Monday, March 30, 2009

Helmets and Armor

When I was in college I heard someone make a comment about how helmets have to be the dumbest invention that humanity has ever created. Think about it. We are engaging in sports or activities that could cause us serious head trauma or brain damage. The danger is all too apparent. BUT, we don't want to abstain from those activities, so we created "protective gear" that will allow us to keep doing those dangerous things. Rather than realizing the inherent dangers and letting our injuries deter us, we press on!
So I heard a radio spot from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons the other day. And the basic ad was this. A mom is speaking to her son, apparently an extreme skateboarder who hasn't been wearing his "armor" (pads, etc.) when he's been doing his tricks. So she has a conversation with him and tells him that he better start wearing his padding or she's not going to let him keep skateboarding any longer. Then comes the bass voice-over saying something to the effect of, "We can't expect our kids to stop their extreme sports. But we can try to protect them from injuries when they do."

Hold on. Back the train up. This commercial has bugged me for a few weeks now. It basically seems like they are saying that children are just going to do what they want; and the best parents can do is try to protect them from too bad of injuries. Is that true? I think in many families it is, but let ours not be numbered among them. In many families, it is assumed that "kids will be kids" and that they are going to do some foolish things (hanging out with less than desirable friends, driving recklessly, doing drugs, getting too intimate with their girlfriend, drinking a little alcohol here or there). Some parents think their role is to just guard their child from making a "big" mistake and really getting hurt. With the metaphor of the commercial, we let them do extreme skateboarding, just as long as they wear their armor.

But as Christian parents, we should not be resigned to the idea that our "kids will be kids." We are to hold high expectations and set limits on what our children are allowed to do. We are their guardians and the ones who are to be pressing them toward Christ. Of course, we must allow them to have some freedoms, but we often let this go way too far in our culture because we want our children to like us and think that we're "cool."

Set clear boundaries. Keep high expectations. Press your children to honor Christ in their decision-making. Have conversations with them about why you don't allow them to engage in certain activities. Don't just throw them the "armor." Help them see why their "extreme skateboarding" is dangerous.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One Generation Away

"And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger." -Judges 2:10-12

The book of Judges begins with the death of Joshua. He had led Israel into the Promised Land, being used by God to bring great military victories. Joshua was always urging the Israelites to obey God and to remember the miracles that He had done for them (delivering them from Egyptian captivity, providing mannah in the wilderness, and most recently, giving them victory of much stronger forces in order to take the Promised Land). But when Joshua and his generation died off, there apparently was a new generation who had not experienced these miracles of God first-hand. The stories that their parents and grandparents told them about God and the great things He had done might have seemed like a distant fairy tale to this new generation. Their lives, as young people, had been one of comfort and peace in the land. Perhaps they saw little need for this miracle-working God.

The result? Judges 2 tells us that they had no knowledge of God and that this led to doing "evil" in His sight. They even went so far as to worship other idols and gods of the surrounding nations. How quickly God's people had moved from an awareness of His greatness to an all-out rejection of His worthiness. One generation.

God's people are always one generation away from abandoning trust in Him. As Christians we can not take it for granted that our children will somehow just absorb the faith that we have in Christ. Repentance and faith are not traits we pass down like eye color or height. With every child of every generation, it takes a work of God to change their hardened hearts and give them faith in Jesus for their salvation. Parents--and grandparents--it is our duty to see to it that they hear the gospel over and over and over....It's our responsibility to remind them of what God has done--in the cross of Christ, but also in our lives. This is no guarantee that they will believe, but that is not our responsibility. Ours is to put that truth before them time and time again.

There is a generation today (of which I am part) that is just like the Israelites after the death of Joshua...We live comfortable lives of relative prosperity. We see little need for the miracle-working God that previous generations worshiped. The only thing that will snap my generation--or any generation--out of this apathy and rejection of God is to hear the truth of the Gospel. I'm a sinner who desperately needs a Savior, and Christ has miraculously provided a means of forgiveness. If we will be faithful to teach our children and the young people of our church this truth, it will be far less likely that a generation will arise that forgets and outright abandons the God of their parents.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Gospel and Anger

Pastor John preached about anger yesterday--a reality that is very difficult for many of us to think about and really fight against in our lives. We make excuses for our anger, blame it on other people, and justify the rude or even violent behavior that stems from it. But the simple message of the gospel has a lot to teach us about anger.

We learn from the example of God Himself. The Bible frequently describes God as being "slow to anger." Examples include Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, and 145:8; Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, and Nahum 1:3. These verses explicitly refer God's slowness to anger, but many more stories refer to this slowness to anger in general. Take the overarching story of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament for example. Though God had every right to destroy them as a nation for their rebellion, He gave them chance after chance to repent and turn back. For centuries, He showed a slowness to anger--sending them prophet after prophet to warn them. Ultimately, He did punish Israel by allowing them to be conquered and sent into exile. But the overall impression one gets of God throughout the Old Testament is of Him being slow to anger with His people.

