New eBook from Jay … “Is Jesus the Only Way?”

OK, another interruption on our travels though the book of Colossians.  But I wanted to let you know about a short book that I just published, Is Jesus the Only Way?, available here in the Kindle store at amazon.com.  (It is also available here as a pdf file.)  My goal is to not only answer that exact question, but to draw us back to the heart of the gospel message.  In my opinion, we have added a lot of baggage to the gospel over the years in connecting Christianity with legalism, political activism, creationism, capitalism, materialism, and a host of isms.

Now with a new generation coming into church leadership, many are quick to throw these connections over the side of the ship.  And I agree wholeheartedly that this baggage needs to be tossed and that we need to listen to a greater variety of voices in the church on issues such as social justice, creation care, faith and science, worship styles, politics, styles of evangelism, and asking honest questions.  But could we be lightening the load too much?  That is, in our efforts to throw off the trappings of the past, are we abandoning the core message of the gospel?

As the church goes through this transformative time, I believe there is one place we need to draw a line in the sand.  And it is at the divine identity of Jesus Christ.  My goal in this book is to let Jesus speak for himself in answering the question in the title.  To do that I have essentially taken a verse-by-verse approach in explaining what Jesus said about himself in the gospel of John chapters 5, 6, and 7.

I believe in this age of universalism and salad bar religion, we need to keep the central message of the identity of Jesus Christ in front of our family and friends as the core issue of what makes Christianity CHRISTianity.  While we can have honest questions about the biblical position on these ancillary issues, the heart of the gospel remains the answer to this question, “Is Jesus the Only Way?”

Please share this message with your high school or college student.  Please help your kids understand as they head into or back to college that there is plenty of room in the Scripture and the church for asking honest questions.  Help them navigate as well as teach them to explore for themselves how their faith intersects with the new world they are stepping into.  Help them understand, accept, and celebrate the diversity in the church.  But teach them that there in a core message to the gospel that makes us who we are as believers.  And it all has to do with the identity of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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The Sacred and the Profane

So is this 24/7 connection to God automatic?  If there is no sacred/secular distinction for the believer is it all smooth sailing on the sin front?  Are our actions always godly by virtue of our identity in Christ?  The short answer is No, No, and No.  There is one distinction that still haunts us, even in our new identity as God’s children. and it is the distinction between the sacred and the profane.

Profane was a more common word in the days of King James.  Its Greek form bebēlos (βεβηλóς) means, “primarily, permitted to be trodden; hence, unhallowed, profane, opposite of sacred.”  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “it is that which lacks all relationship or affinity to God.”  It is more commonly translated “worldliness” in today’s versions of the New Testament.

As Paul, Peter, James, and John all make clear in the epistles, it is possible for believers – who have a “relationship or affinity to God” in their identity – to not always show it in their actions.  If fact, we can show in our actions a lack of relationship or affinity to God.  We can look like an unbeliever.  The Bible calls it “walking in the flesh”.  It is walking in a worldly manner.

Christians have a choice.  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you” (Rom 6:12-14).  We can choose to serve sin or serve the Lord.  We can choose the sacred or the profane.  And, in an incredible infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, we have the power to choose the sacred.  “Sin shall not be master over you.”

But the choice still must be made.  May I encourage you walk in the Spirit, to walk in the identity of the Spirit that indwells you, to walk in the Spirit’s power.  It is our one defense against the profane deeds of the flesh.

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A Life of Love

Paul continues in Colossians chapter 3 to explain what a life of love looks like.  Remember, Paul has already identified the key to overcoming the flesh.  It is living into all that became new at our salvation.  It is laying aside the old self with its evil practices and putting on the new self with its holy attributes.  And the greatest of these is love.

“And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col 3:14-15).  Two times in these two verses, Paul writes about the unity of the body.  One of the signs of a life of love is the peace that comes in our relationships with other believers.

The peace of Christ is the opposite of strife.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of dissension.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of jealousy.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of all these things that tear down the body of Christ.  Peace is synonymous with unity.  And it is God’s design that we live in peace.  And this peace leads to thanksgiving.

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  In this context, the “word of Christ” is not just referring to Scripture.  It applies to all the ways we hear the voice of Jesus.  We hear His voice in the Bible to be sure.  But we also hear His voice in our Spirit, the Spirit of Christ that indwells us.  In fact, we should expect to hear the voice of Jesus through His Spirit that is alive and active inside us.

In this particular verse, Paul highlights hearing the voice of Jesus in the community of believers that surrounds us.  We are literally the voice of Jesus when we teach and admonish one another; when we sing with and sing to our brothers and sisters in the Lord; when we express our admiration and thanksgiving to God.  Let the word of Christ, in all its different expressions, richly dwell in you.  A life of love is a life of listening to the voice of Jesus.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17).  When we set up a rule-keeping system for pleasing God, we tend to separate our lives into the spiritual – following the rules, doing things to earn God’s favor, keeping spiritual disciplines – and the secular – our normal everyday responsibilities.  But when we walk in the Spirit, our connection to God is 24/7.  There is no separation between the sacred and the secular for the believer.

By virtue of who you are in Christ, all you do in word and deed is sacred.  Your homemaking, your 40-hour-a-week job, your visiting a neighbor are all sacred because you are indwelt by the sacred Spirit of Jesus.  Christ in us, living His life through us, sanctifies all of who we are and all of what we do.  This is “doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (vs 17).

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The Law of Love

Let’s dive back into our recent topic:  empty religion.  We were working our way through the book of Colossians, when we stopped at Paul’s warning regarding the “empty deception of empty religion.”  The apostle reminds us that setting up a self-abasing, overbearing, tedious, rule-keeping system for living the Christian life is not only inappropriate, but is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).  The very thing we are trying to defeat is not the least bit hindered by a law-keeping system.  Why?  Because in its empty deception, it lacks true power.

