When Your Kids Ask Tough Questions About God

question-mark-213671_1280While our family ate dinner one evening, a conversation, the kids started talking about the Lego Ninjago television show, which is one of their current favorites. Then, things took an unexpected turn. We started talking about the heroes and villains of Lego Ninjago, which led to a conversation about stories of good versus evil, and how so many of those stories mirror the story of Scripture. Before we knew it, our 9-year-old daughter was asking us some fairly intense theological questions:

“The Bible says God doesn’t do bad things, but if He’s in charge of everything, doesn’t He make bad things happen? Couldn’t He have stopped Adam and Eve from ruining the whole world?” 

All of a sudden, that Taco Cabana turned into the Central Texas Seminary for Little People, and the professors (my wife Shannon and I) felt poorly qualified! Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. Some children seem to accept everything with simple (“child-like”) faith, while others constantly ask hard questions.

What are we parents to do when our kids start asking extremely difficult questions about the Bible, ones that even grown-ups have a hard time answering well? There are no easy formulas, and every child is different, but here are a few general thoughts that might be helpful to you:

1. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath or two. It’s going to be alright. Your kid isn’t trying to overthrow your authority or call you a liar. He or she is simply asking questions. Anybody who thinks carefully about what they believe is eventually going to ask these questions. So this is good news for you: Your child wants to ask you these questions, because he or she thinks you can help. It’s an opportunity, not a problem.

2. Take their questions seriously. Don’t assume that your child lacks the mental or spiritual ability to talk about the deep things of God. Don’t dismiss their questions as impertinent, silly, or irritating. Avoid saying things like, “You ask too many questions,” or, “You’re too young to talk about Calvinism.” If it’s not a good time to talk, tell your child that their question is going to require some focus and time to answer well, and schedule a future “appointment” to discuss it (sometime soon). Affirm the question, and their desire to learn more about God. For example: “Wow, that’s an important question. I wonder about that sometimes, too. I’m glad you ask questions like this. Let’s talk about it for a few minutes.”

3. Don’t just give them answers; teach them to think for themselves. One good way to accomplish this is to ask them questions in response to their questions. For example, “Why do you think that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from that tree?” “What does the Bible tell us God is like: does He make rules for no reason, or does He have good reasons for what He does?” Wait for them to think about their answers, and don’t be afraid to let your children do a little bit of the work. As a parent, your goal is ultimately to help them to develop their own faith. When they’re very young, you may have to do more of the talking. But as they grow older, give them opportunities to answer their own questions while you guide them. Ideally, they’ll grow up to be dependent upon God, but independent of you.

4. When you do provide answers, get them from the Bible. Resist the temptation to speculate, or to fill in gaps that the Bible leaves open. Tell them what God’s Word says about death and resurrection, or about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Direct them to important passages and have them read those passages aloud. Make it clear that your ultimate source of information about God is the Word of God.

5. If you don’t know the answer, admit it. Then search for the answers together. The quickest way to ruin your credibility is to pretend you have answers when you don’t. Admit your ignorance, but don’t stop there. Say something like, “Wow, I don’t really have a good answer to that one. Why don’t we try to find the answer together?” Then, make an appointment to talk to your pastor, or find an age-appropriate book on the topic, or just open the Bible and look at it together. Show your children what it looks like to study the Scripture in order to learn about God.

6. Don’t be afraid of the mysteries. There are some questions that we simply cannot answer, no matter how much research we do. Some of God’s mysteries are simply beyond our reach; we won’t be able to understand. Once you’ve really done your best to help your child understand, it’s alright to say, “That’s about as much as we can know right now. One day, God might tell us more, but because He’s so much greater than we are, we can’t understand everything. Sometimes, we just have to trust Him.” I want to be clear, though: Don’t start with the presupposition that everything is a mystery beyond our grasp. The Bible tells us a lot, even though it doesn’t tell us everything. Make an effort to find good answers, and to help your child find good answers. Then, when you’ve reached the end of what you can know, let them know that it’s alright if we don’t know everything. Mysteries are a part of what makes following God adventurous and exciting.

Ultimately, the way you approach your kids’ tough questions is every bit as important as the answers you provide. You have a powerful opportunity to shape the way they think about God, and to provide them with the tools to tackle tough questions, even when you’re not around to answer them.

Question: What other ideas do you have for talking to kids about hard questions? Have you found anything to be particularly helpful? 

United Airlines, Human Dignity, and the Good News

1280px-United_Airlines_Boeing_767-322EREarlier this week, the world reacted with outrage to a viral video of a United Airlines passenger, David Dao, being forcibly removed from his flight, after paying for a ticket and boarding the plane. For many of us, the video confirmed all of our worst suspicions about United. For me, it brought back a scary memory from several years ago, when a United flight attendant charged at me, and threatened my wife and me with forcible removal from the plane. I had inadvertently angered her during the boarding process, by asking her to help me find a place in the overhead compartment for my carry-on bag. So, yes, I’ll admit that my first reaction upon reading this week’s news was, “United has had this coming for a long time.”

