Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Model For Children

  There are two verses in the early life of Jesus that tell us how he is doing, Luke 2:40,52. "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."  What does this spiritual growth chart tell us about Jesus as a child? Before I delve into this, let me first say something about children today. My greatest fear about our kids is that we don't expect enough from them. I fear we have come to fear our children. Kids intimidate us because they seem to be able to play a trump card when we require "too much" of them, i.e. they tune us out. They have so many more ways to do that these days-they don't even have to leave the room. They can just push a touchscreen and get sucked into cyberspace, and they are gone. We love our children so much we allow them to check in and out at will because we fear they will check out and never come back.  I know I am being a little over dramatic here, but I don't think I am far from the truth. The ideals expressed in these two verses that constitute the "stature of the full of Christ" in his youth should be our standard for our kids. We say we want them to be like Jesus. Well what was Jesus like when he was a kid?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Early Childhood Experiences

“Experiences between birth and age 5 matter significantly to children's long-term emotional and psychological health, and changing these experiences for the better pays dividends, according to an editorial and several new reports in the May (2010) issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.” (Science Daily, May 7, 2010)

Have you ever considered the effects of the events of Jesus’ early life on him as he grew up?  Though some of these events are recorded, e.g. the slaying of the children in Bethlehem, the sojourn in Egypt, and the move back to Nazareth, there is very little to suggest the effects these events had on Jesus. But, we would be foolish to believe they had no effect on him.

I have snapshots in my head of events that happened in my life before the age of 2. These snapshots come mostly in the form of stories that I repeatedly heard growing up, an in a few cases the photographs that recorded the events. One photo that was particularly fortuitous was of me sitting in a pink bathtub on the back porch, and two snapshots in quick succession of me biting a cat’s tale as he ran by. Now, this wasn’t particularly traumatic (well the pink bathtub is troubling) for me since I don’t like cats much anyway, but I am sure the cat would have different memory of this event. Another memory I have is staying with my aunt Lois and her three daughters (my cousins) for a few days while my mother had some surgery when I was about a year old. I was told I would grab their hairpins, run to the far corner of my baby bed, gleefully exclaiming, “Can’t get, get.” I smile to think of this.

So what effect did the slaying of the babies in Bethlehem have on Jesus? What effect did the visit by an angel have on Jesus? What effect did fleeing to and living in Egypt have on Jesus? What effect did the long journey back to Nazareth have on him, and the fear that was associated with all these events? We don’t know, but we know He lived through these, and surely heard stories about them as he grew up. It was part of his human history. It was part of his life story. Though he was too young to understand, these events are significant and traumatic in the lives of Joseph and Mary. They were deeply affected by them. It is a big deal for a ruthless king to put out a “hit” on your baby! This king was no less than Herod the Great, a man who had his own children and wife killed to preserve his power.

The word “fear” seems appropriate to characterize the state of mind of this young family. There was much to be afraid of. A study conducted at King’s College in London and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2015 concludes that children who grow up in an atmosphere of anxiety tend to be more anxious. The stated results of the study are: For both anxiety and neuroticism, the models provide support for significant direct environmental transmission from parents to their adolescent offspring.

What was Jesus exposed to as a young child? How did this affect his view of the world? Did these experiences make him more vulnerable in some situations? Do these questions make you uncomfortable? Remember the Hebrew writer’s words: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…” (2:14) Again, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he Himself is subject to weakness.” (3:2) So when someone who lived in fear said to Jesus, “You could not understand” he might say, “Did you ever have a hit put out on your head by the most powerful king in our land?”

Thursday, November 16, 2017


"It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me." John 6:45 Jesus knew his Bible. He could quote it. He could apply it. He could use it in His own teachable moments. His text was Isaiah 54:13, a messianic continuation of the great "suffering servant" text of Isa.53. The chapter begins with the "barren woman" who never bore a child eventually having more children to the point of having to enlarge her tent. Paul quotes this in Galatians 4:27 as a reference to Sarah who stayed childless for years and eventually gave birth to a Promise through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God's family is expanding and He must teach His children. 

