Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Parenting Through Weakness

This week was a milestone in our family.  Our two girls, Emily and Kaitlin both had an interview with the elders to make their profession of faith in Christ to become communing members of the church, and will be received publicly soon.  In case you’re unfamiliar, we consider the children of members at NCPC as members of the church by virtue of God’s covenant, but we designate them as non-communing members (not taking communion) until they publicly profess faith in Christ for salvation.  As a Dad and a pastor I rejoice these days to see many of our kids at NCPC take this huge step to own Christ publicly.  

As a Dad it makes me soar to see my children expressing their faith in Christ, but it reminds me of several things that keep me properly grounded:

1.     I can’t save my children. There is a strange line we walk as parents, since God calls us to faithfulness in shepherding our kids and yet there is no way on earth that we can save them.  God tells us we are one of the means He uses in their lives:  “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4).  Yet I’m also profoundly thankful that God alone is sovereign and powerful to make dead hearts beat for Him (Eph. 2:4-5).  For me the knowledge that I can’t change their hearts drives me to prayer.  The fact that he uses me as a tool encourages me to shepherd them with all my might.

2.     My children are all unique. One thing I’ve noticed in this messy process of shepherding my kids is that each child is unique, and yet I see God working in all of them.  He has wired them all beautifully and part of my role is to celebrate that wiring and help them channel their unique gifts for His glory.  Emily has great insight into the Word of God and her ability to comprehend and apply it to her life makes me marvel at what God has in store for her.  Kaitlin’s compassion and joy stun me daily.  She seems built to hurt with those who are hurting.  Caleb, even at four has the heart of a warrior.  He wants to fight evil wherever he finds it  (hopefully in himself most of all!).  What will God do with these little hearts?  How will they develop and change over the years?  I’m looking forward to it all.  And, lest you think my vision is tainted, one of the great things about the membership interview process is the question of indwelling sin:  The elders ask our kids (and adults!), “What sins are you struggling with?  What commands of God are you currently struggling to keep?”  I was encouraged to hear my kids answer with honesty and even sadness about their own sin.  As another wise Dad said to me once (Dave Witsken): “I’m not looking for my kids to be perfect.  But I do pray that they will struggle when they sin.”  That has helped me immensely, lest I think that Jesus came to save only those who have it all together.

3.     My time with them is short.  A shocking, staggering thought entered my mind recently:  My oldest child is about to enter youth group.  “Of course, this can’t be true,” I say to myself.  Yet it is inescapable; my time with Emily under our roof is half over (those of you who have adult children at home are snickering at this point).  Yes, my role as a Dad will never end, but as my kids grow my role will change, the amount of time I get with them will decrease, and my level of direct influence will change.  So what must I do?  Gandalf urged this question upon Frodo when he said, “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”  Time, as we’ve seen in Ephesians, is a stewardship, and time with our children is no different.  How can I order my life, my work, my leisure time, my hobbies so I can pour into my wife and children?

4.     I need grace as much than they do. Another thing I’ve realized in this up and down life as a Dad is this:  I can’t do it.  No, I’m not giving up.  But I’m realizing more and more in reality what I already know in theory:  I don’t have the ability in myself to carry out my role, and I am in desperate, daily need of overflowing grace upon grace.  It’s not just that they need God’s mercy; I need it also, and it is in my frequent failure as a Dad that the Gospel seems to shine.  I don’t mean that I should sin more that grace might increase (may it never be!) but when I pretend before them that I have it together I’m not helping them at all!  If the only hope for my kids is grace from God through the perfect work of Jesus on the cross, then my only hope to parent well is that same grace.  I desperately need a Savior who lived the life I could not.  He is the only one who perfectly used every moment.  He is the only one who faithfully shepherds those in His care.  His life, death and resurrection give me forgiveness, freedom and new power to be a Dad.  In my helplessness and weakness God shows Himself strong.

Again, to quote the Lord Of The Rings, Samwise Gamgee makes a powerful statement about life’s big picture.  When Frodo is overwhelmed by the task of being the ring-bearer, he nearly gives up, and Sam gives a memorable speech:

FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.

SAM: I know.  It’s all wrong.  By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.  The ones that really mattered.  Full of darkness and danger they were.  And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.  Because how could the end be happy?  How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?  But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass.  A new day will come.  And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.  Those were the stories that stayed with you.  That meant something.  Even if you were too small to understand why.  But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.  I know now.  Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.  Because they were holding on to something.

FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?

SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Sam is right, even if he doesn’t say enough.  There is some good in this world that is worth fighting for. What is it?  Tolkien’s vision was not that there is good in people and we just have to find it.  Sam doesn’t say that.  Tolkien was holding on to the supreme Good: the God of our Lord Jesus, the Gospel of grace and the hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth where sin will be washed away once and for all.  That’s the hope that helps me not turn back from the task given to me as a Dad.  It makes me want to persevere, because we are living in the greatest story that could ever be told, and I want my children to live in that story too.

Fighting the good fight with you,

Pastor David

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Can Your Child be Too Religious?

This was the question posed by a recent online article for Time Magazine. The answer, apparently, is Yes. "Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being. But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues," writes Francine Russo. From my perspective, what is disturbing about this opinion piece is not the claim that some expressions of faith could be signs of mental instability. I do not know many Christians who will find controversial the idea that delusions, hallucinations, or seeing and hearing things that are not present, could be signs of mental health issues.

More concerning to me was what was assumed about the role of religion throughout the article. The author simply takes for granted that religion is only valuable to the extent that it provides people with a source of comfort and well being in their everyday lives. The final paragraph of the article is telling. After describing a young girl who had received treatment for anorexia, the author concludes:

 "After psychological treatment that included a spiritual element, she not only recovered from her anorexia, she developed a more positive view of God, of other people and herself. Instead of being weighed down by guilt and anxiety, her spiritual life became a comfort and joy. And that’s the role that religion should have for people of faith."

Here we have proudly embraced the idea of religion that Karl Marx famously disdained: Religion as nothing more than an opiate for the masses. Gone is any idea that Religion actually can express ultimate truth, and thus that one set of beliefs may be better than another. Gone is any idea that guilt over sin can be a good, even a necessary thing. Instead, we are called to believe whatever works to help us feel better about ourselves. If other people (even our children) believe something different - even completely contradictory - no problem. After all, it doesn't matter what is actually true as long as it "works for you."
Just three days after Easter Sunday, all Christians should all be acutely aware of what a load of baloney this view of religion is. Either Jesus rose from the grave on the third day or he did not. If he did not, then far from bringing us "comfort and joy," our Christian faith makes us pathetic people who ought to be particularly pitied by others. If he did, however, that changes everything. It means that Christianity is not fundamentally about bringing comfort and joy into our present lives (although it often does), but about being saved from ultimate death in eternity. It means that Jesus really is who he said he was, and that he really is the "way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." In a culture that is has increasingly adopted the "whatever works" view of religion, may we have the wisdom and the boldness to continue to insist that it really does matter what a person believes.