The power to live the Christian life lies instead in our connection to our new nature.  Paul goes on in Colossians chapter 3 to explain that we defeat the flesh when we live into all that became new at our conversion.  Our recent posts,  Empty Religion, Indulging the Flesh, and Defeating the Flesh cover this in some detail.  To summarize, we are to put on the “clothes” of our new nature; a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness (Col 3:12-13).

These attributes, these qualities of the new nature, look a lot like Christ.  The new self we are to put on is essentially putting on Christ.  And putting on the new self, the life of Christ in us, is the answer to the flesh.

The final attribute of the new man that Paul commends here is love.  “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:14).  Love is the overarching quality – “beyond all these things” – that energizes all the others.  Love is the motivation for living into all that we are in Christ.  And this love dwells inside you right now.

It is not waiting for some new level of spirituality.  It is not waiting for some new attainment or enlightenment.  It is in you by virtue of the Holy Spirit who has taken up residence inside you.  In Romans 5:5 we learn that the Holy Spirit is literally “pouring God’s love into our hearts.”

If there is a “law” to follow for the New Testament believer, it is the law of love.  It is to empower and inform your relationships, activities, and thoughts.  It is a unifying bond for your church and family.  Throw off the chains, throw off the sin that inhibits its fullest expression.  You are a saint, holy and beloved by our Lord (Col 3:12).  Because of this, you can do it!

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Breaking Radio Silence

Greetings friends.  When we moved to Tennessee several months ago, my intention was to keep marching forward at Fanning the Flames with my usual one or two posts per week.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the keyboard.  I ran out of things to say.  Well, not exactly.

That is to say, I did not run out of ideas.  My mind still races with thoughts about encouraging each other to live into all that became new at our salvation.  I still have a passion to explain what the supernatural Christian life looks like under the provision and promise of the New Covenant.  But the process of writing it down has not been the free flowing experience of the past.

As Rhonda and I were discussing my “writer’s block”,  I think she zeroed in on what is missing; it’s YOU!  I miss you!  When we lived in Houston, you and I were sharpening each other discussing these ideas.  We would meet for breakfast or lunch.  I would see you at church or in our small group.  This blog was not just about online writing and comments.  It was about living these principles with you in community.  I miss you.

Now when I try to restart the blog engine, I wonder if I am just sending thoughts out into cyberspace.  Will these posts encounter signs of life?  Is this turning into a one-way conversation?  As you know from the tennis ball illustration, a one-sided conversation is no fun.  I don’t know what this means going forward.  I just wanted to let you in on what I was thinking.

To end on a positive note, Rhonda and I have connected with Fellowship Bible Church Franklin as our new church home.  This church of maybe two to three hundred attenders is very focused on community-building.  We have joined a small group and are excited to be moving ahead in what God has for us here.  The Bible teaching is expository in style, very solid, and application oriented.  And the music is…(it’s Nashville, what did you expect me to say?)  The church is a smaller campus offshoot of Fellowship Bible Church Brentwood and is already feeling like home.  But that does not lessen the impact or point of this post:  We miss you!

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Defeating the Flesh

Paul makes clear in Colossians chapter 2 that legalism in the church has the appearance of wisdom but in reality is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (vs 23).  So how do we approach our struggle with the flesh and how do we win?

Our victory over sin is expressed throughout the New Testament as a laying aside the old self and putting on the new.  “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self…and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22,24).

That is why it is so crucial that we understand the new man; understand the new creation we are in Christ.  The New Testament writers constantly refer to who we are in Christ as the motivator for walking in righteousness.  Paul captures this connection with, “Therefore I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).  And, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col 2:6).

Seeing our new identity in Christ as our motivator, we return to Colossians 3 and Paul’s answer to the flesh.  After again reminding us of who we are in Christ (Col 3:1-4), the apostle writes, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.  (Notice the past tense here.)  But now you also put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Col 3:5-9).

The answer to the flesh?  Consider it dead and lay it aside.  The attributes of the flesh are here described, and we are to consider ourselves dead to them (vs 5), having cast them aside (vs 9), because they represent our old self (vs 7).  (One sentence does not nearly do justice to this powerful passage, but we must move on to our main point.  A more detailed explanation of this passage can be found here.)

In verse 10, we move to the new self.  “And having put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.  So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:10-14).

The instruction moves from the negative focus of laying aside the old man and his attributes and on to the positive focus of putting on the new self.  And when you see these attributes that accompany the new self – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love – you realize they look a lot like Christ.  The new self we are to put on is essentially putting on Christ.  Putting on the new self is the answer to the flesh.  And while we acknowledge that it is easier said than done, the key point is that it is not impossible.  We have the power to rein it in.  We will talk more specifics next time.

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Indulging the Flesh

Last time, we stopped in the middle of Colossians chapter 2, verse 19.  “[Those promoting a religion of self-abasement and rule keeping] are not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:19).  Proper spiritual maturity, growth in the Christian life, comes from lining up our ways under the headship of Christ.  The entire church, the community of believers grows up when we walk according to the gospel of Christ.

Paul contrasts spiritual growth under the headship of Christ with the deceptive approach of a rule keeping system.  “If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’…in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?” (Col 2:20-22).  These rule keeping systems are man-made.  And when we follow them, we are reverting back to an empty religion, a philosophy with which the world is very familiar.

“These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).  These rule keeping systems have an “appearance of wisdom”, but are in fact “self-made religion”.  And the eye-popping conclusion to the chapter is, “they are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

Did you hear that?  The very thing that we think will keep the flesh in check – rules, self-loathing, severe treatment – is not only biblically incorrect when we understand who we are in Christ, but is also of no value whatsoever against fleshly indulgence.  Nada.  Nothing.  Useless in combatting the flesh.  It is a system that actually thwarts the work of Christ rather than help us to carry it out.

