Parenting with the Parables – The Lost Son

Remember the context of Jesus’ first coming?  His contemporaries viewed the coming kingdom as a national deliverance from foreign oppression and personal deliverance for the righteous.  Jesus turned that idea on its head and proclaimed deliverance for the needy; the sick, the oppressed, the sinner.  The Jewish leaders expected judgment for the sinners, not redemption.  When Jesus ate with those considered “sinners,” it meant acceptance and recognition in their culture.  This coupled with His announcement that the kingdom had come to sinners led to many a protest from the religious leaders.

One of these protests is found in Luke chapter 15, “Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’  And He told them this parable, saying,…” (Lk 15:1-3).  Jesus then goes on to tell three parables to illustrate that the very thing He was being accused of is exactly why Jesus came; to rescue the lost.

The last in this series of parables is the story of the lost son, sometimes referred to as the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32).  To summarize the story, a wealthy landowner had two sons.  The younger son requested his share of the inheritance from his father so he could set out on his own.  The father agreed and the younger son took the money and headed off to a far away country.  After squandering his inheritance on loose living, the son ended up working on a hog farm in a time of famine and was in the process of starving to death.  When the son came to his senses, he said, “My father’s servants are treated so much better than this.  I will go to my father.  I will throw myself on his mercy.  I will offer to become a servant and work off the money I wasted.”  So the son returned home.

Meanwhile back at the family farm, Jesus paints a picture of a lovesick father waiting and yearning for his lost son.  When the son returns, the father sees him from afar, is overwhelmed with compassion, runs to embrace him, kisses him, and announces a feast in his honor.  He will have nothing to do with his son’s plan to pay off the debt, but instead proclaims to all who will hear, “Rejoice with me.  My son who was as good as dead has come back to life.  My son who was lost has been found.” (Lk 15:23-24).

Let’s stop the narrative right here and say, “Wait just a minute.”  Are we to believe that after squandering his father’s money and inflicting the emotional pain of leaving without a trace, that all is forgiven?  What about working off the debt?  What about some probationary period to make sure the son’s change of heart is genuine?  And is Jesus’ parable really suggesting that the attitude of this father – celebrating his son’s return with forgiveness and no thought of repayment – is a picture of how God, the Father, accepts us?

That, my friends, is the absolute unadulterated beauty of the Christian message!  When we change our minds about Jesus Christ and embrace His message, all is forgiven.  There is no probationary period.  There is no “good works” requirement of being better than my neighbor, giving to charity, or performing any acts of penance.  To our calculating and cynical minds this is too good to be true.  That is the uniqueness of the Christian message.  And this free gift is being offered to you right now.

When you strip away the media caricature of Christianity, when you strip away the uninformed biases we have heard all of our lives about Christianity, at the heart of the Christian message is the story of a lovesick Father rejoicing in and accepting without reservation the person who embraces His message of good news.  And the good news is this:  Jesus Christ died for your sin problem and offers to set you free from its penalty and its power.

Yes, it is almost too good to be true, but we believe by faith that this “beautiful unfairness of grace” is indeed completely true.  And the lesson for our children is two-fold.  It is to rejoice and be grateful in the grace that was given to them free of charge.  It is to approach God as their Abba Father without fear; completely loved, forgiven, and accepted.  And it is a call to extend that grace to others.  When our families are saturated with this grace; fear, worry, and disharmony will diminish, and joy, cooperation, and love will increase.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Unmerciful Servant

In the gospels, Jesus referred to His ministry as “new wine” (Mk 2:22); not just an add-on to the old covenant, but something totally brand new.  In fact, I would say it is beyond brand new to the point of being completely revolutionary.  And one of its revolutions was the overturning of the Old Testament consequence model in favor of God’s new covenant model of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Remember, the disciples would have been steeped in the Old Testament eye-for-an-eye model prior to meeting Jesus.  So Peter was actually being quite generous in Matthew 18:21 when he asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother up to seven times.  But Jesus trumped Peter’s attempt at generosity by teaching that our forgiveness should be unlimited and illustrates this point with a story.

As with most parables, the story begins with “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a …” (Mt 18:23).  Jesus then tells the story of the unmerciful servant who after being forgiven an insurmountable debt by the king, goes out and demands payment of a tiny debt by a fellow servant to the point of putting the second fellow into debtor’s prison.  Of course, when the king hears of this he is incensed and the first servant is rightly punished.

Jesus’ point?  We should always forgive our brother just like the king – our heavenly Father – has forgiven us.  We can also learn from the parable that the offense against us is small potatoes compared to the great moral trespass we have committed toward God and of which we have been completely forgiven.

In parenting with the parables, we used this story to demonstrate to our children the value of forgiveness.  We taught our kids how to ask, extend, and receive forgiveness.  We taught them how forgiveness is a key part of love and acceptance and how these qualities all flow together.  Forgiveness is a healing antidote to sibling rivalry.  Like the attitude of generosity that we have previously written about here, it moves us away from being prisoners of a fairness and consequence model and opens our family up to the new world of love, acceptance, and forgiveness brought to us by Jesus.

It also prepares our children for the adult world.  We live in such a victim mentality culture these days.  Someone else is at fault for my dysfunction, my situation, my circumstances, my loss; and they must somehow be made to pay for my distress.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, not only flies in the face of this mentality, but models the attributes of Christ who not only forgave his literal killers, but us His spiritual killers as well.  Our sins sent Christ to the cross and in the most generous forgiveness possible, He has pronounced us “not guilty” when we accept His sacrifice in our place.

Love, acceptance, and forgiveness brings a generosity of life to our families that is a wonderful thing.  And it is a joy-filled experience to be part of.  May it be the experience in your family today.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Good Samaritan

In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus is responding to a question from a lawyer, “who wishing to justify himself”, asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29).  Jesus answered the question with a parable.

A man was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he was attacked by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road.  When a priest, travelling the same route, came upon the man, he crossed over to the other side and continued on his journey.  Next a Levite saw the injured man and also passed by on the other side.  Finally a Samaritan – despised by the religious elite who ignored the man – came upon the casualty and, moved with compassion, stopped to tend to his plight.  He bandaged the man’s wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.  Jesus ends the story with, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?” (Lk 10:36).  To which the lawyer rightly answered, “The one who showed mercy to him.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same’ ” (Lk 10:37).

The lesson of service to others demonstrated by the Samaritan is straight to the point.  Compassion is the attitude that should define our response to those in need.  Compassion is the foundation for our generosity, our hospitality, our service.  While some of us may have a more natural bent toward mercy, compassion in service to others can be taught.  And it is best taught by example.  Watching you respond to people in need speaks volumes to our children.

One morning, several years ago, Rhonda was at the kitchen sink when she saw our new neighbor sitting on the curb crying.  Rhonda walked across the street and listened to her tale of woe.  Moved by compassion, Rhonda began to give her new friend a ride to her job (part of her despair was losing her license due to an arrest), invited her family to AWANA, connected them to a church, and made a permanent difference in the life of this family.  It started with a choice to cross the street instead of look away.

Sometimes the needs of those around us can be overwhelming.  We must balance our responsibility to our own families, work, and church body that God has given us to do.  How do we choose when to respond?

Our friend, pastor Dave Gibson, used to say, “God puts people in our path that we would have to go in the ditch to get around.  They are there for us to serve.”  Rhonda and I started to put this concept into practice and taught our kids to do the same.  We would ask, “Am I going to have to go into the ditch to get around this person and their need?”  If that is the case, maybe God has put them there for me to respond with compassion, hospitality, and generosity.

Who are you “going in the ditch” to get around?  And could they be in your path by God’s design?  Good questions to ponder as we seek to follow the example of the good Samaritan.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Automatic Kingdom

“And Jesus was saying, ‘The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows – how, he himself does not know.  The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.  But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come’ ” (Mk 4:26-29).

Lest we become discouraged by the two kingdoms – the wheat and the weeds of our last parable – growing together, Jesus gives us a message of hope in the parable of the automatic kingdom.  And the message of hope is that the good kingdom will not be choked out by evil, but will grow, flourish, and prosper in the present age.  How do we know this?

There is an interesting Greek word buried in the middle of this parable.  Notice in verse 28 that the seed – the kingdom of God – is growing “by itself”.  “The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head” (Mk 4:28).  By itself is translated from the Greek word automatos; the Greek root of our English word, automatic.  We are all familiar with the word “automatic” used to describe things that seem to run “by itself”, like an automatic transmission or an automatic dishwasher.

