Scandalous Parenting

I’ve been writing small group studies through the Gospel of Luke this semester. So I’ve spent the past five weeks praying through, fasting over, and reading about Luke 1 and Luke 2. Those two chapters are concerned, primarily, with two families: John’s family, and Jesus’ family.

In both cases, the parents were devout. John’s parents were devout to the letter. His father, Zechariah, was a priest, honored with the extreme opportunity to serve in the Jerusalem Temple. And though we initially saw Zechariah’s doubts,  he praised God as soon as he saw God’s incredible plan unfold.

Jesus’ parents were devout to the letter. Even when Augustus’ census forced families across the Roman Empire to travel, Joseph, who was not yet even married to Mary, took his young fiancee, and her unborn child, across the Palestinian desert to his hometown, per the Roman Imperial decree — because they were going to do the right thing, regardless of the suspicious murmurs that would be sure to happen once he arrived back in his hometown of Bethlehem.

Later, Joseph and Mary made sure to consecrate Jesus, and Mary, according to the Jewish standards. And we find out, too, that this family, though poor (we know they were poor because of Mary’s sacrifices, which were animals for the impoverished), they traveled to Jerusalem every year, for Jesus’ first twelve years, to celebrate Passover.

Devout. Loyal. Worshipers. It’s startling to find that Luke spent no time on the trivial.

John, who lived “in the wilderness” was a child of anticipation, waiting for deliverance, like Israel did in the years preceding their entry into Canaan. This is how he spent his childhood — waiting for the movement of God. I wonder if we are encouraging our kids, while they are in our care, to wait, daily, on the movements of God.

And Jesus spent a week, once a year, listening to the Jewish scribes. These boys grew up in homes where the parents knew the value of worshiping the Lord.

American parents are challenged in difficult ways, in a Disney-world utopia, where we can provide iPhones, expensive cars, meals at restaurants, personalized bedrooms, and individual Netflix accounts for our kids.

We give them these things, and still have the audacity to think they are deprived.

We even start leaning on churches, then, to continue the fun, thereby ensuring our kids learn that the value of their faith is built on the corruption of a personalized experience at their every turn.

The gospel I read is filled with suffering. Bearing burdens. Total depravity. Total dependence on God. Mission. Mobility. Devotion.

I want to be a dad who leads his family as did Zechariah and Joseph. I want my kids to learn to wait on the Lord, and to anticipate the times they listen to the Word. And I want the parents I know to do the same.

In America, this is scandalous parenting.

Because if we become scandalous parents, we will see the explosion of the kingdom that Luke shares in the first few chapters of Acts of the Apostles. The kingdom will flourish when we sacrifice these candy-land desires, die to ourselves, and surrender our families to the sovereignty of God.

Lord, help us to no longer chase fun, and help us to chase joy. Help us to be scandalous parents.

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Three Years Without Cable TV

I cancelled my cable service three years ago.

And it still has been one of the best decisions I, and my family, have ever made.

After our first year, without cable TV, I wrote four posts to describe the process. They were great journeys in writing for me. They are raw, I think, but were certainly written out of passion and intensity. They are a little bit funny, a little bit satirical, and a whole lot serious. And in 2011, I wrote one addendum on what I believe to have been a spiritual battle, and my subsequent failure of such.

Here they are, again, for you. May they inspire you a bit today to think about what you allow your eyes to see.

Part 1 :: Television and Life: The Beginning of the End of My Cable Subscription

Part 2 :: Television and Life: The Philosophical Reasons We Cancelled Our Television Subscription

Part 3 :: Television and Life: My TV, My Movies, and Jesus

Part 4 :: Television and Life: What I’ve Done Since Canceling My TV

Part 5 :: Name: The Name of God and My Mistake

Are We Radical Enough?

2 Timothy is the final letter written by the apostle Paul in our New Testament, written around 65 or 66 AD. If other sources are true, Paul probably died within a year of writing this letter.

Yet, even if he did not die that soon, it is still our final glimpse into the life of this man, who, at the time of writing this letter, was imprisoned and alone.

Reading through its short four chapters, its teaching isn’t what strikes me the most. It is Paul, the man. There are a few theories about his final imprisonment. Some say that he was still under Roman house arrest, while others think he was serving a second imprisonment, because of the dating of the letter. Either way, the passion and fire of his previous letters, like Romans or Galatians seems to be gone. Instead, we find a man at peace with his situation, yet looking over a life of suffering for Jesus. I wouldn’t say Paul was sad, but I would say that Paul felt he was immobilized for the rest of his life.

Consider this verse, one of the last in the letter, and of the last we have from him:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13; NIV84)

Paul didn’t even have a coat. Only one companion, Luke, was with him. He wrote, later, in chapter 4, that “everyone deserted him” (4:16).

