Charlottesville: The White Christian Response

written by: Jon Wood

The scene in Charlottesville on Saturday unfolded like a script right out of a Mississippi Burning sequel.  The sad and sickening events we witnessed on TV served to reinforce the brokenness of the country we live in.  I’m proud to be an American but I’m saddened by so many who call themselves Americans.  We are a country that cherishes the principle that “all men are created equal” which makes it especially sickening to hear the growing voice of the angry alt-right who buy into the demonic lie that all white is all right.

Sadly, this struggle is nothing new and it’s a fight that the Christian church must lead aggressively inside her walls as well.  After all, one of Satan’s most effective tools to undermine the early church was through ethnocentrism.   Thankfully, the apostle Paul recognized this as a sin so vile that it demanded an aggressive response.

The book of Galatians is that response.

In Galatians 2:11-14, we see a clash of church titans.  The apostle Paul got in the face of Peter to tell him that “he stood condemned.”  What was the sin of the church’s foremost leader?  Racism.  But Peter’s form of racism didn’t come wrapped in a Nazi flag, it was much more subtle than that but no less dangerous to the witness of the church.  Peter had bought into the lie that the Jewish race was superior to the Gentile races.  Paul and PeterHe secretly harbored a lower view of Gentile customs and traditions while holding his own Jewish race and customs as superior.

It’s bad enough when a deacon at a Baptist church is racist, it’s a whole other thing when the chosen leader of the universal church harbors racism in his own heart.   The witness of the gospel itself was on the line.  Peter’s racist heart was so dark that he would completely disassociate himself from Gentile believers when his Jewish friends were watching him.

Peter undermined the gospel of Jesus Christ by physically separating himself from Gentiles.

Look at that last sentence again.  The leader of the entire Christian church undermined the gospel by creating distance between his race and all the others.

So that brings us to two questions for white Christians like me who were appalled by the events they witnessed on Saturday:

QUESTION 1 – Do you intentionally find ways to build relationships with and listen to people of other races or does your Christian bubble only include people that look like you, think like you, and vote like you?

QUESTION 2 – Like Paul, do you aggressively condemn racism when you see it in yourself or your friends?  It’s easy to wag a finger at Neo-Nazis buts it much harder to aggressively call out a Christian friend who patronizes the black community by suggesting “they have problems they need to work on.”

If we are truly one in Christ, then the scene at Charlottesville should stir the hearts of Christians everywhere to aggressively sniff out and destroy any residual stench of racism within the walls of the church while seeking to close the social chasm between whites and non-whites everywhere.  The witness of the gospel itself is on the line.

Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [ESV]

 

5 Reasons You Should NOT Try islandCHURCH

In just a few weeks, our lead pastor David Tarkington is officially handing over the keys to launch our new church campus known as islandCHURCH, as part of the firstFAMILY network.  We launch on September 10th at 5pm in the cafeteria of Paterson Elementary in Fleming Island, Florida.

So why should you check out islandCHURCH?  To make it easier, let me tell you why you should NOT check it out…

  1. You prefer feel-good messages. If you are eager to hear motivational messages about self-empowerment, I can offer you a list of “churches” led by Tony Robbins clones.  At islandCHURCH, we don’t drink the empty calories in the gospel of self-empowerment.  We are passionate about the real gospel of Jesus that demands self-abandonment and delivers lasting joy.
  2. You want to remain unknown. Bigger churches are great and I’m a member of one.  But they can also be an easy way for people to remain unknown to others.  If you want to slip in and out of a worship service without being recognized, then you should probably not try islandCHURCH.
  3. You thrive on church programs. I love well-run church programs.  They can be a huge help to Christians.  But if you thrive on highly-organized and well-funded church programs, then islandCHURCH might not be the place for you.  Our focus is not on producing programs to serve church people.  We are focused on making disciples who will serve God by serving others.
  4. You prefer professionals do the work. It’s easy for pew-sitters to write a check to the “professionals” on stage to do the work of the church.  I’ve done it most of my life.  But what if a church existed where there were no “professionals” and everyone in the pew had a role in the work of the church?  That’s what islandCHURCH is striving to become.
  5. You already serve somewhere else. There are some great gospel-centered churches in the Fleming Island area and if you already serve in one of them, then remain faithful to where God has placed you.

