My Children Taught Me How Stupid Relativism Is

There is a kind of intellectualism that asserts there is no final Truth that can be eternally enjoyed, but that the search for truth IS the truth to be enjoyed. This is, of course, a self-defeating statement, but when you’re talking about relativism or any other “-ism” that argues against the existence of any absolute morality, they fail to see that to make such a statement is to appeal to some sort of absolutely morality.

Indeed, some might argue that belief in an absolute standard of right and wrong is childish.

Have such people ever spent time with a 3 year-old?

  • Why is that man’s skin darker than mine? (answer involving melanin, genetics, culture, etc.).
  • What’s that big red spot on that kid’s face? (answer explaining port wine stains, blood vessels, and candela lasers)
  • What’s that man doing in his yard? (answer involving lawn mowers, weed-eaters, power-blowers, and HOA regulations)

No child is satisfied with the answer, “I don’t know.” They know there MUST BE AN ANSWER to why things are the way they are. They inherently know that there must be something ultimately and finally true about whatever it is they are observing. And they don’t revel in an answer that says nothing is finally true. They HATE IT when we even remotely imply there are no final answers to their questions.

In other words, there are no relativistic children. There are no children who find it settling to never have answers.

No: children seek answers to their questions because they know that those answers will bring them joy and satisfaction. They REVEL in explanations! They REJOICE when we can confidently bring resolution to their dilemmas.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was referring to in Luke 18:16-17. ““Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 

Maybe Jesus is referring to humility (a tie back to verses 1-4 in the Matthew account of this story); maybe he’s talking about a doubtless faith. The text isn’t explicit, so I’ve got a little liberty to suggest maybe Jesus is pointing out that adults tend to be quite cynical and/or prideful, even to the point of challenging the existence of an absolute moral authority (which is to make oneself a moral authority). This cynicism and pride makes it extremely difficult to come to him like a child … knowing that He is the answer to all their questions.

So we need to be like children … with the humility to know we can never have all the answers. With the humility to know that it’s self-defeating to say, “The answer is that there are no final answers.” With the humility to say, “Jesus is the answer.”

My Wall of Gaylord

Meet-the-Fockers-wall-of-gaylord1

 

In the not-as-good sequel to “Meet the Parents,” movie-watchers get a glimpse of Gaylord (Gabe) Focker’s upbringing. His parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand) could not be more opposite his in-laws (Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner). Whereas her parents are tightly wound, prim and proper … always with high expectations for themselves and others … Focker’s parents are emotional and affectionate, eager to heap praise on their son for the most minute achievements.

The best example of the latter comes when we see the Focker Wall of Fame … or the Wall of Gaylord: an astonishingly gaudy display of all Gabe’s accomplishments.

His rather paltry accomplishments.

9th place ribbons (“They’ve got ribbons that go all the way up to 10!”) and a trophy for excellent regional nursing are particularly cited.

Clearly the Focker’s were more concerned about passion than achievement.

Clearly their future in-laws were more concerned about achievement than passion.

In the economy of the United States, the Wall of Gaylord loses every time. In the economy of the gospel, everybody’s wall is the Wall of Gaylord.

Take a look at this astonishing statement from Jesus explaining just how perfect we have to be (Luke 17:1-4).

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

You and I are to be so holy that we never cause anyone to sin, always properly call out the sins of others, and always fully forgive every person who sins against us. The disciples instantly recognize that they could never do this, ad cry out to Jesus to “increase their faith” so that they can. Jesus validates their appeal to faith: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).

But faith in what? Whatever the answer might be, the next few verses point out that it’s not “faith in our duty.”

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

It’s a rather offensive parable to us hard-working southern Americans. As Bryan Chapell has written in his awesome book, “Holiness by Grace,” God does not open his heart and extend his power to his people simply b/c they have done their duty (as if we could even do our duty!).

So what can our faith be in that will move mulberry bushes and grow them in the ocean? What happens next in Luke 17:11-19 illustrates it well. Like a leper who has lost everything he has, we must cry out desperately for the grace and mercy of God.