Then, predictably, the backlash to the backlash began. People pointed out that the airline has the right to ask you to leave their plane, and if you refuse, they have the right to remove you, or to “re-accommodate” you, in the words of United CEO Oscar Munoz. Airlines are allowed to use force if you resist their authority – in other words, if you refuse to take their money and leave the plane, they have a contractual right to violently re-accommodate you. Yes, in fact, they can legally drag your bloody carcass away if you get too far out line, or if they run out of room. You agreed to all of this, by the way, when you bought your ticket; it’s right there in the fine print you didn’t read. Their plane, their rules. So, my second reaction was, “Yeah, the guy should’ve just obeyed if he wanted to stay injury-free.” (Of course, one could argue that this is similar to saying that you should always obey Vito Corleone’s instructions if you’d rather not find a horse’s head on your pillow, but that’s a whole other discussion).

Most of the online discussion, though, has only danced around the question of why we found all of this so outrageous, without actually answering the question. Let’s be honest: Even people who are defending the airline seem to acknowledge that “mistakes were made,” even if they can’t pinpoint what they are. Everybody recognizes that dragging a bleeding customer through coach is not the best possible conflict resolution strategy. It isn’t exactly “win-win.” Nonetheless, it wasn’t illegal, either.

What is really bothering us about this incident, then? If United was within their rights, then why are we concerned? Well, I think there is a distinctly theological answer to those questions, one that won’t surprise you if you’ve read some of my other posts. 

Major airlines generally have two primary goals that define their effectiveness (and profitability): efficiency and safety. 

The goal of efficiency is, of course, driven by profit. A more efficient airline is a more profitable one, so the goal is to seat the maximum number of passengers possible, at the most optimum price, and move them through the whole process as quickly as possible. Efficiency determines how many seats they cram onto the plane, the price of tickets, the boarding procedures, staff salaries, and many other decisions. For the consumer, of course, efficiency results primarily in timeliness. Everybody wants to get to their destination on time.

However, efficiency has to be balanced by safety, right? You can’t put too many people on the airplane. You cannot allow people to board who might be a threat to the other passengers, nor let people bring dangerous items onto the plane, nor permit people to wander freely through the cabin while the plane is taking off. For the consumer, safety is paramount. Most of us believe that safety is more important than efficiency, right? We want to make sure we arrive in one piece, even more than we want to arrive on time. So if it takes awhile to remove a violent passenger, we’re all for that.

Now, in order to ensure efficiency and safety, airlines make a lot of rules, and they empower their staff to enforce those rules. Again, there are reasons why you can’t bring knives and guns onto airplanes. There are reasons why you have to stay put while the seatbelt light is on. There are even good reasons why, when asked to leave a plane, you have to leave. The crew is responsible for everybody’s safety, and they want everybody to get to their destinations on time. So they make rules to make sure those good things happen.

However, efficiency and safety are good goals, and necessary goals, but they are insufficient by themselves. The problem is that humans also want the airline to have a third major goal: Dignity. We want to be treated with dignity. What we saw on the video of United 3411 was a clash between the human goal to be treated with dignity, and the corporate goals of efficiency and safety. The corporate goal of efficiency sometimes means that our individual dignity is forgotten – we only have value in the aggregate. In other words, one person doesn’t really matter, as long as there are hundreds of other people on the plane who have paid their fares. In addition, the goal of safety often means that fear colors many corporate decisions; airlines treat people roughly, because they feel that anybody could be a threat. Any sass, any talking back, any minor violation of the rules, and you’re treated with deep suspicion, or outright hostility.

So people were angry at Mr. Dao’s treatment, even though the fine print on his ticket says that the airline has the right to treat him that way. Yes, we say, he shouldn’t have disobeyed orders, but didn’t the airline put him in this situation to begin with? Something seems cruel about taking a man’s money, letting him get on an airplane, only to drag him away after he refused to take your financial incentive to leave. While the corporation is allowed to do this, most people wonder if they should be allowed to do it. United has the legal and contractual right to strip us of our dignity, but that doesn’t mean people think that’s acceptable.

As I’ve said before, only human beings have this need to be treated with honor and dignity. If the plane was filled with sheep and cattle, it still wouldn’t be appropriate to drag them along the floor or beat them with sticks, of course; but nobody would really object if you put a cow on a plane and then had to remove him due to space concerns. Nobody would really mind, in fact, if you put a leash on the cow and physically pulled the animal from the aircraft, as long as you didn’t hurt it. Human beings won’t stand for that type of treatment, though. It’s beneath our dignity.

Most of us, especially since 9/11, have found ourselves feeling like we are little better than cows and sheep when we travel by air. Most of us have not been beaten up or dragged around, but we have been yelled at, rushed (and then told we’d have to wait anyway), shoved, stuck on the tarmac, told we were not allowed to relieve our bladders for hours at a time, and even verbally threatened. Passengers are not treated as individuals with dignity; we are treated as groups of potentially inefficient and dangerous revenue sources. So the video we saw this week made us think, “Sure, that exact thing hasn’t happened to me, but it could, and I have been treated as less than human at times, as well.”

