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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Hey, Jude

They are the three shortest books in the entire bible. Here are the key verses from each:

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. (2 John 1:7, 8; NIV84)

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. (3 John 1:5-8)

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 1:17-20)

Each has its own distinct purpose.  Continue reading

How You Can Know God Is Speaking

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1; NIV84)

The early Christian community, with a syncretism of a rich Jewish tradition and overwhelming secular influences, was familiar with spirits. Several stories in early biblical writings attest to their persuasive power, and even cultural norms indicated the presence of supernatural influences.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we find a warning for the people of God, to be on guard against prophets who convincingly claimed divine truths, and even offered proof, but did so in ways opposite of early Jewish law.

You can read it here. It’s pretty stout. These prophets were being used by God to test his people. And they were also punished when their origins were found to be from unholy places.  Continue reading

A New Name, A New Life

Many of the New Testament letters, found in the second half of the New Testament, have many scholars wondering if the writers at the beginning of the letters actually wrote them.

It’s a strange scholarly problem, built upon various wonderings and thoughts from the texts themselves. Asking these sorts of questions opens up an entire criticism of the New Testament, that makes one wonder how, exactly, did any of these books get to be a part of the bible we now hold.

I won’t defend any of that here. Some of those theories have some merit, I think, at least in wondering who wrote what. Many of these theories are based upon latter church fathers, as early as the end of the first century, who begin to refer to some of these letters, either through various quotations, or by seeming to validate the authors listed in those letters, by using their written name.

So, which church father, who quoted or referred to various letters, lends a huge amount of credibility to this sort of problem.

So that’s where we find ourselves, today, in the reading of 1 Peter. The very first suggestion, it seems, is that, through the research of various commentaries and scholars, most are quick to say that actually naming Peter, as the author, is tougher than it looks. The style of the letter is eloquent Greek, which, to many, is an indication that a simple, unlearned man could not have used such the Greek language in such a beautiful, eloquent way. That’s a weak argument, though.

If the earliest date for the writing of 1 Peter is around 62 AD, then at least thirty years had passed between the reference to Peter being unlearned in Acts 4:13, and the writing of this letter.

I think thirty years is a pretty substantial amount of time to get a little smarter, don’t you think? Or, for that matter, isn’t it natural to suppose that any person could write any letter in any style he wanted?

But why am I sharing all of this with you?

Here we are, on day 79, through 90 straight days of reading the New Testament, and writing some brief thoughts here, on this site. The material written in 1 Peter is by no means new. There are no new theological advancements. 1 Peter was written, too, to the first church plants outside of Jerusalem. They had heard all of this before, by way of Paul’s visitations, and the letter he wrote to the Galatians.

What struck me, today, was the very first phrase of the very first verse. Here it is:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ … (1 Peter 1:1a; NIV84)

What at first appears to be a foregone conclusion is actually quite moving. Powerful. And, as they say, “it will preach.”

Before I go any further, though, I want to tell you that I do, think, that Peter wrote this letter. All of the arguments to the contrary just aren’t compelling enough. Peter, probably in Rome, maybe even in prison, wrote this, maybe even a year before he was executed.

So, back to the first verse.

Peter writes his name. Which really wasn’t his name at all.

Given the name Simon at birth, he was a fisherman. Old enough to be married. Trying to make a living. Rough. Impulsive. Yet recognized by Jesus as a man who could lead.

And so, in a marked conversation, Jesus referred to Simon as Cephas, because Peter, without batting an eye, looked at Jesus and said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Mark 16).

Do you realize how scandalous this could have been? For Peter to remark to a man of flesh and blood that he was, in fact, the son of God, was huge. And he did so without a doubt.

Because of his boldness, Jesus then saidthat “Upon this rock, I will build my church.”

And from that point forward, Simon was known as Peter. The rock.

So thirty years later, after this relationship and the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter referred to himself as Peter. Not Simon.

He was the man Jesus claimed him to be.

Because when Jesus changes a person, that person is truly changed.

The Praise of Your Mouth and the Work of Your Hands

It’s been said so much, that I think we are either tired of hearing it, or don’t even understand it.

It’s found in the letter of James, in the New Testament, and is part of our reading today. Here it is:

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18; NIV84)

The idea of a “new creation” is way overused. And a bit difficult for us. To be re-formed and re-made is, in and of itself, a miracle. James’ way of writing it, though, gives it a different slant.

We were purposed to be new. We were purposed to be re-made. It was God’s actual will to “give us birth,” again.

God has an investment in you. It was his design to make you completely new, into the best of his entire creation.

The letter of James, then, gives us an idea of what that sort of new creation looks like. Traditionally considered to have been written by Jesus’ brother, James, it is a letter from the pillar of the emerging church in the city of Jerusalem, in the decades following Jesus’ passion. It was written from the epicenter of God’s work in human history, from the city of the ages, and from the beginning place of the new covenant.

So, if the James of the letter is truly the James of Jesus’ family, it is a letter of immense proportions. But even if it isn’t, it still is powerful.

At first, though, it seems like a slight to the message of grace, which is THE central message of the New Testament, because it prescribes behaviors (called “works” in the letter), and that has made lots of scholars, through the centuries, a bit nervous. The central question that emerged was how the prescribed lifestyle of James actually gels with the freedom from religious behaviors found in grace.

It does, once you consider the verse above. These behaviors, these “works,” aren’t dictated for believers. They are the evidence of a completely changed life — of a life re-created. In the first chapter alone, look at what must be different in a life given to Jesus:

  • Trials are received with joy (1:2-7).
  • There is a blessing in financial humility, and a detriment in financial prosperity (1:9-11).
  • Temptations come from our own selfish ambitions and desires (1:13-18).
  • Anger doesn’t produce a righteous life (1:19-25).
  • The “least of these” become your first priority (1:26, 27).

And then, in chapter three, James turns towards the power of a teacher, and that even teachers should have re-created lives. Teaching is not a position of status, but of extreme humility. So, those who believe to be called by God to teach have a special consideration: watch what you say.

(It’s interesting that for most of my life, this famous chapter has been used to keep people from saying really, really bad things. If we look at it in light of James’ warning in 3:1-2, and that people should not aspire to be teachers because of the immense weight of influence, then the entire chapter changes. True, everyone should have full control over what they say, but that’s dealt with in other passages in the Word of God. James, here, is talking about what comes from the mouths of teachers. So, if you are a teacher, pastor, worship leader, mentor, preacher, or ministry leader, read James 3 as if he is talking to you.)

I think what James writes in chapter 1 suffices for a conclusion today. The behaviors in this letter mark us as re-created. If we do these things, for vanity or power (James 3:1, 2), then we’ve not been changed. But if they flow from our hearts, they become the qualities of a new life. But how are we to know?

We ask for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (1:5).

God destined you to be re-created. Does the praise of your mouth match the work of your hands? Big question today, and a question worth asking every day.

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Today is day 77. Only 13 more days.