Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Raising children in the faith

One of the most difficult aspects of being a Christian parent is choosing how to raise your children. When can they begin to learn things of the faith? What is the best way to teach them? When are their professions actually their professions, rather than just reflections of the faith of their parents?

Throughout history, various groups have developed catechisms for helping bring new believers along--including catechisms for children. I'm not going to say any are right or wrong--each have their benefits and if one way was perfect then I'm sure God would have put it in the Scripture.

In doing some research for another topic, I ran across an ancient Jewish source (m.'Abot 5:21) which provides an interesting approach to aging and growing in the faith.

I modified it slightly to make it Christian, and present it here just as a thought-provoker:

Five Years Old:  Begin teaching the Scripture, with Bibles appropriate to their age and understanding level. At this age they will surprise you with what they can understand: by six, my youngest was asking Sunday School teachers to explain the Trinity. So don't hold back on going into some basic details and how they connect to the grand story of Scripture.

Ten Years Old:  At this age, Jews began to teach their children the Mishnah. The Mishnah is essentially a study of the teachings of the Jewish tradition (dietary laws, prayer, etc.). It is divided into six basic categories, of which I think all but the one on Jewish ritual purity are useful for Christians as well:
  • Seeds - teaching prayer and generosity
  • Festivals - teaching the concept of Sabbath and celebrations of the faith (Easter, Christmas)
  • Women - teaching about marriage and divorce
  • Damages - teaching about civil and criminal law and courts, and how to interact with them
  • Holy things - teaching about proper behavior, rites (baptism, communion)
So the idea would be that by the time they finish their tenth year, your child would have five years of understanding basics of Scripture, as well as knowing how to pray, how to be generous, the importance of marriage and family, the rites and celebrations of the faith, and how to interact with the secular world.

Thirteen Years Old:  At this age, the child is seen as becoming accountable for following the commandments. By now he or she should be mature enough to exhibit self-control and follow the teachings of Jesus in their lives. From now on they are considered a "youth."

Fifteen Years Old:  At this age, the youth begins to study commentaries and begin to understand basic theological techniques--that is, how to interpret and study the Scripture and how others have done so.

Eighteen Years Old:  At this age, the youth is old enough to marry and begin to raise a family.

Twenty Years Old:  At this age, the youth should begin to pursue their calling. In the next ten years they should have established their career and completed all apprenticeships.

Thirty Years Old: At thirty, the youth becomes an "elder" or full-grown man/woman. Now they are allowed to be in leadership roles, teaching positions, and exercising authority.

Fifty Years Old:  At fifty, the elder has experienced enough to become a counselor to those younger than him.

Sixty Years Old:  From sixty on, the elder enters "old age" and is to be freed from responsibilities to enjoy retirement. He or she should be shown the upmost respect and can still be very valuable as an advisor.

Again, this is nothing magical. But it is interesting to me, particularly at the younger ranks. I think that we today are far too slow with educating our children in the faith. Many Christians don't even think about starting to teach Scripture until a child is into their teens; whereas by 13, a typical Jew or early Christian would have been in their 8th year of Scripture memorization and already had three years of learning how to follow the basic disciplines of the faith (prayer, quiet time, the meaning of rituals/rites, etc.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sermon Archive

I haven't done a very good job of linking to my sermons here, even though that is a lot of the "writing" which I do these days. So here goes. As I continue to preach, I will keep coming in and updating the below.

Title:  Why We Fail John's Tests
Date:  15 March 2014
Passage:  1 John 2:12-17
Summary:  John has given us four tests which, if we pass them, will give us confidence in our salvation. But what about when we fail those tests? This passage tells the reason WHY we fail John's tests.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20346018

Title:  The Problem of Suffering
Date:  25 January 2015
Passage:  Topical:  Habakkuk
Summary:  Habakkuk was an unusual prophet who recorded his frustration with God's plan. This message is the opening overview of the new series on Habakkuk, and explores the Problem of Suffering--why does a good God allow suffering?
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20302162

Title:  The Promise of the Coming King
Date:  14 December 2014
Passage:  Topical: Christmas
Summary:  This is the first of a two-week Christmas series which explores the topic of Jesus' Kingship--what does it mean when we say Jesus is the Newborn King? This message explores the Old Testament expectations of the coming King of the Jews.

