Thursday, January 26, 2017

An Inauguration Postscript

Human agency and God's sovereignty have always existed in tension. This I know because the Bible tells me so. Remembering that, of the two, God's sovereignty is the superior value leads to great peace.

Years ago, a dear friend got married. I was part of the inner circle and possessor of information. When she announced her engagement, and her other friends were doing high fives and happy dances, there I was, looking for all the world like a sour little thundercloud. "Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it," I thought. Then, "Ohhhh, you did it." Suddenly, all that information became irrelevant. He was God's man now, and I offered my warmest support. How could I do less? This was God's covenant.

I think I felt the same way on Inauguration Day. There I was, hoping against hope that God would, in His mercy, stay His hand. "Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it! Ohhhh, You did it!" And Donald Trump is God's man now. Some of us think he's a mercy, like King David; some of us think he's a judgment like Sennacherib. But that's largely irrelevant now. President Trump is God's man. I am throwing my support behind him because I am throwing my support behind God. How can I do less?

Sometime during the night on Inauguration Day, I awoke. And while I lay there, I thought about the prospect of this new administration being like an exile, a judgment, for God's people. And I wondered if God had any words of comfort for a people heading into exile. Jeremiah was the prophet of the exile. What did he say to the people on God's behalf? Here's what dropped into my mind:

Build houses. Plant vineyards. Have children.

The next morning, I looked up the verse in context. Well, lo and behold, it was Jeremiah 29:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed fro Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and pray to me and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:4-14)

IF this is an exile, THEN here are my marching orders:
1. This is God's doing. If I oppose this administration, I am opposing God. (I am rebuked by this.)
2. Join in what God is doing: build houses, plant vineyards, have children. In other words: Flourish; we're going to be here for a while. 
3. Seek the welfare of the city. I'm not sure what this looks like. Attend city council meetings? Find a literacy group and teach someone to read? Drive the speed limit? Keep my lawn manicured? March for life? But at the very least, it means what God says it means: pray to the Lord on its behalf.

God is the God of The Exile. And what was He doing during The Exile?
He was uprooting, and He was planting.
He was tearing down, and He was building.
He was bringing judgment on and planning good things for His elect.
I have one job: to bend my will to His and to do it joyfully.

So I prayed for President Trump yesterday. And it wasn't the stingy prayer wrapped in chicken liver that I thought it would be back on Inauguration Day. It was a privilege.

Whether you agree with me or think that I've lost my mind, please join me in praying for this man, God's man for this hour. Pray for President Trump. He is now arguably the most powerful man in the world. Pray for him to assemble a team of wise counselors who give godly advice. Pray for him to bear the burden and the pressure of leading this country. Pray for him to respect the Constitution and the rule of law. (This is a serious concern, as no one tells Mr. Trump what to do.) And, most importantly, pray for salvation to come to him and to his household.

I have not said that "God told me" any of this. And I will not say that now. There is nothing that shuts down meaningful debate among believers quite like, "God told me..." or "God is calling me..." I freely admit that I could be wrong. I freely admit that I might one day find out that a Trump Presidency was a boon from the Lord to this country.

Either way, he is God's man, and this is God's plan.
And I'm all in. And

Thursday, January 19, 2017

To Speak Plainly On Inauguration Day

Few friends have told me that they voted for Donald Trump. Lots have weighed in with general distaste, but few have shown their hands. This is definitely one of those occasions where ignorance is bliss. I am free to blog with impunity without blogging at anyone in particular. So. Here we go.
Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O my soul, Jehovah praise.
I will sing the glorious praises of my God for all my days.
Put no confidence in Princes, nor for help on man depend,
He shall die, to dust returning, and his purposes shall end.*

Meanwhile, back at the White House...
we are getting ready to install the Wicked Fool as Commander in Chief. Yesterday, I referred to the man as a gasbag. Some of my friends took issue with that. I admit that with barely 48 hours to go before the Presidential Oath was taken, I was walking right up to the edge of the cliff of sin, but I was still on the cliff. My conscience is clear on that point.

Still...I like my friends. So this is my olive branch. It's not much, but it's the best I can do. If I read the Word of God with Donald Trump in mind and evaluate him by Biblical standards, I find that God would have this to say about him: He is wicked, and he is a fool. So to look at a man like Donald Trump with Biblical eyes is to see him as a wicked fool. If Donald Trump were listed in the book of Two Chronicles, it would say this: Donald Trump did evil in the sight of the Lord. 
We all good?
Okay. Good. On to my next point.

