Turning Our Nation Around II: The War at Home

If a man would change the world, let him begin with something that is right before his eyes, let him lead his home.

My church hosted a father/son retreat this weekend, and I was fortunate enough to attend several of the sessions. I came away with a deeper appreciation for the incredible relationship that fathers and sons have and for the primal nature of that relationship. Some of the highlights that were particularly relevant to the discussion at hand are as follows:

The story of the Bible and of this world is essentially the story of a Father working through His Son, of Jehovah God, accomplishing all things through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Children, when you obey your father, you are testifying to the fact that there is a God in heaven who must be obeyed.  Father’s when you care for and discipline your children, you are testifying that there is a God who loves and chastens those who are His own.

Children, when you disobey your father, when you roll your eyes and mock his authority, you are committing high treason against heaven. Fathers, when you take too lightly your children’s rebellion, when you wink at it and let it exist unchecked, you are tolerating witchcraft in your homes.

We also spent a lot of time in Deuteronomy 6, reading the Shema Yisrael, and asking ourselves what a family would look like if it built itself around the Hebrew concept of learning, around the idea of a father walking and talking with his sons, taking them with him everywhere that he can, letting them see the world through the lens of his knowledge and experience. And not a perfect father, mind you, or perfect sons. Through all of this, we were reminded that every son is challenged by being forced to submit to and learn from an imperfect father and that every father is similarly challenged by having to lead and discipline imperfect sons.

To my mind, this is the first step in turning our nation around, that of turning our homes back to God, putting away our childishness and our love of sin and the easy life.

What do you say?

Analogous Grace: Why God chooses to bless certain things

In my last article on grace, I wrote about Prescriptive Grace and the way that grace is always applied specifically according to God’s desires. In this post, I want to talk about grace in a slightly different way, but first I want to clarify some things. Because this post is about why God chooses to bless certain things I don’t want to give the impression that I believe that we can control or even manipulate God, however, because God has told us that He is a God of order and because He has revealed a great deal about Himself through His Word and through the world, there are things that we can know about His behavior and that we can, through faith, respond to. Of course, God can do anything He chooses at any time and is not bound by anything other than His own nature. As C. S. Lewis writes of Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: He’s not a tame lion.
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Worshipping Youth, part II

This weekend I saw a commercial for Disneyworld vacations. It was brilliant. It began with a father and a son sitting side by side atop a giant waterslide. They look at each other, they grin competitively, and then they slide toward the pool below. But when they reach it, a transformation has taken place, and the father has become a boy as well! The son gives his father/new playmate an appraising glance, then an approving smile and they race off together. The rest of the commercial is a series of images showing the two enjoying their time playing, exploring, riding rides, and so on. When it ended, I was left with a feeling of wistfulness for my own childhood.

And that was when I realized that I was being played.

I said that the commercial was brilliant, and I meant it. It was brilliant in the same way that the first commercial ever made was brilliant. Maybe you’ve read about it:

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
(Genesis 3:1-6)

Talk about knowing your target demographic! And Disney knows theirs as well. They know that most Americans believe that childhood is magical, and that being a child preferable to being an adult. And if you’re like me, your brain is yelling, “But it is magical.” Let’s be clear: it isn’t, at least, it isn’t any more magical than the rest of life. Don’t get me wrong, childhood is great, it’s fine, it’s part of the process that God designed us to go through. In short, it’s good. But don’t go any farther. When we magnify childhood, when we make into the be all and end all of greatness, we cheapen every other part of life that God has made. We begin selling the idea that God made the first part great and everything after it is punishment.

If you don’t believe me, just try imagining the commercial if it were the other way around. The father and son sit at the top of the slide, they slide down, the boy is transformed into a man, and then what? They work 9 to 5 jobs together? They pay bills… in tandem? Watch TV together? That might work for a beer commercial, but even then, it just sounds too depressing.

The problem is that we think being an adult is drudgery. And whether we realize it or not, we communicate that thought to our children. Of course, if all you think of yourself as is just a consumer of goods and services, then perhaps you are not mistaken. Of course, if that is the case, you might also want to ask yourself why it is that you believe you are a Child of God and called according to His purpose.

Am I making sense here? As Christians, we have a sworn duty to become men and women of God. And part of that is raising our children to become men and women of God as well. We cannot fully do that if we ourselves believe that our children are better off staying children. We cannot do it if we believe the age old lie that we are raising children. We must remember that we are raising adults.

What do you say?

