My Father

Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word Father?

You’ve probably never needed to, because it seems so obvious… so self-evident. I used to think so too, until recently.

I was going through a “dark-night-of-the-soul” period where I found it difficult to pray. For some reason, it just stopped making sense speaking to a God that was invisible and immaterial. Whenever I closed my eye to pray, I was overwhelmed by the whole absurdity of the act. It just felt like talking into the air, into nothingness.

That’s when someone suggested a rather cliche solution: that I read the Bible and look at the way the people in there addressed God. Most specifically, how Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to address God.

Jesus called God His Father.

“Our father who is in heaven,” he taught us to pray. It sounded straightforward enough, except my main challenge was in conceptualizing God as a Father.

Many Christian counselors suggest that people who have difficulties thinking of God as a Father usually had a bad experience with their earthly fathers. They don’t know what is so good about having a father, and so they struggle to embrace a God who approaches them as one.

But the situation seemed different for me. This wasn’t about my earthly father. Growing up, my relationship with dad was more or less “normal.” My problem was a more philosophical one: How can I address God as “father” with a straight face when I know that God is Spirit and not human. Isn’t the word “Father” just an anthropomorphism of a being that is beyond our comprehension?

Well, I was in for a great (and pleasant) surprise.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word father as: “a male parent” or “a man who is thought of as being like a father.” Another alternative definition is: “one related to another in a way suggesting that of father to child.”

Beyond these surface definitions, Mr Charles and George Merriam and Mr Noah Webster don’t tell us much about what is actually involved in “being a father”, or what qualifies a man to be one.

Stay with me now. When you consider every aspect of what it means to be a father, you will quickly realize tat no single human being perfectly fits the description.

Does biology make one a father?

It is obvious that many who have contributed the Y chromosome to the existence of a child cannot quite be called the fathers of the child. This is especially if they have not contributed in any way to the raising of the child. These men fail to fit the “father” description because something, a relationship, is missing.

Does nurture make one a father?

In fact, there are many children being raised by men who are not related to them biologically, men who are married to their mothers, men that they call fathers. Even so, many who have been raised by men who were not their biological parents often say of these men, “he is like a father to me” as if he is not quite a father. Something is missing in the picture.

Does the law make one a father?

Or is it the law? Does legal adoption qualify one to be defined as a true father? And if so, why do we still feel the need to qualify the father title with an adjective such as “my adoptive father”. Somehow, we instinctively know that they are not quite the true definition of father.

Is it all three?

But even in the now increasingly rare case where one is raised up by the father who shares the same genes, these fathers still fall short. You may be biologically related to your father, he may be the one that raised you and his name may even be in your legal birth certificate, but he still falls short.

Earthly fathers don’t always love their children and when they do it is never a perfect love. Earthly fathers don’t always provide and when they do it may not be the best kind of provision. Even when they try their best, their humanity is a guarantee that they will never be the 100% father.

The fact that they are fallen human beings means that they will inevitably not measure up at being fathers.

The True Father

So who is the true father? Who fits the bill? Who meets all the criteria? Who is the one we can look at for any idea of what it means to be a perfect father? In other words, where do we get the idea that there is something like a 100 per cent father and yet no single human being has ever fit the mold? How do we know that the kind of fathers we have here on earth are less than ideal?

I found the answer when I went back to the Bible with my struggle. In the Words of scripture, I encountered a Father who fit the description, who met the criteria, and never disappointed. In the God of the Bible, I found not just the true definition of a perfect Father, I found the embodiment of that Father.

In my confusion, I thought it more realistic to address a human father than to address an invisible spiritual father. Yet the reality is that the human father was a false reality. No human being deserves to be called father. Not the man who contributed to your genes, and not even the man who raised you up. Only God fits the bill.

In fact, our earthly fathers are poor imitations of the true Father. Even the best of human fathers are mere glimpses of the perfection that is in our glorious heavenly Father. In other words, there is no truer and realer illustration of a human being talking to his father than that of a man praying to his God.

I am no longer struggling to pray. In fact, it is becoming more absurd to take my troubles to human beings instead of to God. I have learnt that prayer is the realest and truest form of communication I could ever take part in. Because in prayer, I am speaking to the only one who not only hears my words, but perfectly understands my words and perfectly responds to those words.

Through prayer, I can, for the first time in my life, talk to my real Father.

In Defense of Self Esteem and Other Self-Help Needs

I am currently reading one of those books that people read in secret. You know, those books that would make us look bad and weak and inadequate if people saw them on our shelves? The title of the book does little to help my ego: How to Win Friends and Influence People. You are probably already drawing inferences about why I could be reading such a book — and that, right there, is my point.