This need to be treated with dignity stems from our awareness, however hidden and unrealized, that we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). God made us for glory and honor (Psalm 8:5-8). We believe we have an inherent worth and dignity, and that others ought to respect that. That belief comes from God Himself. The video we saw outraged us, because it was outrageous: People should not be treated like cows and sheep. The outrage began before the video was rolling, with a series of minor indignities, that culminated in a major one. That, I think, is why we felt the way we did; the video reflected a broader pattern that we have already observed. When people are consistently treated as less than human, there will eventually be a tipping point, even if the facts connected to that tipping point raise questions. Our society will insist that God’s image is honored, even if we don’t recognize what we’re insisting upon.

The bad news here is that large corporate airlines will, most likely, continue to operate by the principles of profit: efficiency and safety at all costs. I would not expect anything more than small changes in the way United does business, and maybe temporary ones at that.

The good news, though, is that God does not see us like corporations do. God doesn’t see us as masses to be managed; he sees us as children, whom He loves. God doesn’t see us as threats to be neutralized; He sees us as sinners who need to redeemed. As a result, He acts toward us with compassion, grace, and dignity, at all times. And we are not paying customers in God’s kingdom, either; we are recipients of His grace, provided through Christ’s death and resurrection. We’re all free riders, but He crowns us with glory and honor anyway.

Good news, indeed.

We Are All Wrong: On Jesus and Political Disagreements

15845969_mThe 2016 election is over. Regardless of how you voted, or how you felt about the candidates, I think we all agree that it was an unusually ugly year in the world of politics. Two deeply unpopular presidential candidates managed to wreak havoc on friendships, and even on families.

Perhaps more troubling to me was the discord that this election created among Christians. Between May and November, I lost count of the Facebook posts I saw that questioned the salvation – or at least the spiritual maturity – of Christians who planned to vote differently. The most startling manifestations of this division actually came from some prominent evangelical pastors, one of whom called those who disagreed with his political position “fools,” “hypocrites,” and “namby-pamby, pantywaisted, weak-kneed Christians.” I found myself wondering if he’d ever actually read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22.

I bring all of this up not merely to revisit the pain of the past year, but instead to ask, “Where do we go from here?” Is there a better way for American Christians to think about the relationship between politics and faith? Is it even possible to disagree without resorting to the type of vicious tribalism that elevates our political identities above our Christian identification?

I think there is a better way forward, and – as usual – we can find the way forward in the Scripture. We don’t need to look any further than the relationships between Jesus and His early disciples. 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain lists of Christ’s original twelve disciples. Most of the time we skim over the lists, or we focus on the names we know the best – Peter, James, John, and the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. But Luke 6:12 tells us that Jesus prayed all night long before choosing the twelve disciples, so He must have chosen each one quite intentionally. In other words, none of them were there by accident.

Yet at first glance, this group looks like it was assembled by a crazy person.

First, let’s consider Matthew the tax collector. Matthew was basically a Roman government employee, who had paid for the privilege of assessing and collecting taxes on purchased goods. Most tax collectors dishonestly inflated their commissions by over-assessing the value of goods, or by taxing for the same item over and over again. Most Jews hated tax collectors, as you probably know. Tax-collecting Jews like Matthew were considered traitors, on the same moral level as brothel owners and thieves.

Second, you have “Simon the Zealot” in the mix. There’s some debate whether Simon belonged to the formal political party called “the Zealots” or whether he was just a rabid Jewish nationalist. Either way, it’s quite likely that Simon hated the Roman government. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that he might have been in favor of violent revolution. Matthew the Tax Collector’s very presence would have been a personal affront to a guy like Simon the Zealot (and vice versa).

Third, you have fishermen, like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were working-class individuals trying to make a living. They would have been less than sympathetic to tax collectors like Matthew, while probably having little time or patience for the political pot-stirring of a zealot like Simon.

Finally, you have the scheming Judas, the doubting Thomas, along with some others we know little about.

Jesus puts them all together in one big happy family (ha!) and says, “Follow me.” It doesn’t really seem like a great plan, if we’re honest. Imagine putting your most left-leaning relative, the one who voted enthusiastically for Bernie Sanders, on a committee with the most rabidly conservative Trump supporter in your family. Then toss in your cousin who works in an auto shop and has no interest in politics, along with your rich uncle who’s only interested in politics for how it will affect his portfolio. What would you expect such a group to accomplish? The answer, of course, is nothing. For that matter, it’s questionable whether they’d all be alive after a week together in close proximity.

So why does Jesus do it? What’s He trying to prove? 

He’s trying to demonstrate, at least in part, that their political allegiances have to give way to Christ-allegiance. Matthew liked the Romans being in charge, Simon wanted the Jews to be in charge, and Peter just wanted Peter to be in charge.

Jesus tells them that He will be in charge. Jesus makes a powerful point by putting all of these men together in one group and saying, “Follow me.”

The point is this: Your ways are all wrong, and My way is right. 