The point is that the kingdom of God is so unstoppable that it appears to be growing automatically.  And we know from the rest of Scripture that God is causing the growth that appears to be automatic.  As Jesus proclaimed, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overpower it” (Mt 1:18).

This message of hope is a message for us and our children to not be downcast by the evil in our world.  When it does not appear to us that things are happening fast enough, when evidence of God’s growing kingdom is blurry, rest assured that God is at work.  Our role is not to fret, but to get involved and find where we can join the effort to grow the kingdom.

I recently returned from visiting some churches in a limited access country.  An elderly pastor shared with me that twenty years ago he thought the message of Christ was close to being extinguished in his country.  But his prayers never ceased, and the flame never went out.  And now he is thanking and praising the Lord as an incredible gospel wind is blowing through his country.  We cannot predict where the wind will blow or where a new outpost of the kingdom of God will sprout in full bloom.  But we have the assurance of Jesus, that the fire will never go out.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Wheat and the Weeds

Like so many of Jesus’ parables, the story of the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:24-30) begins with “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  What is coming next is a word picture describing some aspect of the kingdom of God.  In this parable, the farmer planted wheat (“the good seed”) in his field.  At night, his enemy came and sowed weeds.  At first no one realized the sabotage.  But as the wheat and the weeds began to grow together, it was obvious something was wrong.  The confused workers quizzed the farmer, “Did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?” (Mt 13:27).  The farmer recognizes this as the work of an enemy.  The workers respond with a willingness to immediately yank out the weeds.  But the farmer replies, “No, lest while you are gathering up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’ “ (Mt 13:29-30).

At the disciples’ request, Jesus gives the interpretation of the parable in Matthew 13:37-43.  “And He answered and said, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the weeds are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.  Therefore just as the weeds are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear.’ “

The point of this parable is that good and evil – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil – are growing alongside each other in the present age.  And this understanding leads to important lessons for us and our children.

When our children are discouraged by the evil in the world, this parable is a great starting point for a discussion of Satan and his current role in the world.  God does have an arch-enemy.  And for reasons I can’t explain but are taught in this parable and throughout the New Testament, God has given some level of reign over this world to Satan.  “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19) is just one of many references to Satan’s current rule in this world.

We don’t like this “growing alongside” and would like to see the Old Testament method for dealing with evil put to use today.  The Old Testament model was God’s blessing for righteousness and punishment for evil were generally immediate, physical, and temporal.  Evil was not allowed to grow alongside righteousness.  That is what the workers had in mind in the parable.  “Should we use the Old Testament method and yank out these weeds on sight?  God replied, “Allow both to grow until the judgment at the end of the age.”  The banishment of evil and evildoers is coming, but not yet.  We would like to see evil destroyed in the here and now.

So when you see evil flourish, when you see the wicked prosper, do not despair.  God’s kingdom is growing and at work and will ultimately triumph.  This parable is meant to be an encouragement when we are discouraged by the power of evil in the world, including its presence in our own experience and our families and our community of believers.  God has ordained that the two kingdoms not only co-exist but grow alongside each other in the present age.  But God’s kingdom will not only triumph in the end, it will continue to grow and bloom in the church age.  And this growing kingdom for good is the topic of our next post.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Humble Servant

Parenting is the ultimate and varied balancing act.  Balancing love and control.  Balancing grace and truth.  Balancing positive self-esteem and humility.  Balancing giving an allowance and children earning their money.  The list can be as general or specific as we choose.  Today, we are balancing generosity with duty.

“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?  But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’?  He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves, we have only done our duty’ ” (Lk 17:7-10).

In this short story, the landowner probably had only one slave who worked in the field and in the house.  When the slave was finished in the field, he was expected to prepare and serve dinner to the landowner before having time to himself.  There is no evidence that the landowner is harsh or callous, it is just the work that is expected of a slave in this culture.  In doing what was required, the slave did not do anything outstanding.

This parable portrays God as the master and we as the servant.  Following the servant’s example, when we have done our duty – “all the things which are commanded us” – we have merely done what is required; nothing more, nothing less.

Duty is obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or a function that arises from one’s position.  Our position is both slave and son of Christ.  We have a spiritual duty in both cases to do all that which is commanded.

Adults and kids alike do not generally like the word “duty”.  We want to be free to work or serve as we like.  We don’t like routine or obligatory jobs.  We don’t like things expected of us.  We want to treat each day as an open book.  But each day has responsibilities, chores, and expectations.  And this parable is a good foundation for teaching our children the value and importance of duty.  Learning to work, carrying out their duty, is a quality that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Now let’s be careful not to oversell the application of any one parable.  Our interpretation must fit the whole of Scripture.  A dad must not interpret this story as “I never need to thank or reward my child for doing their duty.”  That would exasperate our kids; something we are commanded not to do.  We need to balance the duty expectation with the practice of generosity; the way that Christ treats us.  Our attitude is not to always be looking for the reward, but it is great to give the reward for a job well done.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Workers in the Vineyard

Today’s parable found in Matthew 20:1-16 starts with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out to hire laborers…”  Let me summarize the story.

A landowner has a lot of work that needs done in his vineyard.  Most likely, he needs workers to gather the harvest.  He goes out at six in the morning to the place where the day laborers congregate.  He hires a group of them and agrees to pay them one denarius, the going daily wage, for a day’s work in his vineyard.

The landowner goes back to the gathering place at three-hour intervals; i.e. at 9 am, noon, and 3 pm.  Notice the agreement he makes with the later workers, “You go to the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give to you.”  The “denarius for a day’s work” agreement is only with the first workers.  Finally, at 5 pm, with only an hour left in the working day, he goes back to the gathering place to find some unemployed workers still standing around.  Assuming they have been without work all day, they may have been the most unpromising workers.  At any rate, he hires them also; probably more out of compassion than for what they can accomplish in only one hour.

Now it is paycheck time.  Beginning with the last (one hour) workers, the master gives each laborer a denarius, no matter how long they worked.  Of course, this looks quite generous regarding the later workers so those first hired are expecting even more.  However, the first workers also receive a denarius and immediately grumble about it.  The master explains that they are getting a fair wage, exactly the wage they agreed to.  They protest that it is not fair, but the landowner kindly reminds them that, in fact, it is exactly fair.

Verse 15 and 16 is the climax of the story, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?  Or is your eye envious because I am generous?  So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Mt 20:15-16).  In other words, the landowner said, “Do I have a right to do what I want with my money?  Or are you envious because I am being generous?

This parable is focused on the incredible generosity of God’s grace.  God’s generosity has surprising upside-down effects even extending to “the last shall be first, and the first last.”  The coming of God’s kingdom was good news to the outcast, and bad news to the rich and powerful.  God’s grace is extremely generous.  And sometimes when we are already in the “in crowd”, we think it is too generous.

As you read the gospels, are you surprised by Jesus’ response to the prodigal son or the sinful woman who anointed His feet?  In these and many other instances, there was no thought of a probationary period to see if their repentance was real before Jesus extended His forgiveness.  Shouldn’t we wait and see if they prove their sincerity by their actions?  No, God’s grace is beautifully unfair in its generosity.

What about a lesson here for kids?

If you have more than one child in your family, you will run into the fairness issue about a million times in your child training years.  As parents, it is easy to get caught up in the fairness trap.  But it is a time, emotion, and energy drain.  It is not the way God treats us.  God has no commitment to our idea of fairness.

How does this work in practice?  I call it parenting with generosity, not fairness.  First, let me tell you what it is not.  Parenting with generosity is not parenting with favoritism or partiality.  We tried to make things as fair as possible in giving Christmas gifts, assigning jobs, in giving an allowance.  And we made every effort to celebrate the value of each child and build a relationship with each one, just as God does with us.

What parenting with generosity is is saying yes to individual opportunities without excessive worry over fairness repercussions.  If fairness in our number one goal, it is easy to say “no” to things over a worry that if I say yes to this, it will only force me to do this for the others as well.  Generosity frees us up to say “yes, we can do that” in a variety of situations.  And since saying “Yes!” as often as possible was one of the core values of our family, a generous spirit plays right into that.

In our family, it looked like this.  One of our children, who shall remain nameless, had a habit of complaining if we went out to lunch while they were occupied at class or at someone else’s house.  They viewed it as unfair that Mom and the other kids had a lunch out without them.  If the complaint made it to me, I kindly asked if they were envious of my generosity to the others.

Or how about this egregious unfairness.  We had a weekly schedule that included two hours of house cleaning on Friday or Saturday morning that all the kids participated in.  They loved to make a chart – in which they tried to take up half the two-hour time in preparing it – of who was going to clean where.  Somehow it seemed that Elizabeth, the fastest worker, would end up with the whole upstairs while the remaining kids divided up the down.