Think through your own experience with me.  I don’t believe I am setting up a straw man of rule keeping to attack with Paul’s freedom message of Colossians.  The “appearance of wisdom” through the keeping of rules is very much alive and well in the church.  And the sad part is that in addition to just being wrong, it does not contribute to the very thing we seek – crucifixion of the flesh.

So if the rule keeping method does not work against fleshly indulgence, should we abandon the goal and just accept fleshly indulgence as the normal Christian life?  No.  No.  No.  May it never be.  Fleshly indulgence is sin.  And there is a victorious approach to crucifying the flesh.  Paul explains it in the next chapter of Colossians.  We will go there next time.

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Empty Religion

In Colossians 2:8, the apostle Paul warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8).  I used to think this verse was a warning against the irreligious philosophy of the world; the thoughts, explanations, and ideas of the lost.  But when we step back to capture the context of this letter, we find this “empty deception” is actually quite religious.  It is a man-made version of Christianity that is all too common in the church.  The deception is robbing saints of understanding who they are in Christ and replacing the gospel of Christ with a religion of man-made rules.  Let me explain as we go deeper into Colossians chapter 2.

Continuing on, “For in Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the work of God, who raised Him from the dead.  And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us…and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:9-14).

Before he expounds on the “empty deception” later in chapter 2, Paul first wants us to fully understand our identity with Christ.  According to this passage, you have been made complete in Christ, the One in whom the fullness of Deity dwells.  You have been “circumcised”, not in the physical sense, but in the supernatural sense – “without hands” – of Jesus cutting away our body of flesh.  This body of flesh is not a physical body, but the seat of our sin nature.  And this heart of our sin nature, this body of flesh, is being “cut away”.  This happened when we died with Christ on the cross and were raised to new life (see Romans chapter 6).  This happened when He forgave all our transgressions and cancelled out our debt, having nailed it to the cross.  This happened when we embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ and were made complete in Christ.

Paul then goes on to describe the empty deception.  “Therefore (because of who you are in Christ), let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things that are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement…inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, Jesus Christ” (Col 2:16-19).

The bottom line?  When we set up a self-abasing, overbearing, tedious, rule-keeping system in the church, we are not lifting up Jesus, not holding fast to the Head, Jesus Christ.  We may think this rule-keeping is a sign of godliness, but according to verse 18, it is really the expression of an “inflated fleshly mind”, not a godly one.

How do rules, often times meant to promote godliness, actually end up as a self-made religion?  We will discuss this as we continue in Colossians chapter 2 next time.

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Merry Christmas from Franklin Tennessee

Rhonda and I are wishing you the best of Christmas greetings from our new home in Franklin, Tennessee.  After nearly thirty years of living in Houston, we have relocated to the Volunteer State.  There is definitely a small town feel to Franklin with its thriving downtown square, shotgun style homes on narrow lots, and so much within walking distance.  But we also feel the proximity to Nashville, 25 miles to the north, and all that the Music City has to offer.

Our Christmas prayer for you is to experience the “no condemnation” life that God promises to His children.  It is easy – as husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and workers, leaders and ministry partners – to let those around us know that they are not living up to expectations.  It is easy to put a layer of guilt and blame on those close to us.  When we look deeper, however, maybe putting others down is just a veiled attempt to elevate ourselves.

Has this been your experience?  I see it all the time in the workplace, but it also infiltrates our families and churches.  We seem to think that our value and significance improves and we are made to look better if others are being put down.  We even justify this, at times, by saying that they need to be “put in their place.”  But this is not how a believer should live.

Remember the point of the parable Jesus told about the two debtors?  The one who owed an infinite amount was forgiven by the king and then proceeded to beat his fellow servant over a small debt.  He failed to grasp the concept that he who had been forgiven a great debt by the Master should forgive his brother.  Likewise, how can we who have been so miraculously set free by Christ and the promise of “no condemnation”, lay a condemning attitude or comment on our brother?  God’s stance toward us is fundamentally optimistic, calling us saints.  This should be our view as well toward those who serve us and whom we serve.

Part of the challenge in seeing this is the erroneous teaching regarding Romans chapter 7 that the apostle Paul’s condemning passage about himself reflects the life of a believer.  Paul’s diatribe of condemnation clearly describes his life prior to salvation; a point made clear when he ends with “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).  We somehow see the condemning tone of Romans 7, and thinking it applies today, use it to condemn both ourselves and others.

But it is not supposed to be that way.  You have been set free from the power of sin.  It is no longer your master.  That condemning voice you hear is Satan, not God.  Satan wants you living under a rock of self-condemnation.  And he wants you to bring as many people as you can under the rock with you by criticizing their work or behavior.  Christ, on the other hand, wants you living out in the open; experiencing and celebrating a life set free.  Remember, “There is now [present tense, after I have left the pre-Christian life of condemnation behind] no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1-2).

Do you recall this quote from a Christmas classic?  “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.”  In your best Linus voice you might be thinking, “Jay, you are the only person I know who can take a perfectly good Christmas message and turn it into a discussion of Romans chapter 7.”  Yes, I can.  Because the heartbeat of this blog and the Fanning the Flames ministry is for you and us to experience all that came with our new identity in Christ when we embraced His gospel message.  At the heart of that message is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  We have been set free.

So celebrate the season with an attitude of encouraging and building up those you love.  Christ the newborn King was born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died in your place, and rose again to give us a new life, free from guilt and condemnation.  Embracing that truth and living into it will make this a very merry Christmas indeed!

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Can Faith Control the Outcome?

An important distinction to understanding how much our faith affects an outcome is recognizing the difference between “change” and “control”.  I believe God has given us the opportunity to change an outcome through our faith.  But He has not given us the power to control outcomes.  Let me explain the difference.

Exercising the faith required to change a situation is putting our complete trust in what God can do.  It is having faith in God’s ability to miraculously move, and remedy, and redeem what needs changed.  It is not a blind positive thinking approach that says if I believe something hard enough God is required to act.