Protecting your family

There are certain Bible verses that stay in the forefront of my thoughts. They are typically verses with strong imagery, with straightforward application, the sort of verse that you can see in action around you practically anywhere you look. I Peter 5:8 is such a verse:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour

I think about this a great deal lately, about the last five words in particular. I know people who have been devoured by the adversary, people who have been eaten and metabolized by the awful work of sin. We think of being devoured as being destroyed, but nothing eternal can be destroyed, it can only be changed, and we all know people who bear the marks of such a transformation. To some degree, we all bear such scars ourselves.

I think about these things when I look at my children, when my daughter is squeezing my hand and looking up at me with large and innocent eyes, when my son is standing in the center of our living room staring up at the television and drinking in whatever we have chosen for him to see, when my wife is at home and I am at work and she is facing the dark thoughts of a dreary afternoon. I think about these things, and I wonder what, if anything, I have done to keep this beast at bay. Some days, I know and fear the answer to that question.

But I should be clear here, we are not to fear Satan. There is only one thing that we are to fear, and that is not fear itself, but God Almighty. For Satan, we reserve our vigilance. For Satan, we reserve our seriousness and our sobriety of mind. And we know what this means. It means no more laughing at little sins, at cute wickednesses and clever blasphemies. It means being wise and alert and sleeping with one spiritual eye open. It means going through our homes and looking at everything with an air of suspicion, with an air of caution, with the thought in the back our minds that our families and our own lives may depend upon it. Because whether we like to think about it or not, there is a beast out there, and he is hunting for more than just you.

The First Type of Evangelism

Our church’s verse for the year is “He that winneth souls is wise”, and while I have no problem with Scripture or focusing on winning souls, I’m a little underwhelmed with the modern concept of “soul winning”. And no, I’m not talking about my frustration with the concept of door-to-door evangelism, though before all is said and done, it might sound like it. You see, my understanding of the foundation of soul winning is found in the Shema Yisrael.
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Marriage, Children, Love, and Responsibility

I’ve always been interested in the nature of responsibility, and in what makes a man or a woman finally pick up its mantle and seriously begin the journey toward true manhood or womanhood. I think for a lot of people, the catalyst is their first child or children. I used to think it was marriage, but after getting married, I realized that it is quite easy to have a pleasant marriage and remain quite selfish. There’s still plenty of time in a day for two reasonable people to basically do what they both want to do. Tonight we’ll eat at your restaurant and tomorrow night we’ll eat at mine; Friday night, the mall, Saturday morning, the golf course; etc…

A child changes that. Free time suddenly dwindles, days and night inexplicably become both longer and shorter, typically expanding or contracting as necessary to most effectively limit your perceived freedom. Everyone becomes more stressed out. Throw a little sickness or depression into the mix and you’ve got a custom designed crash-course entitled The Selfish You: Learning How To Defeat the Me-Monster. For those of you who don’t have children yet, I am not joking.

To be fair, the reason that a child can be so shocking to the system is that the experience challenges our beliefs regarding the purpose of our lives. Someone who is already living a life based on sacrifice, humility, and unselfishness, will notice only the blessings that a child brings: the first smile, the first laugh, the feel of the tiny head resting on their shoulder. To the selfish man, these things seem like such consolation prizes. Look at all that I gave up,” screams the selfish soul, “and all I get is laughs and smiles? I could have rented About a Boy or My Life and saved myself the trouble”.

Where am I going with all this? That’s a fair question. It’s partly a confessional on my part, an admission of my own failures, and an attempt to be more transparent, but it’s also an attempt to frame a question. Does this resonate with other first and second time parents? I have two children now, Gavin will be two near the end of May and Petra is going on eleven weeks. In many ways, the second child was harder than the first, but the first taught us so much that it’s hard to really compare them. God says that the fruit of the womb is his reward, and his blessings tend to be things that go against our nature (Matthew 5:11-12, Isaiah 55:8) How does this thinking compare with what others have experienced? Has God used children or marriage to move you toward responsibility and away from selfishness?

Sheltering Children: Faith, Virtue, and Knowledge

Parents are always talking about how to protect their children without sheltering them. Invariably, in these conversations, the word “sheltered” is used as if being sheltered is a bad thing. I presume that most of the people who makes these arguments live in modern houses, with four or more walls and a roof and everything, and not, as they would seem to be advocating, on a bed of pine needles beneath a canopy of (preferably) sparsely limbed trees. To be fair, and to go ahead and make the anti-shelterian counter-argument before one of them does, yes, my house has windows. To go further, if a window overlooked an Adult Drive-in (my crack research team assures me that, while rare, they still do exist) I would either move, or keep that window closed.