If those 5 reasons to avoid islandCHURCH don’t scare you away, then I would like to personally invite you to come see what we are all about.  We are a local group of believers who are striving to love God, love people, and make disciples… and nothing could be more important than that.

Hope to see you at islandCHURCH!   If you’d like to preview islandCHURCH, come check out our final preview service on Sunday August 20th at 5pm.

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Hope to see you there!

 

Are You a Planet Fitness Christian?

America is full of Planet Fitness facilities and it’s no mystery why.  Planet Fitness has a genius business model; a three-fold approach that is paying big dividends for its stockholders.

  • Step 1 – Get a lot of people to sign up with a minimal monthly commitment.
  • Step 2 – Create an environment of low expectations and mock anyone who is really serious about physical fitness.
  • Step 3 – Don’t allow a culture of one-on-one or group training to dominate the scene.

Last year, I met a man who runs seven Planet Fitness franchises in the southeast United States.  He has done very well for himself under the company’s motto of a “Judgement-Free Zone.” I don’t fault him for making a handsome profit.  Unfortunately, this entrepreneur’s approach to business is an all too accurate depiction of modern Christianity in America.

Planet Fitness Christians

America is full of Planet Fitness Christians and it’s no mystery why.  They have learned from church leadership that commitment requires nothing more than showing up once a week and tipping the offering plate when it passes.

These Planet Fitness Christians are catered to with a comfortable non-intimidating church environment with minimal expectations for real spiritual growth.  These members aren’t challenged to become a completely new person.  They’re coddled to become a slightly better version of themselves.

They show up once a week for a quick 30-minute emotional boost but are never challenged to do the grueling faith-fueled work of shedding sinful attitudes and actions.  These judgement-free Christians have learned from their church peers that being serious about spiritual growth is reserved for those self-righteous lunkhead Christians who flex their spiritual muscles in front of a mirror.

Worst of all, these Planet Fitness Christians have long ago decided that one-on-one and small group discipleship is just too intimidating.  They’ve determined that they aren’t radical Christians looking to reshape their entire being.  They’re casual members looking to check a box.  They just want a weekly spiritual experience in a judgement-free zone where no one will question their decisions or their lifestyle.

The Answer to Planet Fitness Christianity

Jesus didn’t abandon his throne in heaven, wrap himself in human flesh, then allow that flesh to be beaten and torn just so we could become a slightly better version of ourselves.  Jesus offers us a completely new life through faith in Him.  But He has determined that He will accomplish much of the work in us through His church with the muscle power of the Holy Spirit.

To that end, church leaders need to offer a new three-fold approach to encourage Christians to experience real spiritual growth and the new life that Jesus has offered.

  • Step 1 – Daily challenge people to give up their entire lives.  Jesus never demanded less than everything.  group-training
  • Step 2 – Create an environment of high expectations where grace is the foundation and holiness is the goal.  Failure is to be expected but not celebrated.
  • Step 3 – Create a culture of small group discipleship where spiritual growth can happen in the context of relationships.

For what its worth, my wife and I are members of a Planet Fitness gym.  Its a great place to get a cheap workout.  But every time I walk in and see that Judgement-Free Zone, I can’t help but cringe at the thought of churches who have adopted the Planet Fitness model. Thanks to Jesus, Christians are free from judgment for sure.  But rather than allow our freedom in Christ to become a free pass into spiritual apathy, we are called to work out our salvation.  It will require a lot of sweat and a lot of tears, but we are promised that its worth it.

Why Does the Bible Sound Weird and Even Horrible?

Two weeks ago, we looked at the 3 worst answers Christians offer on the same-sex question that skeptics and cynics are asking.   See this Bill Maher clip for an example (warning: language is offensive).