This is where the idea of control comes in.  We cannot control the Sovereign of the Universe.  And thinking our faith can somehow boss God around is ludicrous.  We are not calling the shots.  We are not in control.  We cannot demand a certain action on God’s part.  So what can we do?

We do two things.  (1) We believe by faith that God has the power to act and (2) we pray in faith asking Him to act.  Our attitude in prayer is the measure of whether we are seeking to “change” or “control” by our faith.  Proper prayer says, “God, You are in control and we humbly beg you to act.”  And this prayer is infused with a biblical faith; believing that He hears our prayers, believing that He can act, and believing that He will act in some form or fashion.

In Luke 18, the parable of the persistent widow teaches us that God will act and act quickly.  If you recall the story that Jesus told … A widow approaches an unrighteous judge demanding legal protection from an adversary.  The judge ignores her request until she badgers him to the point of wearing him out.  For her persistence alone, he hears her case and rules in her favor (Lk 18:1-8).

Now we often view the unrighteous judge as a picture of God.  That is, we think this parable teaches that if we badger God enough, He will reluctantly hear and answer us.  But it actually teaches just the opposite about God’s attitude toward us and our prayers.

Unlike most of Jesus’ parables, this one did not start with “The kingdom of God is like…”  No, God is not like the judge.  God is not compared to the judge.  God stands in contrast to the judge.  God is the opposite of the judge.  We do not badger God with our persistent prayer.  We honor God with our persistent prayer.

The parable closes with, “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” (Lk 18:7-8a).  God is contrasted with the judge.  Rather than being an overbearing ogre, God is a loving Father whose heartbeat is to hear and answer our prayers.

Can we “control” outcomes?  No, but I believe we can affect more than we commonly believe.  The story of the persistent widow ends with, “However, when the Son of Man comes will He find this kind of faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8b).  Our role is to respond to situations with the faith that God is asking us to use.  And the practical upshot of all this, in my opinion, is that our faith can be world-changing and life-changing; for us and for others around us.

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Can Faith Change the Outcome?

As I continue to study the New Testament, I am becoming increasingly aware of the potential for faith to change the outcome of a particular situation.  I fully embrace the sovereignty and omnipotence of God and His rule over all His creation, but I believe His plan includes our faith making a difference.  It appears in Scripture that God does not have an unchangeable blueprint design for all outcomes, but that through our prayers and faith we can affect what happens.  Why do I say this?

After the incident in the gospels where Jesus’ disciples failed to cast out a demon (Mt 17:14-20), they asked Jesus a pointed question, “Why could we not cast it out?”  Jesus replied that their faith was too small (Mt 17:20).  Jesus ascribes their failure to a lack of faith.  Is it too much of a stretch of logic to suggest – based on Jesus’ own words – that with greater faith the demon could have been expelled?  What do you think?

Evidence that our faith makes a difference continues in several accounts of healing in the New Testament.  When Jesus restored sight to the blind man, Bartimaeus, He proclaimed to the newly seeing man, “Your faith has made you well” (Mk 10:52).  When the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage problem touched Jesus garment, she was healed.  After she identified herself in the crowd, Jesus assured her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (Lk 8:48).  To the cleansed leper who returned to fall at Jesus’ feet to give thanks, Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Lk 17:19).

Do you notice a pattern?  Clearly, Jesus is doing the healing – even feeling the power going out of Him when the woman touched the fringe of His cloak.  But somehow, accepting Jesus’ words as fact, the faith of the sick, blind, and lame had something to do with their being made whole.  I think it is safe to say that their faith made a difference.  And I believe our faith matters just as much today.  Our faith has the potential to affect outcomes.

How much of an effect?  Something we will talk about next time.

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Faith and the Spiritual Life

Faith is also essential for living the spiritual life.  In the final verses of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus instructed us to teach new believers “to obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20).  Have you ever thought about the implications of the “all” in this verse?  Obeying all is a pretty tall order.  How do we obey all that Jesus commanded?  We obey by faith.

We often think of faith as a mysterious concept, but living by faith is a very practical matter.  When our choices, decisions, and actions are controlled by biblical principles and biblical commands, we are living by faith.  When we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word, we are basically saying two things; we believe, by faith, that there is great reward in obeying God’s standard, and we believe, by faith, that we are indwelt with the power to obey.

Visiting the first thought, we believe there is great value in following God’s commands.  In the world’s eyes, obeying God is foolish.  And even in our own eyes, we do not always see the positive outcome of our obedience.  In fact, obeying God can be costly.  So if our obedience were just based on what we see, the narrow path could be grueling.  But when we see with the eyes of faith, we see both present-day and eternal rewards for our fidelity to the Lord.  We see love, peace, joy, unity, and so much more as His blessings for our allegiance to God.  We choose to obey by faith.

Secondly, we believe that we have been given the power to obey.  This is such a crucial part of living by faith.  If my obedience is based on my mood, my willpower, my effort, my perseverance, I am doomed to fail.  But my power to obey is based on my identity in Christ.  In Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I have everything I need “pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet 1:3).  Believing I am filled with this power is the only way that I John 5:3, “and His commandments are not burdensome”, makes sense; and empowers me to walk victoriously.

The commands of Christ are not burdensome because, as believers, this is what we were created for.  At first glance, they may appear to be burdensome.  But Christ’s commands are really a reflection of who we now are, not a list to follow.  We were “created for good works to walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

This is who you are!  You were created in your new identity to obey all that Jesus commands.  Do we always accomplish the all?  No.  Do we fall short?  Yes.  Do we miss the mark?  Yes.  Do we fall into sin?  Yes.  And when we do, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (I Jn 2:1) to quickly and humbly run to for His generous forgiveness.