On paper it appeared unfair, but it accomplished the task that was fastest for all.  We honored Elizabeth for using her gift for the benefit of her siblings.  If she had insisted on fairness in dividing up the square feet, it would have taken longer for all.  She demonstrated a commitment to generosity over fairness.

This concept played itself out over and over in our family.  Our kids did not get their driver’s license at all the same age.  We focused on what was right for each child.  They did not all take the same classes in school.  They did not participate in the same extra-curricular activities.  They did not all go to the same college, and we were not bound to spend exactly the same amount for each child on their college expenses.  Some contributed more of their own money commensurate with very different job opportunities.  The important part wasn’t the amount, it was the principle that they contributed what they could.

I hope this gives  you a taste of the freedom that parenting with generosity gives you.  Not only is it a blessing to your children, but it is following God’s example of how He treats us.  And it gives your children a better chance of going through life without a chip on their shoulder about getting what they deserve.  They learn the wonderful balance of being thankful for what they receive while at the same time being a generous friend to others.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Persistent Widow

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.  There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” ‘  And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; likewise, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ ” (Lk 18:1-8).

Jesus lays out the point of this story in the first verse.  Jesus is teaching His followers to pray at all times and to not lose heart; to not give up.  The widow in this parable is honored for her persistence.  And Jesus connects her persistence to our own persistence in prayer with His promise that “likewise” God will bring justice to His children who call upon Him.

If we focus too strongly on seeing God as represented by the unrighteous judge, we may conclude that our prayers “bother” God to the point of forcing an answer out of Him.  But that is not the point at all.  Jesus is not comparing God to the judge.  He is contrasting God with the judge.  And the key to understanding this is the little “likewise” comparison is verse 7.  A better translation of that connection would be “how much more” (see Matthew 7:11) rather than “likewise”.  God is not like the judge – answering our requests out of an attitude of annoyance – but is much more in favor of answering our prayers out of our relationship – we being the elect or chosen ones.

In short, our prayers do not “bother” God; they “honor” God.

Let’s turn now to the words “will He delay long” and “quickly” since quick is not always our experience.  We know from the rest of Scripture that God’s “delays” are for our good, not out of obstinance like the unrighteous judge.  They are rather designed to teach us two lessons which this parable highlights.

First, we need to be persistent in our prayers.  As Dave Gibson has shared many times, “When it comes to prayer, it is never too late to start and it is always too soon to quit.”

Second, we need to pray in faith.  This requirement is given in the end of verse 8.  Regarding our prayers, Jesus asks, “Will I find this kind of faith on the earth.”  Will He find those who pray persistently and expectantly?  Will He find those whose prayers are infused with faith?  We have written many times in these pages about the importance of faith in living the Christian life.  And here, Jesus highlights it as invaluable to this aspect of living the life; our prayers.

So what lessons does this parable have for our children?

  1. We honor God with our prayers.
  2. We need to be persistent in our prayers.
  3. We need to pray in faith.

As our lives and schedules get busy and overbooked, it is easy to send family prayers to the back burner.  Please fight that inclination.  Teaching our children to pray and teaching them Jesus’ lessons on prayer will stay with them the rest of their lives.

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Parenting with the Parables – The Two Sons

“Jesus said to the chief priests and elders, ‘What do you think?  A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.”  And the son answered, “I will not”; but afterward regretted it and went.  The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, “I will, sir”; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?’  They said, ‘The first.’  Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him’ ” (Mt 21:28-32).

The second son in this story represents the religious establishment of Jesus’ day.  They loudly proclaimed their commitment to God and in theory were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God.  But when John the Baptist announced the coming of the kingdom, they rejected him.

The first son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, a class of citizens often referred to as “sinners”.  They had been rejecting God’s call on their life.  However, when John appeared, they responded enthusiastically to the announcement of the kingdom of God.  They ultimately were the ones who “did the will of the father”.

How does this apply to our parenting?  We are all familiar with the smooth talking kid; the polite child who sounds obedient but never seems to follow through.  They are like the second son, saying “yes” to obedience but going their own way.

This parable teaches our children that the right choice is obedience like the first son.  Even if they are not excited about it, they are to follow through on their commitments.  We want action, not just talk.  We want doers of the word, not just hearers – or talkers.

We want obedience even if that action is not accompanied by a good attitude.  In our early child training years, we concentrated more on obedience than attitude.  Even begrudging obedience was better than a cheerful attitude that never quite got around to finishing the job.  Does this mean that attitude is not important?  No, and in fact we will get to some parables that teach a godly attitude while doing our jobs.  I am just saying that attitude is more of a long-term project while obedience is easily measured in each situation.

I will also add, on a personal note, the value of modeling the lessons of the parables that we are trying to teach.  My wife, Rhonda, is a stellar “doer of the word”.  There is not a person I know who takes this charge more to heart.  Her compassionate “doing” rather than “talking about it” was a great example for our children.  And I say as humbly as I can, they caught the message.

Teach and model for your children the obedience of the first son.  Even if the attitude still needs some work, reward the obedience.

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Parenting with the Parables – Introduction

As parents, we have a mandate to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).  The backbone for accomplishing this training program is through the pages of Scripture.  And one of the themes that Rhonda and I found particularly appealing in teaching our children were the parables of Jesus.

When Jesus was here in the flesh, He primarily taught His followers in three ways: through direct instruction (the Sermon on the Mount), by His example (washing His disciples feet), and by storytelling (the parables).  Each of these methods has an appropriate time and place in how we teach our children.

In this upcoming series of posts, we will focus on what we learn from His storytelling; what we learn in the parables of Jesus.  The parables are a description of what living in God’s kingdom looks like.  Many of the parables begin with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or its synonym, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”.  And the wide range of stories that Jesus told give us insight both into the theology of the kingdom as well as its everyday application.

I like to think of our families as little outposts of God’s kingdom here on earth; a place where God’s reign is evident.  With that picture in mind, I propose we launch off into our series with an eye toward what we and our children can learn about kingdom living from the parables of Jesus.

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The Transaction

On a recent trip, I had the joy of seeing many people make “the transaction”; a conscious choice to embrace the good news of Christ, a choice to believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins on the cross and in so believing crossed from death to life.  The scriptural foundation for the transaction is found throughout the New Testament and is maybe best summarized by Jesus Himself in John 5:24, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned but has crossed over from death to life.”

I bring this up because in recent years it seems that an increasing number of Christian authors have sought to downplay the transaction.  In the vein of feeling the need to see some fruit to verify belief, these writers question the biblical basis for this one time decision, often accompanied by what we call “a sinner’s prayer”.  I think the angst boils down to the intellectual difficulty that reformed-minded teachers have with someone making a decision for Christ and then not appearing to follow through.  This reality does not fit their “once saved, always saved” theology so they are forced to conclude that without some fruit to show for it the decision did not really happen.

I think we make a mistake when we interpret the transaction in a “once saved, always saved” vs “you can lose your salvation” debate.  I prefer to interpret it in terms of the parable of the sower.  And I prefer the term “falling away” (as per Jesus’ example) for those who do not follow through rather than the idea of “losing one’s salvation” as if it happens by accident, like losing your keys.

Falling away is by choice, not by accident.  In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9), Jesus outlines four types of soil as a picture of the various responses to the “word of the kingdom”.  Let’s go straight to Jesus’ interpretation of the seed that fell on rocky ground.  “The one on whom seed [the word of the kingdom] was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Mt 13:20-21).  When temporary happens, it rocks our theological boxes.  But it happens.

I had a friend in college who lived in my dorm.  After over a year of discussion and prayer and interaction, he prayed to receive Christ.  There was no reason to believe he was insincere.  However, after a trip home to see his Jewish family over spring break, he told me that he had changed his mind and abandoned the faith.  There is no joy on my part that somehow because he made a decision at one time it must last forever so he is really still a believer.  There is also no reason to think that his decision was not sincere in some measure.  The bottom line: he chose to embrace the faith, but just like the seed in the rocky soil that temporarily flourished, he made a conscious choice to go back on his decision.

There may be some theological disagreement on whether my friend was ever “saved” or instead always had seeds of doubt that eventually led to him rejecting the faith.  I like to think of the transaction, when it is sincere, as receiving a ticket to heaven.  That ticket cannot be lost, cannot be stolen, cannot be left in a drawer and forgotten.  You cannot lose your ticket.  It is completely safe and protected.  Can you ever, of your own free will, return your ticket and proclaim that you are no longer a Christ follower?  For various reasons having to do with the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, I lean toward the idea that when temporary happens there were seeds of doubt, salvation never took root, and the transaction was never finalized.