He's certainly not the first wicked fool who has taken up residence in the Oval Office. That would generate nothing more from me than a shrug. But he's easily the first wicked fool to be installed largely by the hand of the Bride.  A jubilant Bride. That makes me shudder. A timid Bride who was afraid of an evil little woman from Arkansas. As if God needed Donald Trump to ward off Hillary Clinton and the pro-abortionists.

Happy is the man who chooses Israel's God to be his aid
He is blest whose hope of blessing on the Lord His God is stayed
Heav'n and earth the Lord created, seas and all that they contain
He delivers from oppression, righteousness He will maintain.*

Anywho, the deed is done. And this damned spot now stains the fabric of our national history and worse, our resume as American Christians. So what's a God-fearing girl like me to do?

Rest in God's providence. For good or ill, this is now God's man for this time. Personally, I think he's God's man like Sennacherib, not God's man like David.
And pray.
Pray for President Trump.
My president.

Now before you jump up and down and clap your hands in victory, let me explain some things. I wrote for the last Inauguration Day that it is our gospel duty both to vote and to pray, that God took evil men like Manasseh and Nebuchadnezzar and made them His own, that it's never okay to hate the president.

It was my privilege to pray for Barack Obama. He was hostile to everything I believed in and said so. I warmed to the challenge of praying for him. It doesn't seem that, to date, God has answered my pleas, on behalf of Mr. Obama for his salvation, but it really was an honor to pray for the guy. I'll miss that.

Not so with Donald Trump. I dread it.
Praying for President Trump will be like eating sardines dipped in castor oil and wrapped in a chicken liver. I'm darn near nauseous at the thought
And why? Because he's hostile to everything I believe in but says he's not. Do I look like I was born yesterday?

Food He daily gives the hungry, sets the mourning pris'ner free,
Raises those bowed down with anguish, makes the sightless eye to see.
Well Jehovah loves the righteous and the stranger He befriends
Helps the fatherless and widow, judgment on the wicked sends.*

I realize this is the part where I'm supposed to write the gut-wrenching twist where God brought me to my knees and softened my heart towards Donald Trump. I also realize that that would earn me friend points.

Alas no.
I am many things, but I am neither pandering nor dishonest. I'd love to win the "Oh Noel, your blog post just moved my heart; wish I could like it a thousand times; I'm so sharing this" award. But not by lying.
My heart is not moved. Not a smidge. The only thing that makes me pray for this bloviating bully is the fear of God and of displeasing Him.

Who can know the mind of God? But for what it's worth, I think He shares my view.

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah, o set my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises of my God for all my days.
Over all God reigns forever, through all ages He is king.
Unto Him, your God, O Zion, joyful hallelujahs sing.*

*Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, Scottish Psalter

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Poof! My 2016 Reading List

In terms of people, 2016 brought a new grandson and a new son-in-law; that's the good news. It also brought a new president; that's the bad news. In terms of books, I have sixty-eight reads to document.

In school, my high schoolers hit their government year--which is always fun when it coincides with an election. We read God and Politics: Four Reformation Views on Civil Government, which I was really looking forward to and which I was colossally disappointed by. The Anti-Federalist Papers, on the other hand, was nigh on prophetic.

Secrets of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield and Same Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw offer compassionate gospel answers without compromise to same sex issues. I haven't given either of them to my kids, but I think any upper high schooler could (should?) handle both. And if the kids are moving away to college, then these would be required reading.

I ventured back into sci-fi for the first time in years. While Ender's Game was a dud,  The Book of Strange New Things was...interesting. I don't think I need to read it again, but at least I cared about the characters. Enchantress from the Stars was a page-turner. CS Lewis's Perelandra improved upon closer acquaintance. I didn't like it in high school, but I really enjoyed it this past fall. In fact, I liked it well enough to pick up Out of the Silent Planet, too. Unfortunately, that one dragged a bit.

Spiritually, the wolves were real, and the cubs were threatened. After many tears and much teeth gnashing and fist clenching, I finally did what I should have been doing anyway. I hit my knees, and I hit the books. Let's call it Mama Grizzly Goes to the Library. Several of the books come as a result of that crisis. Just when I was wondering if I was dying on a mountain or a molehill, the books I read by trusted authors convinced me that this was a hill worth taking. And that's all I am free to say about that.