This is the person God responds to: one who has faith in His grace and mercy and despairs of any other thing to help him. He’s proud of nothing he has done or accomplished.

He knows his wall of accomplishments is a “Wall of Gaylord” at best.

Motivation or Guilt Manipulation?

The following is an excerpt from my book, Southern Fried Faith, which you can pick up here. If there’s anything good about a selfishly motivated church member, it’s that they are at least motivated. Frequently, church leaders have the opposite problem: members who cannot or will not serve or participate for any variety of reasons. In response, church leaders frequently resort to bludgeoning members with guilt so that they will eventually choose to be a part of whatever program or ministry planned. Maybe you’ve heard or even used statements like the following at church.
  • You’d better share your faith because if you don’t, the blood of those people will be on your hands.
  • We’ve prayed about it, and we are convinced that no matter how you feel, it is God’s will for you to teach the three year-old class this year.
  • If just one person comes to know Christ because of your commitment to this ministry, it will be worth it.
The kind of guilt exhibited in statements like these is what Paul calls “worldly grief” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Over time, this kind of motivation does incredible harm to the relationship between leaders and followers, and thus great harm to the church as a whole. At first, people may do what leaders want them to do, but they only do it to alleviate their guilt. As these guilt-driven experiences add up, so does resentment. It may take years, but people eventually realize that complying only gives them temporary relief from their guilt, so they willingly choose to endure the anger of those heaping guilt on them, which only leads them to resent their leaders more. It’s a vicious cycle that can only end in severed relationships and a fractured church.
Because I’m a foodie, I’ve got a fancy coffee maker. I don’t roast or even grind my own beans, but I do take great care in making a great pot of coffee, of which a brewer plays a significant role. As it so happens, I live in an area where the tap water has a high mineral content. After a year of pouring hard water into my highfalutin coffee maker, the brass valve between the stainless steel water tank and brew basket clogged. This is how guilt works as a motivator: for a time, it can boost giving or increase attendance at rehearsals, but eventually it creates bitterness in the heart of church people. They soon stop participating, and the church quickly stops functioning.

Gospel-Think vs. Group Think

Given the circumstances, the consensus was ironically predictable.

  1. Paul, the Lord’s so-called chosen instrument to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, was in a Roman prison.
  2. Most of Paul’s so-called “friends” had deserted him.
  3. Some were using the occasion of Paul’s imprisonment for their own personal gain.
  4. The church in Philippi to which Paul wrote faced fierce opposition from unbelievers, hell-bent on the destruction of the church.
  5. As a result, the church in Philippi had a lot of infighting.

Given all of these things, the consensus was this: “The Christian church is done for.” “Paul is a goner.”

But if there’s anything the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus taught Paul, it’s that God doesn’t operate according to the consensus of man. The gospel is not group think.

Which is why Paul says in Philippians 1:

  • “I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.” (v. 12)
  • “Everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.” (v. 13)
  • “Because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” (v. 14)

So the gospel is the antidote to consensus thinking. Gospel think is the antithesis of group think.

Philippians 2:5-11 makes this clear as well.

  • Group think says that success comes with selfishness and self-promotion.
  • Gospel think says that success comes with selflessness and Christ-promotion.
  • Group think says that to get ahead, you should strive to impress others and get their attention.
  • Gospel-think says that the best way to impress others is to count them worthy of your deeply sacrificial service.
  • Group think says that you must look out for number one.
  • Gospel think says that other people are number one.
  • Group think says that you thrive by doing whatever it takes to get to the top.
  • Gospel think says that you thrive by doing whatever it takes to serve those at the bottom.
  • Group think says that you do the right thing when only when it’s convenient.
  • Gospel think says that you do the right thing especially when it’s inconvenient.
  • Group think says that you should do whatever gets you accolades.
  • Gospel think says that you should do whatever gets Jesus accolades.
  • Group think says that when times are hard, it’s time to quit.
  • Gospel think says that when times are hard, God is actively at work to make us like Him.