But just because temporary happens, we should not downplay the importance of the transaction.  I think it is best to describe salvation as a process.  For many, a one time decision often accompanied by a prayer completes the process in several minutes and like the seed that fell on the good soil, they move forward into the Christian life and never look back.  For others, they appear to believe with an initial decision only to see the new life never take hold.  They do not follow through on their decision and the new life dies before it has a chance to take root.  Our prayer is that someday they return and embrace the good news for good.  Others make the decision over a long period of time and one day realize without much drama, “I believe”.

The role of the lost is to believe.  The role of the saved is to plant the seed.  Only in the faithful planting can we be assured that some of the seed will land on good soil.

Does all this suggest we need to see some fruit to confirm one’s decision.  I don’t believe that is what the Bible teaches.  The message of the New Testament, as amplified by the story of the prodigal father (as Tim Keller points out, it is really the father who is the prodigal since he acts completely out of expectations by unconditionally forgiving his son) is a message of the “beautiful unfairness of grace”.  The son, upon his return and repentance, was completely forgiven by the father’s grace with no probationary period to see if he was sincere.  There was absolutely no works requirement.  His salvation was instant and beautifully unfair.  That is how grace works, and it is how our salvation works.

Jesus drives the point home even more directly in the gospel of John where He states over and over that believing in Him is the path to eternal life.  The crowd even asks what work they can do to get in.  Following the feeding of the 5000, Jesus said, ” ‘Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.’  Therefore the crowd said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ ”  (Jn 6:27-29).  Believe is the operative word.  There is only one work required to obtain and confirm our salvation; to believe in the One [Jesus] whom God has sent.

Salvation may be a process, but somewhere along the way a transaction takes place.  Somewhere along the way we choose to believe, and by believing we cross over from death to eternal life.

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Walking by Faith – Overcoming the Enemy

You may recall this encounter between Jesus and one of Satan’s minions from Matthew chapter 17.

“When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.  I brought him to Your disciples and they could not cure him.’  And Jesus answered and said, ‘You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring him here to Me.’  And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.  Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’  And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith’ ” (Mt 17:14-20).

“Because of the littleness of your faith.”  Our primary weapon against the attacks of Satan is our faith.  Now be aware that life is complicated.  And I don’t believe that we can just snap our faith fingers and Satan goes running.  But one thing I do understand is that I don’t want the littleness of my faith to be the reason Satan is winning a particular skirmish.  I don’t want a lack of faith to be the cause of my or your downfall.  Our faith matters.  Our faith makes a difference in the outcome.

Yes, Satan is a defeated foe, an assured loser in the war on God.  But until that final battle, Satan is working to disrupt God’s rule upon the earth.  And he is quite adept at throwing accusations, reasons for discouragement, and temptations our way.  We defeat Satan by our faith, that is, by believing God’s promises in the face of Satan’s accusations.

God’s promise in the unseen world:  Your old nature was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6); sin is no longer your master (Rom 6:14).  Application to the seen world:  Don’t believe Satan’s lies.  Satan makes his living by lying, and he makes his living among believers by lying to them about God’s divine facts.  He highlights our sin and minimizes our victories.  He accuses us in the areas of our besetting sins and diminishes God’s promised power over sin in our lives.  His lies and accusations are overcome by faith; by believing the promises of God.  God says that your sin nature was nailed to a cross with Christ (Rom 6:6).  God says that sin is no longer your master (Rom 6:14).  God says you are His holy and beloved child (Col 3:12).

Paul comes back to the faith and Satan theme in his famous passage about the armor of God.  “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16).  The shield of faith – put into action by walking by faith – is our primary weapon in the fight with Satan.  May you wield it often.

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Walking by Faith – Your New Heart

As I reflect on the promise of Good Friday and Easter, I am excited to write about another of God’s gifts that were secured by Christ’s death and resurrection.  The gift of a new heart.

Promise in the unseen world:  You have been given a new heart (Ez 26:36).  Your old deceptively wicked heart has been removed.  Application to the seen world:  You can trust your heart.  The heart, as used in the Bible, is the center of your will, thoughts, motives, understanding, and actions.  It represents the essence of who you are.  And suffice it to say, your old deceptively wicked heart was too far gone to clean up.  So God removed it and gave you a new heart to go along with your new birth.

Your new heart has a natural bent toward God.  You may not feel it all the time.  In fact, you may think there are some pretty close similarities to your old crummy heart.  But as we have seen all along, we believe by faith in the gifts of God that we cannot see with our eyes or feel with our skin.  And one of these gifts is a new heart.

So now you can trust your heart.  You don’t always have to be second guessing your choices and motives.  We are so often taught that basically if we think it up it must be wrong since our heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked”.  But you do not have that heart anymore.  It has been sent to the trash heap.  Your new heart is in tune with your new master, Jesus Christ.

Do we always feel like it is in tune?  Do we always act like it is in tune?  No, as with all things on this faith journey, it is a process; a practice in walking by faith.  But Christ is the Master Tuner.  And your conscience – the seat in your heart of your right and wrong choices – is being trained by the Master.  You can trust your conscience.  It no longer has an ounce of depravity in it.

God’s ways, God’s laws, God’s mind is standard equipment in the new heart (Heb 8:10).  It is not a option that only the super saints possess.  Thank the Lord today that your old heart and your old nature were crucified on the cross with Christ this very day so many years ago.  And show your thanks by living into all the new you now possess.  Happy death, burial and resurrection weekend!

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Walking by Faith – The Spirit Inside

Let’s look at some more ideas of how we put God’s promise of a new identity into action.

Promise in the unseen world:  God’s Spirit now lives inside you (Rom 8:11).  Application to the seen world:  Because you believe the promise by faith, you act like His Spirit is living inside you.  You can’t see it, you probably can’t feel it, but you know God lives in you.  So you begin to live as if it were true.  What does “living as if it were true” look like?

For starters, you believe that your body is God’s dwelling place (I Cor. 6:19).  So you change some habits that you know God would not do dwelling inside you.  In the face of temptation, you literally ask yourself, “How would God act or react to this situation if He was living here inside me?  O wait, HE IS!”

You also begin to understand that God is not only dwelling inside you, but is speaking to you as well.  So you start to seek God’s voice.  You develop an ear to hear His guidance and direction.  Is the direction always clear?  No, there are often loud and competing voices.  But we believe by faith that He is speaking, so we keep listening…and following.

Another promise in the unseen world:  You have joined God’s family; God’s seed dwells in you (I Jn 3:9).  Application to the seen world:  You now have a family resemblance to God and His Son, Jesus.  It is not a physical resemblance, it is a moral resemblance; a likeness in righteousness and character (I Jn 2:29).

Think about how resemblance works in your physical family.  When our daughter Elizabeth and I were working in the same downtown building, I got on the elevator one day with her and her co-workers.  She immediately introduced me around, but before she got very far, her friends exclaimed, “Of course, we know that is your dad.  You can see the family resemblance.”

God intends it to work the same in the moral world.  As a new creation, He has created me to look like Christ in character and righteousness.  So I check myself.  How am I doing at living into the resemblance; at looking like Christ?  In the small town where I grew up, I was known as Adrian’s son.  And a desire to keep my father’s reputation intact was one element of my effort to stay on the straight and narrow.  Likewise, one of my motivations to resist temptation and to imitate Christ is to keep my Father’s reputation intact.  People will judge what God’s character is like by how His family members conduct themselves.

The important thing to remember is that this is not a family resemblance that we earn through some probationary period of good works.  The resemblance is already planted by God’s seed.  It is now up to us to live, in the seen and temporal world, as if it were true; which, of course, in the unseen and eternal world, IT IS!

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Walking by Faith – Your New Identity

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor 5:7) is a short verse with incredible depth.  Set against sight as its opposite, walking by faith is walking in the principles of the unseen world of the spirit.  It helps me to think of our lives as living in two worlds at the same time.  In the unseen and eternal world, you became a brand new person when you received Christ.  All the provisions and promises of the New Covenant came true for you in an instant.  It may sound mysterious, but the unseen and eternal world is just as real as the black letters on this screen or page.

But what about that other world, the seen and temporal world that we are more familiar with?  In this world, you may not have noticed much change at your point of salvation.  In the initial before and after Christ, you may look the same, you may feel the same, your personality may be unchanged, your challenges did not immediately  go away, etc.  In short, the immediate change in your temporal world before and after Christ varies greatly among believers.