The real gems, though, were across genres. Once and Future King by TH White has been one of my favorites since junior high. I read it a fourth time (at least--I've lost count) this year, and I saw themes in there I hadn't picked up on before. Delighting in the Trinity was just...delightful. Kris Lundgaard's The Enemy Within should be read by every Christian at least once a decade. And Fidelity, a collection of short stories by Wendell Berry, was nothing short of breath-taking.

You may notice that two of the listed books have asterisks*. That's because they are really booklets. In terms of pages or word count, both Word Made Flesh and No Adam, No Gospel were tiny. But in terms of content and ideas, they each easily rival any other book on my list. So I counted them.

Here they are, my 2016 books, all 68 of them.
(You may be wondering why stuff like Winnie the Pooh is on my list. Hey, you're too old for AA Milne or E. Nesbit only when you're dead.)

Radical by David Platt
The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Debates
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
Duncan's War by Douglas Bond
The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
The Westminster Catechism by GI Williamson

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
Ink on His Fingers by Louise Vernon
Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church by DA Carson
Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
Jack's Life by Douglas Gresham
The Incredulity of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
In My Place Condemned He Stood by JI Packer, Mark Dever
The Hawk That Dared Not Hunt by Day by Scott O'Dell
Are We Together? by RC Sproul

Praying With Paul by DA Carson
Going Solo by Roald Dahl
White Stallion of Lippizza by Marguerite Henry
Children and the Lord's Supper edited by Ligon Duncan and Guy Waters
The Game by Ken Dryden
Holy Ground by Chris Costaldo
The Painter's Daughter by Julia Klassen
The Ever-Loving Truth by Voddie Baucham
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Family Baggage by Monica McInerny
Thunder and Rain by Charles Martin
And So To Bed by Adrian Reynolds
Perelandra by CS Lewis
The Invisible Heart by Russell Roberts
Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphant
The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill
Words from the Fire by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis

Worship by the Book by DA Carson
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
My Antonia by Willa Cather
God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government edited by Gary Scott Smith
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Fidelity by Wendell Berry
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Policy by Mei Fong
Church in Hard Places by Mez McConnell

The Life of Christopher Columbus by Josephine Pollard
The Secret of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
The Black Church by Thabiti Anyabwile
Kings Arrow by Douglas Bond
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater
Same Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw
Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien
Faith Alone by RC Sproul

The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit
The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard
The Word Made Flesh: the Ligonier Statement on Christology*
Once and Future King by TH White
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
No Adam, No Gospel by Richard Gaffin*
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
Songs of Jesus by Timothy Keller

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Gospel-Driven Vote

American politics is strange stuff. It's powerful, narcotic,...and divisive.
I still love you, I even still like you if you vote for Trump.
But y'all need a stooge slap.
In love, of course.
Let's start with some good doctrine.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own, that I belong--body and soul, life and death--to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

So goes the opening question of the Heidelberg Catechism. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven.

Unless Hillary gets elected.
In which case all bets are off, God has fallen off His throne, and I'm screwed. Or, at least, that's the rationale of this demographic who simultaneously identify as Christians and Trump Supporters.

It's the economy, Stupid
....quipped Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign manager, James Carville, about the most important issue of the day. Naturally, Carville was wrong. It's Mena, Whitewater, and a trail of dead bodies and gullible women, Stupid. But Carville was right, too. Elections can be boiled down to one overarching issue. In following elections, it was character, Stupid. It was the Constitution, Stupid. It was legitimate government, Stupid.

But enough with the stupid. In this election, we're no longer talking about the general electorate, populated largely by fools. This election has hefty ramifications for The Church, whom I love. So let me redeem Carville.

It's the Gospel, sisters and brothers.
The issue at stake in 2016 is our Gospel witness.

When I say that I am a Gospel Christian, people are watching.
When I say that this Gospel codifies an absolute right and wrong, people are watching.
When I say that this Gospel promotes the sanctity of marriage, people are watching.
When I say that this Gospel promotes racial reconciliation, people are watching.
When I say that this Gospel promotes the sanctity of life, people are watching.
When I say that this Gospel promotes the high value of women, people are watching.

And if they get so much as a whiff that I think an elephant is more crucial to the life of this nation than the Cross, I'm toast. 
I should close my Bible, close my mouth, and go home.
My gospel witness is over. Finished. Done. Kaput.