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The response that most Christians offer is often weak and nonsensical at best.  Make no mistake, Satan is fully aware that his frontal assault against genuine Christianity must zero in on the legitimacy of the Word of God.  It’s a trick he learned in Eden and has been employing it successfully ever since.  We must be ready to answer the skeptic’s questions.

Those Weird Old Testament Laws

The Old Testament can seem really strange to the modern reader.  For example, why does God tell Moses to codify this law: “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material”?  Just as importantly, why don’t Christians today uphold that law by boycotting cotton-polyester blends?  Are we picking and choosing from a Bible that is irrelevant for the 21st century person?

Those Horrible Old Testament Laws

What about those Old Testament laws which demand that adulterers and homosexuals be stoned to death?  Does God really think it’s a good thing to take large rocks and hurl them at the skulls of men and women who have sinned sexually?  Just as importantly, why don’t Christians today honor that law by vocally advocating for the death penalty for adulterers and homosexuals?  The question must be asked.  Are we picking and choosing from an outdated religious text that has no place in the modern world?

The 3 Kinds of Laws

The questions being raised by skeptics in the 21st century have already been answered by saints in the 17th century.  In 1646, the Westminster confession of faith was catechized.  In its pages is a brief outline of the 3 kinds of laws that we find in the Bible; ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law.  They provide the necessary framework for understanding the biblical laws we find so strange.

1 – Ceremonial Laws

Those weird old testament laws about clothing types and blood rituals fall into the category of ceremonial laws.  These laws were given to God’s holy people Israel as a physical representation of a very real spiritual separation that must define the hearts of God’s people as distinguished from the surrounding idolatrous nations.  What are we to think of these laws now?  The Westminster Confession rightly states, “all ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.”  The ceremonial laws were completed in Christ and therefore repealed for believers.   As Christians, we don’t look to an ornately-clothed priest and a bloody goat to symbolize our holiness.  We look to the cross where a naked carpenter became a bloody lamb to provide the final sacrifice that forever sealed our holy position before God.

2 – Civil Laws

Those horrifying Old Testament laws about stoning adulterers and homosexuals tell us something very important and it has nothing to do with modern debates over capital punishment.  It tells us that God took seriously any sign of rebellion among his people in the nation-state of Israel.  For this reason, he instituted very strict civil laws (aka judicial laws) to deter any Jew from taking lightly the commands of God.  As strange as it sounds, these harsh punishments were evidence of God’s grace as he sought to shepherd the wandering hearts of the Jewish people.  Modern Christians do not advocate for such civil laws because Christ has now instituted his church as the means to bless the world by carrying the gospel message.  We aren’t a united country ruled by prophets and judges.  We are a united people representing every tribe and nation.  While we actively advocate for just laws in our unique countries, we are not seeking to resurrect Old Testament laws that were specifically designed for God’s chosen people Israel.

3 – Moral Laws

That brings us to the most important of these laws, the moral law.  The ten commandments are the best example of this kind of law.  They get at the very core of the character of God and how we are to relate to Him.  In America, sexual revolutionaries have come to view the moral law of God as a strait jacket, preventing them from embracing their true sexual identity.  But David delighted in the moral law because he saw it is God’s gracious means to redirect his own sin-darkened heart in the way that is best for him.  Like tracks meant to guide the path of a locomotive, the law of God was graciously given to guide our hearts to evade the derailing and destructive effects of sin.

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The Slavery Question 

For a great discussion about slavery in the Bible, see this message from David Platt.

The 3 Worst Answers Christians Give to the Same-Sex Question

The question usually sounds something like this:

“Why can’t you stop with your homophobic bias against same-sex couples?”

The Christian’s response usually goes like this:

“I can’t support a same-sex relationship because the Bible says it’s wrong.”

That response almost inevitably earns a barrage of accusations at the Bible.  It usually sounds something like this:

“That same bible also says that homosexuals and adulterers should be stoned to death.  I don’t see you advocating for that.  And that same bible also says that slavery is okay and I don’t see you advocating for that.  Your bible also says that it’s wrong to wear clothes with blended fabrics.  I don’t see you marching for 100% cotton clothes.  It seems obvious that you’re picking and choosing what you want to believe from the bible.  Get with it and join the 21st century.”