I have often sat with among friends and spoke ill of self-help books and the people who read them. It is already tempting to start justifying why I am reading and agreeing with Dale Carnegie in How to Win friends and Influence People. I feel that I should at least explain why I am reading a book with such a “self-helpish” title, but I will not do it, because to do that would be to go against the point of this post. So I put my reputation at your mercy.

Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid - Maslow's Theory IllustratedWell, I said that in order to say this: I think the whole notion of “self-esteem” has received an unfairly bad rap from Christians who want to remain faithful to the Bible. Numerous articles and blog posts and even books have been written to explain why “self-esteem” is an unbiblical concept and an unholy pursuit. I, too, have written my share of tweets and Facebook status updates in the past to that effect. But allow me to play the devil’s advocate and tease out something that I think is important about the idea of “self-esteem”. Allow me to defend self-esteem and, hopefully, still remain faithful to God’s Word.

Why would anyone want to read a book about improving your self-esteem and feeling better about yourself? Why would Joel Osteen sell millions of copies for titles such as Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You? Well, the easy answer is that Osteen and other writers like Myles Munroe or Rhonda Byrne (of The Secret ) are responding to a real need in the world.

People are searching for significance, we want to know and feel and believe that we matter. We crave recognition and we cringe at the notion of being forgettable or dispensable. We yearn to know that we count, and we will do anything and go to any length to attain this significance, and that is why for many of us, the first and easiest step would be to bury our faces in a How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (also by Carnegie).

I hear someone like Victoria Osteen advising people to worship God “for yourself”, and I have to admit that I get her. I can see where she is coming from and what she is trying to get at. I don’t know where her heart is, but my best guess is that she genuinely wants to help people. Many of the people who write self-help books also want to help people — and they do it the best way they know how.

Whether or not they also want to make money and become rich is another matter altogether.Just because I want to make money and be rich through journalism doesn’t make my other motives in pursuing this career (e.g. to speak truth to power and keep the government accountable) any less noble.

So, to the extent that there is a real need for personal edification and validation in the world, to the extent that there is a real need to succeed and win and avoid failure in life, to the extent that we are hardwired to want to be respected and “esteemed”, I fully support the notion of self-esteem. You see, the problem is not self-esteem, or our longing for it, the crux of the matter is HOW we go about satisfying this goal.

What’s even more disturbing is when we begin to speak as if the need does not exist, or worse, as if it should not exist. It is one thing to say that self-esteem should not be our ultimate goal or even a primary objective in life. But it is an entirely different thing to say that it doesn’t matter or that it is a wrong goal. There are many things we yearn and long for in this life, and most of these things cannot be attained by directly pursuing them. Things like contentment, or peace.

There are people who pursue contentment by acquiring things, because they think when they have enough things and enough relationships, they will finally be content. I believe the psychological term for this ultimate end is self-actualisation. They will finally be self-satisfied. Such people are pursuing a noble goal, but they are pursuing a misunderstood goal using the wrong means. To help such people, we should not disparage their goals and longings, instead, we should re-route and re-wire how they think about such longings.

I-can-do-this

This is where and how the Word of God helps us. The Bible does not just provide us with principles to apply when we want to achieve our personal goals. The Bible is more radical, it gives us new goals and new ways to think about old goals. The Word of God sets us right by renewing our thinking, and eventually our lives, to God’s will (His means and ends).

So, is self-esteem evil and is it wrong for a Christian to want self-esteem? I would respond by saying those are wrong questions. The questions assume that we are settled on who a Christian is in the first place. We may discover that if we stepped back from the question and explored what it means to be a Christian, we will discover a message that renders the question of self-esteem moot or irrelevant.

That message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is the message that should define our posture as we explore all subjects regarding human needs and wants and longings in this world. The Word of God is a good place to begin. In fact, it is the only place to begin. And if we trust in the God who authored this word and revealed it to us, we may also discover that this Word is also a good place to stop. Because it is the only place worth staying in.

For the fame of His name

Cornell

PS: This will be among my last posts on Alien Citizens. No, I will not quit blogging, but I am planning to take a slightly different road, which begins by closing shop over here. I will update you all on the great migration. Have a blessed day, friends.