Title:  Humble planning
Date:  23 November 2014
Passage:  James 4:13-17
Summary:  In this passage, James explains how proper planning should be done--and how often all of our plans are just boasting in arrogance.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20252907

Title:  Who is going to teach you how to walk?
Date:  02 November 2014
Passage:  James 3:13-18
Summary:  In this passage, James is going to go into more detail on his claim in 3:1 that not many should be teachers. He will teach us what to look for when choosing the teachers of our faith.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20233191

Title:  God Transforms (Doctrines Series Lesson 7)
Date:  17 August 2014
Passage:  Topical:  Communion & Baptism
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Ordinances. We will discuss both communion and baptism, and how God transforms us. We will examine these through the lens of ancient suzerain covenants.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20166120

Title:  God Speaks (Doctrines Series Lesson 2)
Date:  13 July 2014
Passage:  Topical: Revelation
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Revelation. We explore how God reveals Himself to us, both through the books of Scripture (Special Revelation) and the book of nature (General Revelation).
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20138382

Title:  Debating Jesus
Date:  18 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:19-21:4
Summary:  In this lesson we cover two attempts--one by the Pharisees and one by the Sadducees--to trap Jesus in a debate. Jesus deftly avoids both topics and we find that neither purity (Pharisees) nor knowledge (Sadducees) are sufficient for salvation.
Link:  (No audio, text only):  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bzxgn9OKrQLDRlMwZ045dWhXdDg/view?usp=sharing

Title:  Two Pictures of Jesus
Date:  11 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:9-19
Summary:  Here we look at the Parable of the Vineyard, from which we get two distinct pictures of Jesus. These two pictures lead us into CS Lewis' Trilemma:  Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord: He cannot simply be a great moral teacher.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20076542

Title:  Jesus' Most Bizarre Parable
Date:  15 February 2014
Passage:  Luke 16:1-13
Summary:  Here we study what many consider Jesus' most bizarre parable--the Parable of the Dishonest Servant, in which Jesus seemingly praises an embezzling servant for his crafty dishonesty.
Link:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/10235315

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sports and heartbreak

After nearly a month of being away from home, I traveled back this weekend. After a brutally long day of traveling from Shanghai to Tokyo to Atlanta, I faced a 5 ½ hour layover before my last flight; so I decided to spend it in Delta’s Sky Lounge in Terminal F (by far the best lounge I’ve been in, in the States). After a 2-3 hour nap, I awoke in time to watch the end of the Razorback-Aggie game. As an Arkansas alum, it was a tough loss: to lead, on the road, against the #6 team in the nation all game and never fall behind until the final score in OT.

But as I read the Facebook and Twitter comments, I saw a passion and disappointment and heartache there that I know only too well. I used to live and die by sporting events. NFL and NCAA football were my favorites, followed closely by Razorback basketball. When the team won, I was cheering and jumping for the ceiling; when the team lost, I was angry or depressed. Just as bad was fantasy football, which spread my obsession all the way from Thursday to Monday Night Football.

My emotional investments got so bad, that I at one point had to go cold-turkey for a while. I would DVR the games I wanted to see, look at the final score before watching, and then watch. And yet still, my emotions were too high.

Eventually I had to ask: don’t I suffer from enough stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure without voluntarily adding another layer? And for what benefit? When we win, the “high” is gone all too soon: there is always another game to become invested in and disappointed in. Was I really going to spend my Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday nights wasting hours on a game that I only enjoyed for a short period of time each evening?

Well, it is probably a lie to say that “I had to ask” those questions: it is more fair to say that my wife asked me those questions. And at the risk of Jesus-juking sports: she’s right.

I read the heartbreak and pain and anxiety in the Razorback fans; the anger at the coach and—before him—the AD who let go the prior coach over those pesky ethical dilemmas. And I remember all too well that feeling.

So for those of you who (like me, not so long ago) are so obsessed with sports, let me encourage you to take a broader look. No, I’m not going to be talking about the temporary nature and the false glory and the “why can we scream for the Hogs but not the Lord” thing (though there is truth in all such statements). Instead, let me ask you: why do you watch?

“I’m a fan,” you say. But what is a fan? Someone who enjoys something for entertainment. So ask yourself: do you enjoy it? If not, you’re doing it wrong.