I am the Church. I have one job: to proclaim the Gospel, to guard it against heresy, and to live it. My vote must be a Gospel-driven vote.

If we look at Trump by himself, it's very easy to see his wickedness. He is a serial fornicator. He's spoken disdainfully of races other than his own. He runs casinos and bullies people and buys political favors. He calls his sister, a pro-abortion judge, 'phenomenal.'

But for some reason, when we put him in a room next to Hillary Clinton, his wickedness loses its clarity. Friends, this is an optical illusion. Trump is the man he is, regardless of who is standing next to him. Wickedness can never be defined in relative terms.

We can not proclaim to the world that we love what God loves and hate what God hates...
and then vote for someone who loves what God hates and hates what God loves.


Stop. Stop taking comfort from and seeking refuge in the wicked. Don't be taken in by the horror of a Clinton Administration. That is not the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that could happen is that God's Church in America is rendered impotent because, despite all of our talk, when it really counted (on Election Day), the Gospel meant...nothing.

What is the theme of this election?
It is the Gospel.

Let good and kindred go, this mortal life also.
The body they may kill.
God's Truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Amazing Danger Zone

Out along the edge is always where I burn to be.
The further on the edge, the hotter the intensity.

A few days ago, Brett and I were returning from a day out in the country. As usual, he (Maverick) was driving, and I (Goose) had the GPS. And, as usual, the scene turned comically tense. You would think that after twenty-seven years of marriage, we would have this whole 'navigate-as-a-team' thing down, wouldn't you?

Great balls of fire. No.

After we passed the point of dispute, Brett said, "I have a new 'date' idea for the couple considering marriage. Drop them off in the middle of nowhere with just a car and a GPS, and see if they're still talking when they get home."

Smarty pants.

Last week, we married off one of our daughters. It was the culmination of two years of Alex and Josh getting to know each other, and us (more specifically Brett) getting to know Josh. There were questions and answers. There were long conversations. There were books.

As the wedding approached, I suggested that they depart the reception to Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone. People who didn't get it frowned. People who did (read: married people) snickered. Instead, they departed to the music of our laughter and cheering. It was all good.

Still, I don't think we take marriage seriously enough as a culture, and by that, I mean the church culture. We lump it in with the other commodities of adulthood: job, house, car, spouse. And we treat it just about as reverently. Actually, when we factor in career counselors, home inspectors, and lemon-busters, we take marriage less reverently. Sorry, peeps, those are the hard facts.

But marriage is dangerous business. And all the book studies in the world will prepare us for marriage about as adequately as birth classes prepare us for childbirth. (ha.ha.ha.) It is good to prepare, but until it is finally upon us, it is all theory.

Then we say, "I do."
Welcome to the lab, kids. This is the part where you are going to blow something up. Trust me on this. All of us can remember when we blew something up. More likely, we probably remember more than one occasion where we blew something up. But here's the deal. Resolve to have a Thomas Edison approach to marriage. Edison, according to legend, said about inventing the light bulb, "I didn't fail two thousand times. I found two thousand ways not to make a light bulb."

When you blow something up, and the dust settles, you'll be tempted to wonder, "Did I make the right decision? My marriage has failed."
No. It has not failed. You just found another way not to make a good marriage. Add that one to your stockpile of wisdom...and get right back in the lab.

And get back in there with the right lab equipment.

Seek clarification.
"When you said (that thing that really hurt/angered me), what did you mean, because I know how I heard it." Two people who have spent their first two decades living for themselves coming together as one flesh can be a communication disaster waiting to happen. But it doesn't have to be. You'd be surprised at how quickly a disagreement can be diffused by first clarifying.

Keep short accounts.
Be slow to get offended, but when you do, be quick to talk about it. Be quick to repent. Be quick to forgive.

Go there.
"There" is that place that we don't want to talk about. "There" is that place your spouse is never allowed to address. "There" is that place guarded like Fort Knox. You need to go "there" for precisely these reasons, or it will become an infection site in  your marriage.

Sometimes, your "there" will sneak up on you. I didn't even know I had a "there"--until Brett pushed on it. Neither of us saw it coming. But it is a deep "there", and we've had to re-visit it several times. Sometimes, "there" will flare up again. Or it will be Truth-resistant. Sometimes your "there" will take vigilant, repeated detoxifying. Wash it with the water of the Word, and submit it to your spouse's inspection. That is what it means to walk covenantally. And your marriage will be healthier for it.