It’s at this point in the conversation where a Christian must be prepared to give a loving and coherent response.  Unfortunately, in my experience, most of us feel so pinned against the wall that we either cave to this line of reasoning or we respond with a weak and overly simplistic answer.

The 3 Worst Answers Christians Give to the Same-Sex Question

  1. Those strange laws you’re talking about are Old Testament laws. Because of Jesus, we live under grace now.  We don’t live under law.”

This is the most common response from faithful church people.  Unfortunately, this answer immediately breaks down under scrutiny.  It fails to answer the obvious underlying questions like: Was it ever okay to stone a homosexual because that sounds pretty terrible don’t you think?  Can we really trust a book that has ever advocated for slavery?  And if we are “under grace” as you say, then doesn’t that same grace cover the imperfections in same-sex couples?

  1. I’m in no position to judge anyone so I don’t worry about all those verses. I just try to love everyone whether they are gay, straight, or somewhere in between. I just show them the love of Jesus.”

This is the ever-popular escape hatch which says “I don’t judge, I just love.”  Like the previous bad response, it has a certain Christian aura to it.  Unfortunately, it fails to clarify what true Christian love looks like.  Jesus loved people by warning them of his coming judgment against sinners.  His love did not come in the form of a plea for tolerance, it came in the form of a plea for repentance.  Its true that we are in no position to judge sinners.  But Jesus is and that’s the problem.

  1. Well that’s how I was raised and so that’s what I believe.”

This is the response that got Miss California in trouble in the 2009 Miss USA pageant and it’s an all-too-common retort that Christians offer on questions of morality.  I respect her for standing her ground in an intimidating environment but her answer is the weakest of them all.  It’s just moral relativism cloaked in an old fashioned respect for mom and pops.  If parent’s words determine morality, then moral absolutes don’t exist and we might as well stop arguing important ideas.

Next Week’s Blog…

Next Monday, we will examine more deeply the question of those weird laws in the Old Testament.  If you have time, you might listen to this sermon I preached last week on the importance of knowing the word of God.  Because the world around us is asking questions that we are finding ourselves ill-prepared to answer.

Trump and The Women’s March Madness

If hyper-political social media posts anger you, then your head probably popped off this weekend.  Between the inauguration of President Trump and the Women’s March on Saturday, there were enough polarizing tweets to fill the national mall on a rainy day. March Madness started early.

As I watched the news coverage of the march, it became all too clear that millions of women fear a Trump presidency for at least two reasons in particular.  One reason is his past objectification of women.  The second is for his administration’s stated position on abortion.

The Irony of Their Anger

The irony of their two-fold anger should not be lost on us.  These women rightfully decry Trump’s history of chauvinistic “locker room” talk which makes a woman out to be nothing more than an object to be used and discarded.  Yet ironically, many of those same women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in favor of a law that allows a girl in the womb to be considered an object to be discarded.

The issue at hand is one of value.  Do women have value?  And do baby girls in the womb have value?  Only the Christian worldview answers both of those questions with a definitive yes and Christians more than ever need to be vocal about both.

To Christians Who Voted for Trump

There is a sinful tendency in all of us to defend the words and actions of the candidate for whom we voted.  For those that felt compelled to vote for Trump, their gut instinct will be to overlook serious character defects that Trump himself has casually dismissed.  If we take that same casual attitude towards the devaluing of women, we only perpetuate the real war on women, the one that devalues them inside and outside the uterine wall.

To Christians Who Didn’t Vote for Trump

Christians who did not vote for Trump will likewise have the same errant tendency to view all his policy decisions with the same disdain that they view the man himself.  This is not right.  As ambassadors for another kingdom, we must remain objective and filter all policy decisions through a biblical lens. Support Trump when he supports the life of the unborn. Decry him when he objectifies women.  Like John the Baptist, it will sometimes be necessary to call out kings for their sexual misdeeds.  And like Joseph, it will sometimes be necessary to work alongside a leader who is not one of God’s people.

