An Unschooled (and Uncreative) Church

This article was originally posted on August 4, 2016 by Barnabas Piper. With his permission, I am reprinting it for you today.

I recently listened to an episode of the TED Radio Hour podcast featuring Sir Ken Robinson, an author and brilliant thinker on all things creativity and education. In it he had this to say.

“Well, creativity is probably the most fundamental set of capacities that distinguishes us as human beings. And from it flows a whole range of practical capacities that we call creativity.

. . . in schools . . . the whole emphasis is on the one right answer; where imaginative thinking is actively discouraged . . .conformity affectively stifles creative thinking in every field.

. . . if you’re promoting an education where there’s only one right answer . . . that’s hardly a good climate for cultivating the powers of creativity and innovation.”

Robinson’s comments are striking, salient, and not just because they pin the American education style to the wall. They are striking because they reflect so much truth about God and His church.

Much has been written about the church imitating culture. Some of that focuses on morality or ethics and some points to a business-style management of churches. Let me add this to the list: the church imitates the education system. We do this in our calendars, our pulpits, and the teaching of our children (and occasionally in the church kitchen too, sadly.)

The traditional American church, of which I am a product, smacks of the very thing Robinson pinpoints; we squelch creativity by our insistence on form and right answers. So much of the teaching is a one way, one lane road from authority figure to congregant consisting solely of spoken propositional truths. The burden of absorption lies heavy on the listener, no matter his learning style.

But why should this be? We are a body of people who have that very quality Robinson refers to as that which “distinguishes us as human beings.” That is to say, we are made in the image of a creator God. We acknowledge unique human giftedness as a concept, but where is it expressed in the church? When the pastor preaches and the Sunday school teacher teaches, what is the visual or tactile learner to do? Just as the school system ought to revolutionize its methods to de-emphasize fact hording and answer mongering, so must the church.

We must develop a style that is conducive to various gifts by including expressions and exemplifications of God beyond simply lessons and songs. Even more importantly, we must create an atmosphere where “wrong answers” are accepted, not as truth, but in order to initiate a process that leads to the embracing of truth. We cannot give the figurative red X. Being graded in people’s minds for “right answers, participation, or attendance must go.

We are created as creatives, each of us in our own way. And the church should reflect this. God made us varied, so the church must create varied opportunities for people to both lead and learn. Let us not remain a standardized, answer-driven institution which squelches our innate creativity.

Read the Transcript of Robinson’s interview here

This month’s recipe is for Sweet Potato Casserole

3 cups mashed baked sweet potatoes        1 cup white sugar      1 1/2 sticks butter     2 beaten eggs                                                   1/2 cup milk

Pour into a buttered 13×9 baking dish. At this point you can continue or refrigerate and finish the next day.                                                                                                           Topping:                                                                                                                                        1/3 cup flour     1/2 stick butter, melted                                                                              1 cup brown sugar    1 cup chopped pecans                                                                                                                                                                   Mix and spread on top.                                                                                                                                 Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

What Is the Difference Between a Sin and a Mistake?

“The Cross Means We Have the Freedom to Make Mistakes.”  

I don’t recall the book in which I read that but I have keep the quote. I have kept it mainly because I tend to want to be forgiven for mistakes and I have trouble getting beyond mistakes I have made. Someone asked me recently after I had punished myself for forgetting something, “Don’t you allow yourself grace?”  The answer was no. I am a perfectionist and I tend to see my faults and mistakes both as sins. I sometimes blow my faults and mistakes out of proportion due to a negative view of myself. God never intended us to live that way.  The cross does set us free to make mistakes because it allows for unlimited grace as we grow and learn.  In my case that is usually  how I grow and learn–through my mistakes.

Too often the opposite is true. People tend to see their sins as mere mistakes. If you listen for it, it is all around us.  Recently the mistake heard ’round the world was a well publicized one that was not a mistake at all. It was a sin. In fact, several sins. Near the end and continuing after the end  of the Olympics there was a lot of talk about ‘ making mistakes.’  Pretty blatant and contemptible mistakes with severe consequences. Were mistakes made? Absolutely. Were sins committed? You bet. But to call them sins would be to admit to the world that you believe there is a higher power to whom we are accountable.  Sins imply offenses against a higher Being.