Consider the movies. I’m a fan of the Marvel universe of movies. And yet, I didn’t really care for any of the Thor films. But I didn’t get angry at the director. I didn’t write angry message board posts calling for the head of the studio executives. I didn’t call into radio shows and lament that they didn’t hire better actors. I shrugged and said, “Eh, not for me,” and didn’t give it a second’s thought.

The same is true of a book, or a TV show, or anything else that we call entertainment: if it isn’t for us, we set it down, turn the channel, move on with our lives. We don’t get angry and furious. That is exclusively a sports phenomenon.

For some reason, we tie up our identity in sports. “I’m a Razorback,” we say; or “We won!” or “We’re so terrible!” As a result, the performance of the team inherently reflects (in your mind) upon your self worth. And this is where I Jesus juke you: because if you are a believer, then your self-worth is not tied up in whether a group of guys you’ll never meet manage to run a piece of leather across a white painted stripe on one particular day.

If you are a disciple of the Christ, then you are an icon of God: the image-bearer of the Almighty Creator. You were made in His image and, despite failures of our own, have been ransomed from sin by the blood of the Holy Son of God, the Prince of Peace. You are engaged in a spiritual battle not over turf on a field but over the very souls of the people you love. You have been called the co-heir of all creation and the adoptive son of the One True God, who was and is and will be. You are the Temple of His Spirit, and you are being reformed and made daily in His image.

So let me ask you: is your worth less because your team lost Saturday? Of course not.

So please stop acting like it! Football is a wonderful game to watch. It’s a blast. I love the strategy of it. I play it on video games for fun (both Madden and NCAA, and probably far too much). I fully appreciate the fun and can talk about the pros and cons of various alignments and all of that. But it’s just a game. Your blood pressure shouldn’t raise one tiny bit.

It should mean no more to you than any other form of entertainment: a TV show, a movie, an album. And if it does, you’re doing it wrong.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A picture of the Gospel

I think sometimes of the Gospel as a four-legged stool. If you have only three legs, you fall; and even if you have all four, lean to hard in one direction and you fall.

In this analogy, the four legs of the Gospel are: the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension.

In the Incarnation, we see the Creator who so loves us that He comes down from heaven, humbles Himself to become one of us.

In the Cross, we see God dying on our behalf, making Himself the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

In the Resurrection, we see the Christ conquering the grave, creating a pathway whereby via faith we can follow Him into the inheritance of eternal life.

In the Ascension, we see Jesus returning to and preparing His Kingdom, which will one day come down to earth.

You must have all four legs of the stool in order for it to stand; but neither can you lean too hard in one direction or the other.

Ignore the Incarnation and you lose a good portion of God's love and His role as our mediator who is one just like us; lean too hard on the Incarnation leg and you fall into the heresy of a loving baby-Jesus who is completely safe and full of warm-fuzzies.

Ignore the Cross and you lose that Jesus was the willing Lamb of God, dying on our behalf and wiping out our sins; lean too hard on the Cross and you get a cold, punishing God who punishes the innocent in the most painful way possible.

Ignore the Resurrection and you lose eternal life and the defeat of death; lean too hard on the Resurrection and you fall into Gnosticism, the spirit-God who didn't really get tempted as we were tempted and didn't really suffer a painful death on the Cross.

Ignore the Ascension and you lose Christ the King, who may save by grace through faith but still expects obedience and maturity from His subjects; lean too hard on the Ascension and you get a distant and sovereign King rather than a loving Father-God.

You need all four legs, equally balanced. Because all four are part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus cannot be told without these four. The story of Jesus is all of the above: the babe in the manger, the sacrificial lamb, the conqueror of death, and the returning King. Anything short of these four, or too strongly leaning into one at the exclusion of the others, is bound to lead you astray.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dateline: Disney

So my family and I are finished with day 4 of our Disney World visit. We've had a fantastic time so far, staying again at Wilderness Lodge (which we love), going to a Halloween Party, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom.

What amazes me is how many people are just miserable at Disney World. We see people who are rude to other guests, mean to their kids or the servers, or generally get angry about silly things--as though Disney made that lightning come and shut down the roller coaster just before you got on...JUST TO ANNOY YOU.