Remember the Real War

Though progressives have only recently bemoaned a “war on women,” we know that the real war on women began long before this year’s election.  It began with a serpent in a garden.  So don’t let your head pop off in this world of raw unfiltered political emotion.  We rest easy because we serve a King who has already crushed the head of the ultimate hater of women, Satan himself.

Be sure to livestream this week’s Evangelicals for Life conference.

Dr. King’s Words Should Scare Whites Like Me

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White Christians Like Me

There was once a group of people that thought like me, taught like me, and even looked like me.  They were white conservative evangelicals who faithfully took their children to church, read their King James Bibles, and even served as deacons.  They lived each day under the assumption that they were a force for good in their community.

And yet this group of people was blind.  Woefully blind.  Sadly, it was this group of Christians in the 1960s that most troubled the heart of America’s greatest champion for social justice, Martin Luther King Jr.  If they could have only seen their blind spots.

The images from those freedom marches are stamped into our minds and history books.  Peaceful black protesters being blasted with fire hoses, spat on by pale bystanders, and attacked by police dogs.Dogs Attacking.jpg
This was the kind of vicious resistance that the desegregation movement met at every southern street corner.  Therefore, it is natural for us to assume that the biggest hindrance to racial integration were these blatantly anti-black lawmakers and citizens who shared a special disdain for the freedom movement.  And yet Dr. King didn’t consider these unabashed bigots the greatest hindrance to his efforts.

King’s Biggest Stumbling Block

Dr. King’s biggest “stumbling block” was the southern churchman who considered King’s methods too extreme.  Many of these naysayers were white Southern Baptist moderates who were more concerned with social peace and lawful order.[1] Having been numbed by the blatant racism of their own era, these whites advocated for a soft, slow and orderly rate of social change.  They wagged their sanctimonious fingers at Dr. King disparaging him because his methods resulted in too much social unrest. (Audio from Dr. King’s 1961 talk at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary helps shed light on the kind of soft criticism he received from white Southern Baptists).

Oh, if they only could have seen their blind spots.

In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King writes to a group of people who, like me, seemingly loved their God, their Bibles and their black brothers. Dr. King’s words frighten me because he is talking to people who were just like me:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

These words should serve as a serious heart check to white Christians today who casually dismiss the startling statistics that paint a picture of a systemic problem in our country when it comes to the African-American experience. Racism isn’t always blatant. Sometimes, it hides behind good intentions and a strict adherence to a passive peace while disregarding the bible’s demands for the presence of true social justice.

Here’s a helpful interview on this topic.

[1] Newman, Mark.  Getting Right With God : Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995.

Is it Okay for Christians to Smoke Weed?

marijuana

I was just a 7th grader when I first saw some.  My best friend and I were hanging out on his back porch when he grabbed a Ziploc bag out of his backpack.  “You wanna try some of this?”  It felt like a scene right out of an after-school TV special.  The dry leaves inside that bag might as well have been spinach because I was not the least bit tempted.  I was a rule-follower and besides, if my dad found out, I would have never made it to the 8th grade.  But for the first time in my life, I had access to marijuana.  Thankfully, it wasn’t hard to ‘just say no.’

And now, for the first time in our state, we have easier access to marijuana thanks to the new medical marijuana law.  Based on the majority of voters that passed the law, it wasn’t hard for us to just say yes.  If social trends continue, recreational use will be next to pass at the ballot box.  Rather than debate the wisdom of such legislation, it’s now time for us Christians to have a candid discussion about the wisdom of using pot.

Is it okay for Christians to smoke weed?

Truthfully, a decent case can be made in the secular world for marijuana.  That defense often includes a comparison between alcohol and cannabis to justify legalization.  For the Christian, these secular sentiments should hold no weight though.  We respect the law of the land but within the family of God, we are ambassadors for another land, a different kingdom.  Our laws aren’t derived from an amended constitution but from a timeless sacred text.  With that said, I will appeal to one verse in the Bible to advocate for complete abstinence for the Christian when it comes to pot.

