Friday, June 28, 2013

You let your kids do what???

Okay kids!! Who wants a long one?
     There are some things that are culturally acceptable to leave to parental discretion:  when (or if) to give them a cellphone, clothing guidelines, and what movies to watch.  But there are just as many taboos for the children of those who seek “Good Parent” status:  playing in traffic, handling/throwing sharp objects, and letting your kids listen to/develop a taste for country music (wishful thinking there!).  So there is one thing I must include in the latter list, a parental decision I've heard countless folks talk about as a noble, libertarian step towards growing independent young people capable of free thinking;  but in reality, it is even more dangerous than handing a loaded gun to a little tyke, and if any children do survive it, it is manifest proof of the merciful grace of God.  What is this shocking dereliction of parental duty?  I've heard it put this way...
"Oh yes, we are Christians and believe the Bible, but we don't want to force our religion on our kids.  We permit them to explore other faiths, and when they're old enough, they need to choose what they will believe for themselves."     
      I know you've heard this said, and I must admit that the way it's phrased, it almost seems unAmerican to disagree with this democratic approach.  I mean, the best way to guarantee that kids will hate something is to make them do it, right?  So, a low-key approach to Christianity, to the claims of Jesus and the Bible, is surely the approach with the highest probability of keeping them in the church.
      Yes, I know... playing devil's advocate is a dark gift of mine, one I hope to (but usually fail to) use for good.  So let's explore this idea by seeing what the Scripture says (and if the proponents of the low-key approach truly do "believe the Bible") and then by testing the consistency of "reverse psychology" parenting.
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deut. 6:6-9)
      I don't know... sounds kinda pushy to me.  I mean, talking to your kids about God and His word all the time?  They'd be sick of it in a week!  But one inescapable conclusion your kids would be forced to at gunpoint is that you take the Bible seriously, that every decision, event, question and even thought is weighed and judged in light of what God says, and that He is the ultimate Determiner of reality and Judge of morality.  What do kids (and everyone else) hate more:  a person whose actions are explained and are true to what they profess, or someone who doesn't explain why they do what they do and/or says one thing and does another?  One of the most winsome qualities, even to the lost, is a willingness to suffer for conviction... thank God in His wisdom to guarantee us suffering in this life (2 Tim 3:12)!  So to stop beating a dead horse,  God commands us to saturate our children in His truth and to protect them from all deception (2 Tim 2:16, 3:5)... end of discussion.  Obviously, we can't convert them, but kids raised in faithful homes will be forever changed, most often for the better, fulfilling God's general promise to sanctify them (1 Cor 7:14)
      Even more succinctly, the consistency of the laissez-faire attitude to religion can be checked by inserting any other potentially fatal activity into the premise:  
I'm sure they're really nice once you get to know them...
"We're not drug addicts/gang members/cult members on a compound in the middle of nowhere, but we want our kids to make their own decisions, so we let them explore other options..."? 
Or "Yeah, we got vaccinated, but our kids don't like shots very much, so we're letting them decide if they want to risk getting polio/smallpox/tetanus"? 
      Just try dropping that line in conversation, and watch your "Good Parent" status get revoked!  What's really at the heart of religious experimentation is the belief that all religions are basically the same/valid;  if you truly believe something is fatal to your children, you do everything in your power to isolate them from it.  False religion has a 100% fatality rate... and it's extremely contagious.

Photos courtesy of Anonymous9000, One lucky guy

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"I can't imagine that God...!"

     Anytime I hear that opening, I cringe;  rather than humbly looking to our Creator to define the
God does what???
good for us, the speaker (usually unconsciously) is basing what God should and shouldn't do on his/her personal morality, which is cultural and highly subjective. A coworker hit me with it recently, and this is my response:

     I want to capture your original thought, and my best recollection of your exact words is:  
 "I can't imagine that the people who faithfully follow other religions, doing good, that they'll get to heaven and Jesus will tell them 'Get out!' "       
     Is that close? So if you'll bear with me, I'd like to show you God's reaction to other religions in the Old Testament and then in the words of Jesus Himself. One of the first, side-by-side contrasts between the distinct faith of Israel and other religious practice was the attempt of what's called syncretism, the combination of elements of 2 faiths. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron the High Priest's sons, must have thought similarly to you, that there was a basic commonality between religions, and that the worship of Israel could be built upon and supplemented by other traditions. So they brought "strange fire" to the altar of the Lord in Leviticus 10:1 "which He commanded them not." Some scholars think this practice was Egyptian or Canaanite, but definitely outside the practice specifically given to them at Mount Sinai... how does God respond?
"And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD." (Lev 10:2)
      Hmmm... well, that was pretty early in the Bible; maybe God hadn't got the memo on acceptance yet. Here's another one: Elijah, a prophet of Israel's God, arranges an "interfaith conference" with the prophets of Baal, a Canaanite storm deity, atop Mount Moriah. But his intent isn't to discuss worship methods, or exchange notes on prayer techniques... he wants to prove to the people, once and for all, which God is the one, true God, the sovereign king that commands their allegiance. Elijah gives his 450 "colleagues" a head start and ample opportunity for their god to demonstrate his power, but nothing happens! Then Elijah prays to his God and fire shoots down from the sky, visible to all and proving that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob alone is genuine. So in a spirit of brotherhood and unity, after the dust settles, Elijah gives all those prophets of Baal a pat on the back and wishes them better luck next time, right?
"And Elijah said to them, "Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape." And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. " (2 Kings 18:40 
There's plenty of other evidence in the Old Testament of God's utter hatred of all religion save His own (Deut 13:1-18, 18:20, Josh 24:20, 2 Kings 17:7-23, etc.); but surely Jesus, who loves everybody, takes a different approach?  Not so much... operating from the basis already laid down and accepted (that all other gods/idols were false and God hates them), Jesus clearly delineates the only path to acceptance with God, the only way that God will tell people at the pearly gates "Come in!":   Himself.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Matthew 11:28
“Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “ John 14:6
      Jesus's followers affirm Him completely and also agree precisely with each other on this vital point...
And there is salvation in no one else [besides Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” 1 Timothy 2:5
      So if you're using the Bible as your authority, as your source of truth, you have to answer the question "Can a person get to God/heaven through Muhammed/Buddha/whoever?" with a resounding "No! Only through Jesus!" My fear for you is that the Bible is not your authority; perhaps you have come to believe that there are genuinely good people in all religions (refuted in Romans 3:10), or that our sins really aren't that bad (not according to Gen 6:5), or as one woman told me “It's God's job to forgive!” (proven wrong in Exo 20:5). I'll leave you with one more verse that defeats universalism all by itself:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)   

Photo courtesy of quinn.anya

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A tidbit from my house...

There's a heart of stone for ya...
     I rejoice that I have been blessed with a sensitive daughter...  she has, like every unregenerate person, the base programming of stubborn hardheartedness, but I think her naturally fearful disposition works with the biblical training we've tried to give her.  The result is what seems to be contrition over sin;  she doesn't understand the extent of our bent towards evil or our inability to overcome it, but she certainly does know when she's done wrong.
     I was lifting weights yesterday while watching a video on the computer (you have to fit it in sometime, right?);  I had scooted the chair back from the desk to make space in front of it.  It is a favorite game of in our house to race to the computer chair, and then fight over it, taunting the loser in good sport.  I think my daughter was trying to initiate this competition last night, but we have had several accidents with her playing with/tripping over my dumbbells...  I had to move the chair back to where I had put it.  She didn't like this, and as I bent down to get my weights, I could see her body language was indignant.  The next thing I felt was her little foot, lashing out at just the right height (with her in the chair and me bent over) to nail me exactly in the Adam's apple.
     Thankfully, she didn't hit me squarely;  her foot glanced off, so I was able to salvage some composure as I straightened up with a stern look on my face to inform her that we don't hit or kick people when we're mad. The guilt on her face (and I think shock) was plain, and I sent her over to her mother for her to confirm the inherent evil of violence motivated by anger (our "rough play" can get intense, so I wanted to stress the heart intent in this case).  The suitably scolded child then retreated outside.
     After about 5 minutes, I realized she was still in the back yard;  I glanced out there and beheld her in a classic pose of sullen gloom, squatting and clutching her knees.  I came up behind her and asked what she was thinking about.  She didn't respond, so I inquired more specifically, if she was thinking about hitting and kicking when we're mad.  She turned, and her face was distorted into tearful distress, the moisture just starting to flow.  I held her for a while for comfort, and then asked if she understood why we don't hit or kick when we're mad;  she shook her head side to side.  I started to recall the account of Cain and Abel, what happened to Cain when he failed to see his anger as sin and how we all have that in our hearts.
     I think it clicked with her... the next time she playfully was kicking me, I could see a moment of panic as she quickly apologized.  I explained that I knew she was just playing and that she wasn't mad.  But this isn't the end, as any parent knows:   just like a child, we all must be continually reminded of God 's truth and our sin and need for grace.  And even if she has some grasp of how horrible sin is to God, He must grant the elect His Spirit to regenerate them.  This is a distinction we must hold tenaciously:  there's no one we want to see converted more than our kids, and there's no one we can more easily delude with false assurance.
Both these pics were so good, I couldn't decide!
     There's some excellent works on the fine line between a depressed sinner and a contrite convert:  I would recommend Jonathan Edwards' The Religious Affections and Matthew Meade's The Almost Christian Discovered.  It's important to understand the doctrines of grace and cling to the perserverance of the elect.  But how do we know if someone's truly converted?  How sure can we be?  These are timeless and timely concerns, for folks of all ages.

Photos courtesy of gabork, Fergal Mac Eoinin