So gospel think is the antidote to consensus thinking … the antithesis of group think …

Unless your group think is gospel think ;-)

On Homeschooling, Wheat Grinding, Child Vaccinations, Yoga, and Essential Oils

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:2-5, ESV.

I’m disturbed by what I perceive to be a growing trend within American evangelicalism.

I’m not talking about anything heady or something only theologians worry about.

I’m talking about something very practical … something that touches the lives of us normal, everyday Christians.

I’d like to think that it’s merely a reflection of my social media stream, but conversations with others have confirmed my fears.

So what is it that is disturbing me?

That Christians are adamant about things we have no business being adamant about.

We are adamant that each couple have as many children as they can possibly manage, if not more.

We are adamant that everyone homeschool their children (which we currently do).

We are adamant that everyone grind their own wheat and make their own bread (which we often do).

We are adamant that the consumption of processed foods is sin (foods we don’t regularly choose first).

We are adamant that some, if not all, vaccinations are bad for our children (our shots are current).

We are adamant that our smoothie recipes are superior (I’ve got some good ones if you’re interested)

We are adamant that birthing moms at least consider a home birth (we’ve loved hospitals in the past).

We are adamant that there are essential oils for every ailment under the sun (we use these from time to time)

We are adamant that yoga is evil (which I do frequently).

We are adamant that everyone have an exercise routine (like I do).

And we are adamant about “arguing” over these things on social media.

We are adamant about many things, yet the one thing we must be adamant about, we are not. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

An adamant attitude is not one of weakness, fear and trembling: it’s one of brashness, overconfidence, and pride.

An adamant attitude does not exhibit itself in speech that is humble and exemplary of the Spirit’s power: it’s one of vitriol, self-righteousness, superiority.

An adamant attitude does not lead others to faith in the power of God; it leads to despair as others attempt to be as wise as you demand they be.

Brothers and sisters, let us be adamant about only one thing: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Force not your preferences on others. Force not those things upon which the Spirit may be leading you to do yet not others. God did not call us to be evangelists for the secondary and tertiary things of our faith, but only our faith. Our good news is not the fruit of the gospel, but only the gospel.

Let us not be adamant about the things we have no business being adamant about.

Let us be adamant, but be adamant about the gospel.

A Church Full of Peacemakers

I’ve fought a lot of battles in my last 15 years of ministry, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons as a result. For example:

  • Some parents of teenagers are not OK with the use of clips from “The Simpson’s.”
  • The only way for someone to get saved is if they are given the opportunity to walk down the aisle and ask me about it right after I preach.
  • $6,000 annually for donuts is a wise investment in student ministry.
  • Let kids choose their own roommates for camps and retreats.
  • If you like your Bible study curriculum, you can keep it: period.
  • The KJV was authorized by Jesus, not James.

So when I got more than a few complaints about our worship pastor leading from the stage with his shirt untucked, I was reluctant to bring it up with him. It didn’t really bother me all that much, for very little about the church was traditional or formal in nature. The church office was in a doublewide portable building that shook violently in moderate thunderstorms. We gathered in a barebones multipurpose building that, like most “cafegymatoriums,” failed to support any purpose very well. Worship music was contemporary in style, and it wasn’t uncommon for our worship pastor to lead from behind the drum set. Taking all these things and more into consideration, the untucked shirt actually fit in better than the alternatives.

Contrary to my presumption, our worship leader wasn’t rebelling against tradition, but concealing a gun: a Glock model 22 .40 caliber in an “inside the waistband” concealment holster. So to keep the peace with our critics, he settled on a Ruger LCR .38 caliber special in an ankle holster. I was surprised to learn that he carried a concealed weapon, but I was shocked to learn that many more members carried as well. An employee of a local shooting range once commented that our congregation was the most secure in the area because so many members carried guns.

With all the “peace makers” tucked away on any given Sunday, one might expect congregational life to have been free of conflict all together. But while carrying a piece may help keep the peace, a church needs something else entirely to make peace.

Excerpted from Southern Fried Faith. Get your copy today.