So growing and maturing in the Christian life boils down to this.  It is the process, sometimes slow and gradual, sometimes rapid, of taking all you know to be true about the new you – things you know are true by faith – and bringing its application into your every day experience.  Let me put it this way.

Promise in the unseen world:  You have a new identity (II Cor 5:17).  Your new self is “created in the likeness of God; in righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).  Application to the seen world:  As you begin your life in Christ, you may not feel like righteousness defines who you are.  In fact, you may feel like sin is still your propensity.  You have a conscious choice to make.  Are you going to live by faith – believing you have a completely new and righteous nature – or live by sight?  The apostle Paul calls living by faith “putting on the new self”.  You now have the ability to make large and small choices to live as if the “new self” is who you really are.

When you are tempted to anger and want to blow up at your children, you can literally say to yourself, “Hey, anger is not who I am in my new identity”, and choose patience.  When that ad for a suggestive website scrolls across your monitor, you can literally say to yourself, “Hey, lust is not who I am in my new identity”, and choose to pass on going there.  When you desire to use a power play to gain a leg up on a co-worker in your competitive work environment, you can literally say to yourself, “Hey, seeking their good is who I am in my new identity”, and work to aid their success.

Now this may all sound theoretical and impractical in the heat of the moment, in the throes of temptation, but this is literally what we must learn to do.  We talk back to temptation by reminding ourselves of who we are in Christ.  We talk back to temptation by reminding ourselves of God’s promise of a new power over sin.  And when we do this, we find that what started out as basically a practice in willpower to not sin becomes an experience of His power to overcome sin. We begin to learn, embrace by faith, and experience that sin is no longer my master.

Do I ever stumble?  Of course.  Do I ever sin?  Of course.  The maturing process is just that:  a process.  But what I can guarantee is that as you practice living into your new identity, you will more and more experience God’s resurrection power in the everyday path of real life.

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The Necessity of Faith

Several times on this website, I have written about the two parts of the gospel.  The first part of the good news is the gospel for unbelievers.  It centers around the transaction; the move from death to life (Rom 6:23); the transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13); joining God’s family (Gal 3:26); all brought about by believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life (Jn 6:40).  The second part of the gospel – equally good news – is the gospel for believers.  It is all about how we live the life; how we live the Christian life; how we live the supernatural Christian life.

Both parts of the gospel, the transaction and living the life, are grasped by faith.  The gospel is believed, embraced, attained, and laid hold of by faith.  The initial move from “wages of sin is death” to “free gift of God is eternal life” is by faith.  “For by grace you have been saved though faith” (Eph 2:8).  This universal verse applies to all people who believe; to all who exercise faith in Christ for their salvation.

But Jesus also highlighted the need for faith in His individual encounters as well.  In the last section of Luke chapter 7, Jesus visits the home of Simon, a Pharisee.  While reclining at the table, a woman known to be a sinner crashes the party and begins to anoint Jesus’ feet.  After engaging Simon in a parable about two debtors, Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Your sins have been forgiven…your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk 7:48,50).

Just as faith is required to enter the kingdom, faith is also a necessity for kingdom living; the life we live after the transaction.  This is the theme of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  He keeps asking his readers, “Having been justified by faith rather than by works of the Law, why are you now returning to the Law to live the life?  It doesn’t make sense.  Just as your initial salvation was by faith, even so your new life is lived by faith.”

The first step to living by faith is to believe that your old man, the man with the sin propensity, has been crucified with Christ.  “For I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).  The experience of living the exchanged life, that is, Christ living His life through me is embraced by faith.

So living by faith essentially comes down to this.  Faith is how we take the promises of the unseen world – Christ living in me by His Spirit and all the newness that entails – and bring them to pass in the seen world where we live each day.  We will start exploring the “how to’s” next post.

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“Finders Keepers”

I have a suspicion that my road to becoming a geophysicist was paved by a childhood fascination with finding things; specifically, with finding treasures.  When I was a child, my bedroom was filled with collections of baseball cards, matchbooks, shiny stones, and all kinds of interesting stuff.  I liked finding things.  And my day job shows that I still do.

So you can imagine my attachment to this quote from Dan Stone in his book, The Rest of the Gospel.  “But I have discovered that through union with Christ, I am no longer a seeker.  I am a finder.  Jesus said the kingdom of God is where?  In us.  Every kingdom has a king.  And the King lives in us.  The basic definition of the kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God.  That is exactly what has taken place in our heart.  So we are no longer seeking the kingdom.  We’re finders.  Whatever the kingdom of God may look like in the future in the external, it has already begun internally for us.”

We are finders.  Jesus said in Luke chapter 11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened” (Lk 11:9-10).  Jesus’ promise is the if we seek, we will find.  It is very easy to get stuck in the seeking…the striving, the laboring, the working to somehow achieve what God has already given us.  The reward for the seeking is not a carrot that keeps moving ahead of us, always just out of our reach.  No, Jesus’ promise is that you will find it.

And what is it that we will find?  Christ in you the hope of glory (Col 1:27).  God’s kingdom in you (Lk 17:21).  God’s Spirit in you (I Cor 6:19); guiding you, energizing you, empowering you.  You will find Christ literally living His life through you (Gal 2:20).

Now, you may be thinking that all these discoveries sound swell in theory.  You may be convinced that somewhere in the unseen world all these things are true about us.  But when you look down into the world where we live each day, faced with sometimes challenging and with sometimes outright terrifying choices, how do we put these eternal principles into every day action?  How do we put the promise – our new life hidden in Christ, wrapped up inside and out with His presence – together with the reality of our experience each day?

The short answer is to live by faith.  The word faith appears about 240 times in the New Testament alone.  And it is vital to experiencing the supernatural in the world we inhabit.  The long answer is to live by faith and we will take the next several weeks exploring its implications.

For now, let’s celebrate our new life in Christ; a life filled with resurrection power that is yours for keeps.  It truly is “finders keepers.”

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Why I Write

In the movie, Chariots of Fire, Olympian and future missionary Eric Liddell famously told his sister, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  When and where do you feel God’s pleasure?  I feel it when I write.

Admittedly, I began this blog several years ago with an agenda.  I perceived an imbalance in our common teaching on living the Christian life.  I felt the emphasis was too negative, too focused on the overwhelming power of sin in our lives, too critical of ourselves and our fellow believers.  I sought to bring the pendulum back by explaining all that became new at our new birth.  I unpacked the provisions of the New Covenant – including our new label as holy and beloved (Col 3:12) – and what they meant for living the supernatural Christian life.

When I started writing, I probably had 20 or 30 posts in my head.  To my surprise, the more I wrote, the more the ideas came flooding in.  Now, 300 posts later, my motivation has changed.  My emphasis is still the same, but I no longer write to put forth a theological agenda or a persuasive argument to support my position.  Without being presumptuous, I write to be God’s messenger and to feel His presence.  As I read God’s Word, I am compelled to explain – in the clearest terms possible – the Message He has conveyed.

As a geophysicist, I also have an unusual platform and maybe an uncommon approach.  Geologists and geophysicists have the whole world as a laboratory.  Hence, we are trained to think “big picture”.  We are trained to process large amounts of data – some of it contradictory – and uncover the “truth” about what is going on beneath and on the earth’s surface.

When I apply this training to reading Scripture, I see the Bible as an epic story of redemption.  I am not bothered by apparent contradictions.  I am not concerned with mysteries that seem to remain mysteries.  I have no problem separating the “Old” from the “New” while also celebrating their combined contribution to the story.  I see the Old Testament for what it is:  God’s old arrangement with man.  And peeking through that arrangement are pictures of something new; the coming Savior.  I see the New Testament for what it is:  God’s new arrangement with man, and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.  I think because I have learned to change my geophysical interpretation with new data and information, I am comfortable with God changing His arrangement with man without any diminishing of His sovereignty or greatness.

Geophysicists are not 100 percenters.  We can celebrate, explain, and understand what we do know without having to know all of it.  Does that make sense?  I don’t need everything in the Bible to fit into neat theological pigeonholes to get excited about the Message.  I am content to let the Bible speak for itself.  And I believe when we do that, we encounter a Message that is coherent, dynamic, and mysterious all at the same time.  It is a Message that is alive, filled with resurrection power.

Early geophysical pioneers, with their primitive listening equipment had a phrase, “Let the earth speak to you.”  It seems a little corny now.  But I guess that is what I am saying about Scripture.  In my writing, I try to let Scripture speak for itself without a lot of theological system overtones.  I try to provide just enough commentary to help others put the big picture together, including how all these incredible concepts like the New Covenant apply to our daily lives.