 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”

– Ephesians 5:18

Alcohol is okay, why not weed?

Though many of my Baptist brethren would disagree with me, I cannot find texts in the Bible demanding total abstinence from alcohol.  It seems that God gave alcohol for a host of purposes, one of which might be to simply consume.  But the Bible is crystal clear about one thing.  Drunkenness is a sin.  I don’t drink and it’s not because I hate the taste but because I know my heart.  Something inside me longs to escape the me that I deal with every day.  Something in me craves a mental buzz that would allow me to float above my insecurities if only for a few moments.  If I allowed it, alcohol could become that deadly escape hatch for me.  But for many Christians, they don’t drink to get that drunken buzz.  They drink because they honestly enjoy the oaky texture of the wine (insert puke emoji) or the relaxing sensation of a beer at dinner.

What does this have to do with marijuana?  The purpose of puffing on a joint is not to enjoy the oaky flavor of the smoke.  Let’s be real.  People smoke to get high.  Any enjoyment of the joint itself is only secondary to the mental effects it has on the user.  Studies show that “significant THC concentrations are noted following even a single puff or hit of a marijuana cigarette.”  And after just four puffs, the user can be considered significantly intoxicated.  For a follower of Christ to refrain from this kind of intoxication (ie. drunkenness), that person would need to stop using after two or three puffs at most.

Why we want to get high

People smoke because they want to get high.  The real question we should be asking ourselves is why.  Why do we want to get high?  The desire to be high should give us a clue. Dear Christian, we were made to enjoy something higher and you know it.  But lasting joy isn’t found at the end of a joint.  Its found in fellowship with God through his Holy Spirit.  So beware of Paul’s brutally honest words in Ephesians, you can’t smoke pot and enjoy the Holy Spirit.  When you put it like that, it’s much easier to just say no.

 

For a more complete discussion of this topic, I recommend this article.

A New Year for The Spiritual Struggler

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Last January, while getting dressed in a crowded gym locker room, one of those insanely ripped veiny guys with the muscle shirts mocked those of us who were trying to live up to our new year’s resolutions.  He quipped, “Thankfully, most of you guys will be gone by February.”  I was annoyed and I would’ve said something to him if not for the fact that he was right (and he was ripped).  Like many people, the month of January is when I conjure up the willpower to walk into the gym again for the first time in a while.  And like a lot of people, it’s a struggle to keep walking back into that same gym.

So what determines whether a person sticks with a workout regimen or falls victim to the February fitness fade?  The answer isn’t a matter of willpower.  Believe or not, it’s actually a matter of belief.  What you believe determines what you will do.  Don’t believe me?  Let me show you.

The Physical Struggle

As I sit on my La-Z-Boy, there are two competing desires waging a battle within me.  On one side, there is the desire to get into shape along with its long-term benefits.  And on the other side, there is the desire to avoid the short-term pain and discomfort that comes with moving heavy objects.  At that moment of decision, what I believe determines what I will do.  When I choose to skip the gym and drive to Taco Bell instead, there has been an unspoken conversation that has occurred within me:

“I should really go to the gym because I want to get into shape.  But I hate the grueling pain of weight-lifting and Taco Bell tastes so good.”

And there you have it.  For a brief moment, I believed the lie that the long-term pleasure of a gym-fit body was not as gratifying as the short-term pleasure of sloth.  My belief determined my actions.  In life, it’s not until a person is fully convinced that the long-term pleasure of a fit physique is worth the pain that they ever conquer the fleeting pleasure of a comfortable chair.

The Spiritual Struggle

If it’s true that belief determines actions at a physical level, this is most certainly true at a spiritual level as well.  How many times have we resolved to pray more, read more, and seek God more?  How many times have we promised God to never commit that secret sin again?  But by the time February comes around, we are still the same slothful sinner with the same lazy spiritual habits, gorging our souls on a steady diet of TV or social media.  Do not believe the lie that your problem is one of weak willpower.  It most certainly is not.  Your problem and mine is our unbelief.