But we do not need to fail as often as many sermons imply.  A popular teaching today is essentially that God is a distant Father, standing back with His arms crossed on His chest thinking, “I don’t think he or she is capable of this.  I don’t think they can do this.”  Nothing could be further from the truth of the New Testament.  God is a generous Father with His arms outstretched toward us.  And He longs to see us take our faith steps, one at a time, straight into His delighted joy; just like a father coaxing along his child’s victorious first steps.

So may I encourage you?  By faith, believe what God says about your new power within and recognize that your acts of obedience are really steps of faith.

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Faith and Salvation

Last weekend, at the Ft Worth Children’s Museum, I saw a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”  As with most things I read these days, I immediately put a theology twist to it.  So I am thinking,  “Logic will get you from A to B, theologically speaking, but faith will take you everywhere.”  So many of our theology systems, while built on Scripture, are carried to the nth degree by human logic and when they are, misunderstanding ensues.

I am afraid that in our rush to fit everything biblical into a neat theological system, we have made knowledge and logic the ultimate goal in the Christian life.  But knowledge by itself produces arrogance (II Cor 8:1), and knowledge without love is useless (I Cor 13:2), and knowledge without faith has no saving value (James 2:19).

There is a popular system of theology that takes principles of Scripture like grace, election, atonement, and depravity, and adds adjectives to them based on human logic.  It produces something that, in my opinion, is not found in Scripture.  And one of its dangerous by-products is to minimize the value of faith.

A theology with a hyper-focus on God’s blueprint design, including our salvation, falls short of the full teaching of Scripture.  From Genesis to Revelation, it is clear that our faith matters.  It is clear that your faith makes a difference.  All the way from your salvation to changing the outcome of a situation, your faith matters.  Let me explain.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works” (Eph 2:8,9).  Your salvation was pure gift.  Your salvation was by grace.  Your salvation was not based on works of the law.  But it was also through faith.  Your faith mattered.  There was a requirement for you to exercise faith in order to embrace the gospel message.

But many teachers today imply that if you believe your faith somehow contributed to your new birth, you are treating it as a “work” and, as such, are relying on “works” to save you.  At best, this view is confusing.  At worst, it implies that you are believing a different gospel and may in fact not be saved.  As hair-splitting as it seems, I have heard it preached this way, and it puts an unnecessary and disturbingly oppressive pressure and guilt on our believing brothers and sisters.  God is not the author of confusion.  So what does God require?

There is a “work” required for you to be saved.  But it is not a work of the law, it is the work of faith.  In John chapter 6, the crowd asked Jesus, ” ‘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 who He has sent’ ” (Jn 6:28,29).  Believing in Jesus, embracing His message, is the only work required for you to be saved.

In Romans chapter 4 and Galatians chapter 3, Paul reveals that Abraham was made righteous based on his faith.  His belief was not a work of the law – by which no one is saved – but was a work of faith.  “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:6,7).  Our exercise of faith makes us spiritual descendants of Abraham and children of God.  “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26).  Your sonship came about through faith.

The balance between God’s choice and our faith in the matter of salvation may seem like just a theoretical discussion, but I think it has powerful life-giving applications.  When we combine our faith making a difference with God’s promise to never desert us, we have a powerful assurance of salvation.  Because I have exercised my faith and have said “I believe”, I have no doubt that I am in God’s family based on the promise of Jesus about those who believe.  Without knowing that my faith was rewarded with the gift of eternal life, I might spend my life doubtful, discouraged, and wondering if I am in; if I am included in God’s choice.

Likewise, because I believe in God’s choice, my salvation is secure.  I never have to wonder if my faith was or is strong enough.  When my faith wavers, I never have to worry about being outside His secure hand.  I know I am secure in God’s hand.  He promised that (Jn 10:28-29).  What I am saying is that my faith had something to do with getting into His hand.  And knowing I got there by faith is part of my assurance of salvation.

Now, not only is our salvation influenced by faith, but our daily walk as well.  We will talk about that subject next time.

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Is Optimism a Sign of Faith?

Most people would consider me an optimist.  We are all familiar with the idea that an optimist sees a glass half filled with water as half-full while a pessimist refers to the glass as half-empty.  Since I see a half-full glass of water as completely full, sufficient to do the job, does that make me a super optimist?

I have been asked more than once if I think my optimism is related to faith.  Let me describe what I see as the connection and you can decide.  Optimism based on unrealistic naiveté that completely ignores the dangers and downers of this world is not based on faith.  Optimism based on positive thinking just for positive thinking’s sake is not based on faith.  So is there an optimism based on faith?

Our world consists of both material and immaterial parts.  When our focus is strictly on the material world, pessimism is often a natural outcome.  Death, disease, disaster, disappointment are such a part of this world that it is easy to become discouraged.  It is easy to see things we would like to change for the better, but we don’t know how or if they can even be changed.  Our lives in the material world are defined by a negative action leads to negative consequence mentality; a world without grace and forgiveness.  In short, a world without hope.

But when we allow ourselves to dwell on all that is true in the immaterial world, our cause for optimism goes up.  This is the world we experience by faith.  By faith, I know that I have a new heart.  Now I did not receive a physical heart transplant when I believed the gospel message of Christ, but in the immaterial world a new heart is exactly what I received.  By faith, I know that in Christ I have a new nature.  Again, this was not a physical change, something I can observe in the material world with my five senses, but it is true nonetheless.  In the immaterial world, I can view the people in my life through a fundamentally optimistic lens, because I know that they are created in God’s image and, if believers, now members of God’s family; children of God Himself, possessors of His divine nature.  And negative actions on their part cannot change their new and essential identity.

Faith in action takes these beliefs and experiences of the immaterial world and brings them to bear on the material world we live in.  I take action based on what I believe.  I make choices for good based on my faith.  When we only live in the material world, it is easy to weigh the evidence around us and come to negative conclusions about the world we inhabit.  But when we live by faith, we bring the immaterial world – which is by far the more “real” world of eternity – into the picture and we influence our material world for good.

