Monthly Archives: January 2015

What Leads to Good or Evil Conduct; Nature or Nurture?

Why do some people display compassion and kindness while others act out a selfish, even evil agenda? Is the good a result of the natural temperament of the person or the nurture they received from their parents or community?

Let me give an example. Two young Canadians from the Ottawa Valley, both ending up in uniform in the Middle East, illustrate this conundrum. One, John??????????????????????????????? Maguire under his new name, Abu Anwar al-Canadi, travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State’s (ISIS) war on the west. The other, Dillon Hillier after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, has voluntarily paid his own way to Iraq to join the Kurdish Peshmerga militia in their fight against ISIS.

John Maguire, aka Abu Anwar, joined the Islamic State to spread terror in Syria and Iraq. He praised the two attacks on soldiers in Canada and urged more acts of terror. Dillon Hillier joined the Kurdish militia to stop the Islamic State’s advance and atrocities. Both grew up in similar communities, went to similar schools, and both seem to have had normal childhoods. Abu Anwar’s high school friends saw nothing to indicate an affinity for Islam or extremism.

Why the difference in these two? The only clue might be found in the divorce of John Maguire’s parents and his move to live with his grandparents. Did the breakup of his family push him into bitterness toward the west? Was it a failure of nurture? It’s hard to say.

Certainly, the influence of parents constitutes a crucial element in a person’s moral upbringing. “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged”(Col. 3:21). “Children…’honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’”(Eph. 6:1,2). A balance of loving nurture and wise parental training generally produces successful and moral adults.

And yet, Cain, who murdered his brother Abel, came from the same family. Arguably, being the first children after Eden, they grew up in a nurturing environment and even shared the same DNA. Why then the difference?

SunriseClearly, the space-time fall of Adam and Eve from innocence led to the twisting and distortion of all their progeny. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”(Rom 5:12; 3:23). One of the most basic facts of humanity is that every one of us has been born with a sinful nature. Our nature is twisted so that “all of us [live to gratify] the cravings of our sinful nature and [follow] its desires and thoughts”(Eph. 2:3).

Four things contribute to helping us curb our sinful and selfish propensities. The first is parental nurture. The second brake on our sinfulness is the community in which we live—the values our community teaches and the deterrent that our society’s police provide. If brought up in North America we will have a strong entrepreneurial bent, a revulsion against cruelty, a desire for social justice, and an expectation of personal freedom. If however, we grow up in the North West Frontier of Pakistan and Afghanistan we will be shaped by that society’s view of hospitality—a good quality—but also by an honor system which would require us to exact revenge for slights to family or community. If we imbibe Islamist rhetoric such as found in Syria, Iraq or Yemen we might tend to feel the need to destroy non-Muslims.

The third brake on our sinful tendencies is conscience. If it has not been distorted by contrary cultural or family training, conscience will innately arouse a sense of what is right and wrong. Paul explains that even non-Jews who don’t have training in the law of God “show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them”(Rom. 2:15). This is why many Muslims know in their hearts that killing infidels or raping women is evil. Conversely, we in the west also know, when we listen to our consciences, that indiscriminate bombing or polluting the environment or using prostitutes or exploiting cheap labour is wrong.

The Fourth, and most powerful brake. Since neither parental nurture, nor community values, nor conscience can totally conquer our sinful natures, we need something more powerful. We need God to change our hearts and minds. As Jesus said, “You must be born again…of the Spirit.” (See John 3:5-21). Jesus Christ died upon the cross to conquer our sinful natures and deliver us from the judgment our sins deserve. That conquest occurs when we are converted, born again. How does this happen?

New Sugar Maple leaves unfurlingIf we would be born again, we must pray to Jesus Christ, confessing our sins, asking him forgive us, to cleanse us from sins’ pollution, to change our propensities, and to give us new hearts of love and devotion to Him and His will. From that point on we will give ourselves to follow the guidance he gives us in the Scriptures.

Fortunately, many people around the world, including Muslims, are hearing this call and responding to its good news. Has this been your experience?

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Conquering Winter Gloom

SnowstormIn northern climes, darkness comes early. And when clouds obscure the sun, the gloominess of this period of the year can be depressing. Some of us succumb to SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder and become seriously depressed.

How can we fight off gloom? Some of us can head south to a sunshine coast or board a cruise or fly to Figi. What if we can’t?

When I was a boy, I remember my mother varying our usual diet of white bread by giving us raison bread. The scattering of raisons made each bite a delight. In a similar way we can scatter special treats through our winter days to take our mind off the cold weather.