I recently read an article  by a Christian woman who recounted  the ‘mistakes’ she had made before becoming a Christian. Among them  were  mistakes such as having sex before marriage. To make light of our sin is to make light of God’s grace and forgiveness. It is to make light of why Jesus had to suffer on the cross. He did not die to set us free from mistakes.

So what is the difference between a sin and a mistake?

The dictionary describes a sin as a transgression of divine law especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle while a mistake is called a misunderstanding or misconception.
  •  A mistake can be an error in action 
  • A mistake can be one of opinion
  • A mistake is an error in judgement caused by poor reasoning
  • A mistake could be caused by carelessness
  • A mistake is often made due to a lack of knowledge
  • A mistake is often an action due to poor calculation
  • A mistake is usually caused by a misunderstanding
  •  A sin is a transgression against GodA sin is usually a willful, deliberate violation of moral  or religious principleA sin can be something we do against God and his law (sin of commission) After David had taken Bathsheeba, got her pregnant and had her husband killed, he prayed   “Against You and You alone have I sinned.” Psalm 51:4.  While he had certainly sinned against everyone in Bathsheeba’s and Uriah’s families,  David knew his responsibility and therefore his sin was ultimately against God. A  sin  also can be something that Scripture tells us to do that we do not do (sin of  omission)  “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
    James 4:17.   Well known specific sins of omission and their consequences are listed in a story Jesus told about coming events recounted in  Matthew 25:31-46.                                                                                                                                                                                    31“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.34“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35‘For I was hungry, and you gave Mesomething to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’37“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’41“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

If it is only a mistake, does God need to forgive it? Does anyone need to forgive it?   How do you reconcile if you make a mistake instead of sinning? How do you reconcile  when you sin? I am reminded of Jesus’ answer to Peter when Peter wanted to know how many times he had to forgive someone.  I imagine Peter was thinking of a particularly exasperating person.

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, butseventy-seven times!  Matthew 18:21-22

Remember whom you’re ultimately sinning against even when you fail to do good to a seemingly insignificant person. Sins are way too serious a matter to spend your time worrying about minor mistakes. But don’t forget that no matter how heinous the sin may be “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning!” Lamentations 3:23   And another of my favorite reminders, “Above all, continue to love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8.  And, I suppose a multitude of mistakes as well, don’t you?

When Gratitude Turns Ugly

Do you like to receive gifts? Absolutely! So do I!  Some people like to receive teapots while others prefer workout equipment. We are all different but before that box is open we are all alike. We are excited and we are, hopefully, grateful. Sometimes gifts cannot be contained in boxes or bags neither will they wear a bow. A handmade gift from a child, a gift of time from your husband or the gift of your favorite thing in nature from God.  I love all three. My favorite gifts of nature from God are rainbows and the ocean. But not in that order. I love being at the ocean. Because I can’t tolerate heat I have to watch the waves roll in from a vacation condo window. In fact, we have discovered that our favorite place to be is twelve stories up facing the water head on. The weather can never ruin a day at the beach for us. The water is beautiful to us in a storm while nursing a hot cup of coffee.  Lightening streaking across the water is a light show! My husband and I are the only people I know who can go to the beach  for a week in the rain and love it!  My favorite  part of a beach vacation? Waking to the sound of the beating waves, making my coffee and sipping it slowly as I look down at the beach and far into the ocean while curled into a soft sofa. Yesterday, I found a book I had made of our family recipes that I had not seen since we had moved over two years ago. As I thumbed through the faded handwritten pages, I saw, there among the recipes, a paragraph on lined paper.  It was a paragraph I had written a couple of decades earlier. I will share if you promise not to laugh. But a big smile is okey.

“There is something about the ocean that makes me feel as if I were present at the beginning of time. I can sit before her for hours marveling at her horizon, her gentle restlessness that breaks into violent episodes of grace at my feet.  Every movement is new yet as ancient as her depth. I’ve loved the ocean for as long as I can remember.”