Yes, some ways are more wrong than others, but that’s not really the point. Jesus isn’t grading their alternate paths on a bell curve. Instead, Jesus spends the next few years offending the sensibilities of all of these men. One minute He would side with one group’s interpretation of Scripture, only to side with a different group the next time. The Jewish nationalists are frustrated that He won’t support their violent rebellion against Rome, the religious leaders are angry that He won’t submit to their interpretations of Scripture, and those who support Caesar suspect that Jesus is being subversive (although they can’t quite figure out what He’s up to). Jesus simply refused to fit into any of their systems.

In the final analysis, Jesus makes sure His disciples understand that His way is the only way. He won’t share their allegiance with some other leader or a political party. And what’s remarkable is that His early followers got the message loud and clear. Their close association with Jesus made their political affiliations seem virtually meaningless. All of them (except Judas the traitor) spent the rest of their lives proclaiming the King and His kingdom. Their political perspectives are so insignificant that they aren’t really mentioned again after Jesus assembles them together.

Think about that for a moment: The types of things we just spent a year arguing about vociferously – how the government should operate, who should be in charge, how we should be taxed – play virtually no role in the life of the early church. Over time, the first disciples joined with others from even more disparate groups, like the Pharisees and even Gentiles. But they all proclaimed and followed Jesus.

Jesus’ message was simple but powerful: I am the way, the truth and the life. My way is the only way.

All their political and spiritual allegiances had to give way to Christ-allegiance. I’m sure Simon still had opinions about how evil the Romans were (and he wasn’t completely wrong), and Matthew may have privately thought they weren’t all that bad (and he wasn’t totally wrong, even if he was a bit more wrong than Simon). But those views never split the disciples into factions. That’s quite remarkable, if you ask me.

What does this mean for us, as American Christians in 2016? It doesn’t mean that the issues are unimportant, or that every perspective is equally valid. But the relationship between Jesus and the disciples does mean that every single political and spiritual perspective must give way to Jesus’ perspective.

Our primary loyalty is not to our political tribe. All of our tribes are wrong in various ways. They may not be equally wrong, but again, Jesus isn’t grading our alternate allegiances on a bell curve. We are all wrong in various ways. Jesus won’t fit Himself into our systems, because His Way is the only one that’s right. We line up behind Jesus and let the chips fall where they may.

That means that we must never, never, never insist that somebody has to join our political tribe in order to be a disciple of Jesus. And we do not call other Christians “fools” and “hypocrites” for failing to check our political boxes. We might call them wrong, but only if we’re willing to admit the ways in which we are wrong, as well. Wrong in different ways, maybe even in fewer ways, but wrong nonetheless.

Here’s a basic principle: If you are convinced that your political tribe is always right, while other the opposing tribe is always wrong, you are quite likely a disciple of your tribe more than you are a disciple of Jesus. If you are willing to destroy relationships within the body of Christ or within your family because of somebody’s political affiliation, you are quite likely a disciple of your tribe more than you are a disciple of Jesus. 

Again, I want to be clear: I’m not saying that all political differences are totally meaningless, especially where those political differences affect clear moral issues (like life, justice, or sexuality). I am saying that even in our disagreements, we seek to line up behind Jesus rather than behind our tribal leaders. If another tribe is wrong, they’re only wrong to the extent that they deviate from the way of Jesus, and not to the extent that they deviate from the beliefs of my tribe.

The beauty of the early church was that such disparate men and women came together under the banner of Jesus, willing to set aside their tribal allegiances to follow Him. They adjusted the way they saw the world to fit the way Jesus saw it, even when it was hard to do. Even when it hurt their pride or hurt their tribe’s standing in the world.

The question for today’s American evangelical church is whether we have the faith and moral courage to do the same. 

(Image copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo)

Election Season is a Big, Ugly Selfie

1429012887-monalisaducklipsMy seventh grade school picture was horrifying. My hair was a wavy rat’s nest, my braces cast a blinding glare, and my face was oily and reflective.

The photo was so terrible, in fact, that I insisted on a retake. I told the photographer, “I want a new picture.” He looked at the original picture, then he looked at me, and then back at the photo. “What’s wrong with the first one? That’s what you look like,” he replied, in a stunning display of poor diplomacy. “It doesn’t look like me at all,” I said.

At that point, the photographer winked at his assistant and replied, “Sure, son. We’ll take a new picture.” So he did.

Guess what? The new picture looked exactly like the first one. It turns out that I really looked like that. The problem wasn’t the camera, and it wasn’t the incompetent photographer. The problem was that I looked like a seventh-grader. There was no magical camera angle or lighting combination that could fix my problem.

That photo was an accurate, although unpleasant, reflection of reality. It was simply what I looked like.

Many of us find this year’s presidential race to be as horrifying as that photo. “How are these our choices?” we lament. “Where did these candidates come from? Can we ask for a redo?” We watch in dismay as the political rhetoric of our nation degenerates into name-calling, threats of violence, overt racism, greed, and fear-mongering. Candidates who once seemed extreme now seem downright statesmanlike. How did this happen?

Here’s the bad news: Election season is a giant national selfie. It is an aggregate picture of our nation’s values. This year’s election season has been a particularly ugly selfie. It’s the sort of selfie you never wanted to post on Instagram, but you accidentally shared it anyway. And now it’s everywhere, and all your friends know about it, and you cannot escape it. “Do I really look like that!?” you ask. Yes. You really look like that.