But notice in Isaiah 54:13 that the intended outcome of the teaching of God is the peace or wellbeing of his children. Just as earthly fathers are not to provoke their children to wrath, our heavenly Father knows that his school must be a place of peace. Jesus' word for this wellbeing is "eternal life." The ultimate homeostasis is a result of being taught by our Father, the ultimate homeschooler. The key to this wellbeing is allowing ourselves to be taught by the Father. The chaos and confusion of lives is a direct indicator of an unteachable spirit. 

The text says the hearer or listener learns. Jesus told the Pharisees who complained against Him, "Go and learn what this means..." (Mark 9:13) The one yoked to Jesus' easy yoke learns from Jesus. (Matt.11:29) The children and grandchildren of widows must learn to put their religion into practice. (1 Tim.5:3-4) Timothy was admonished to continue in the things he had learned. (2 Tim.3:14) Notice, in this text, learning should lead to conviction. There is a certain way we "learn Christ" according to Paul in Eph.4:20, not as the Gentiles walk. 

To live in our Father's house is to be in an environment of learning. God doesn't entertain His children; rather, He teaches them. For us earthly fathers to be able to follow in the footsteps of our heavenly Father, we must serve as His teaching assistant to facilitate learning in our homes. Study and learning should be a natural practice in a Christian home, and certainly within the church. Though we bemoan the fact that the government has taken prayer and Bible reading out of their schools, we still have two other much more effective institutions, the home and the church, where we can provide as many godly teachable moments as we desire, without hindrance. But, for this to happen each of us have to be teachable.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Drawing Power

To the grumbler, Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44) In John 21:6, 11 the disciples drew the net, or hauled it in. Get the image of a net being tightened around fish, and then being gently pulled into the boat or onto shore. In John 18:10, Peter drew his sword. It was in a case or tucked into his belt, and he carefully drew it out and promptly cut off an ear. In Acts 16:19, Paul and Silas were dragged into the market and later off to jail. In James 2:6, the rich drag the poor into court. In Acts 21:30, Paul was dragged out of the temple. And in John 12:32, Jesus says, "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself."

The influence, power, force, and work necessary to connect men with God is essentially, primarily, and effectively an act of God Himself. While it is understandable that we want to understand the role man plays in this process, there is a danger in focusing too much on man's part. Though we are ambassadors of reconciliation, it is God Himself who is reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor.5) The work of God in drawing mankind is so vast and so timeless how could we think the drawing power is centered in us and our expert abilities to effect lasting, heart changes in another human being. We have a hard time effecting these kind of changes in ourselves. Yet, there is something in us that rebels against the notion that we might be controlled by someone else. We want to maintain our independence and autonomy. Such is an illusion, yet it is important to preserve our freedom of will in this process. 

There are extremes in this discussion. One is pure Calvinism that says man plays no part in being drawn to the Father since 1) man is totally depraved-incapable of any good; 2) God has already determined through unconditional election-predestination-who will be lost and who will be saved. Yet the other extreme relegates God to some bystander in the process, merely a voiceless and powerless sign with a big arrow pointing the way. Neither picture is true. The grumblers in John 6 not only could walk away, but did walk away. However, they did so while feeling the tug of the Spirit of God pulling on their hearts, and no doubt, later winning this tug-of-war for the hearts of some. 

Our question is not whether God draws people to Himself, but how. The gospel has a persuasive power to it. "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men." (2 Cor.5:11) But, what percentage is our persuasive powers and what percentage is the powerful effect of the fear of the Lord? How do we weight the process? Man has a responsibility not to fight the drawing power of God like some child who kicks and screams while a parent drags them out of harm's way. His power is measured. It is on the right setting. Not too strong to over-power our will, and yet not too soft to make it easy to walk away. Only God knows the right tension for each person. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Vegas Lessons

Jesus describes two types of tragedies in Luke 13:1-5. The first was state terrorism carried out by Pilate on some Galileans whose blood was mixed with their sacrifices. The second was a horrible accident when the tower of Siloam fell on 18 people in Jerusalem killing each one. Just as in John 9 and in the book of Job, Jesus knew it was the tendency of man to explain such events as retribution for sin. Reduced to a maxim it was concluded that bad things happen to sinners. We often don't say the corollary to it, i.e. if you are good nothing bad will happen to you. Don't you wish things worked that way? Well maybe not, since "there is no one righteous, no not one." (Rom.3:10) So, if we all were to get what we deserve for our sins, no one could be saved from the cruelties of life or the fires of hell.