He was suffering for the gospel. Read these verses:

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God … (1:8)

 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed … (1:11, 12)

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. (1:15)

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. (1:16)

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. (2:8)

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (3:10, 11)

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (3:12, 13)

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. (4:6)

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. (4:9, 10)

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. (4:14)

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (4:16)

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. (4:18)

Depressing, isn’t it? This one man, entrusted to blow open the gates of freedom, was in a jail cell, humiliated and alone and cold.

Yet, by the grace of God, his life intersected with a young man from Lystra, who became his protegé. So mature was Timothy, that Paul sent him to Ephesus, to deal with an intense crisis. The crisis had not abated, because Paul told Timothy to “keep reminding them” of truth (4:14).

It was no matter to Paul, though — he wanted to see Timothy, maybe for the last time, and was content to ask Timothy to leave Ephesus, and visit him.

This letter always breaks my heart when I read it. There is some obvious teaching, yet it is not new. Paul shared these very same sentiments elsewhere. But his suffering is what is most obvious. His suffering was the result of his calling.

Yet he believed in God’s vindication, even to the very end. His suffering would not be in vain.

I am reminded of a scene in the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo,” when Abbe Faria, the priest, and Dantes, spent years unjustly imprisoned, and through a series of unlikely circumstances, meet each other. The surprising intersection of these two men was a great episode in the film. While they dig a tunnel to escape the prison, the priest spends hours teaching and instructing young Dantes, who had become his own unlikely protegé.

Yet the priest died before their chance to escape had come. Dantes is broken, as he watches the priest die on a cold floor in the French jail. Yet the priest had one final lesson for Dantes. Here is the scene:

This is how I imagine Paul. Fighting, struggling, suffering, as best he could, until the very end, blessed to have someone to listen to his final words. His legacy — one of teaching and suffering — is one that gives us pause today, and makes us wonder if our lives are radical enough for the kingdom.

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This is my seventieth post in 70 straight days, while reading through the New Testament. It’s been an amazing journey, and has been such a blessing to me. All of the previous posts are here. I have twenty more days of reading and writing, and while there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is almost bittersweet. God has done a supernatural work in me this summer, and has given me a blessing that is priceless. Thank you for joining me.

Ambition Free

Jesus seriously messed up Paul’s list of accomplishments.

Seriously.

Before I continue though, I want to catch you up.

I am reading through the New Testament in 90 straight days, and blogging every day. God has done something supernatural in me this summer, stretching my endurance for study, and stretching my passion for the Word. I seriously, seriously, seriously love what God has provided in these ancient pages. I am also seriously, seriously, seriously being challenged, every day, to rethink things I’ve always held true. I’m still not sure what to do about that, but I am trusting that God has something in mind.

Today’s reading, then, is the letter to the Philippians. It was written to the church in the Roman city of Philippi while Paul was in jail, and probably in jail in the city of Rome.

It was an interesting city of 10,000 people the New Testament. Here’s what we know from Paul’s time there, from Acts 16.

“The first convert in Europe” was in Philippi, and was Lydia, a wealthy woman, and the first church, in Philippi, met in her home. A jailer and his family accepted Jesus as their Savior, and Paul also liberated a slave girl from a demonic presence.

In this letter itself, Paul appealed to two women in Philippians 4, who seemed to have had some influence in the church, because their quarrel warranted a personal appeal from Paul. So, there are two women in Acts 16, when Paul visited Philippi, and two women in this letter. History itself attests to the greater freedom of women in Macedonian culture than in other, more Jewish-influenced areas of Asia Minor. It is no surprise that we find women of influence in this city, and the church there.

Anyway, Paul wrote an emotional letter to this church. It’s hard to escape, through the words, his own self-image.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:7-9; NIV84)

Paul’s word for rubbish, here? It could probably be better translated as excrement. Some translators even say that this word was a vulgar term, and the Greek audience knew it as such. If so, this statement has some pretty high shock value. That Paul would use a term like this, and then equate this term to his achievements, would’ve made some jaws drop.

Even so, Paul considered his every accomplishment as excrement, compared to just knowing Jesus.

Yet he was filled with joy! Stripped to nothing, and in jail, he held fast to joy. Even in this letter, he used the word “rejoice,” or “joy,” some 14 different times. In Philippians 1:4, the first time the word is used, it’s used in reference to how he prayed.

Paul prayed with joy! That probably deserves its own commentary. I’ll forego that here, but suffice it to say that we could learn much about our own prayer life from a man, in prison, who still prayed with joy. Circumstantial happiness is no happiness at all.

Paul, though, believed — truly believed — that the way of Jesus was through subtraction. When he quoted the infamous hymn, found in chapter 2, there is one statement that I can’t shake. Here it is:

… [Christ Jesus,] who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. (2:6, 7; NET)

(The NET retains the original words, unlike some other English translations.)