Before we rail against “those people” who support whichever candidate most horrifies us, we should take a long look in the mirror.

Whenever I find myself lamenting that the debates this year are more like a terrible reality television show, I have to remember that I used to watch Celebrity Apprentice, and I found it pretty entertaining. In small measure, I created the values that created this election cycle. I actually helped arrange our national hairdo for this terrible selfie.

Whenever I’m dismayed by this year’s politics of greed and covetousness, I have to remind myself how often I’ve coveted my neighbor’s house or car or vacation destination.

Whenever I start to despise the xenophobia that has become a defining factor in this year’s election cycle, I need to remember the times I’ve turned away from people who aren’t like me, people in need, simply because they made me nervous.

Whenever it bothers me that Christian voters support a wide variety of non-Christian policies – on both sides of the aisle – I have to ask how faithfully I’ve been involved in the task of discipleship. Am I teaching and modeling the values of God’s Word for the next generation? If not, is it any surprise that most evangelicals hold heretical theological beliefs and support unbiblical political positions?

The values of our candidates reflect the values of the nation’s electorate, and that includes Christian voters as well. We know Jesus, but we aren’t immune from cultural assimilation.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this ugly election selfie is that it highlights how poorly we love our own neighbors. The most common remark I’ve seen on social media during this election cycle goes something like this: “Who are these people who support X candidate? I don’t know anybody who supports that guy, yet millions of people are voting for him!”

That statement is a testimony to our failure to know and love those around us.

How have we so efficiently isolated ourselves from anybody who disagrees with us that we can’t even fathom that such people exist? In our minds, people who hold opposing political views are barely rational. They exist on the level of animals who cannot possibly be reasonable human beings. In a supreme act of dehumanization, we literally question their existence. After all, nobody could be so subhuman as to support that person. They must not be real.

And we wonder why this election is so divisive. We wonder why we can no longer have reasonable discussions about politics. Why do political rallies turn into fistfights? Why are people incapable of listening to opposing viewpoints without throwing punches or disengaging altogether?

It’s because we have failed at the most basic of Christian responsibilities. We have failed to love God, and we have failed to love our neighbors. As a result, we find ourselves with leaders who reflect those same failings. 

What’s worse, we don’t even recognize ourselves when we look at the picture. “That doesn’t look like me,” we protest. “Take a different photo.” Ah, but it does look like us. We just don’t like the way we look.

Election season this year is a living embodiment of the worst impulses and sins of our nation. We see the values of our country displayed in bright and living color, and we cringe. On some level we know that’s our own image staring back at us, and we really hate seeing it.

So what can we do?

I suppose we can slowly work on the problems that made this selfie so ugly in the first place. We can pray. We can try to learn and model the values of God’s Word. We can listen to people. We can love our neighbors and try to understand them. We can get out of our homes and off of our phones and actually talk to people about why they disagree with us. We can share the good news of the gospel with a desperate and lost world. We can invest in the next generation, teaching them how to know and reflect Jesus Christ.

And, of course, we can pray. We can pray for wisdom and we can pray for spiritual transformation. We can pray for leaders who reflect the best aspects of our cultural values, rather than the worst.

Who knows? Maybe the next national selfie will look at least marginally better.

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The Words A Father Needs to Hear

best-friends-1241017“You’re a good dad,” she told me. “Like, a really good dad.”

It was the end of a long day, just like every day in the life of a busy family with three elementary school kids. We had finally completed the hour-long process of making sure the kids had all taken baths, prepared their backpacks for school, completed their chores, and brushed their teeth. Like most nights, I had a couple of rough moments, in which the going-to-bed chaos exposed a few of my more unpleasant personality traits. I was tired, and so were they.

Miraculously, though, I had time to read to each of the kids before bedtime. Halfway through the funny story I was reading to my 8-year-old daughter, she and my son both began to giggle. Then I started to giggle, and our reading time spiraled a little bit out of control. We were laughing so hard that we ran out of time to finish the story.

I tucked them into bed and walked into the living room, grateful for some time to rest. That was when my wife said those words:

“You’re a good dad. Like, a really good dad.”

I’m not sharing her words because I think I’m an amazing father. I’m sharing her words because I needed to hear them, and I suspect there’s a dad in your life who needs to hear them as well. It may be your own father, or your husband, or just a friend of yours. Like me, he needs those words, because most of us harbor a quiet fear that we’re not really good dads.

We hear all the time how important it is for children to have “good fathers,” but rarely do we hear what it means to be a good father. We see the articles and the statistics implying that the very future of Western civilization hinges on our ability to be good fathers, and we silently think, “If that is true, then the world is doomed.”

What does it even mean to be a good father? We know how to measure success on the baseball field and in the boardroom, where the rules are fairly well-defined.

But fatherhood? Where do you begin? Just for starters, how do you figure out when and how to discipline your children? How do you know if your kids are old enough to talk about sex, drugs, or popularity? How can you be certain you’re spending enough time with them? Or if you’re smothering them? Are there things they need to know that you aren’t teaching them?  How much of what they do reflects on your parenting, and how much of it reflects their own personal choices? Will they copy your bad habits, your bad attitudes, your bad choices? What about your good ones?

