Monthly Archives: November 2012

Advent: A Celebrated Rest

A good friend and I were recently discussing the Hebrew sacrificial system adhered to by ancient Israel.  We discussed with amazement the sheer volume of blood spilled as part of their ritual atonement for sins.  It seems as though blood must have flowed continuously at the altar.  And if you think about the amassed measure spilled over the entire course of Israel’s history, it is staggering.  So what’s all this about anyway?

At least in one significant sense, this theme of blood and sacrifice that is maintained throughout the Old Testament ultimately initiates a trajectory pointing clearly to the arrival of the one true Sacrifice.  So much so, that when Jesus arrives on scene and says “rest,” (Matthew 11:28) we can as believers, and with those who have died before us in Christ, collectively breathe a sigh of relief.

That is what the season of Advent is all about.  Not decorations, not time off from work, not food, not time with family, not the usual holiday stress of running around searching for the right gift.  If you are not familiar with it, the word “Advent” is from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” and December 2nd marks the first Sunday of Advent this year.  For Christians, Advent is a time of celebration, preparation and excitement with both a thankful eye toward the past and the arrival of our Savior over 2,000 years ago, as well as an eager focus toward the future and His second coming.

For the next four Sundays, my family and I will light candles symbolizing the “light” coming into the world (John 8:12).  On each Sunday, we will progressively add one candle to our setting, thus causing the light to brighten and pointing our thoughts and hearts toward God’s most precious gift, Jesus.  Each day in between, as part of our family devotions, we will read Scriptures focused on the birth and second coming of Christ.  I am anxious for it to start and I pray that this will be a fruitful and spiritually productive time for us and for you as well!

My closing thoughts are on Hebrews 9:27-28:  “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Are you “eagerly waiting for Him?”  Can you say with Asaph in the 73rd Psalm, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  Or do you have doubts about leaving this world behind?  Are you holding too close to earthly things?  Does your faith consist only of a collection of thoughts and ideas about Jesus (even Biblical and right thoughts)?

Or do you treasure Him?  Do you value Him above all else in your life?  Do you see Him as supremely valuable?  If you have never experienced Christ as the fulfillment of your “all in all” (Eph 1:23), I invite you to take this time to pray for God to give you a receptive heart to the true reason for this season.  Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear and taste buds to taste, that the Lord truly is good.  So that even amidst the hustle and bustle of this time of year, you may truly find “rest” in Christ.

1 John 4:14  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Who Are We?

(Guest post by my 16 year old daughter Emily)

Why don’t we care?

As Christians, we are meant to care.  Care for the broken, the hopeless, the least of these.  The ones who feel worthless.  The ones who feel unloved.  The mistreated ones, the used ones, the ones with broken hearts.  The ones no one else desires or dares to care for.

We are meant to love.  Be love, show love, share love, spread love.

We are meant to serve.  To give our lives away because it was never ever ever supposed to be about us.

We are meant to be Jesus.  To walk him out in every action, every thought, every spoken word.

Yet we don’t do it.  At least, not in the way we’re supposed to.

We sit, day after day, in our comfortable, air conditioned, extravagantly decorated houses, with our closets overflowing with clothes and our beds piled high with pillows and our iPhones and iPods and iPads and flatscreen TVs and laptops, and we say we love Jesus.  We go to church once or twice a week and pick up and peruse our Bibles every now and then, and we say we’re Christ-followers.

And yet…

And yet there are children and families living in poverty all over the word.  In fact, for some of these people, poverty is too weak a word.

Squalor.

Destitution.

These people have less than nothing.

These children are dressed in rags (if they’re lucky), begging for a few pennies to purchase meager scraps of food, and going to bed hungry for the millionth time because their parents can’t afford food.  Or maybe they don’t even have parents.

Here are a few statistics for you.

Over 16,000 children die of hunger-related causes every day.

Another 3,000 will die from malaria (a disease both preventable and treatable) in that same time period.

150 million children worldwide are child laborers; 60% of these 11 years old or younger.

50 million of these are doing what is considered “hazardous work.”

1.2 million children are trafficked as slaves and prostitutes every single year.

Think about that last one for a moment.  1.2 million.  A year.

And we, we who claim to love Jesus with everything in our lives, what are we doing?

Next to nothing.

Who are we to do nothing?

Do we really think this is okay?