Jesus willfully emptied himself. In the form of God, he willfully became a man, taking the form of a slave, emptying himself of his limitless power, to willfully be limited as a human. Jesus went from God to slave. He looked like other men, but didn’t act like other men.

You could say that God, for a brief moment in history, considered his accomplishments as excrement, for the opportunity to live like me and you. It was a willful abandonment.

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But there was a great reward, for Paul, to abandon his own accomplishments. It wasn’t what you, or I, would consider normal, though. Consider his words:

As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. (1:13; NIV84)

History confirms that the “whole palace guard” in Rome contained 9,000 Roman soldiers.

9,000 Roman soldiers knew Paul, and the reason for his imprisonment.

He was no quiet prisoner.

But he was serious, too, when he said that all of his accomplishments were considered as dung. Only someone who really, truly believed that statement would see a prison as a mission instead of punishment.

Yet, had Paul never been arrested, these men would have never heard the name of Jesus.

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This letter refashions our idea of ambition.

God moves us as he wills. He takes us to fashionable cities, or he takes us to prisons. There is joy, regardless of where God places us. It is certainly an anti-American ideal, though. We earn and work for better things, for what we believe to be a better life.

What if you looked around your home, right now, or looked around your office, and considered everything your eyes see as dung, compared to knowing Jesus?

Could you part with all of it? Now?

Those are big questions. They are big questions that inject big, and frightening thoughts, into our lives.

But God, save us from cultural ambition! Save us from blind ambition! Save us from the idolatry of success!

And thank you for placing all of your accomplishments aside, to join us in this life. Thank you, God.

We Are Paradoxes

It is much easier to write a story, or to teach, or to minister to you, dear reader.

But sometimes, like today, I need the Word of God to minister to me. I just need it to cover me, to protect me, to assure me. I readily admit that in my own life, but while here, through this reading and writing journey, its admission has been said much with my lips, but written little with my fingers.

There have been a few times when I have written it, though, only to delete it all. I did not want any of these posts to be about me. I only wanted them to exalt the story of God in the New Testament of our bibles. I wanted these words to challenge me, and to challenge others. I do not regret that, nor am I afraid of any sort of debate. The Word of God speaks much better about any of these sorts of things than I do.

But today, all of that is put aside. Life has a sneaky way of placing you in testing moments. And even at your best efforts to rationalize and explain those times of trial, you just can’t. You just need the Word to speak something to you as only it can.

And today that day has come. Here are the sections, from today’s reading, that keep bouncing in my head.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12; NIV84)

We are paradoxes.

We are disposable dirt jars, which hold an all-surpassing power. How can that be? How can something so weak hold something so powerful?

Our frail clay jars are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed.

God has deposited an all-surpassing power into the most vulnerable of vessels, to show his power at keeping these vessels together.

We may be cracked. We may be bruised. We may be hurt. But we are not destroyed.

We are not destroyed.

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We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:
in great endurance;
in troubles, hardships and distresses;
in beatings, imprisonments and riots;
in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;
in purity, understanding, patience and kindness;
in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;
in truthful speech and in the power of God;
with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;
through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report;
genuine, yet regarded as impostors;
known, yet regarded as unknown;
dying, and yet we live on;
beaten, and yet not killed;
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
poor, yet making many rich;
having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
(2 Corinthians 6:3-10; NIV84)

Being a servant to God leads you only to these trials.

Which begs the question: are you facing a trial? Constantly?

Trials are the greatest symptom/characteristic of a spirit-filled life.

Trials. Deep longing. A deep knowledge that the world isn’t right. And won’t ever be right. And that knowledge is affecting you. You hurt, yet are filled with joy.

George Mueller wrote that God’s way is only through trial. Yet he wasn’t the first to see that.

Being a servant of God makes you a display for his glory, because of your suffering.

Being a servant of God makes me a display for his glory, because of my suffering.

Brennan Manning writes this, in his book The Furious Longing of God,

I believe in God with all my heart. And in a given day when I see a nine-year-old raped and murdered by a sex maniac or a four-year-old boy slaughtered by a drunken driver, I wonder if God even exists. As I’ve said before, I address Him and I get discouraged. I love and I hate. I feel better about feeling good. I feel guilty if I don’t feel guilty. I’m wide open, I’m locked in. I’m trusting and suspicious. I’m honest and I still play games. Aristotle said that I’m a rational animal. But I’m not.

I feel like Brennan Manning. Today, I do, most especially. I am a jar of clay, that wants to break, so badly, but God’s spirit is in me, keeping the cracks from spreading. I can’t explain it, other than, as Jeremiah wrote, there is a fire in my bones, even when I wish to just be quiet.

Paul wrote strong words. Words to live by. Words to preach. Words that were written with experience pushing the pen forward with every stroke.

This is the only way God knows. That’s why it is a narrow road. That’s why few find it, and fewer walk it.

So I trust in that all-surpassing power. It’s all I have.