There are thousands of books about fatherhood, written by studied experts with doctorates and their own research teams, but they’ve barely scratched the surface.

Imagine trying to construct a scale model of the Eiffel Tower from a block of pine, in the dark, with only your bare hands and a butter knife. That’s what fatherhood feels like most days. It’s hard to define success, and you often feel ill-equipped for the few parts of it that you do understand.

So you can imagine why an encouraging word at the right moment means so much. You can imagine why those simple words, “You’re a good dad,” made a deep impact on my heart.

And I wonder if the fathers in your life hear words of encouragement often enough? We all know, of course, that only one Father is perfect. Your husband, your father, your friends – they are all flawed.

But if those men in your life are trying to be good fathers, tell them you notice. Remind them that being a good father consists of being faithful in the middle of thousands of little moments, mostly witnessed by only a few little people.

Moments like helping your daughter with her math homework and resisting the urge to yell. Like explaining to your son why, if he really must pee when he’s playing outside, the backyard is preferable to the front yard. Like laughing at a bedtime story when you have a thousand other worries and you just want to sit down for awhile.

Tell the fathers in your life that those moments matter, and you’re really glad they’re showing up for them.

Your words of encouragement may seem small, but I guarantee they’ll make a difference. 

There are no perfect fathers, but I’ll bet you know one or two good ones, men who are trying their best to know and reflect their heavenly Father as they raise children. Take a moment today or tomorrow, look one of them in the eye, and say, “You’re a good dad. Keep it up. Do not grow weary in doing good.”

I guarantee he will hear you, because those are words he needs to hear.

Three Reasons Jesus is Better Than Santa

santa-claus-1443403This is a guest post by Brian Fisher, senior pastor of Grace Bible Church.

I like Santa. That is, I enjoy the idea of a guy from the North Pole riding a sleigh pulled through the air by reindeer, dropping off presents around the world in a single evening. That’s kind of fun to think about. But the reality is that Jesus is far, far greater, and it would be tragic if we were to lose sight of Jesus in all of the wrapping paper on Christmas morning. So here are three reasons that Jesus is better than Santa.

1. Santa drops into your house, through the chimney, only once a year. He comes at night so that you never actually get the chance to lay eyes on him or speak with him. He eats your cookies, and drinks your milk, and most years leaves you with stuff that you don’t really want. On the other hand, Jesus comes into your life, and He never leaves. He is always present, eager to be with you, when you are happy, or sad, or holy, or even sinful. What a friend we have in Jesus!

2. All the stuff that Santa drops off only lasts for a short period of time. The fruitcake rots (in 10-15 years); the clothes go out of style, shrink, fade and grow threadbare; and worst of all, the toys break. All that Jesus gives is eternal. He gives the only gift we really want or need, and it is a gift that just keeps giving, and giving, and giving – the gift of eternal life!

3. All of the stuff that Santa drops off is given based on a condition – “he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” How do you know, from year to year, if you have been good enough? Only the coal in your stocking at the end of the year reveals the truth that you just didn’t measure up. But the permanent presence and gift of eternal life given by Jesus is free – absolutely free. You’ve never measured up to deserve such generosity, but Jesus loves to give to the undeserving. That’s just who He is. He certainly is far, far greater than the bearded man in red velvet suit!

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Are We Building a Road or Just Scraping Dirt?

IMG_0970(This is a guest post by Brian Fisher, senior pastor of Grace Bible Church.)

Today a friend said to me, “Brian, you should wash your truck.”

My response: “What’s the point?”

I admit that my truck is a mess. But here’s the rub – our city is currently rebuilding a long stretch of road that leads to my house, and all the dirt I wash off my vehicle will just be restored hours later. So, as I reasoned when I was a child, Why bathe if I will get dirty again so soon?

Homeowners near and far cheered when the process began and the earth below our lunar-like pathway was laid bare. For years the road across this fairly flat stretch of earth has driven like a roller coaster, with alternating patterns of yawning caverns waiting to swallow smart cars and their not so smart drivers. We were happy at first, but now we have grown sad and impatient. So far all we have seen is a small crew scraping dirt, then adding dirt, then scraping dirt, then adding dirt. So much activity, but so little progress. Do they really know how to build a road, or do they just know how to scrape the dirt? As we sit in long lines with dust swirling around us, we wonder if perhaps someone, somewhere has lost sight of the big idea. “Your mission, O road-building crew, is to build roads, not just to scrape the dirt! Build! Build! Fulfill your mission!” 

What about us, Church? Do we know how to build roads or just scrape the dirt? Do we remember our mission? Our road to build is called the Great Commission. We are the only crew. We are the only hope the world has to discover and travel the road to life with God.

Jesus’ final words are famous words…and easily forgotten words. We drift toward producing great amounts of activity, while making little progress toward fulfilling our mission from Jesus. He said, “…as you are going, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” His exhortation assumed that we would get going and keep moving. His exhortation assumed that we would pursue the lost around us. His exhortation assumed that we would learn, from the Spirit and from one another, what to do and how to get it done.