In case you were curious, I have a few thoughts of how to avoid being THAT GUY at a vacation (to Disney or elsewhere). I think if you can just remember three things, your vacation can be great as well.

All three of these, as you will see, grow out of my worldview as a Christian. So they're probably harder to explain to non-believers. Of course, non-believers probably aren't reading my blog for advice on a Disney vacation so...who cares.

1. Give grace - to everyone

If there is one single piece of advice I could give, it is that you should wake up each morning and remind yourself to give grace to everyone you meet. Because any time you cram several thousand sinful, imperfect people into a theme park you WILL have negative interactions. You're going to bump into someone. Or a ride will break down just before you get on it. Someone will accidentally cut in line. Someone will hit your Mickey ice cream bar onto your kid's princess dress that you spent hours on and keep walking. Your kids will throw a fit about something stupid. These things happen, guys.

My wife and I probably say the word "Grace" to each other ten times a day at the parks. Any time one of us is a bit frustrated over something unimportant, or someone does something which could ruin our day, we'll look at the other and simply say, "Grace." It is a good reminder that, as a Jesus-follower, we are going to forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive. Let the person stay in line ahead of you, without saying anything. Who cares? Is being one person ahead in line really worth an argument and ruining everyone's day? Isn't it better to laugh off a slight or messy clothes or a bump in the crowd than to hold a grudge--which ultimately only hurts you and those you love and came on your trip with?

And you know what? It works on many levels. Giving grace to others has several impacts. Sometimes, the others notice, and feel the warmth of undeserved forgiveness. Sometimes it changes other people's behavior. Sometimes it brightens up someone's day who wasn't even there. And sometimes, all it does is keep you from getting your day ruined.

Grace is healthy for the soul. As you received it from God, so too pass it along to those around you.

2. Remember why you're here

If you went to a theme park, you paid a bunch of money. And you battled crowds. And you waited in lines. Why? We all do it for the same reason--to have joy. Now of course, I'm not talking about the Christian virtue of joy, merely a shadow of it: but wow, what a shadow. Going on roller coasters with your son, sharing an ice cream, giggling at the Laugh Factory's corny jokes, racing lego cars in Downtown Disney, or just hanging out at the pool...these are priceless times. (And no, I get nothing from Disney for saying this!)  (But yes, Disney, if you happen to read this and WANT to give me something, I accept!)

The point is, you came here to get joy, to have some fun. And if you forget that, you can end up ruining the whole trip.

Everyone says their focus is fun...but it's not. Most of the unhappy people I see at Disney are not actually committed to having fun. Some are committed to riding as many rides as possible--and they are willing to make themselves or their kids miserable if needed, coming to the park at rope drop and staying until closure, carefully plotting every moment. Some are committed to experiencing certain rides, and if that ride is down for maintenance, then the trip is ruined. Some want to save money, so they have a plan for that (a terrible plan, because they chose to go to Disney, so you'll have better luck boiling the ocean than saving money here).

But if the focus is fun, then things change. Today our kids were exhausted, because we had a full day yesterday followed by an early breakfast. By 4 pm, they were starting to get tired. We could have pushed it...done a second Halloween party, eaten and tried to rally, etc. We could have decided that "more = better" and pushed for more rides.

Know what we did instead?

We took the boat back to the hotel. And rested. The boys watched "Dog with a Blog" or whatever was on Disney XD. The wife did some laundry. I read on my iPad and wrote this post. Why? Because our focus is FUN. And fun comes when everyone is enjoying themselves. Cramming in two extra rides and causing a tantrum does not help lead to fun.

If you are focused on joy, then sometimes you will rest. Sometimes you will show up early. Sometimes you will stay late. Sometimes you will stop and just enjoy a long, leisurely lunch. Sometimes you will skip your planned FastPass or reservation because your son really wants to ride Rockin' Roller Coaster just one more time.

3. Remember, it's not about you

I run the risk of Jesus-juking here, so I'll tread carefully. But good Christians who live disciple lives come to Disney and act totally out of character. They act like things are different here "because it's my vacation," or "because I paid a lot of money to be here." Those facts do not mean that all of a sudden, your Christian faith takes a vacation. It never does, for a disciple.