Keep busy. This is not the time of year to mope around the house lamenting the season. Of course, if you have a steady job or young children, much of your time will be occupied. But then there’s the weekend. Plan something fun for the whole family. And if retired, one has many other choices.

Plan a project or take a course. Winter is an ideal time to embrace that project we’ve put off. The more fun it is, the more it will distract us from weak sunshine. Take a course on photography, computers, memoir writing, or painting. Take action to do something you’ve always wanted to do. Before you know it, you’ll be wishing you had more time.

Volunteer. Every community needs volunteers; to visit seniors, deliver meals on wheels, drive people to appointments, taking shut-ins to the grocery store, the list is endless. Churches never have enough volunteers for their various ministries.

Plan fun things to do. Go to a movie, watch a hockey game, or take in a play. Play Scrabble. Set up a difficult crossword puzzle on a card table. Plan to have dinner or lunch in a special restaurant.

Encourage others. Call someone who needs a chat or prayer. Surprise people with a note or letter. Receiving real hand-written mail in this era of Facebook Raod closed during ice storm and email has become rare.

Plan a special tea or meal with some friends, family, or even new acquaintances. It may spice up your life.

Read books. People who love books find that winter passes quickly. Join Goodreads (goodreads.com) where you can find what others are saying about books, keep a record of your own reading, and write short reviews.

Keep up your exercise. If you can, get out of the house regularly. Visit a mall, not to shop, but to get some exercise and have a coffee with a friend or spouse. Many places have community centres with a walking track and exercise machines. And take your vitamins, especially the sunshine ones.

Take a short-term missions trip. The needs in places like Haiti or Uganda and many other countries are unending. As a side benefit, these countries usually are warm and sunny while northern climes freeze.

Most important, adjust your attitude. Albert Camus wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” How is that possible? Some will say all we need is positive thinking. But Christians rely on more than will-power. They trust in God to transform their attitudes—to everything, even winter. In Christian hearts, spring and summer can continually bloom when we allow the Holy Spirit full sway. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, …self-control”(Gal. 5:22,23).

The Apostle Paul, who lived a life surrendered to the Holy Spirit could write, while shackled in prison, “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…content in any and Mini-daffodilsevery situation”(Phil. 4:4,11,12).

Beyond doing whatever we can practically to add spice to our winter lives, we need to be much in prayer that the Holy Spirit would so work in us that we radiate joy and contentment in a winter environment.

A Blessing for the New Year

Some words have more power than others to touch us our hearts. “I love you grandpa,” not just from a young child but a grownup granddaughter or grandson. “I forgive you,” from someone we have hurt badly. “I’ll love you forever and ever,” from a spouse of 50 years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bible is full of powerful words, life-changing verses, comforting thoughts, soaring phrases, and liberating concepts. “The Lord is my shepherd.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” “Come unto me.” “You must be born again.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God.”

Tucked into an obscure chapter in Numbers we find a wonderful benediction. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give peace”(Numbers 6:24-26). These words were to be used by the priests of Israel to bless the people.

The inimitable commentator Matthew Henry, from whom I gathered much that follows, makes application to our lives today. First, he urges us to individually prepare ourselves to receive God’s blessing. Without some heart preparation we may not be able to recognize God’s blessing nor enjoy to the fullest the happiness God wishes for each of us.

Winter Moon

Winter Moon

The three-fold repetition of the name, LORD, or JEHOVAH—each of which—in the original, has a different accent, reflects a mystery solved only by the New Testament. This directs us to the blessing; “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father, KJV] and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”(2 Cor. 13:14). Each of the persons of the godhead is LORD, and each is bent on blessing us.

Just think, all the resources of the triune God are focused on blessing us. And yet we must not forget that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen. Only Jehovah can wrest good from bad.

These are powerful promises—not just words—promises of God acting for our actual blessing. While we may speak good words to one another and mean well, we don’t have the resources of heaven to effectually change things for each other. God’s words, however, express His intentional actions toward us. The fruits of God’s favor mean protection from evil through His keeping power; pardon for our sins through His grace and mercy; and peace through His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Snow scene

Snow scene

This benediction also promises that the Lord’s face will shine upon us and his countenance will be turned toward us. As the sun shines on the earth to warm and renew it, so the Lord causes us to know that he loves us. He smiles on us as a Father smiles upon his child. Such knowledge puts gladness into our hearts.

May 2015 be a year full of the blessings of God.