Do apologies correctly.
'I'm sorry' is appropriately used when something bad happens to someone you love, and you are extending compassion.
I'm sorry you lost your job.
I'm sorry your friend abandoned you.
I'm sorry your mom died.
But 'I'm sorry' makes an insipid apology. Woman up. If you did something to wrong your spouse, say so:
"I was wrong for throwing out your One Bad Pig cd. Will you please forgive me?"
There's something humbling that comes when our lips have to say, 'I was wrong.' And more humbling still with, 'Will you please forgive me?' More than that, though, you acknowledge to your spouse in very specific terms that you sinned against him and that you take that very seriously.
And when the situation is reversed and your spouse apologizes, don't say, 'It's all right.'
No. It was not all right; it was a legitimate offense. If it was all right, you would not be standing there having that conversation. Say, 'I forgive you.'

Then end with a great big smooch. And maybe a pat on the butt.

Christian marriages should not be dangerous places. They shouldn't be, but in the Now and the Not Yet, they are. That's why they also need to be places that positively overflow with grace. Your spouse will give you reasons to extend unmerited favor. And you will give him reasons, too. Extend it.

Gonna take it right into the Danger Zone.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Choose Life

My children are not a distraction from my ministry demographic.
Neither are my children a tool to help me reach my ministry demographic.
My children, as long as they are children, are my ministry demographic.
I remember that day with clarity. We were discussing Milton, and my English Lit professor referred to Adam eating the fruit as the Blessed Fall. What Dr. Greer, my prof and the chair of the English Department, meant was that The Fall was blessed because if Adam had not partaken of the fruit, mankind would have remained ignorant. He...we...would not know.

My jaw dropped.

Homeschooling today has come a long way since the early days when the first home educators were taking big risks to keep their kids home. Because there is such an age difference among my children, I straddle the gap between two vastly different types of homeschooling. I thank those who preceded me in this endeavor because they broke ground for me, sometimes at great cost. I fear for those behind me, many of whom have no concept of the history of the movement. Today, homeschooling, as a demographic, has more opportunities than ever before. Sadly, we are less impressive than we have ever been.

We have ceased to be a peculiar people.
We have followed in Adam's footsteps.
We would rather our children 'know' than 'live.'
We may not have said that; but our choices for our children have made that abundantly clear, nonetheless.

Today, parents try very hard to duplicate the high school experience we had--which is curious to me, since the whole impetus behind the movement was to not give our children the high school experience that we had...on purpose. Don't get your back up. I'm an old homeschooling dog now. I've moved in lots of homeschooling circles. I've been in lots of homeschooling activities. I know lots of homeschooling grads. I can now confidently make this assessment: Today's home educators regularly choose Enlightenment over Reformation. And it shows.

As a demographic, we now find more joy in rocking the SAT than in raising godly seed. We grieve less over poor moral choices than college rejection letters. It is more important to us that our children 'know' than 'live.' Blessed Fall.

And in our own burning desire to know and to have our children know, we relinquish the privilege of discipleship to others. Stay with me here. Discipleship implies two things: conversation and relationship. Therefore, if you want to know who is discipling your child, look to the person/people having the most conversation with her.

Sending my kid away from me (in my zeal for enlightenment) to the once-a-week--which, let's be honest, often turns into the twice/thrice-a-week--academy raises the risk of someone else discipling my kid. I am NOT talking about settings where parents decide on the curriculum and pace and do the teaching.  I am talking about the times we punt and give ground to the 'experts.'

I sent my oldest three to one of these academies for precisely ONE class. And I went with them. If you are considering sending your kid to one of these, I strongly appeal to you to accompany them. What you witness there with your own eyes would be...instructive.

Today, in any setting where home schoolers gather, this mama is watchful, wary, and making mental notes. There is no exception, no safe place where I am not watchful and wary. And that is not because my own children are such paragons of virtue; it is because they are children.

The amount of pure enlightenment in these circles is impressive and obvious; the amount of reformation is...neither.

Salvation is a supernatural transaction; homeschooling could never achieve that. But discipleship is a natural transaction, and discipleship was the original concern of homeschooling. Yet many (most?) home schooled students today are now being discipled by their peers, making homeschooling an institution that mirrors the government institution we rejected!

Providentially, God has given us a powerful antitoxin for peer discipleship: parent discipleship. But hold on. There is a catch. Parental relationship and conversations in healthy doses must necessarily limit peer relationship and conversation in order to be achieved. You can't relate to and converse with your child when your child is seldom around.