So challenge yourself. Do you know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Do you know how to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples? Do you know how to invest your life in another life, so that together you learn to more deeply love Jesus and serve His kingdom?

Church, let’s get moving! Here are a few resources written to point you in the right direction, to fan the flames of your passion and to grow the skill in you to fulfill your mission in life:

The Lost Art of Disciple-Making by Leroy Eims

The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

The Great Omission by Robertson McQuilkin

To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor

Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot

Tossed by the Waves: Responding to Social Media Crises

moving-waves-1421508-mIt is no exaggeration to say that social media presents us with a new crisis every single day. We are constantly bombarded with information seemingly designed to provoke our outrage, fear, sympathy, or some other intense (and seemingly unmanageable) emotion.

I made a partial list (in no particular order) of the social media crises that I’ve seen trending in just the past six weeks:

  • The hosts of The View made some disparaging comments about nurses, resulting in a major backlash and an eventual apology from Joy Behar.
  • A dentist from Minnesota shot a lion named Cecil, causing Jimmy Kimmel to cry and Tweeters around the world to threaten the lion-hunter with torture or death.
  • A major Syrian refugee crisis became a prominent news story, as millions of people fled their homes to escape war and religious persecution.
  • A young Muslim boy named Ahmed brought a homemade clock to school. It was mistaken for a bomb and he was briefly arrested and detained before being cleared. He inspired a new hashtag and received an invitation to The White House.
  • The Center for Medical Progress released several more videos exposing the practices of Planned Parenthood’s abortion business.
  • Former tennis star James Blake was unexpectedly tackled by a police officer in a case of mistaken identity.
  • Donald Trump insulted Carly Fiorina’s face and then said she actually has a beautiful face, and she made an effort to put him in his place at the Republican primary debate.

Like I said, that’s only a partial list. I compiled it in about 15 seconds off the top of my head – if I’d spent any more time on it I’m sure I could have found more.

All of these events were passed around on social media like crazy. They spread like wildfire and sparked passionate debate. I’m guessing that people lost friends over these issues.

What’s troubling, of course, is that while all of them inspired similar levels of outrage, they are not all of equal significance. To use an easy example, surely the death of one lion is not really as important as the displacement and death of millions of Syrian people.

And therein lies the rub when it comes to digital outrage. How do we even discern in the heat of the moment what’s worth passing along and what’s worth letting go? How do we know if the articles we’re reading are even true? What’s more, is it healthy to go through life with the constant burden of a thousand disparate crises, most of which we cannot really fix?

I cannot help but think of Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians: “Let us no longer be like children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” The world is guided by all kinds of false doctrines, beliefs and values that often oppose the truth of God’s Word.

So how do we avoid being tossed back and forth by the waves? Let me offer a few thoughts:

1. Ground yourself in God’s Word.

We’re susceptible to being tossed by the wind when we fail to root ourselves in the values of God. And the values of God are best expressed in the Word of God. Do you read the Scripture? Do you know it well? When you wake up in the morning, do you open God’s Word before you open Facebook? If not, you will react to the events of the day with fear or hostility or falsehood rather than through the lens of God’s truth.

What’s more, taking time to know God’s Word will help us prioritize the issues of our day. As I said above, some matter more than others. They matter more to us and they matter more to God. The only way to know what matters more, from a Christian perspective, is to submit to the values of God’s Word.

2. Only share what is true. 

Before you pass along an article about a current event, take just a few moments to make sure it’s true. Ed Stetzer wrote an excellent article recently on the embarrassment of Christians sharing fake news on social media. Consider the source of the article you’re sharing. Use common sense and ask if the story passes the “smell test.” Check the date on the post – is this a recent article or a recycled one from years past? Look at websites dedicated to fact-checking and at least consider what they’re saying. God is truth, so make every effort to represent His character in this regard.

3. Avoid responding immediately to every crisis.

We don’t have to panic at the slightest hint of trouble. Before you write a post or share an article, take a few deep breaths. Spend a few moments in prayer. Ask yourself, “In the grand scheme of eternity, is this issue worth responding to? Is this an issue of gospel significance or a matter of life and death? And if it is, is a Facebook post an effective way to begin addressing the issue? Sometimes social media can be beneficial to raise awareness or to motivate action; sometimes social media posts merely spread fear. We need wisdom to know the difference. The good news is that God gives wisdom away for free to people who ask for it (James 1:5)!

4. Unplug regularly. 

Find certain times in your day and in your week to disconnect. The universe will be alright if you and I take a day off from reading and weighing in on everything. Our friends will still be there tomorrow or the next day. Periodically unplugging allows us to see the value of the people and places right in front of us. Digital disconnection often facilitates reconnection with the people in our lives we can look at face-to-face. And we begin to see the world in perspective. Sometimes what seems like a crisis online isn’t a real crisis at all, at least not one we need to worry about.

We want to be the aroma of Christ in a fallen and sinful world. We want to care about those who are hurting and share the good news of Jesus with those who need to hear. But we also need to recognize our limitations: we can’t fix the world. And we are called to be men and women of truth and stability. It’s hard to do that in this day and age when we feel pressured to respond immediately to everything that happens in the world.