Do Christians still sin?  Yes.  Do believers disappoint each other?  Yes.  Do bad things happen to good people?  Yes.  Faith is believing that despite the sometimes evidence to the contrary in the material world, we do possess a power over sin, God’s family is filled with holy and beloved saints, and God is not the author of evil.

Yes, I believe there is a brand of optimism that is a sign of faith.  We will always have personality issues that affect our optimism/pessimism traits.  There will always be nature and nurture influences that affect how we see the world.  The goal is not to compare ourselves with others and find which camp we fall into.  The comparison is to ourselves.  When we examine ourselves, are we becoming more trusting of God’s goodness as we grow up in the faith?  Seeing ourselves as one or the other may depend on where we started, but as we move forward in experiencing more and more of God’s new covenant promises, I think what the world may see as optimism will be the picture of us walking by faith.

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Righteous Live by Faith

Throughout history, under both the old and new covenants, the righteous live by faith.  The faith of the Old Testament saints is a quality that we, as New Testament believers, are to emulate.  The New Testament reminds us of their example and of the critical need to live by faith no matter what era we inhabit.

Despite their often public shortcomings, the faith of our Old Testament forebears is to be celebrated and followed.  Their faith was demonstrated by simply believing and acting upon the promises of God.  Hebrews chapter 11 highlights the various situations where the faith of the Old Testament saints was put to the test and they passed with flying colors.  And they believed even when the promises were yet to be fulfilled.

Hebrews 11 ends with, “And all these [heroes of the faith], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Heb 11:39).  Why?  Because it was still coming in the future; in the salvation of Jesus Christ.  The faith of God’s people in the Old Testament was forward-facing.  They were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God and the coming of His king, the Messiah.

Today, as citizens of that kingdom and servants of the King, we exercise a faith that is past, present, and future.  Facing backward, we see Jesus arrive on the scene 2000 years ago.  By faith, we believe that He indeed is the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  By faith, we have embraced His message and His sacrifice.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8).  We have been saved through faith in Jesus.

In the present day, we walk by faith.  Just like the Old Testament believers, our present day faith is in the promises of God.  We believe that He has given us a new identity, even if we do not feel it.  We believe that we are indwelt by His Spirit, and we walk accordingly.  “Now those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:24-25).

And our current “walking by faith” connects us to the faith of the Old Testament saints.  Listen to Paul make the connection in Galatians chapter 3.  “Does God then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:5-7).

Finally, our faith is also facing forward into the future; believing in the promise of Christ’s return.  “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13-14).  The righteous indeed live by faith.

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Wisdom Literature

In addition to the fulfilled prophesies, the priesthood and the sacrifices, and the warnings, another high value lesson of the Old Testament are the timeless truths of the wisdom books.  Their influence on our parenting is especially powerful.  In fact, like many parents before us, we found the book of Proverbs to be a valuable guide as Rhonda and I navigated the child-training years.

The wisdom books of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon are filled with life lessons, sometimes in just a sentence or two.  Lessons about:

Diligence – “Do you see a man diligent in his work?  He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Pr 22:29).

Speech – “A healing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit” (Pr 15:4).

Tattletales – “For the lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no talebearer, strife quiets down” (Pr 26:20).

Friendships – “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself” (Pr 22:24-25).

Wealth – “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it” (Pr 13:11).

And there are literally hundreds more.  These lessons almost always revolve around an action and a consequence; either for good or for bad.  While these consequences are important warnings and blessings that we need to teach to our children, it is important to remember that they are not promises.

The Book of Proverbs is just that: proverbs.  Wise sayings with “most likely outcomes”.  That is, “If you act this way, this is most likely the result.”  When I say “most likely” am I in any way diminishing the teaching?  No. the teaching is powerful and we do well to follow the wisdom contained in these books.  But they are proverbs, not iron-clad promises.  Why is this an important distinction?

It goes back to the formula method of parenting where we falsely believe that if I do A, B, and C, my kids are guaranteed to turn out like D.  It is not that simple.  Real life includes lazy people who get rich through fraud, diligent people who work in obscurity, good friends who turn fickle, and children who do not follow the path they were trained in.  The world does not always go the book of Proverbs way.

Is that because God is unfaithful to His promises?  No, it is because “the most likely outcome” of these wise sayings are sometimes circumvented for a variety of reasons.  The evil actions of Satan can bring suffering and loss instead of prosperity even among the most faithful.  The actions of others can interrupt the flow of God’s blessing.  The discipline of God can change an expected outcome.  And the free will of adult children to make up their own minds may lead to disappointing surprises.

So I guess what I am saying is…please teach these lessons to your children.  The wisdom contained in these Old Testament books is timeless.  And by teaching and living out these truths, you will have a huge influence on your children.  The outcomes are not random.  They generally follow the Proverbs way.  But recognize the limitation of a proverb.  Don’t let your faith be rattled when things don’t turn out as the book of Proverbs predicted.  And help your children navigate their own faith journey when what might be assumed as a promise did not come true.

So teach the Proverbs.  But keep them in the context of the Christian life is lived by faith.  And trust God, that even in the midst of surprising outcomes, He is good and He is in control.

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Warnings

The apostle Paul, in I Corinthians chapter 10, outlines one of the purposes of Israel’s travails in the Old Testament; they are examples of sin and unfaithfulness for New Testament saints to avoid.  After summarizing their wilderness journey, Paul writes concerning the children of Israel, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Cor 10:6-11).

Paul begins and ends this passage with the reminder that Israel’s sins instruct us in what not to do.  In between, Paul lists Israel’s craving evil things, idolatry, immorality, trying the Lord, and complaining as examples to learn from and avoid.