Belief in the Pleasures of God

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. – Psalm 107:9

The Bible is full of promises that fellowship with God is the maximum pleasure we can experience on earth.  Jesus goes as far as to say that he Himself is all-satisfying to our pleasure-hungry souls (John 6:35).

Ultimately, the actions we take in 2017 regarding our relationship with God (like reading and praying more) will hinge on whether we believe in the promises of the pleasures of God or whether we believe in the short-term and soul-destroying pleasures of the flesh.

Come to think of it, I’ve never heard any of those gym-fit people say, “I wish I had never achieved the discipline to work out, it would have been much better to relax.”  They don’t say that because they have become convinced that real pleasure can’t be found in a La-Z-Boy lifestyle.  Likewise, when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st 2017, you most certainly will not be saying, “I wish I had binged on more TV, Sports and Facebook rather than grow in relationship with Christ.”  You will have realized the pleasure of knowing Him who has had made you for Himself.

Parenting a Bad Kid with the Gospel

AngryDad

I had reached the point of exhaustion that every parent of a disobedient child eventually reaches.  I was utterly exasperated from having to explain to my 5-year old son for the hundredth time why it’s not okay to smack, hit, scratch, or spit on other children.  But day after day, my wife would discover in his backpack another red-inked note from his teacher revealing the sin of the day.  And day after day, I would recite the same speech to my little boy with the same set of warnings only to be further disillusioned by another teacher’s note.

Around that time, my wife and I started reading a book titled Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick.  The truth Fitzpatrick communicates through scripture forever changed the way we parent our children.  It’s a ridiculously simple concept and should have been obvious to a dad like me who grew up in the church.  Here’s the gist of the book:

Raise your children to know and love the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

It’s that simple.  Fitzpatrick encourages parents to be strategic with their kids in generating daily encounters with the message and implications of the gospel.  As the frustrated parent of an unruly little boy, I was looking for clever techniques to get my kid to behave better.  Yet Fitzpatrick begs her readers to take the long term approach and focus their efforts on teaching children to depend on God’s grace rather than a parent’s approval.

To even the most bible-based parents, the truth of the gospel seems about as useful as a plastic hammer when trying to chisel your child from a statue of sinful rebellion to a model of loving obedience.  It wasn’t until my son uttered a few tender words one night that this gospel-centered approach began to take shape in our home.

Redrawing the Battle Lines

One evening, I was berating my boy yet again for another behavior blowup.  Unwilling to show the least bit of clemency, I furiously recited a list of consequences that he would bear as a result of that day’s transgressions.  Then through exasperated and tear-filled eyes, my little boy looked up to me and said “Dad, I can’t stop.  I want to stop but I can’t.”

My heart sunk as the sincere sadness in my boy’s voice reminded me of me.  My boy was telling his dad what I had prayed a thousand times before to God.  I want to stop sinning but I can’t.

That evening, my parenting tone forever changed.  My loud boisterous threats gave way to a restrained and determined demeanor.  I was no longer trying to convince my son to behave better, I was now determined to show him his need for Jesus.  While it takes many people a lifetime to understand their need for grace, my boy had discovered his corruption at an early age.  For this little 5-year old, Total Depravity was not just some theological topic to ponder, it was a quiet war that he had been waging in his mind.

From that point on, each time he came home with a teacher’s note I would sit with him to pray and confess sins.  Granted, I still delivered a similar set of consequences which occasionally included a spanking but it never ended with that.  We’d talk about our desperate need for Jesus to change us from the inside out and ask for His supernatural power over temptation.  The battle lines in our home were completely redrawn.  No longer was it Parent versus Child.  It was God versus Sin, and we were co-warriors in this battle.

Eventually my son’s behavior improved.  LetterOnCross1It’s likely that he would have eventually just matured out of that phase regardless of our parenting style or he would have found more socially-acceptable ways to harbor sin.  Yet without those red-inked teacher’s notes declaring my boy to be a rebel, my son might only understand the cross of Christ as an historical fact to be learned and not a soul-sustaining truth to be treasured.

I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! – Romans 7:18-19,24-25 (ESV)