If we do, we’re wrong.

Because it’s most definitely not okay.

Let’s take a look at what Jesus has to say on this matter.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” ~Matthew 25:31-44 ESV

That is thought provoking.  When was the last time you assisted one of the least of these?  When was the last time you thought outside of Facebook and the latest TV show and drama at school and wondered about what you could do to help those in your neighborhood, your city, or in Third World countries?

If you can’t remember, you may have a problem.

When was the last time you really took verses like Matthew 10:39 or Matthew 16:24-26 or Matthew 20:26-28 or Matthew 23:12 or Matthew 28:18-20 or Mark 8:34-37 or Mark 16:15 or Luke 6:31 or Luke 9:23-26 or Luke 14:33 or Luke 18:22 or about half of John 14-16 to heart?

Jesus says that if we want to be His disciples, we MUST take up our crosses and follow Him.  There is no “if you want” or “if you feel called.”

NO.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, emphasis mine.)

And where does Jesus command us to have a life of ease?  A life of comfort zones and staying inside the box?

Don’t bother searching.  The answer is nowhere.

Who are we to say and live otherwise?

In preschool, we give our children coloring sheets and instruct them to stay inside the lines.  But you know what?  Those children never stay inside the lines.  Their pictures are nothing but brightly colored scribbles, with orange sky and blue grass and purple skin.  And you know what else?  The most beautiful pictures I’ve seen are the ones that don’t stay in the lines.

It’s the same way with our lives.  From our earliest days we are trained to follow those before us and to never ever stray outside those invisible lines into something new, something untested.

But the ones that didn’t listen, the ones that picked up a color that wasn’t supposed to go in that place and scribbled outside of the lines… those are the ones whose lives became something beautiful, something meaningful.

The disciples colored outside when they left their jobs and their homes and families to follow and eventually die for Jesus.

The early Christians colored outside when they bravely stood up for Christ in the face of horrific persecution.

David Brainerd colored outside when he died early from tuberculosis while ministering to Indians.

Jim Elliot colored outside when he and his friends went to Ecuador and were killed by those they were trying to minister to.

His wife did the same when she returned and lived among those who had killed her husband.

Amy Carmichael colored outside when she moved to India and spent the whole of her life helping orphans.

Katie Davis is coloring outside while she lives in Uganda as a single mom with thirteen adopted daughters… oh, and also heads up a sponsorship program called Amazina that takes care of over 600 other children.

Who are we to say that these people are crazy?  Because we do.  Lives like these are considered “radical” or “crazy” in today’s society.  But they were never meant to be.  Lives like these, lives that have been taken and transformed by Jesus, should be normal.  The crazy ones should be the Christians who don’t care.

We aren’t meant to stay inside the lines.  We aren’t meant to hide in our comfort zones and watch everyone else do the jobs we were created to do.

We are meant to love.

And how can we love if we stay here and do nothing?

How can we love if, in reality, we don’t really care?

Who are we not to care?

HOW?

That’s what I want to scream.  That’s what I want to scream to my friends who are all wrapped up in boys and parties and secular music and to that man down the road who has a house so big he has servant’s quarters and to that girl at youth group who says she just wants to get rich.  HOW?!

How can you think those things are important?

How on earth can that be your concern when every day thousands of children are mistreated or abandoned or abused or half-starved or raped or demeaned or told they’re worth nothing or even killed?  And we could do something if we really cared enough to try?

Because there’s no getting around this fact:  If we cared, truly cared, we wouldn’t just say it.

We would do something.

I’m not saying everyone should drop everything and move to a foreign country.  I know that, for a variety of reasons, some people just can’t.  But that shouldn’t stop you from caring.  You shouldn’t let that jade you.  There are ways you can help if you’re open.  Sponsor.  Adopt.  Give to charity.  Help the homeless in your own community.

Be Jesus to the least of these.

JUST DO IT!

Who are we to deny children of safety when we could give it to them?

Who are we to deny children of love when we have more than enough?

Who are we to deny children of food and medical care that we can give easily?

I’m sick and tired of words like “normal” and “easy” and “average” and “me.”  I’m ready for word like “radical” and “love” and “crazy” and “you.”

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, emphasis mine.)

There are those who don’t know anything of that abundant love.

Who are we, who have it, to sit still and keep it from them?