Now you may recall that we started these Old Testament posts as an offshoot of our parenting discussion and I would like to return to the topic here.  In our family, we found these Old Testament stories of warning to be very powerful in teaching our children about the attitudes and actions that displease the Lord.

For example, here is a story we read and discussed on more than one occasion with our children.  It is a story about complaining, and the lesson begins in Numbers chapter 11 with, “And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’ ” (Num 11:4).  The people then reminisce about the days of free fish in Egypt.  But here in the wilderness, their appetite is literally “dried up” since “there is nothing at all to look at except this manna” (Num 11:6).

To fast forward the story, Moses appeals to the Lord on behalf of the people’s desire for meat.  The Lord responds that He will give them meat every day for a month.  In fact, God promises to send so much meat that “it will come out of your nostrils and become loathsome to you because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have complained before Him saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ” (Num 11:20).  As Moses contemplates where this much meat will come from, God sends a wind from the sea.  Upon the wind are enough quail to cover the camp three feet deep in birds.  And the children of Israel rush to gather up hundreds of bushel of quail (Num 11:31-32).

But in a plot twist more stark than any Hollywood ending, something strange happens when the people begin to eat.  Let Moses finish the story himself, “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague.  So the name of that place was called Kibrothhatta-avah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy” (Num 11:33-34).

This story is a powerful lesson about complaining that we and our children took to heart.  And it is one of many stories of warning for our benefit in the Old Testament.  But as we share these lessons with our kids we need to remember an important balance.  As New Testament believers, we are not destined to follow Israel’s example.  We are not doomed to repeat their mistakes.  Having been set free from the power of sin by the provisions of the new covenant, Israel’s folly is not our destiny.  Albeit, we can choose to act like we are doomed to failure, but that would be ignoring what our Savior has done in us!

Paul says it this way as he ends his passage on Israel’s example with, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Cor 10:13).  The promise of the new covenant is victory over sin.  So while we sound, use, and explain these Old Testament warnings about sin, we also teach our believing children about who they are in Christ and the promise of victory that is theirs.

This is how we use Old Testament warnings without falling into a “parenting with fear” mentality that we have written about here.  By the promise of who we are in Christ, the promise of power over sin, we can overcome Israel’s example.  Teaching our children these two great truths together – the example of the sins of Israel to avoid and the power for good inside you by God’s Spirit – brings a balance into your parenting that will serve you and your children well.  It is deeply hopeful, positive, empowering, and Christ honoring!

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Priesthood and the Sacrifice

Another lesson from the Old Testament for believers today is the pattern of the priesthood and the sacrifices as a foreshadowing of the coming Christ.  The book of Hebrews compares and contrasts the priesthood and sacrifice pattern of the Old Testament with the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Seeing the connection between Christ’s work and the Old Testament pattern strengthens our faith to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross really was the final and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

In Jesus we have a better hope because we have a better priest.  “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:19-20).  Our better hope is based on Jesus being a better priest after the order of Melchizedek – the eternal priest – rather than after the order of Levi – priests of the old covenant.

“But He with an oath through the One who said to Him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever.” ‘  So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:21-22).  As a priest forever, Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant than the one associated with the former priesthood.

“For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb 7:26-27).  Jesus, the better priest, became Jesus, the better sacrifice when “He once for all offered up Himself.”

Christ’s death was a better sacrifice.  “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:13-15).

Christ’s better sacrifice – and the new covenant it initiated – has an eternal and a present component.  On the eternal front, our transgressions are paid in full by Christ’s blood and we have obtained an “eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15).  On the present-day front, Christ’s blood “cleanses our conscience to serve the living God” (Heb 9:14); to live godly lives.  When Christ died, our old sin nature died with Him and we have been raised with Christ to walk in a new life, to walk in a new resurrection power (Rom 6:4).

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Heb 9:24-25,28).  Christ’s first coming secured our initial salvation and our eternal destiny.  He saved us when He bore our sins on the cross.  Christ’s second coming will secure our final salvation; our ultimate rescue from this world to live forever with Him.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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The Role of the Old Testament – Fulfilled Prophesies

The Christian life is a beautiful balance of faith and intellect; faith and fact.  God has given us plenty of facts that confirm the events of Scripture, most notably surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But there also remains a large faith element.  I personally think that is why Jesus appeared to so few people – and most of them in secret – after His resurrection.  He left a little mystery so that we would need to exercise our faith to believe who Jesus is and that He is risen and seated at God’s right hand.  I also think this faith requirement helps quench our pride, knowing that we can’t figure everything out just on our smarts alone.

One of the things that bolsters our faith with facts are the fulfilled prophesies of the Old Testament.  Regarding the coming Messiah, there are many, many specific predictions in the Old Testament that came true in Jesus.  Prophesies addressing His lineage (Gen 49:10), His birth (Mic 5:2, Hos 11:1), His titles (Is 7:14, Is 9:6-7), His ministry (Is 61:1-2), His death (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53), and His resurrection (Ps 16:10, Ps 49:15) all point to Jesus of Nazareth as the Anointed One; the Messiah.

One of the specific threads of Old Testament prophesy is God’s promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36); a new arrangement between God and man.  This new covenant was brought by Jesus and purchased with His blood.  At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Lk 22:20).  Seeing Jesus fulfill the historical prophesies gives us great confidence that He is indeed the bearer of the new covenant.  And all the promises of a new life, a new heart, a new nature, and a new power are coming true just like the historical predictions have done.

Finally, seeing the prophesies fulfilled in Jesus strengthens our faith to believe the promises yet to come.  The future events of Christ’s return, His rule over a new heaven and a new earth, His final and complete defeat of Satan, and our abiding in His physical presence forever all stand on the foundation of seeing God keep His promises in the past.  Seeing God’s prophesies being woven throughout the entire Old Testament and then seeing them come true in Jesus is a great faith-builder for new covenant saints today.