Practically speaking, that means that at the beginning of every school year, we need to look at every class, every extra-curricular, every opportunity for socialization and ask ourselves if these things help or hinder parent discipleship. Make no mistake. Each of these activities will have an impact, for good or for ill.

When it comes to conversation, no subject should be taboo. Talk about everything your child wants to talk about. Talk about everything you want to talk about. And talk about their friends. We regularly address friendships with our kids. But the key is to let them do the assessment.

Ask, What is Janie like when you are alone?
How does Janie relate to her parents, especially when her parents aren't watching?
Does Janie encourage you to be a more serious or a less serious Christian?
Is this a relationship worth keeping?

You and your child are going to quickly find the answer to two important questions.
Who's being discipled by their peers, and who's being discipled by their parents?
Who's on the road to Reformation and who's on the road to Enlightenment?
It's a good exercise for you both.

What I'm going to say next is going to be a zinger. I don't like getting zinged, so I'm simultaneously biting my fingernails and typing. I don't say this to zing. I say this as an observation and a warning because if someone saw trouble coming and warned me, I'd be very grateful. It is this: My children can, in general, detect big differences among their peers who are academied and their peers who are educated by their parents. Without me saying a word, they can see a difference. They don't have a name for it; they can't put their finger on it. But their spidey senses are tingling. Their academied friends are, in general, more worldly-wise and more conformist. Less...peculiar. And you'd be amazed at how young an age they can sense this.

[Let me pause a moment: Moms, you and I have logged many hours over coffee sharing the joys and tears of motherhood. Please know that I have never uncovered your child to my child. I have never betrayed a confidence. What is said at Starbucks stays at Starbucks. This is not a gossip-fest. This is me training my kids to spot good/bad company and examining their own appetites regarding friendship.]

My children are my ministry demographic. If God gives me eleven children, then He expects me, equips me, and empowers me to raise eleven children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Education is a sub-heading of discipleship, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Nurture and admonition imply Reformation, not merely Enlightenment. For their sake, I purpose to not be distracted by opportunities. For their sake, I choose a laser sharp focus on reformation, not graduation.

Why do you home school?
What do you hope to see at the end of that road?
Are you educating in such a way that your kids will know stuff?
Or are you educating in such a way that they will love the Lord their God with all their heart and all their mind and all their soul?

It matters.
And it's your call.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Purging and Preserving: Twist, Twist, Twist--Part Two

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a doctor friend of mine who does medical missions. He was telling me about one mission trip when, on day three, a third of the team left the mission. Why? Because they were offended that the medical mission was doing too much 'mission' and not enough 'medical.'

"Ah," I said, "Christus Victor."
"Exactly," he replied. "But why would we spend more time doing things that will give these people only temporary relief and less time doing the thing that will benefit them eternally?"
And what is it that makes a team, a medical missions team at that, uncomfortable with the gospel?
I'm guessing these people have an insufficient understanding of the gospel.

What is the gospel? It's the good news, so we should get it right. The gospel is really quite simple. It is this: God saves sinners.*
God: the triune God--Father, Son, Holy Spirit--whose three persons work in unison and perfect agreement of both intent and action
Saves: delivers completely from certain destruction
Sinners: those who are at enmity with God, who love what He hates, and hate what He loves.

Tweak any part of that definition, and you are in trouble.
Tweak any part of that definition--and broadcast it--and you are a heretic.

I'm not really concerned with how other religions get this wrong. (They all do.) I'm concerned with the Inside Jobs.
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' (whom you have not known) and let us serve them, you shall not listen to that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord you God who bough you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. If your brother, your mother's son, or you son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods' (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. Deuteronomy 13:1-8
The greatest threat to the people of God does not come from people like Karl Marx or Peter Singer or Richard Dawkins. I mean, sheep are dumb. But we're not THAT dumb.

Among you...
The greatest threat to the people of God comes from other people who claim to be people of God but are, in fact, not people of God. They mix enough truth with their lies to make us stand back and wonder... Ehhhh, could s/he be right? Could I, could my pastor, could my Bible be getting this wrong?

Let me put it this way.
You can rescue a woman from sex trafficking, get her medical help, counseling, and job training. But if you don't present the Gospel--in words--to her, then you have not addressed her greatest problem. Her greatest problem is not her scars from the sex industry. Her greatest problem is that she is under the wrath of God, because she has fallen short of the glory of God. Without a Savior to stand in her stead, she will die and go to hell.