And we can think of ourselves in the same way. God hates our sin. He can't stand it. It makes Him angry (an anger that is completely justified--unlike much of ours). Yet He has shown believers incredible mercy. He has every right to destroy and punish us for committing even one sin, but He is "slow to anger." By sending Christ to die in the place of sinners, God the Father chose to punish His Son for the sins of others. His anger was poured out on His Son so that we could be forgiven. If we trust in Christ's sacrifice and repent of our sin, We experience God's forgiveness and mercy firsthand--the complete opposite of what we deserve. What mercy He has shown to us! Rather than just punishing us eternally when we first sin, He offers us the chance to repent, trust in Christ, and be forgiven.

As believers in Christ, who have been shown this incredible mercy and experienced firsthand God's "slowness to anger," we should follow His example when others wrong us. When I am angry or am tempted to anger, I can remind myself of God's slowness to anger toward me. I have wronged Him to a far worse degree than anyone will ever wrong me. Yet He went to unimaginable lengths (putting His innocent Son to death in my place) to show me His love, mercy, and forgiveness. How can I be quick to anger toward others when He has been so slow to anger toward me?

Thanks Pastor John for your sermon yesterday, the reminder that anger can quickly turn into sin, and the challenge to respond to temptations to anger in a way that pleases our Savior.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dating--Are We Going About It Rightly?

A while back, I asked our students what some topics were that they would like to learn about or discuss at church. And one of the students' response was simply "dating." There's a lot to think about when it comes to dating, so I dove in to some reading on the topic and have actually done a lot of thinking since then. Some of the articles that were most helpful to me were from Boundless Webzine. You can see the first of the series by clicking here--Biblical Dating: An Introduction

This author really challenged how I thought about dating. Dating, in our American culture, has almost become a given. It's just something we do without putting much thought into it and really evaluating how God would want us to engage in it--or if he'd want us to engage in it. So through this process of thinking about dating, a few things have stuck out in my mind. I think a good way to think about biblical dating is to contrast it with typical American dating. So here it goes--three significant differences:

1. What's the goal? For typical American dating the goal could by any number of things: fun, entertainment, playing the field to see what people are like, maintaining social status, fitting in, evaluating whether I'm "compatible" with someone, etc. But for biblical dating (if we're to engage in it at all), the goal should be marriage. Period. The Bible presents marriage as a serious endeavor that for most of us--unless we are called to be single and serve the Lord in a very unique way--is to be something to strive for. Yet in our culture today, marriage--and especially dating--are viewed flippantly. We love the dating process and stay in it for long period of time, but are hesitant to marry....And when we date tons of different people prior to marriage, it's almost as if we are practicing divorce. We're repeating a cycle of giving our heart--or our body--away, only to have that relationship severed. So biblical dating should always have marriage in view. Which means that age is an important consideration. If I am not ready to be married within a reasonable span of time (let's say a few years), then why should I date? I'd only be setting myself up for unneeded temptation.

2. Which comes first: intimacy or commitment? In typical American dating, intimacy comes first. In biblical dating, commitment comes first. 1 Thessalonians 4:2-6 warns us against "defrauding" others. In other words, it calls us to never act a certain way, when reality is actually far different. That "defrauding" is exactly what happens when we pretend to be married in almost every significant way (time, finances, attention, emotional closeness, etc.) without actually being married. In our culture, dating is viewed as this gradual rise in intimacy. We think of two people growing closer and closer and closer until they truly know each other inside and out--and only then is marriage appropriate. Intimacy precedes commitment. But this isn't exactly biblical. The reverse should be true: commitment should precede intimacy. We have this warped idea that we need to "test drive" a potential spouse for a long time before we sign on the dotted line. But the biblical picture of marriage is one in which you find an individual who meets certain criteria (they are a believer of godly character, their vision of life/ministry matches yours in general, etc.), and you marry them. It is after this commitment that emotional and physical intimacy are to grow and blossom to their fullness. But when we rush that intimacy and push it before marriage, we once again are setting ourselves up to fail. Instead of the long gradual process of dating, biblical dating probably would be more of an intentional short process...Song of Solomon has a good reminder for us:
"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases
." (2:7)

3. Is dating a personal decision or one that calls for accountability? Typical American dating is intensely personal. "You can't tell me who to love." "I'll date whoever I want to date." "Who I date is my business, not yours." Heard things like that before? You might even agree with that. But be careful. We can't just buy this American individualism hook, line, and sinker. The biblical view of the Christian life is one of accountability to others (primarily to our parents and to our church). We do not arrange marriages for our young people as used to be the case, but we should have a say in helping them evaluate potential mates and offering guidance. Young people who are genuine believers should respond well to this guidance rather than bucking against it.

Well, there's many more thoughts I have, but I'll leave it at that for time sake. Any thoughts, questions, comments???