My opinion on protecting children without failing to prepare them for life, is as follows. Anyone who reads the Bible to their children will have a hard time “sheltering” them. We have fratricide and other brutality in the first few chapters; keep reading and you’ll hit rape, incest, idolatry, rebellion, war, famine, pestilence, etc. And while I’m not advocating providing details to children, I am advocating the idea that they can understand more than we give them credit for. I have a friend who told his children that a prostitute was someone who behaves as if they are married when they are not. In the children’s minds, the prostitute was taking money to make dinner or to lay in bed and talk. But this was sufficient. The cynical mind says: but the child doesn’t truly understand what goes on when a man goes into a prostitute. A wise man says: do I? Proverbs says that the way of a man with a maid was too wonderful for him, Paul says that the true nature of the relationship between a man and a woman is a mystery. In the end, I think it is our foolishness that bites us, in that we believe that our exposure to sin has made us wiser rather than just more knowledgeable. We are become Eve, eating fruit not meant for us and gasping at the joy of untimely knowledge.

As a side note, in my experience, the problem with a sheltered child is that parents have often failed to give their children any real responsibility (authority for which they are held accountable). Responsibility and accountability allow obedience to perform it’s work, taking faith and adding virtue, and to virtue finally, knowledge.

Any thoughts?

Obedience and Faith Like a Child

This line of speculation started a while back when a friend posted a Quick Faith Quiz on his blog, wherein he asked:

  1. When Jesus talks about “faith like a child,” what does he have in mind?
  2. Is “child-like faith” different from “normal faith?” (Assuming, in this case, that normal faith is the healthy, 100% supernatural stuff that was good enough for Moses, Elijah, David and everyone else who has been, will be, or are being saved by grace.)
  3. Or should we assume that faith like a child is, well, the one kind of faith that God is after?
  4. That is, either you have this kind of faith, which Christ said will inherit the kingdom of heaven, or you don’t have faith at all?

I think of “faith like a child” to mean obedience without context. Scripture says that we add to faith, virtue. This suggests to me that faith comes before we can understand sufficiently to choose/discern goodness. Before that point, we are obeying without understanding. I tell my son in church to sit down and to be quiet, but he does not yet know that his activity and his noise is disturbing others. But if he is obedient, the effect is the same as if he saw he was disturbing and closed his mouth. Later on, he’ll know and can choose to act virtuously (or not). But faith must come first or else it’s my son’s own brand of filthy rag righteousness. Or in other words, without faith, it is impossible to please God (through obedience to his Word).

Does this make sense to anyone else? What is your take on “faith like a child”?

Skepticism, Bias, and Faith

A friend of mine ranted eloquently about skepticism and the inescapable nature of bias, and it got me to thinking about faith.

While skepticism is a good starting point for coming to truth, it must ultimately give way to faith. The committed skeptic quickly becomes the man who believes nothing, who trusts nothing, who sees nothing, as in the end, he finds nothing that he cannot doubt.

Reading through the Bible is fairly interesting when you consider that the men that we encounter there could recite their lineage back to Adam, and that much of their faith was based on the word of their fathers. Today, we live in a nation of wounded men and wounded sons, and such faith is mocked.

Skepticism and doubt are interesting though, as René Descartes used them to plumb to the depths of his faith in God. His summary, I think, therefore I am, arose from his attempt to find the one immoveable point with which he could then move the universe and bring him to the knowledge of God. Ultimately though, skepticism fails, but only in that it must surrender to faith. A better “proof” for Descartes would have been, He is, therefore I am.

As always, comments or insults are welcome.

Questions About Faith and Obedience

Over at Bittersweet Life, Ariel is conducting a little quiz on faith. I have a few questions of my own. Consider this story:

A man calls his son and says to him: Son, I am getting old and I will die soon. One of your mother’s greatest pleasures is sitting in her chair on the porch and watching the sunset. The porch is falling in, so I want you to withdraw some money from my account and have the porch fixed. The son is touch and impressed by his father’s concern for his mother. This is thoughtful thinks the son, and so he withdraws the money. The next month the father calls the son again. I will die soon says the man and I want your mother to be well cared for. I have a piece of property which is at its peak in value. Sell it for me and put the money by so that your mother will be taken care of. My father is wise, thinks the son, for that property is indeed at its peak, and it is well that my mother should be takes care of. And so he sells the property. A month later the father calls him again. I have another piece of property he says, and it’s value is high, sell it for me and set the money by as well. My father is losing it, thinks the son, there is a development coming in near this parcel of land and in the next few years it’s price will triple. And he does not sell the land.

At what point was the son obedient to his father? At what point did he show faith? Did he at any point disobey or show a lack of faith? I’ll weigh in later, but I’m looking for your thoughts…