So today, like the rest of the world, I awoke to yet another horrific scene of death in Las Vegas, often called "sin city." I know when I visited that city a few years ago, I felt a little dirty. With a slogan like "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," what do you expect? But before we connect the dots and conclude some kind of divine retribution on the partiers of Vegas (BTW this was a country music concert), we need to be reminded of Jesus' words in Luke 13. Were those killed by Pilate and those on whom the tower fell worse sinners than others who escaped these horrors?  Jesus says, "I tell you 'no.'" But Jesus did add, "But unless you repent, you too will all perish." What is Jesus saying? Since we all are sinners, then we all need to repent of our sins. Such front page news stories serve to show that horrible things happen to all people at times for often unknown reasons. But, there is a day that is coming when destruction will come upon all mankind. No one will escape. No one will be able to plead personal righteousness as an exemption. 

So what is the response we should all give to our sins? Jesus' answer is "repent." Since we do not know what any day or night will bring, we live in a state of repentance before a holy God, not to attempt to avoid being in the line of fire of an evil gunman, but to avoid waking up on the otherside of death before a just and holy God unprepared. What does Vegas show us? It shows us that life is unpredictable, there is a day of death for all of us, and some will die "innocently" and tragically. But, whatever day it is, and however we die, there is one thing we all have in common, i.e. we will meet God. In the meantime, we are like unproductive fig trees needing some digging and fertilizing so that we can bear fruit. Much attention will be given in the coming days to how can we avoid this happening again. Less attention will be given to how can we live in such a way that if it does happen again (and it will in many other forms), will I be in a right relationship with God? 

May God bless the families of those who died, and the victims who are recovering, and all those who will forever be affected by this event.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Casual To Captive: Evaluating the Culture

Casual To Captive: Evaluating the Culture

Evaluating the Culture

Culture is like soup, the more stuff you add to it the more difficult it is to name. Chicken Noddle is easy. Culture soup comes with a very complicated recipe. I am participating in a project that seeks to map the "culture" of children and youth in our county. Gaining an accurate picture of this slice of local culture is difficult to paint. Whatever we come up with will be inaccurate, but hopefully enough of a character sketch to catch the perp. 

Jesus raised a few questions about his generation that could serve as a template for us today. I am not sure if Jesus could be described as a social scientist, but He had a pretty good fix on his culture. But, I assure you the questions He raises are not typical of our modern social scientist. See what you think of his list based on Matthew 12:22-45.

1) To what power and authority does the culture ascribe Jesus' work today?
2) Does culture even recognize Jesus at work today?
3) Does our culture recognize the kingdom rule of God on their lives?
4) In our current culture is Jesus able to gain entrance into most houses/homes/hearts so as to bind the strong man?
5) In this culture are most gathering with Jesus or scattering the work of Jesus?
6) What fruit do we see in our culture that indicates whether our tree is good or evil?
7) In this generation, what do we treasure?
8) What words are being spoken in this culture?
9) Does this generation seek more evidence than we have been given to prove Jesus' authenticity?
10) More specifically does the resurrection of Jesus impress and draw people to Jesus?
11) What is the state of our house/heart, i.e. full of demons, unfilled, or filled with good?
12) Do people in our society tend to return to states from which they have been freed?

These questions call for honest soul-searching? Jesus had an answer for each of these questions in his generation. Do we have answers for ours? What evidence would we present to prove our case? Can we also see the evidence in the lives of some who are swimming upstream in this world? Do we live with the contrasts? Are we good at seeing our own lives in relationship to the culture? Being able to warn someone of the dangers of our age demands that we accurately understand the nature of these dangers, be honest about our participation in those things that are anti-Jesus, and, most importantly, offer a Jesus solution for our culture.