Disciples can enjoy themselves. Disciples can go to Disney. But they don't leave their discipleship at the gates.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you should be here handing out tracts or having a worship service. What I am saying is that you should remember: The people around you are more important than anything you do. More important than your ride with your kids. More important than how much money you paid. More important than your place in line. More important than your vacation time.

The people all around you are the image-bearers of Almighty God, created in the image of the Eternal One, made for a purpose and designed to be your eternal brother or sister in Christ. They will live forever--either in eternal splendor or horror--and the massive conglomerate that is the Disney corporation will crumble into dust long before they do. They will live forever, as will you.

So don't forget:  life is not about you. When you turned your life over to Christ, you gave that up. You gave up the right to be your own king, and became a subject of the Holy King. You are surrounded by people who are either His subjects, or who He wants to be His subjects. Treat them with the respect they deserve. Don't leave your Christianity at the gates.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sermon Audio: God Speaks, and God Transforms

Last month our church did a series on the doctrines of Grace Church: the core essentials we believe all Christians must accept.

I had the last sermon in the series, on the ordinances of baptism and communion, and it is here:  http://gracelr.sermon.net/main/main/20166120

My earlier sermon, on how God speaks to us through Word and Nature, is here:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

We are not dual citizens

A lot of Christians say that we are dual citizens--citizens of Earth and of the Kingdom. In fact, I heard a preacher on FamilyTalk radio say that just this morning: that it was a basically a sin that so few evangelicals vote, because we are both citizens of heaven and of Earth.

It is such a common phrase, and so widely accepted in American Christianity, that I long believed it and even said it.

But I was wrong.

I noticed one day that I never actually see that called out anywhere in Scripture. I never see a Scripture quoted when someone says that.

Instead, the Scripture actually says the exact opposite.

"[People of this world's] destiny is destruction, their god is in their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." (Phil 3:19-21)

Paul says here that our citizenship is in heaven as opposed to those around us, and we eagerly await the One who will come and set things right. The picture is of us as foreigners in an evil land.

"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles...live such godly lives among the pagans that, though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. Submit yourself for the Lord's sake to every authority...live as God's slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, and honor the emperor." (1 Pet 2:11-17)

Peter here says that we are not citizens here, but are exiles and foreigners. Despite this we should follow the laws of the land we are visiting and show proper respect to everyone, while still living as God's slaves and not as the world around us. Romans 13 and Titus 3 both argue the same: that we should submit to the leaders of our kingdom. Why do they need to say that? Because early Jews and Christians who were serious about their faith universally rejected the evil rule of the idolatrous Roman Empire, and never would have seen themselves as "co-citizens." Instead, they had to be reminded not to start riots and live in peace with their evildoing neighbors.

 "Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's." (Luke 20:25)

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into either denouncing Caesar or admitting to following Caesar, He did neither. He refused to claim citizenship with Caesar, but also refused to denounce Caesar's right to rule. Instead He said that we should pay Caesar the taxes we owe him, but give to God the allegiance which we owe Him.

Implied within this statement, I believe, is the clear message that the only reason they were under Caesar's rule to start with was their unwillingness to follow God and His Kingdom.

"We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)

Not much commentary to add on that one.

The point is...we are NOT citizens of America and citizens of heaven. A man cannot serve two masters--if he tries to serve one he will end up hating the other, and vice versa. (Someone wise once said that...)

In the same way, we must follow what the Bible teaches. We are citizens of heaven, foreigners here on earth for a while. Yes we should follow the laws insofar as we are able, and yes we should seek peace. But that in no way means that you are a citizen of this earth.

I've written about the politicizing of Christianity by American politics before, and I probably will again. We American Christians tend to be Americans first, and Christians when convenient. Need proof? Think of how many white American Christians are FURIOUS about the portrayal of the police in Ferguson, compared to how many simply ignored the beheadings going on in Iraq. Why? Because the American police and soldiers are the martyrs and saints of Americanism religion, and if you get more upset about their mistreatment than the mistreatment of poor Middle Eastern Christians, then guess what? You aren't serving the right Master.

We are foreigners, not dual citizens. Never forget that. Do what the Bible tells us to do--honor your leaders and pray for them. Follow their laws as long as you are able. But don't ever start to think that their kingdom somehow is "co" God's kingdom when it comes to your citizenship.