Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of Course it Isn't My Fault

This week while at camp with 3rd-6th graders I've been reminded how limited a child's perspective is. This isn't really their fault. This is one of the best groups I have ever taken to kids' camp. It's simply incredibly difficult for children to think of anyone other than themselves. Their perspective on life, their view of the world and all that goes on in it is completely locked in on themselves. Their feelings, their assumptions and their experience of any given situation govern how they view it. They are so trapped by their own perspective that it becomes the definitive measure of truth. It is unassailable, undoubted, and unquestioned. Their feelings and thoughts on the matter are their Truth.

While it is wholly understandable that children struggle with this, the sad truth is that many of us still struggle with it as adults. We get into a conflict with a co-worker or our spouse and we are trapped by our own perspective. We are unable or unwilling to see the conflict from their side. We get lost in sin and our lives begin to unravel in all the negative consequences, but we are unable to see the fallout as the result of our own decisions. We blame our families, the church, God, other people, anyone and everyone except ourselves. The Bible tells the story of a young man who was trapped by his perspective this way in Luke 15. Read these verses from the familiar story of the prodigal son.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father."
We don't know exactly who the prodigal son blamed for his plight. Maybe he blamed it on the famine (v. 14). It is hard to be certain, but we do know that it wasn't until he "came to his senses" that he was able to see the truth of his situation- that it was his own sin that landed him in this terrible spot and that the proper course was repentance.

The idea of being so locked in by my own perspective scares me. The thought that we could be so deluded, so self-deceived as to be totally blind to the fact that we are causing our own suffering is frightening. But the good news is that we serve a God who is in the business of bringing people to their senses. Will you ask God to open your eyes today, to bring you to your senses in any way you may need it so that you can see the true condition of your heart and life? Maybe in addition to that you also need to go to a spouse or a friend and ask them to openly and honestly share with you what sin they notice in your life. You might just be surprised what you find out about yourself.

For further reading...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Are We Losing the Battle for Our Own Children?

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10

How did they not know? God had left specific instructions for teaching children about Himself (Deut. 6:4-9) and He had provided natural opportunities to do so both in physical landmarks (e.g. ebenezers or monuments to the Lord's deeds- see Josh. 4:1-9) and in the Israelite calendar (e.g. the Passover festival among others- see Ex. 12:21-27).  Somewhere along the line the Israelite parents neglected their duty to teach their own children about God and his deeds. That, combined with the powerful influence of the pagan culture around them, seduced their children away from the Lord. This failure cost the Israelite community dearly over hundreds of years. They fell into a pattern of sin that resulted in God's punishment. They would cry out to God for deliverance, and mercifully God would rescue them from the hand of their enemies. But after a short-lived peace, the people would once again fall into sin.

Judges 2:10 has a sobering effect on me as a dad and as a minister to youth and children. As I look around at our churches and families I fear that the church in America may be falling prey to the same shortcoming that plagued the Israelites so long ago. How can we win the world if we are losing the battle for the hearts of our own children? 

We send our children to secular schools for seven or eight hours a day. They spend countless hours practicing and competing in secular sports leagues. Every second of every day they are inundated with information about which starlet went braless at what premier and which running back will be starting for their team. Our children are growing up in an environment that is arguably filled with more information and entertainment than any other society in history. In the swirl of all this distraction we cannot allow our homes to become secular environments as well. Our homes should not be filled with secular movies, music and TV shows; but with the gospel of Christ lived out every day in the context of family. They should be filled with family Bible study, Christian music, worship, and careful individual instruction in the Word. 

I am not suggesting that we retreat from our task of winning the world for Christ and hide our children away in little Christian monasteries. What I am saying is that if we cannot win our own children for Christ then I think we have very little of hope of winning the world for Him either. We must begin here. We must win this battle if we hope to fare well in the war. And right now I fear that we are losing the battle for our own children.

For further reading...

  • Deut. 6:4-9- The quintessential passage in the Bible on teaching our children about God.
  • Josh. 4:1-9- A physical monument to God's work can be a great discussion starter for teaching kids about God.
  • Ex. 12:21-27- Work natural opportunities to teach your children about God into you yearly calendar. Use holidays like Easter, Good Friday, Christmas, and Martin Luther King Jr. day as learning opportunities for your family.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Peculiarly Christian Kind of Love

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 
1 John 4:7-8

This passage teaches that love is a defining characteristic of Christianity. If a person loves, then she is a Christian. If she does not love, then she has not yet met God. But is the Bible really saying that only Christians love? Does this mean that an unbelieving husband and wife don't love each other at all? More likely, I think, is that this passage teaches there is a unique kind of love that is peculiarly Christian. This is not to say that non believers do not experience or show any kind of love but rather that this particular type of love is the hallmark of the Christian believer and is found only in them. Let's examine briefly what I John has to say about this Christian love.

  1. "But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them." (I John 2:5, see also 5:3)- Christian love for God leads us to keep His commands. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment God ever gave mankind was not a "do this" or "don't do that" command but rather was simply to love Him. If we can get that right, then we will succeed in keeping the rest of God's commands, because a person cannot love God and rebel against Him at the same time.
  2. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them." (I John 2:15)- Christian love is faithful. The Bible regularly refers to Christians as the bride of Christ, and we are a faithful bride. Christian love doesn't two-time its heavenly husband by loving the world. No. Christian love only has eyes for Jesus.
  3. "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister." (1 John 3:10, see also 3:144:20-21)- Christian love overflows beyond just loving God and causes us to love other believers as well. We cannot love the Father and hate His children. (I John 5:1). It's simple: if we don't love other Christians, then we aren't Christian. 
  4. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." (1 John 3:16) "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:17-18, see also 4:9-12)- Now we get into details on what kind of love this is. Christian love finds its origin in the self-sacrificing, self-giving love that God has shown us in His Son Jesus. Christian love puts others ahead of itself. It pours itself out to love people who do not deserve such extravagant sacrifice. Oh how often we miss this point! Especially as we talk about helping the homeless and the poor in America. We often turn the conversation toward ways they might misuse our help and whether or not they deserve our help. We talk as though we are only called to love those who are deserving of our love, as though Jesus only loves those who deserve His love. This is a very subtle form of heresy. The way we treat other people reveals what we believe to be true about what God has done for us. Christian love leads us to sell our possessions to care for other believers. Christian love leads us to lay our lives down in service to those around us - not only in grand gestures, but in the mundane struggles of everyday life as well. We must constantly consider others better than ourselves and put them first.

Examine your life and heart. Is this peculiarly Christian kind of love evident in you? If not, why? Is it because you have not truly been changed by the love of Christ? Or are you a true believer but the cares of the world have grown up around you and begun choking your effectiveness? Either way, repent, ask for forgiveness, and begin to follow Jesus' example in earnest.

For further reading...

  • Check out the entire book of I John. It's only five chapters.