Pat Robertson – A Warning

Over the weekend Kenyans on Twitter went to town with their sarcastic prowess after a clip of Pat Robertson saying one can catch AIDS from towels in Kenya went viral. Mr Robertson was responding to a viewer’s question on last Thursday’s episode of The 700 Club. The anonymous viewer was worried about the Ebola epidemic and wanted to know if the trip would be taking an unnecessary risk.

pat

Photo credit: wpxi.com

Robertson’s response sounded reasonable enough except for a few generalizations and flippant statements. On Ebola, he said “not in Kenya” and every Kenya who was watching “amen”ed to that. Then he added that even though one should not worry about Ebola in Kenya, they should be wary of other diseases such as AIDS, Malaria and stomach bugs.

He advised against eating fresh vegetables and drinking un-sanitized water. Although the 84-year-old Christian conservative said all these things in generalities that may have exaggerated the sanitation situation in Kenya, the one statement that really rubbed Kenyans the wrong way was “… you might get AIDS, the people have AIDS in Kenya, you gotta be careful, I mean, the towels could have AIDS…”

And in their usual #SomeoneTell hash-tag activism, many Kenyans on Twitter had a field day giving Pat Robertson a piece of their mostly sarcastic mind.

I empathize with my countrymen. I really do. It hurts to have my country so grossly misrepresented by someone who has never even set foot on Kenyan soil (I think). It is only reasonable to be particularly sensitive about what Robertson said concerning Kenya.

But one thing that many seem to have missed is that Pat Robertson has been making such ridiculous statements on global TV for decades. We are only more aware of him now because he was talking about Kenya. I bet most Kenyans who probably regularly watch the 700 Club did not flinch when Pat said the following things:

  1. To a caller who said that he is often insulted by his wife, Robertson jokingly advised the man to move to a country such as Saudi Arabia, “where wife-beating is legal”.
  2. On feminism: “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
  1. To the question of husbands who cheat on their wives, Robertson casually told a viewer that “males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”

Robertson has also, on several occasions, described abortion as a “lesbian conspiracy”. But the statement that got him the most heat was what he said in reaction to the 2010 Haitian earthquake:

 “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti… They were under the heel of the French… And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so the Devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” And they kicked the French out… ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.”

In other words, Robertson believed the Haitians had it coming.

So it is now Kenya’s turn, and that’s why we are lining up to take our jab at Mr Robertson. Yet, in light of the man’s record and reputation for being flippant, bigoted and all other words that describe a serious lack of wisdom or discretion, should we really be wasting our breath and time reacting to his latest episode of verbal diarrhea?

Robertson’s age is confusing. At 84, one would naturally expect more mellow, nuanced and generally wise advise coming from the man who has been dishing it out for decades. But he only seems to be getting worse.

Robertson’s context is also more confusing. He is speaking as a Christian leader and his show The 700 Club targets a largely Christian audience (considering it is distributed by Christian Broadcasting Network, which was founded by Robertson). Many of us who lay claim to the same faith find ourselves in a precarious situation when it comes to this man. We are embarrassed by him, and we are naturally quick to disassociate from him.

I don’t intend to dwell much on this issue, but I felt I should point out one lesson that stood out with this incident: Pat Robertson is what happens when we rely on the wisdom of man rather than God. Robertson seemed to have weaved his way into the trust of millions of people who regularly watch his show. He gets thousands of letters seeking advise on various topics about the Christian life and ministry. But the one thing that stands out in more than 90 per cent of Robertson’s responses is that they are just that: Robertson’s responses.

He seems to be his own authority. His answers are based on his own judgment, experience and personal opinions. Very rarely does he quote the Bible or even attempt to wrestle with what God says about an issue over what Robertson thinks about it. It is simply assumed that he has earned the authority to give answers without even doing a little research on the issues involved. “I don’t know” is seldom an option. His conspiracy theories go without question.

So what do I think of Pat Robertson in light of all this? Well, the only word that comes to mind is “warning”. Yes, Pat Robertson should be a warning to all of us on the folly of relying on ourselves and our theories and philosophies instead of God’s Word.

Consider yourself warned.

“Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:5-7

A Biblical Example of a “Healing Service”

Did you know there is a healing service in the Bible? Actually, it is a healing and deliverance service and it is even Pentecostal. You have probably read the passage dozens of times but have never thought about it as an example of a healing service.

Photo courtesy: rejoicenow.nl

Photo courtesy: rejoicenow.nl

The possibility that the first idea of a “healing” ministry or service you ever came across was something you saw on TV or in your neighborhood doesn’t help the matter. You probably know or attend a church that has regular “healing and deliverance” services. These are special services where people suffering from various “physical, social or psychological” ailments come to church and they are prayed over and get healed. It is a time when people struggling with various addictions and generational curses come to get deliverance and freedom.

