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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In a Row of Graves

Check out this picture …

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Eran and I took our daughters last weekend to visit all of the headstones of those in our family who have passed away. This row of markers is the row of my grandfather’s family. The headstone, in the bottom left corner, is my grandfather’s. Trace the row to the top right corner, and you’ll see the headstones of his brothers and sisters, and his parents.

This is their family. Once upon a time, my grandfather was a kid, in a house full of kids. His parents were in the middle of parenting. There was once a lot of noise in their house; memories were being made, and exhaustion was being fought. But the kids grew up. They left their house, fought a war, had a family, and had their own grandchildren. And now, he and his family are together again, next to each other in their graves.

The time we have with our children is precious. And it’s fleeting. Don’t waste a minute with them. Don’t emphasize petty things like sports and movies. Emphasize, instead, God’s love and grace and mercy, and how God wants to use them to heal a broken world.

Read the gospels together.

Pray together.

Speak to them of how God is testing you, and how he is blessing you.

Remind them that Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are just illusions of community.

Teach them how God wants his church to be a kingdom — the kingdom — on earth, and not an organization with great things to do, and with fantastic personalities to hear.

All of this has been especially heightened for me, though, in my two experiences in the past month serving the families of children with cancer. To say that I was humbled, and overwhelmed, at the serious tests these families endure is a vast understatement. These parents truly know the value of family, and they embrace it to its fullest experience, every day — in ways I cannot.

So again, I say, the time we have with our children is precious.

Because one day, regardless of our health and wealth right now, each of our families will only be known by the words etched in the stones at our graves.

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

Let’s Talk About Sex

Before you read this, I would encourage you to watch the testimony of Michael and Heidi O’Brien. Michael O’Brien, by the way, is an amazing vocalist. I own much of his music, when he was with the band NewSong, and from his solo venture since.

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1 Corinthians 4 through 1 Corinthians 6, deals heavily with sexual behaviors, and sexual attitudes.

The community of believers in Corinth suffered from their divisions. And every deviant behavior in 1 Corinthians stemmed from this division, so much so that their division prohibited them from holding each other accountable. Here is the deviance Paul specifically addressed in this passage: A man (unnamed), who was a believer in the Corinthian church, had an ongoing sexual relationship with his stepmother.

In order to understand this, it’s important to understand two things. The first is how sex was viewed in the Roman world. The second is how God viewed a community of believers.

In the Roman world, sexual behaviors, and attitudes, were much different than what was prescribed for both the Jewish community and the Christian community. If men could have sex with someone, anyone, and do so without public shame, then there was no taboo for sex. It was a man’s public duty, in the Roman culture, to vie for public accolades — so whatever he did for sexual pleasure didn’t really matter, unless it allowed him to achieve such accolades. Sex was just a social means to a social end.

So sexual behaviors, outside of marriage, were of little concern in Corinth, and thus, of little concern for these [new] Corinthian believers.

But … a community of believers is to be different, and to have a different culture. That was how Paul began this letter!

True, Paul had stern words about the man’s sexual behavior. But Paul also had some stern things to say about the entire community of believers. He was shocked at their complacency over this man’s behavior.

I wonder if we suffer from complacency, too.

A community of believers is designed, by God, to be a manifestation of his Presence (We find this out later, more specifically, in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Thus, if God’s Presence is manifested among the group, such behavior would be held in account. This, to me, is Paul’s biggest critique. Of course the man should have known better. But if the faith community had been filled with the manifestation of God, then they would have known better. Instead, they didn’t have a clue, and thus it was obvious that God had not manifested himself there.

In a Spirit-filled community, grace and forgiveness and mercy and even spiritual discipline is prevalent, because it is supplied by God.

So we see this being prescribed by Paul. He counseled the Corinthian believers to no longer have fellowship with this man, to release him and then to allow him to live without the blessing of the community of believers until he missed it and wanted to return.

We must realize, though, that the repentance Paul desired was as much about the community of believers as it was about the man. If God’s Presence isn’t in the community, then the man would never have any place, or any group, to return to. 

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So now, let’s talk about sex.

At the end of 1 Corinthians 6, Paul wrote this, concerning sexual sin:

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

So, a person is already one with God — filled with God.

Sex, then, is that spiritual relationship manifested physically.

So, being married, and then being sexually active outside of marriage, is disastrous. Attempting to become “one” with two different people is divisive and wrong. We can only “become one,” with one person at a time.

Which means that if we are engaging in adultery, we’ve forsaken the spiritual unity of our spouse.

But, let’s be clear that cleansing and righteousness and forgiveness can happen. Paul wrote as much when he said that those in Corinth were once involved in homosexual activity and adultery, but were changed.

If you are engaged in these behaviors, God can heal you! God can forgive you!

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So, believers, allow God to manifest himself among you. Become the Spirt-fueled, Spirit-filled community God desires. Until that happens, you will never have the spiritual discernment necessary to rescue those who are lost.

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This is my forty-ninth post of 90 blogs I’m writing in 90 days, while reading through the New Testament. Thanks for joining me today.

The Best Children’s Ministry Ever

Today is day seven of our reading through the New Testament. The reading is from Matthew 19 through Matthew 21 today. Thanks for joining me!

In Matthew 18, Jesus begins an interesting conversation about children. He tells his disciples that “unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Again, drawing on the Jewish idea of a coming kingdom, with royal guards and soldiers and servants and palaces and land and subjects and a king, the idea that a child can enter the kingdom is a complete paradox.