You can dig wells to provide fresh drinking water to poverty-stricken people in Africa. But if you don't present the Gospel in words, those poor will die and go to hell. Their greatest need is not clean drinking water. They have fallen short of the glory of God; their greatest need is a Savior.

You can provide a safe haven to the gay man who has been brutalized by hate. But if you don't present the Gospel to him in words, he will die and go to hell. His greatest need is not safety; it is salvation.

I hate to burst the socially just bubble. But any old goat can rescue sex victims, dig wells, and build shelters. And they do. (See Matthew 25.) (And then see Bill Gates. Or Oprah.) Any old goat can feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner...
and support 'fair trade'
and protest 'microaggession'
and speak out against militarism and patriarchy and ecocide. (Yes. Ecocide. It's a thing. Not even kidding. Feel free to roll your eyes.)

Behold Christus Victor, the gospel of the goats.
Man's problem, according to Christus Victor, is that he was held captive to evil, (evil, I suppose, just being a general yucky thing) and Jesus died to pay ransom. Ransom to whom, exactly? No offended party. Just kind of evil in general and mankind was just kind of miserable in general. Feeling the squishiness yet? So Christ died. His death fixed all that by...well...I'm not really sure how Jesus dying on a cross is supposed to fix evil in a general sense. That rather smacks of some kind of cosmic child abuse.

I am not arguing that we should not rescue sex trafficking victims or dig wells or rebuke hate. I am saying that these things are not enough. Christus Victor is not enough. Jesus did not die just to take away all of our hurt. One day, God will wipe away the last tear. But that is not the whole gospel because that is not the whole problem.

An ounce of sin can harm us more than a ton of suffering, says Tim Keller. But Christus Victor turns that on its head. Christus Victor wants us to believe that our suffering, not our sin, is our greatest problem. Christus Victor is a false gospel.

JI Packer says in In My Place Condemned He Stood, "A half-truth presented as a whole truth becomes a complete untruth."
 A HALF-truth presented as a WHOLE truth becomes a complete UN-truth.
To present Christus Victor as the complete gospel is to tell a lie.

And if your eyes and ears are open, you'll see that Christus Victor is everywhere. Two weeks ago, I heard a notable American say that loving your neighbor as yourself is the greatest commandment. There it was again! The half-truth! Loving the Lord my God with all of my heart, mind, and soul is the greatest commandment. Loving my neighbor is like it. But loving my neighbor is defined by loving God. In fact, if I do not love God with all my heart, mind, and soul, I will not love my neighbor as myself because I won't know what that looks like.

Loving my neighbor without loving God with all of my heart, mind, and soul is merely philanthropy.
Loving my neighbor because I love God with all my heart, mind, and soul is worship.

Sheep, though. Sheep understand the real Gospel, the one in the Bible.
Christus Vicarious.
God saves sinners.
God imputed my sin onto Jesus and imputed Jesus' righteousness onto me.
Now THAT's good, good news!!!

So here's my point. When people who are not God's people pose as God's people and preach a gospel that is not God's gospel, what are God's people to do? Take it with a grain of salt because they say a lot of other things that are good? No. No, no, no.
We do NOT pity him.
We do NOT spare him.
We do NOT conceal him.

We PURGE the evil from among us, Moses told the Israelites.
We excommunicate him, said Paul to the early church. I have already passed judgment.

And then a funny thing happens. When the goats are purged, the sheep are preserved!
Moses says it this way: And then all Israel will hear and be afraid and never again do such a wicked thing among you. (Deut. 13:11)
Paul says it this way: For there must also be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (I Cor. 11:19)

We need to get comfortable with this fact: God's people are a purging people.
Sheep, if they are obedient sheep, purge goats.

Sheep do grace. And grace recognizes that favor is unmerited. It says, 'Come as you are, and be changed by the power of God.' Sheep preach Christus Vicarious because they recognize man's greatest problem.
Goats do tolerance. Tolerance claims that favor is merited. 'Stay as you are. We're just here to apply Christus Victor band-aids.'

The gospel of the sheep is eternal life.
The gospel of the goats?
Nope. No. No ma'am. Not on my watch.

*In My Place Condemned He Stood (Packer and Dever, 2008) was a helpful resource.