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The Role of the Old Testament

Because my focus in this blog is on the new covenant, the provisions of the new covenant, and the power for living found in the new covenant, it would be easy to dismiss the contribution of the Old Testament.  But let’s not be too hasty.  Instead, let’s investigate the role of the Old Testament in the lives of God’s children today.

I can think of at least five major categories of lessons in the Old Testament that inform our spirituality today.  1) The prophesies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah are real faith builders today as we consider the incredible fulfillment of them in Christ Jesus.  2) The pattern in the Old Testament of the priesthood and the sacrifices are a foreshadowing of what Christ would be coming to do for us.  It provides a foundation for understanding that Christ is a priest forever and that His sacrifice was final and sufficient.  3) The numerous warnings concerning sin are a schoolmaster to us – a kind of “what not to do” – particularly through the example of the children of Israel.  4) The wisdom literature of the Proverbs etc. gives valuable instruction on how to live wisely in this world that God has created.  And finally 5) the patriarch’s example of faith in the Old Testament is to be emulated by New Testament believers.  The Christian life – energized with a new freedom and power wrought by Christ’s death on a cross – is still lived by faith.

What became “old and obsolete” (Heb 8:13) about the Old Testament is the arrangement between God and man concerning our sin.  What has “faded away” (II Cor 3:11) is the works-based righteousness found in the Law.  And what became “new” was a righteousness based on faith in Christ and the promise of transformation in us when we believe His gospel message.

The details of the change in covenants between the old and the new regarding our arrangement with God are left here for another day.  For now, let’ s explore the five categories of lessons that await us in the Old Testament today.  We will start with the prophesies of the coming Messiah next time.

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Are You a New Testament Family?

Our last post about the lessons learned in the story of the lost son rekindled a spark that has been brewing in my brain for quite some time.  One of the major disappointments I face in family ministry is the number of “Old Testament” families I encounter in the church; families that are not experiencing the beautiful unfairness of grace that we wrote about last time.  What do I mean by an “Old Testament” family?

It is a mindset that lifts up the principles of the Old Testament as the norm for living the Christian life today.  It likes the formula and predictability of the Old Testament rules.  “Don’t do A, or B will happen to you.  Don’t do C or you will be punished.  Don’t do D or you will lose your blessing.”  At its core, it is a fear-based way to live and a fear-based method of parenting.  And it has no place in the lives of New Testament families.

Our poor theology that elevates the Old Testament to a par with the New is one of the drivers of this unfortunate situation.  I have written many times that the Bible clearly teaches that the New Testament is far superior to the Old so I will leave it at that for now.  But trust me – or better yet, trust God’s Word – on this; the old covenant has literally been “brought to an end” [Gk. katargeo] (II Cor 3:11) and deemed “obsolete” [Gk. palaioo] (Heb 8:13).  I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases the end of Hebrews chapter 8 in The Message, “By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and His people, God put the old plan on the shelf.  And there it stays, gathering dust” (Heb 8:13).

But we can’t leave well enough alone.  We keep taking it back down from the shelf, blowing off the dust, and somehow mix it in with the new covenant in trying to live the Christian life.  But when we do this, we produce a form of legalism that is not only deadly in our churches, but deadly in our families as well.  No one would say, “Our family is following the Old Testament Law,” but we do that exact thing – with a hint of a New Testament twist – when we practice legalism.

And just like its Old Testament foundation, legalism is based on fear.  It is obeying the rules out of a fear that your sin will find you out or God will become angry with you.  It is a focus on externals driven by fear.  It is a focus on things I can measure.  “How am I dressed…How early did I get up to do my wisdom booklet…How hard am I working…”  We are fearful that we will not measure up.  Or worse yet, we look down on our Christian brother or sister because they are not measuring up.  It is an Old Testament style of law-keeping through and through, and it is life-draining.

By contrast, the New Testament is life-giving with its focus on qualities and attributes that God has already given us by virtue of becoming part of His family.  And it is based on love, not fear.  In I John chapter 4, we learn that God in His very essence is love personified.  And as His seed, love should be our essence as well.  And one of love’s attributes is that it casts out fear.  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (I Jn 4:18).  Obedience informed by the new covenant is obedience based on identity – who we are in Christ – not based on fear of punishment.

We make a grave mistake in our parenting and our churches when we put the “wrath of God” and “children of God” in the same sentence.  Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, these two phrases are never to appear together.  “The wrath of God is reserved for the sons of disobedience [the lost]” (Col 3:6).  It is never in the picture with God’s children.  But somehow, whether direct or subtle, I see the wrath of God held over the heads of parishioners and children alike, and it is not biblical.

One reason I am so vexed by this topic is because not only is the Old Testament approach not appropriate for the New Testament family, but it is clearly not working.  We have a generation of young adults raised in this legalism and because of the misguided marriage of Old with the New, many are basically throwing the whole thing out the window; unaware of the freedom in Christ and resurrection power that is waiting for them in the provisions of the new covenant.

Let me encourage you, “BE A NEW TESTAMENT FAMILY.”  Tap into Christ’s life-giving, resurrection power.  Train your children to obey out of a sense of identity; a sense of who we are “in Christ”.  I say as humbly as I can, but also unapologetically, that this is who we tried to be as a family.  We tried to practice grace at every opportunity.  We tried to practice love, acceptance, and forgiveness as modeled by Christ.  We tried to live out the fruit of the Spirit that God has already planted in us by the new birth.  Were we always successful?  No.  But by God’s grace and by following His ways, we experienced a result that was joy, not fear; loyalty, not selfish ambition; harmony, not confusion in our family.  Who wouldn’t want to grow up in a family like that?  I know I certainly would.

The good news is that you can do this.  You can be a New Testament family.  You can be a family characterized by love, not fear.

Now before we go and lest you think I have just cut the Old Testament out of my Bible, be assured that it is still there in its rightful place.  And it does have a rightful place.  We will talk about where that is next time.

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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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