To me this is a blessed gift of God. It is like salvation only in the sense that it is free to me and I revel in it . A free grace. Don’t think I am making any other comparisons. But the sea is something I often thank God for. I never attempt to pay him back or to work harder at my Christian life because he gave a gift of watching the ocean roar from 12 stories up. I accept it with empty hands held high in joy!

Did you ever want to pay someone back for something you received as a gift? How about the gift you received from a coworker on your birthday? When her birthday rolls around do you feel obligated to find her something of comparable value?  Be honest. She gave you a gift now you need to give her one. Is it a form or payback?  What was offered  freely  can sometimes be  accepted with distorted gratitude. Perhaps you really didn’t care much for her and would never have given her a gift had she not initiated.

At Christmas have you ever called it exchanging gifts instead of gift giving? That seems even more blatant. And, more truthful. We give something because something was given to us.  We have been trained since we were children to reciprocate a kindness. I’m not denying there is a joy in giving someone a gift even if you know it will be reciprocated, nor am I suggesting we stop teaching our little ones to return a kindness. But neither should gratitude be cheapened by giving back out of obligation.  We experience real joy when we give our child a monetarily expensive present and they give us an invaluable popsicle stick picture frame. Gratitude springs from the heart without strings, bubbled by joy!

Let’s bring God back into the conversation. I have given you some examples of how thankfulness looks when it is received with pure joy and when it starts to turn ugly. Do you try to live your life as a way to pay Christ back for saving you? “He has done so much for me, this is the least I can do for Him.” He gave His life, at least I can give Him my time.” Think of your own similar phrase here that you may use to encourage yourself to work for God or for your church because Christ has done so much for you. Many of us do it.  But where in the Scriptures can you find that we are told to serve out of gratitude for our salvation? Can Christians only be moved to obedience because of their gratefulness to God for his past actions in their lives? I know that last question can make you feel the hair on your neck rise. And, I agree that true gratitude for God’s salvation is a beautiful thing!  But where in Scripture do you see God prompting us toward obedience using gratefulness as his call to action?   Does he say we are to love our neighbor because we owe it to God because of all he did for us?  Are we told to serve each other out of gratitude for our salvation?  God loves a grateful heart but he does not use it as a source of motivation.If we have been getting it wrong all this time then why do we obey?  Scripture gives us examples of disobedience in the Old Testament in which ingratitude was not the reason for their disobedience. It was a lack of faith! One example is found in Numbers 14:11 when in spite of all the good God had done for them they refused to obey: “How long will they refuse to believe in me in spite of  all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” It does not read:  How long will they be unthankful for all the signs which I have performed.  Their disobedience happened because they didn’t believe! Not because they were ungrateful. (John Piper) A lack of faith was tied to their disobedience. Just as it is tied to ours. It wasn’t their ingratitude to Him that upset God, but their lack of faith. Faith should be the driving force behind our obedience. We obey because we believe. We are thankful because we have grateful hearts that enjoy God. But we believe because we know his grace will   continue day after day to spur us on to more obedience. His grace is sufficient for me! (2 Corinthians 12:9) And I will praise you loudly with thanksgiving! (Psalm 26:7)  Both not either/or. Faith and thanksgiving. Splitting hairs? I don’t think so. I think it is freeing to know that we do not owe God anything. We do not respond to our salvation with good works spurred on by guilt. He loves and inhabits our praise but the debt has been fully paid.

Let’s go back to the beach for a minute. Something so big and given with such freedom! That is definitely like salvation. I don’t even think of paying God back!! Like a small child, let’s celebrate all gifts from God with eager hands and broad smiles!!  What special gift has God given you besides salvation that you too revel in?

Footnote: Starting the first week in September I want to share a family recipe we use during the Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many of my recipes are old and the origin is unknown (do not read complex!) but if I know where it came from I will give credit where credit is due. I will not look up recipes just to recount. These will be the actual ones we have used for years and years. I hope you will find something you like that you will want to add to you holiday celebrations!