time when it talks about 'believing' it's meaning being devoted.

As I am doing my paraphrase of Romans and flicking through the rest of the NT with this in mind, everything seems to make far more sense. No longer am I saved by some airy-fairy, wishy-washy thought in my head that I doubt many Christians can understand - but rather I am saved by something I can fully understand, by being devoted to God.

There are several other Greek words for 'belief' - but no other words for devotion apart from 'pistis' and its few derivatives. Surely if the writers of the NT had meant 'belief' they would have written the words for that, like the word for 'convicton of the truth of something'. But instead they wrote 'pistis'.

I don't have time to explain all the details of this... but the thing that scares me is: why on earth has the interpretation of this word gone so wrong? I am without doubt that it has. But don't just 'believe me' =), Go and read some NT with this interpretation in mind - see for yourself how the sentences and arguments make more sense! For instance, what is devotion without actions that come from being devoted? (James) Why did Jesus say that the soldier had the greatest devotion He had seen in Jerusalem? Surely soldiers know how to be devoted! Abraham didn't have a clue about Jesus - he had not belief regarding Jesus - but he was devoted to God. I could go on and on!

So, once I fix up my last post on 'faith' I'll re-post it with hopefully a good discussion of why I think it means 'devotion', end some things it means for the Christian 'faith' (that is, devotion). I haven't worked all this out yet - but I'm learning a whole lot. It's especially interesting to see how 'devotion' does indeed complete Mosaic Law, rather than effectively throwing it out the window. Paul's writings make sense! Yeay!