But the biblical story of something close to this looks quite different. It begins with a man seated near a gate. The name of the gate is “Beautiful”, and the man is anything but. He is poor, dirty and lame. You can find the story in the third chapter of Acts. The gate leads to a temple, and the lame man is a beggar. Peter and John are going to the temple to pray when this lame beggar asks them for money.

As the story goes, the two men have no money, but they offer the beggar something else. That’s when Peter says these famous words: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” The man jumps to his feet – healed – and follows Peter and John into the temple – praising God.

People who knew the man and knew that he was a cripple see what has just happened and they follow the trio into the temple. Of course the people are curious. Peter notices this and he turns towards them and says, “Who else wants to be healed like this man? Bring your lame and your sick people and I will show you what my God can do.” Okay, he didn’t say that. But what he said seems quite counter-intuitive and unexpected:

“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” [Acts 3:12-15]

Instead of inviting them for more miracles, Peter accuses the masses. Instead of inducting them for an hour of power, he indicts them for disregarding God’s power. He points out their sins and their role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Instead of capitalizing on the new-found clout, Peter begins to offend the people. Instead of sustaining the “supernatural atmosphere” he preaches the Gospel.

“By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” [Acts 3:16]

Peter uses the miracle as an entry-point to a different message, a deeper message. He uses the miracle as a hook and bait into a greater message of healing and reconciliation.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” [Acts 3:19-20]

In other words, Peter turns this single spectacle of healing into a sermon on true healing – the redemption of souls separated from God by sin. The healing and deliverance that comes from turning away from our sin and believing on the salvation that comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter is saying that what they just saw was a shadow, a glimpse, a picture of something more real and lasting.

Of course, there were people in the crowd who were physically sick and lame and suffering. There were people who wished and prayed that they, too, could get a portion of the healing that the crippled beggar had received. Some of these people might have turned away disappointed, because Peter had instead focused on the message of soul redemption instead of the magic of bodily healing.

I bet many people walked away disappointed that the “healing and deliverance service” they expected isn’t what they got. They walked away never realizing that it is better to be without an arm or a leg or an eye than to lose their souls because they never believed on the one who could save both the body and the soul.

When Being Honest and Sincere is a Bad Thing

“What matters is that you are sincere” sounds like good advise, and it is, as we shall see in a moment. But it can also be the worst advise to give anyone. God does, indeed, want us to be sincere about what we do. A common dictionary definition of sincere is “free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings”. It is wrong to be pretentious and deceitful. We must always strive to be genuine, honest, in other words, sincere. Integrity.

Photo credit: genius.com

Photo credit: genius.com

But what if being true to who we are involves doing something that is hurtful and unkind and unloving? What if I genuinely don’t care about the homeless and the sick? Should I be sincere even then? Would it be pretentious to “do” caring things to such people because that is “the right thing to do”? Such questions lead us to something that often goes un-examined when we talk about “being sincere”: It matters what we are being sincere about. In other words, our personal feelings are not the ultimate standard of what is right or wrong. We are not automatically doing right just because we are doing what we feel like doing. There seems to be a standard of right or wrong, outside of our feelings.

Does this, then, mean that our feelings don’t matter? No. It only means that our feelings are Continue reading

What Is So Wrong With Positive Thinking?

Why do so many people (myself included) like to bash prosperity preachers? As a friend recently asked me after I posted a critique on a sermon by Creflo Dollar: “Cornell, what do you have against the man?” Before I respond to that question, three corrections:

  1. We (whoever we are) actually don’t “like” to bash prosperity preachers. (at least some of us don’t find any pleasure in it)
  2. We don’t bash prosperity “preachers”. (some of us prefer focusing on what the preachers “teach”, though many readers tend to be too emotive to distinguish between a teaching and a teacher)
  3. We actually like “prosperity” preaching. (what some of us are against is “false” prosperity preaching)

The reason I name some of these preachers is quite simple, really. It is the same reason we name people who said certain things in the newspaper. It is called attribution. If the President of Kenya said something profound (or profoundly wrong) in public, it is only reasonable that I post whatever was said along with the name of whoever said it. It is just good journalistic practice.

But somehow, when it comes to Christian preachers shouting words in public stadia, we are somehow only supposed to discuss what they said without naming them (or else send them private e-mails). I don’t think I am the only one seeing this inconsistency.