Anyway, several of you have asked about where I get my ideas and my motivation.  A surprising result of “just starting” with post #1 several years ago has been the sense of God’s presence as I write.  May you experience His presence in the endeavors He has given you to do.

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Freedom From the Performance Trap

Another freedom our new identity affords us is freedom from the performance trap.  How many of us measure our worth by our performance; or more specifically, by how others react to our performance?

Ryan Kwon writes, in the context of church planting, about the performance trap.  “The gospel says, it was through Christ’s performance, not our performance, which makes our adoption possible.  So now He accepts us as His own, and that is our primary and supreme identity.  The world tells me, ‘I am what I do.’  But the gospel tells me, ‘I do what I am.’  For the Christian, our identity precedes our activity.  So our identity is not based on winning, or losing, on a big church, or a small church.  God can’t love us any more, and He can’t love us any less.  He cannot give us a higher identity than the status of perfection.  Through this gospel identity we release our insecurities and our turf wars.  As a result, it releases the mission of God into our cities.”

“Our identity precedes our activity.”  I like that.  We so often get this turned around.  We think we earn our identity by our performance.  Take, for example, the gift of generosity.  We think we earn the label of “generous person” because we give our money away.  But in reality, if generosity is one of your gifts, then you already are a generous person because God gave you that gift.  Giving money away is not to earn the label, it is the fruit of the gift.  Are we splitting hairs here?  Does it really matter which came first, the identity or the activity?

I think it does for this reason.  When we recognize that our identity is wrapped up in who we are in Christ, we find our joy, our confidence, our self-worth in that new identity.  We do not rely on the opinion of others to validate who Christ already says we are.  When we find our value in what we accomplish in our activity…our joy, our confidence, and our self-worth are much more fluid being carried on the whims of what we or others think of our performance.

The world says, “I am defined by what I do, by what I have accomplished.”  God says, “You do what you do, you accomplish what you do, because of who you already are.”  Do you see the distinction?  It is not an excuse for laziness or lack of accomplishment.  God has given us plenty of good works to do.  It is a matter of motivation.  Stop seeing success as the key to your identity.  Instead, see your identity as the driving force behind doing what you do.  And when you do this, you will be set free from the performance trap.

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Humility and Dignity

I once heard a speaker in a business setting say that he had no ego.  I had the same reaction that is probably going through your head right now, “Of course, he has an ego.  We all do.”  But as I thought about it later, I conceded that maybe pride is not an issue for him.  It is easy for me to project my challenges with pride onto others.  Do you think it is common for us to project our own besetting sins onto others and assume they are weighed down with the same issues?

Because of reactions like mine, humility is a hard topic to write about.  You can’t very well say it is something you have attained and come across as genuine.  It is even hard to give tips on how to reach for it.  I think one of the challenges is the way Christians confuse humility and dignity.

We too often equate humility with a denigration of dignity.  We assault our New Testament dignity by calling ourselves poor wretched sinners.  We somehow think seeing ourselves as basically worthless is a sign of humility.  I actually think it is calling God a liar since he has labeled us holy and beloved saints.  His label for us is where our dignity begins.

Our dignity comes from the fact that we are worthy to appear in God’s presence as holy and beloved saints; infused with the very righteousness of Christ.  And this righteousness is not just a covering of our sin, but is a real life infusion; an indwelling of supernatural proportions.  Our dignity comes from the fact that we are worthy to boldly approach God’s throne.  And our humility comes from the fact that we had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Our dignity is pure gift.

I like this distinction between dignity and humility.  I have said before that humility is not a bright person thinking they are unintelligent.  It is not a generous person thinking themselves a Scrooge.  It is not a talented person thinking they have no skill.  It is not a successful parent thinking of themselves as a failure.  Humility is giving God the credit for all those accomplishments.  It is giving God the glory for your talent, your brain, your understanding of the Word, your ability to communicate, your generosity, your parenting skills, and thanking Him for these gifts.

Humility is an attitude.  An attitude of thanksgiving and deflecting the glory from ourselves to our God, the giver of all good gifts.  It is not a denigration of our dignity.  You are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, complete in Christ…and there is no inherent arrogance in believing that!

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Free From Selfish Ambition

Another freedom that comes from our new heart, new nature, and new disposition is the freedom from selfish ambition.  Throughout the New Testament, the apostles highlight selfish ambition as one of our worst enemies.  James writes, “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, and demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:14-16).

Selfish ambition is arrogance unchecked.  Selfish ambition is earthly, natural, and demonic.  Selfish ambition sows seeds of discord, disorder, and every evil thing.  We and our selfish ambition really are our last and worst enemy.  So what is the remedy?

The cure for selfish ambition is its opposite; humility of mind.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard each other as more important than yourselves…Have the same mind as Jesus Christ who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:3, 5-8).  We are to have the same humility of mind as modeled by Jesus when He humbled Himself.

Do you know that this humility of mind is available to you?  Do you know that if you have received Christ, you have been indwelt with the mind of Christ?  In I Corinthians chapter 2, the apostle Paul highlights the fact that we have been given the mind of Christ.  “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised” (I Cor 2:14).  To the natural man, humility appears to be foolish.  To the spiritual man, we see its great value.  And we can appraise things spiritually because we “have been given the mind of Christ” (I Cor 2:16).  This short last phrase of chapter 2 almost seems to appear in passing, “We have been given the mind of Christ.”  But it is extremely powerful to dwell on.

Did you know you have the mind of Christ?  Now put that mind into action by embracing the humility of Christ (Phil 2:5-8) and letting Him set you free from selfish ambition!

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The Gospel for Believers

The latest buzzword in Christian publishing is “the gospel”.  From J. D. Greear’s straightforward title, The Gospel:  Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, to Timothy Keller’s Center Church:  Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.  Overall, this is a positive direction as we seek to rediscover the core of the gospel message for the church.  But what exactly is “the gospel”?

The gospel literally means “good news”.  And I think we can divide this “good news” into two forms.  First is the gospel for unbelievers.  It is a gospel message we are very familiar with.  When Jesus came to earth, He initiated a new arrangement between God and man.  His message of release from the penalty of our sin was totally founded upon His death, as a substitute for each of us, on a cross.  Under God’s old arrangement, the default arrangement for the whole human race, we stand guilty of breaking His moral code.  But that all goes by the wayside when we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and embracing what Jesus says as true.  If you wish to say “I’m in” with this new arrangement, tell God in prayer about your decision.  Then, talk to someone about it.  This is the gospel for unbelievers.

But what happens next?  Once we place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, how do we move forward in living the life of a Christ-follower?  This leads us to the second form of the gospel; the gospel for believers.  And this contains just as much “good news” as the gospel for unbelievers.  However, as a church, I believe we are much less familiar with this gospel message.  It is indeed “very good news” for believers.

The “good news” for believers is that as part of God’s new arrangement, His New Covenant with you and I, we are not only set free from sin’s penalty; but in an incredible supernatural experience, we are set free from sin’s power as well.  Prior to your initial salvation, sin was your capacity and propensity.  Now, as a child of God indwelt by His very presence in the form of the Holy Spirit, your propensity is righteousness, not sin.  Oh yes, we still have a sin capacity, but it is no longer our default mode.  It is no longer our inclination.  If this concept is new to you, let me recommend our series of posts titled, Walking in the New Nature, as a starting point to understanding this overarching message of the New Testament.

And why might believers not be familiar with this gospel?  It might be because it is largely missing in our new gospel literature.  Look at this quote from Dr. Keller that has become a popular re-post on the web.

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.”

I think this “dynamic for personal growth” is missing a critical ingredient.  His description of believers as “still sinful and sinning…more wicked than we ever dared believe…able to admit the true dimensions and character of your sin” does not agree with the Scriptural description of us as “holy and beloved saints” (Col 3:12) or having a new nature “which in the very likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

In Romans chapter 6, the apostle Paul anticipated the greater sin – greater grace question and Paul’s answer is this.  “Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase?  No, No, No!”  As we have explored in this blog many times, Paul’s basis for telling us not to continue in sin is because that is not who we are.  We now have “become infused with the righteousness of Christ” (II Cor 5:21) having been “raised with Christ, in the likeness of His resurrection, to walk in a brand new life” (Rom 6:4-5).

I believe Dr. Keller and many others would answer Paul’s question, “Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase?” with “No we shouldn’t, but we will.  And when we do, we will realize how great God’s grace is.”  Where is the hope for victory over sin in that?  Where is the power of victory over sin in that?  This is not what the New Testament teaches.  Propensity for sin is what you were before Christ; not what you are now.