So let’s ground ourselves in God’s Word and reflect His character, through the power of His Spirit in us. Let’s reflect Him in “real life,” and let’s reflect Him online.

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Skeletons at the Family Reunion

skeletons_on_benchReDiscovered Word

(Matthew 1)

Every family has skeletons in the closet. They even lurk at your family reunions. Whether you know it or not, your genealogy includes the names of men and women who were conceived through inconceivable acts of darkness.

If you stare too long at your own family tree, if you go back far enough, you’re bound to find rape, incest, adultery, and fornication. The truth is ugly, but it is the truth nonetheless. There’s no such thing as genealogical purity. We may gradually forget the stories of our ancestors, but we never escape their legacy of sin, apart from the intervening grace of God.

No family is exempt from these tales of tragedy.

Consider for a moment the story of a young woman, made pregnant through incest, carrying the child of her own father-in-law. It’s an ugly story, the kind that we ignore or even try to purge from the pages of our family history. We don’t talk about stories like that at family reunions. Tales of our great-grandfather’s violence and lust don’t settle well with our barbecued brisket.

Or consider the story of another young woman, seduced — maybe even coerced — into adultery with a man twice her age, a man whose power and reputation in her community would have made refusal difficult to say the least. She finds herself pregnant, carrying a child conceived in shame. Determined to cover his tracks, her powerful and violent lover kills her first husband and the two of them marry. Violence and lust haunt their descendants for generations to come.

As you probably know by now, those are the stories of Tamar and Bathsheba, two of the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Even the Son of God was not exempt from the dark family history we all share.

Stories like these are ones we would rather keep in the dark. And yet the Bible drags them into the light.

They’re the sort of stories that some people want to end before they begin, often by snuffing out the lives of the inconvenient children caught at the center of such drama. And yet God doesn’t end these stories. He uses them to write a better story.

God, in His wisdom and power, weaves even the worst parts of our family histories into the tapestry of His giant story of grace. He doesn’t hide our evil. He overcomes our evil with good.

Reading the names of those included in Jesus’ genealogy, one cannot help but feel that God’s Word is making a powerful point. The most shameful family background is no match for the strength of God’s grace.

No story is beyond redemption. No life is without value. No child is bereft of all hope.

Every family has its skeletons, but God specializes in raising the dead to life. Everyone’s story is littered with darkness, but our darkness will one day be swallowed up in His light.

He’s already written a new story for us, a story of grace and victory and life. It’s a story to tell the world.

It’s a story you can even talk about at the next family reunion.

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God Laughs

Mt SinaiReDiscovered Word 

(Psalm 2)

God laughs as they plan, as the nations and their kings plot destruction against His people. He laughs at the evil men who plan to destroy the people of the Cross, who plan to reduce God’s kingdom to rubble.

God laughs from His throne, but not because their violence is funny. He laughs because no man can overthrow his own Creator. No nation can destroy the One who spoke the very earth from nothing. Like a kingdom of ants trying to defeat a pride of lions, evil men bite and sting and threaten, but to no avail.

The people of God will prevail, because God cannot lose. Because the day is coming, the day is coming so quickly, when the enthroned and holy Maker of the earth will no longer countenance violence against His people. No more will the nations and kings and terrorists of the world line up God’s people for execution and imprisonment and destruction.

From the very start, violent men and women have launched their little wars, determined to wipe out the authority and power of the One who made them, determined to exterminate anybody who dares proclaim that One God rules the cosmos.

But God laughs, and God’s laughter is only the prelude to His powerful justice. 

Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and He will terrify them with fury.

“I have established my king on my mountain and no man can overthrow Him. You kings and wicked nations, heed My warning. You kings and wicked nations, bow before my Son. Bend like a reed, or you’ll break like a vase.”

God laughs, but the day approaches when His laughing will cease and His judgment will begin. 

God’s people have no need to resort to violence. Instead they bathe their brothers and sisters in prayer, knowing that the King of the Earth is their One Protector. They know how He will vindicate the persecuted and put a stop to all those who seek their destruction. The day approaches fast, the day approaches so fast, when God will destroy rebellion forever and set up His kingdom, a kingdom that will never fail.

The holy mountain of God will shine with the glory of the One who died and rose again. No more will the innocent be threatened by death. Death will be dead forever. Violent plans will no longer succeed. The kingdoms of the earth, the plotters and schemers who think they can wipe out what God has built, they will all pass away.

The people who stand in the glory of Christ’s resurrection will live forever, basking in His glory and mercy and love. And the dead in Christ will rise, never again to die. Never again will wicked men of violence come anywhere near God’s people.

God laughs because His plans will prevail. He never worries, because He always wins.

And yet God waits for even violent men to turn and find His mercy. He knows that grace is stronger than violence, and love is stronger than fear. He knows that no kingdom of man can ever prevail against His power and love, against the powerful love of God.

All who stand against Him are destined to fall. All who fall before Him are destined to stand. And those who stand in Him will laugh for joy when they see His perfect plan unfold.

A plan for no more fear. A plan for no more death. A plan of life that never ends for the people who bear His name.

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