Photo courtesy: drugtesttraining.com.au

Photo courtesy: drugtesttraining.com.au

Now, I have said all that (above) in order to say this: I find it equally inconsistent to insist on applauding “positive thinking” without examining and questioning those positive thoughts. Most of the “false” prosperity teachings out there are usually forms of positive thinking. They are aimed at helping people feel better about themselves and their Christianity. There is nothing wrong with that. I am all for helping people feel better about themselves and their faith. It is the “how” of attaining this goal that I have qualms about.

This is my point: “Positive thinking” means nothing if you have the wrong standard for determining what is positive and what is negative.

For instance, if self-interest is the ultimate objective, it may be seen as positive to accumulate insane wealth without helping the poor. Do you find any problem with that?

Similarly, if social well-being is the objective, it may be seen as positive to do what helps the masses but deprives the individuals of their rights. Do you have a problem with this approach too? Why?

But if God and His glory is the standard, it is positive to do what glorifies Him, and in doing that, realizing that both the individual and the society will benefit.

Therefore, “positive thinking” means nothing without a proper context. What many of us try to emphasize when we critique false prosperity teachers teachings is how (the context in which) they deliver their message. For instance, a teacher may say that God wants to make you wealthy. That is correct. But then the teacher adds that “God wants to make you wealthy today” and we have a problem.

The problem is not that God CAN’T make you wealthy today. Of course He can. The problem is not even that God WILL NOT make you wealthy today. Who knows? Maybe He will. The problem is that God has not given us any reason in His word to be certainly sure that HE WILL MAKE YOU RICH TODAY OR TOMORROW OR IN THIS LIFE.

It is just not there. And it is false to add a false WHEN to a true CAN.

Another aspect of “positive preaching” that has arisen recently is how Victoria Osteen recently responded to “why we worship God”. By now you know what she said, so I don’t need to repeat it here (or you may Google it if you missed it). But I will only say this to that:

Make God your beginning and your end, and “the rest” will follow. But be careful not to do it SO THAT the rest will follow or BECAUSE you want the rest to follow, do it because you love God and want to do what pleases Him… whether or not “the rest” follows.

It is like loving your spouse, you don’t love them “for yourself”, in fact, if they knew you love them because of what you stand to gain, they will not see that as love. You love your spouse because you genuinely seek their joy whether or not you will be happy yourself. Of course, your own happiness MAY follow as a result, but that is not WHY you love them. You love them for them, even if they DON’T NEED your love.

So why give any less love to God? Why love God any differently?

~~~~

Cornell

 

Is the Bible a Work of Plagiarism?

I came across this interesting comic on the web (below). A teacher gave her students the following assignment: What is the “Golden Rule” and its source? The answers she got from her students are quite telling. In fact, many atheists use this example to illustrate why they think the Bible is not the Word of God but a mere fabrication of pre-existing (pagan) traditions.

thegoldenrule

Now, what is fascinating is that all the answers given by the students were correct, and factual. The problem is that some of the people quoted lived centuries before Jesus was born, and yet we often attribute the Golden Rule to Jesus (Matthew 7:12). But Confucius (551–479 BC) and Buddha (480-400 BC) said and taught the same thing and yet they lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

Similar examples have been cited as arguments against the validity of the Bible stories. Such as Noah’s flood. Many argue that the story was merely a Jewish adaptation of the Neo-Assyrian Gilgamesh flood myth found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The myth, according to historians, is very similar to the Biblical stories and yet it existed centuries before the supposed period of Noah.

Do these examples disqualify the Bible? Many people believe so. Yet what such arguments against the Bible reveal is the arguers’ ignorance of what the Bible is and what the Bible does. The Bible is not God’s Word because it contains novel (new and unique) ideas about God. In fact, the reverse is the case, all true ideas about God that exist outside the Bible only prove that God is the author and owner of all truth. It is the reason R.C. Sproul has popularized the phrase: “all truth is God’s truth.”

Truth is truth, wherever you find it. To argue that only the Bible contains truth is to actually speak against the Bible, because the even the Bible claims that there is truth about God outside itself. Romans 1:19 actually says whatever may be known about God is available to even those who have never read the Bible. Psalms 19 talks about how nature teaches us about various attributes of God. Even Paul often  quoted pagan sages in the Bible (1 Cor 10:23).

The availability of truth apart from the Bible is actually an argument for God, not against Him. It is proof of His sovereignty — that  God is God over all people and all things, not just the Jews and the Christians. It is proof that those who will never encounter Christianity will not be judged unfairly, because “what may be known about God is “plain” to them (Rom 1:19).

No, the Bible is not a work of plagiarism. But it is a work that seriously needs to be plagiarized by you and me.

For the fame of His name.

Cornell