Why We Homeschool

Over the last 12 years or so, my wife and I have been questioned numerous times about why we homeschool our children.  In some cases, it was from people genuinely interested in our reasoning, for others it was an opportunity to ridicule or find fault.  Either way, we have always tried (though sometimes unsuccessfully) to answer the question gracefully and certainly without shoving our beliefs down others’ throats.  So I thought I would take a moment to write down some of our thinking behind it.

While no doubt, this subject can be controversial and complicated, I will attempt to stray from speaking negatively about public schools.  Meaning, I will try to keep it in the positive for homeschooling and leave it there; though establishing the framework will require a bit of foundation work.  Overall, while we have probably said it in a variety of ways, the basic reason for why we homeschool is this:  We attempt to raise our children, which includes how we handle their education, in a manner that is based on what we see as our responsibility as parents in God’s Word, as compared to what societal norms may tell us.

Before I get to specifics, let me just say that we have not always had a crystal-clear understanding of our role as parents.  We still don’t and are learning every day.  But God is kind and merciful and when we seek Truth, He is faithful to provide answers.  Admittedly, we fail in a multitude of ways with our children, but by God’s grace He continues to restore and guide our paths.  In the beginning, we probably would not have been able to clearly communicate our reasons behind homeschooling.  We simply felt like it was what we were supposed to do, so we did.  When we look back, it is simply amazing to see where God’s hand has intervened at times where we were headed in the wrong direction.  Even now, we are constantly adjusting and molding our system to what works.  So in no way do we claim to have always gotten it right or that we get it perfect now.

Ok, now to answer the “why?” more specifically.  To do so, I have to go big picture, as in, what we see as the Biblical purpose of children – big picture.  We believe that God blesses parents with children in order that they may disciple them.  Meaning that our primary role as parents is to advocate for the perpetuation of faith in Christ.  Everything else resides in this context – everything.  We take this practically very serious.

Academic learning is a part of this for sure, but it does not exist in a vacuum outside of the fear and knowledge of the Lord.  For starters, there is no Biblical model for parents sending their children away for a secular education outside of discipleship.  (I am not saying that do so is a sin.)  On the other hand, there is no specific proof text that says “thou shalt homeschool.”  However, the overall thrust behind Biblical principles dealing with child rearing is in the context of discipleship.  Here are just a few verses that have helped us:

Proverbs 1:7  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Deut. 6:5-7  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Ephesians 6:4  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Luke 6:40  A student is not above his teacher, but when he is fully trained, he will be like his teacher.

Malachi 2:13-15  And this second thing you do.  You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.  But you say, “Why does he not?”  Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?  And what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring.  So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.

And the really big one, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 for us to “make disciples of all nations,” surely is applicable to the first people we have been given authority over, namely, our children.  How can my wife and I “make disciples” of our children if we hand over the controls for about half of their waking hours during the week for the first 17 or 18 years of their lives?  And might I add, hand them over to institutions which by law, are required to teach them the opposite of what we believe?

Foundationally, this is critical because there are thousands of homeschooling families who do it for many other reasons which are not applicable for us.  Whether it is the 3 R’s, world history, science, or creative writing, we judge that all learning should be built on the foundation of God’s purpose behind all things.  To point our children time and time again to the glory of God’s grace is our goal.  We understand that whether they ultimately accept our faith is out of our hands, but we also understand that God has ordained parents as a primary means of calling children to himself.

So what picture does the Bible paint regarding educating children?  Like I said before, academic instruction by itself does not exist outside of faith training within Scripture.  When we look for Biblical direction, what we see is largely through the lens of the Hebrew family model.  And what is clear is that it would have been unacceptable for a Hebrew family to attempt to educate their kids separate from the reality of God in all things. This concept is not confined to the Old Testament.  It carries through to the founding of the church and the instruction of Jesus and the apostle Paul.

As I close this post, I would simply offer that we need to look very closely at the relationships amongst Christian families today.  Are we as a church being successful in passing our faith down, or are we finding too often that our children walk away when the opportunity arises?

“Our educational choice has to be based on the fact that God cannot and must not be ignored, usurped, or misrepresented in the process. Any educational system that denies the existence, preeminence, and primacy of God is in violation of this biblical principle [Prov. 1:7] and is detracting from, rather than contributing to the discipleship process.” Dr. Voddie Baucham

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