What is the gospel message for believers?  What is the “good news” we should be preaching to the saints in our churches?  Based on God’s promise, based on God’s indwelling, based on the new creation you are; you have been set free from sin’s power.  This is incredibly “good news” and needs to be broadcast throughout our churches as widely as possible.  This is the gospel for believers.

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Self-Correcting Grace – An Illustration

Last post, I addressed the issue of indulging in sin as a way to abuse God’s grace.  I explained Titus 2:11-14 and the concept that grace, properly understood and applied, actually teaches us to deny sin and live godly lives.  Grace has a way of self correcting.  Today, I would like expand on this idea.

Pastor Judah Smith of Seattle’s The City Church shared a useful illustration along these lines in a recent interview with the Christian Post.  In addressing a question about grace, Pastor Smith first talks about his relationship with his wife, Chelsea.

He summarizes, “Chelsea is just the most incredible, considerate, compassionate, loving, gracious spouse, she’s a lot like Jesus.  In the 13 and a half years of her loving me and serving me and being so kind and committed, faithful and loyal, I’ve never had the thought ‘because she’s loving, gracious, kind and faithful, I could cheat on her and get away with. In fact, I could do it multiple times.’ I’ve never planned to cheat on her, by the grace of God I haven’t at all. Because the exact opposite desire and emotion are conjured up due to her love and grace and faithfulness.”

“I think when grace is merely a principle and a biblical concept – if it’s just the favor of God, or the forgiveness of God, or the love of God, it’s easily abused. But when grace is a person, when he has beautiful eyes of love and compassion and mercy and we fall in love with this incredible savior and his grace and his mercy pours over our lives, the ultimate result is not ‘Gosh, I can get away with sin.’ … quite the opposite happens really.”

This is such a clear illustration of the draw of grace and has been my experience also; not just in my marriage, but in my obedience to Christ as well.  When I understand grace as a person – Jesus Christ – rather than a principle, I run to Jesus.  I desire a close relationship with Jesus.  I don’t want to sin more.  I want to sin less.  Why?  Because I do not want to do anything that would harm the relationship.  I don’t want to do anything that would break our connection.

Does this make sense to you?  Has this been your experience?  To many of us, this seems counter-intuitive.  We can think of a few grace abusers we know.  Or we may even secretly fall into temptation ourselves to take advantage of the grace of God.  But it should not be that way.  Instead, if we are in a love relationship with Christ – a relationship He secured at the cross – we should, based on that relationship, be running to Jesus.  We should be pleasing Jesus.  We should be embracing all that Jesus has for our lives.  And the last thing on our minds should be a desire to take advantage of His love.

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Self-Correcting Grace

The apostle Paul had strong words for the rule-makers in the Galatian church, even to the point of calling them “false brethren” (Gal 2:4).  But I don’t know if these folks were truly evil or just a little over zealous in wanting to keep people in line with their focus on the rules.  After all, the challenge of how far our freedom goes is still with us today.  Are there “false teachers” among us who seek to limit our Christian freedom or do they have a legitimate concern that freedom will be abused and our flesh will be indulged?

One of the ways to address this issue is with the concept of “self-correcting grace”.  Paul wrote in Titus chapter 2, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people of His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

Let’s look at this set of verses very carefully.  “For the grace of God has appeared” (the foundation of all that follows is the appearance of God’s grace), “bringing salvation to all men” (God’s grace brought our salvation; deliverance from the penalty and the power of sin), “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires” (rather than giving us the freedom to indulge in sin, God’s grace actually teaches us – and I might add empowers us – to deny sin; to put the ix-nay on ungodliness and worldly desires.  Grace properly understood and embraced helps guide us away from sin.)

Paul continues, “and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (So grace directs us away from sin and toward godliness.  Grace, properly understood and applied, is self-correcting.  When we are tempted to follow the wrong path, grace corrects us by teaching us to deny sin and embrace godly common sense and righteous living.  I like the word sensibly in this passage.  It is against common sense for a believer to live in sin and not according to their righteous nature.  Properly understood grace, not willpower or the threat of condemnation, brings us back to the righteous path.

And we become people who are “looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed” (Christ’s giving Himself up for us – His finished work on the cross – delivered us from lawless living as our default mode), “and to purify for Himself” (Christ giving Himself up for us made us clean), “a people for His own possession” (Christ giving Himself up for us placed us in His family), “zealous for good deeds” (Christ giving Himself up for us infused us with zealousy for good deeds.  He freed us from lawless living and empowered us for righteous living).

That is what this passage, and much of the New Testament, says, “Grace, properly understood and applied, is self-correcting.”  What does that look like in practice?  We will answer that question next time.

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Free to Obey

Another freedom we experience as a result of our new birth is the freedom to obey; the freedom to choose a new master (Rom 6:14).  James writes in the New Testament, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the prefect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).

The law of liberty is an interesting description.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think of the words “law” and “liberty” as going together.  I think of them as opposites.  I think of law as a restriction of my liberty.  So what is the law of liberty?

I believe it is God’s Word, His law, “written on our hearts” as it were (Heb 8:10).  The liberty part is the freedom and power to obey.  Prior to our salvation, there was no liberty in the law, only condemnation.  In Romans chapter 7, Paul describes the weight of that condemnation that results from trying to obey the law without the new resurrection power of Christ.  He concludes than only Christ – no amount of willpower or effort – can set us free from this condemnation.  “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

We have been set free from trying to obey the law by willpower to escape condemnation (something we were unable to accomplish, even if we wanted to).  Instead, we now obey God’s moral law by the power of our new nature; God’s resurrection power literally living through us by the indwelling of God’s Spirit.

James calls this indwelling receiving the word implanted.  “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).  We put aside sin – filthiness and wickedness – by receiving the implanted word which has the power to deliver us from sin.  With the power to obey now firmly planted in our new nature, we have a freedom the world knows nothing of; the freedom to obey.

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Free to Serve

When we think of the word “freedom”, we often think of autonomy; basically the freedom to do whatever we want without constraint.  When the New Testament speaks about freedom, it relates to our new opportunity and ability to be all that God created and redeemed us to be.  Free to serve, free to love, free to worship, and free to embrace and live out all that became new at our new birth.

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul addresses the freedom challenge.  Rule-makers had infiltrated the church seeking to limit the believers’ freedom.  “But it was because of the false believers who had sneaked in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into slavery.  But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal 2:4-5).

The “truth of the gospel” Paul is referring to is our freedom in Christ.  And Paul later identifies these “false believers” as the Judaizers; a group who have come from the Jerusalem church and stressed the need for the new Gentile believers to keep the Law, including the act of circumcision.  The Law still carried some weight in their eyes both for full acceptance by God as well as a guide for living the Christian life.  Paul sees this form of legalism as so far from the truth that he did not listen to them “for even one hour.”

Paul then goes on to write a treatise on our freedom in Christ.  Paul concludes his defense with, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).  So what does standing firm in our freedom look like?

First, it is defending our freedom along the lines of the argument Paul lays out in his letter.  But it is also putting that freedom into action.  As Paul continues in chapter 5, he addresses the application part of our freedom with, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

The purpose of our freedom is not to indulge the flesh – a danger Paul recognizes and spends the rest of chapter 5 exploring.  (As an aside, we have spent several posts in the past explaining the relationship between defeating the flesh and walking in the Spirit in light of Galatians chapter 5.  See here and here.)  No, the purpose of our freedom is to live into all that God redeemed us to be.  Particular to verse 13, it is the freedom to serve – motivated by love – our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In other words, use your freedom to serve each other; motivated and empowered by love.

Let your freedom from selfishness, freedom from anger, freedom from bitterness, freedom from envy, freedom from always having to win, freedom from always having to have the last word…set you free to serve one another.  It is a freedom from what is essentially our last enemy: ourselves and our selfish ambition.  And it only comes through Jesus Christ.  May you walk in that freedom today.

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Sin, Slavery, and True Freedom

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free‘ ” (Jn 8:31-32).  What “truth” is Jesus talking about?  And what kind of “freedom” does this truth deliver to us?

The dialogue that immediately follows these verses gives a clue to the freedom offered by Jesus Christ.  The Jews parked on the word “free” and answered Jesus.  “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free?’ ” (Jn 8:33).  The Jews were thinking in terms of political freedom; that is, in specific terms of slaves and masters.  Basically they were saying, “How can you offer us freedom when we are already a free people?”