How can a child enter a vast, protected, walled kingdom?

I couldn’t help but think of one of Pixar’s short films, “One Man Band.” A little girl is ready to drop a gold coin in a wishing well, until two street musicians began to compete for that one coin. But her reaction is worth the time, and it’s the sort of stuff I think of when I think of a child. Take a look.

There are a few references to children and families in these chapters. Here are the two big ones from Matthew 18:

  • If you welcome a child in the name of Jesus, then you welcome Jesus. (18:5)
  • If you harm a child, then you’ll die a slow, awful death. (18:6)

In Matthew 19, then, a similar conversation takes place. We find some parents (presumably) bringing their children to Jesus, to “place his hands on them and pray for them.”

My, how cultures (and parents) have changed.

We now ask much different things from Jesus.

We ask for competitive children’s programs. We ask for monthly calendars with multiple events. We ask for retreats. We ask for trips. We ask for the most fun and adventure they could ever have.

Because we now think that an expansive program will be what lends a child’s attention to Jesus. We want them to be part of the most popular event in town, because we believe that’s what it would take to keep them faithful. Even while membership in the American church is proving otherwise. People are leaving in record numbers.

Yet all these parents wanted, in Matthew 19:13, was for Jesus to touch their children and pray for them.

They weren’t asking Jesus to take their children to an awesome convention or seminar or movie or swim party. They just wanted Jesus to speak words of prayer over them.

And if we want a model for an awesome children’s ministry, then we really need to look no further than Jesus’ reaction. He beckoned these children to come, and rebuked the disciples who thought these little ones had no place at the feet of Jesus, or in the kingdom.

Jesus’ most shocking action was giving the kingdom of God to these children. And not his disciples.

And then he touched them.

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In Matthew 19:20-28, the mother of James and John makes an unusual request. She wanted special treatment for her sons, and hoped that Jesus would offer them the two seats next to Jesus in the kingdom.

And, again, Jesus’ idea of kingdom isn’t quite what everyone else was thinking. While she thought of a palace and thrones, Jesus had no such intentions, and remarked that if they wanted the special place their mother requested, then they, too, must give their lives as a ransom for many (19:22).

James and John were probably teenagers here. Maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. They had grit and passion. But their mother still wanted special treatment for these two young men who were old enough to live on their own.

Jesus said earlier that entrance into the kingdom came through innocence. He said here that innocence leads to the willing sacrifice we will make in our lives.

And here we find the perfect model of a student ministry, which is not leading teenagers in awesome retreats and programs, but teaching them that suffering and sacrifice is the way of discipleship.

Jesus just doesn’t play around.

But that’s not all.

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He rode into Jerusalem, and people shouted praises to him. One of my favorite verses in Matthew comes in Matthew 21:10, when Matthew writes this:

… the whole city was stirred …

The entire city of Jerusalem, with a population of around 30,000 people, was shaken at Jesus’ entrance into their city.

He went straight to the temple, and in what may have been his first, and only, revolutionary moment, he overturned tables and angered the merchants. But Matthew wasn’t as concerned about this experience as he was about the reaction of the Jewish teachers who saw everything that happened.

Picture it. Tables are overturned. Lambs are running through the square. Doves have been let out of their cages and are flying. Lots of chatter and anger from these merchants. They kick the dust of the ground when they chase their rolling Roman coins. And while this scene erupts, Jesus leaves the hubris of his action to heal both a blind man and a lame man.

The “teachers of the law” who are there do not seem to be concerned with Jesus’ violent reaction to the merchants, though. Nor do they seem to be upset at the miraculous healings.

They were most upset at the reaction of the children.

There were children who saw everything, who were in the temple, and they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

These children praised Jesus. They couldn’t help it. Their immediate response was to worship.

But look at the scene through the eyes of these children. They just watched Jesus do some really crazy things. He chased merchants from the temple. He then healed two well-known, paralyzed men in the temple.

What they witnessed would forever change their lives.

And Jesus, probably sweating from overturning those tables, and still trying to catch his breath while he healed these two men — maybe wiping dirt from his forehead with the sleeve of his cloak — only answered the critique of the teachers by explaining to them that God had already ordained these very children to praise and worship. And I think he smiled when he answered them.

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I am a daddy. My life has been blessed beyond words by my daughters. All four of them.

I want their relationship with Jesus to be like what happens in the lives of the kids in Matthew 19. I want to bring them to the Word of God to be touched, and to be prayed over. I want them to make a decision that will transform them into people who are willing to sacrifice and give, even beyond what is expected. And I want them to see such radical transformation in the lives of people that they just can’t help but praise Jesus.

It doesn’t take any Americanized version of the gospel to make this happen.

It doesn’t require packed calendars and competitions and memory verses and perfect attendance in a Sunday school program.

It doesn’t require a week-long VBS.

And it shouldn’t require the most fun a kid can have in a day.

Because the kids and teenagers in Matthew 18 and Matthew 19 and Matthew 21 didn’t have any of those things.

It takes a relationship with Jesus. It takes parents who just want their children to be moved by Jesus. And it takes parents who want their kids to see, with their own eyes, how Jesus can heal the most broken.

Jesus loves the little children. He gave them his entire kingdom.

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Thanks for reading. You can find all the posts I am writing as I read the New Testament by clicking here.