Now it is ironic that the Jews would strut their freedom at a time they are under Roman rule, but technically they are correct.  Slavery was common throughout the Roman Empire, and the Jews were not slaves in the specific sense of owned by masters.  They had a measure of political freedom.

But Jesus is not talking about political freedom as we continue in the passage.  “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin’ ” (Jn 8:34).  The freedom Christ promises and delivers is the freedom from slavery to sin.  This language is a forerunner to the exact same word picture used by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 6 regarding sin, slavery, and true freedom.

“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom 6:6-7).  Based on the context, “freed from sin” means freed from sin’s power and control, not from sin’s presence.  And Paul sums up this idea with, “For sin shall not be master over you” (Rom 6:14).

Not only is sin no longer our master, but God has given us the power to choose a new master, Jesus Christ.  “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?  But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:16-18).  Notice the time line: you were slaves of sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Returning to our text in John chapter 8, Jesus concludes, “So if the Son makes you free [free from sin's power and mastery], you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36).  The freedom Jesus promised in John 8:32 – the oft quoted, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” – is the freedom from sin’s slave-creating power; freedom from sin as our master.  It is a promise of freedom that should be the hallmark of our gospel message.

We are keen on explaining the gospel message in terms of our deliverance from sin’s penalty as we should be.  But let us never forget the equal part of the gospel, deliverance from sin’s power.  The promise of a heart set free from sin’s power – so eloquently argued by the apostle Paul in Romans chapters 5 through 8 – has its foundation in Jesus proclamation, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

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Breaking Free

If you were to take a poll of your friends and relatives, what phrase would they most associate with the word “Christian”?  Would it be keeping the rules…religious…being a good person…hypocrite…or something else?  Getting it down to one phrase, I think something about “keeping the rules” is one of the world’s most common associations with Christianity.

But if you read the New Testament, the basis for our Christian faith, I think a better word association is “FREEDOM”.  Christianity is all about freedom.  The powerful connection between Christianity and freedom – so clearly explained in Scripture – is often missed by a world under the enemy’s control and a church stuck in our rule-making ways.  Why is this so?

From the world’s viewpoint, they have no interest in accurately portraying one of the greatest positives of our Christian belief.  The Bible teaches that the world system lies in the grip of the evil one and as such it is in the world’s interest to paint Christianity in the most negative light possible.  The world will always present Christianity as burdensome, narrow-minded, foolish, misguided, angry, and worse.  This is to be expected from an entity that literally hates us.  “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (Jn 15:18-19).

So it is easy to see the world’s motivation for ignoring the freedom message of Christianity.  But what about the church?  Why do we not highlight the compelling message of freedom found in the New Testament;  freedom in Christ, freedom from the power of sin, freedom from the penalty of sin, freedom from besetting sins and habits, freedom from the Law, freedom to love, freedom from status needs, freedom from condemnation, freedom from our own selfishness?  Is the freedom promised in the New Covenant a staple of the preaching in your church environment?

I think many times we present a distorted message that actually undermines the freedom promised in the New Testament.  We try to squeeze Christianity into an Old Testament framework and come out with a burdensome form of legalism.  We struggle to accept that believers – ourselves included – are truly good people, being infused with God’s righteous nature.  We think freedom unchecked will lead to increased sin and moral license.  We need rules to keep our fellow believers in line.  We need rules to give immature leaders a feeling of power and control.  And finally, maybe we actually enjoy a “ministry of condemnation”, Paul’s description of the old covenant.

But in Christ, we have been set free;  free from condemnation (“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Rom 8:1),  free from rule-keeping (“But now we have been set free from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we may serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” Rom 7:6),  free from sin’s power (“Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with , so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” Rom 6:6,7).

When the New Testament speaks for itself, one of the most powerful promises of Scripture is a life set free in Christ.  This freedom is so compelling, and this freedom is so needed in our churches that we will spend the next several posts exploring its depths.

But let me close this time with a riddle to get you thinking.  If you have attended church for any length of time or have listened to Christian radio, you have probably heard this phrase from John chapter 8 quoted more than once, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).  But have you ever wondered what “free” means in this context?  Have you ever asked, “Free from what?”

Ironically, Jesus answers this exact question in the verses immediately following this common quote.  But I don’t think I have ever heard them referred to in a sermon.  Isn’t that curious?  What is the answer?  We will discuss it next time.

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Finding a Balance…Wrap-up

Well, here we are at the end of our Work-Family-Ministry Balance series.  Thank you for your interest and comments.  By God’s gift, this was and is our own family identity.  These are not theories that belong in a book or ideas that we never actually got around to.  No, this was and is the fabric of our family life.

So let me close with a few reminders from our last few weeks together.

children-drawing

Reviewing our chart above, remember…

  • The time commitments on the left side are going to be “squeezed” when children join our family.
  • We can’t let these “squeezed” areas go to zero.
  • If our time as a couple goes to zero in these busy children years, there will be no spark, no flame, no fire, no romance when we emerge on the other side and the kids have left the house.
  • Margin is not a spiritual concept, but availability to serve and go the second mile is.
  • The upper right side of our chart is not babysitting or child care; it is investing.
  • It is investing in your child’s future and your legacy.
  • Kids spell love T-I-M-E.
  • Building the relationship is more important than rules of control.
  • Your quitting time at work is your starting time at home.
  • You may feel indispensable at work; you are indispensable at home.
  • Show your wife, by your actions, that you are in this together.

Can you do this?  Yes, you can!  How do I know that?  Because if you are a Christ follower, you have been gifted with all that became new at your new birth to be a godly husband and father.  You have your degree.  You have your papers.  You are qualified to do this.

So take the next step in your journey of leading your family, and I will see you around the water cooler, the church foyer, or the baseball field.

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Perfection Is Not The Goal…Consistency Is

For the past few weeks, I have been sharing material from a presentation I give on finding a Work-Family-Ministry balance.  One of the habits I stressed in the spiritual training of our children section was reading the Bible and praying as a family.  In fact, it was so important to Rhonda and I that our goal was to do this every day.  When I make this presentation to a group, I always close with this question to make my concluding point, “You have only known me for about 45 minutes.  But based on what I have shared and hearing this talk, if our goal was to read the Bible every day as a family and this is considered 100%, what percentage do you think we actually accomplished?  If every day equals 100%, take a guess on how we did on a percentage basis.”

As you can imagine, the guesses are quite varied.  But they usually land between 75 and 95%.  I say, “You are being generous.”  When Rhonda and I look back on 30+ years of having kids in the house, we estimate that we probably read the Bible together as a family about 30-40% of the days we intended to.  Now at first glance, this may look like a failure.  It may appear that we have a pretty poor track record at reaching our goal.  But we see it as just the opposite.

Using the higher end of our range at 40%, this means that we read together 150 DAYS A YEAR MORE THAN ZERO for over 30 years.  That is a lot of Bible reading.  The point I am trying to drive home is this: PERFECTION IS NOT THE GOAL; CONSISTENCY IS.

If perfection is your goal, you will drive your kids, your wife, and yourself crazy.  It is unattainable.  No, perfection is not the goal.  The goal is consistency.  This is about real life.  This is about chronic illness, recalcitrant children, financial setbacks, nagging sins, work stresses, personality challenges, fickle friendships, and academic hardships.  Consistency is getting back on the horse when we have been knocked down by these life issues.  Consistency is about not giving up no matter how long it has been since we tasted success.

Using the example we have been talking about, sometimes we would not read together for a month or more.  In these times, I would always think the same thing.  The kids are not even asking about our Bible reading.  No one even seems to miss it.  Maybe it is not having the influence or consequence that I think it is for our children.  Let’s just quit and let the Bible reading habit go.  But fortunately, I am married to a consistent wife who was not interested in letting any good thing go.  Rhonda encouraged me over and over that we can do this.  We just need to pick up the Bible and start again.

It was not just the Bible reading.  Every valuable discipline that we ever had in our home was on again, off again.  And Satan sought to use the “off again” as a temptation to quit.  Did you hear that?  Satan seeks to use the “off again” as a temptation to quit.  But God would always give us the quiet reminder and the strength to pick up the ball and get back in the game of investing in our family.  And soon, we were back to “on again”.  Let me emphasize again, perfection is not the goal; consistency is.

May I encourage you that no matter where you are along the time line with your family, it is never too late to start or begin again to read the Bible together as a family, to develop a relationship with your children, to affirm your children, to make your quitting time at work as important as your starting time, to value your time as a couple, to preserve some margin in your family life for service, and to let love rule.  As my friend Dave Gibson says, “It is never too late to start and always too soon to quit.”

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