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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Every Square Inch

Last weekend, the day after Luke graduated from college, I was standing in his kitchen washing the breakfast dishes. My father-in-law quietly walked over to me and said, "You know, I forgot to mention it to you yesterday, but that was your celebration, too. You got him here." I managed to get out a 'thank you' and starting scrubbing harder because a lump was forming in my throat, and I was on the verge of losing all composure.

Brett and I take a covenantal view of raising our children. That is, we assume that their default condition is 'will be saved' unless the evidence proves to us otherwise. I'm not saying that our children are born believing. Everyone is dead in their sins until their conversion. I am saying that we set them apart, raise them, treat them like co-members of God's covenant. I am saying that children born into covenant homes have a distinct advantage over children not born into covenant homes.

We spent a week with Luke and his wife and daughter in their home. It was wonderful to watch him 'walk' at graduation. But it was more wonderful to watch him walk as a husband and a father. Seeing your kids established in their own homes is where you really get to see them in action. Watching him love his wife and love his daughter...Watching him work the stuff of young marriage or the challenges of a budding, busy toddler...Watching him take his family to church...

Most wonderful of all was the walk he and I took, just the two of us, through a cemetery across the street from his house. It was a crisp day, and we ambled up and down hills under beautiful, tall trees. We talked of life, of marriage, and of babies. We talked of academia and faith and God. I told him the things I see in him. There were serious moments, and there was laughter. And we ended back in his driveway with a big hug.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Eight of the kids were holding down the fort under Zach's care. We were gone over a Sunday, so they took themselves to church. During the Lord's Supper, a friend snapped a picture and sent it to us. There were the rest of my kids, grouped together around the elements. And there was Zach, leading his brothers and sisters through communion. There was my firstborn, this little guy with the fat feet and the weird obsession with F-150's and ant piles, all grown up and standing in proxy for Brett, passing around the elements. I look at this picture and know the struggles of each of these precious people the Lord has blessed us with. I can tell you where they are now and how much they've grown and how far they've got to go. So there I sat, in Luke's home in Michigan, seeing my other kids standing together back home in Texas, sharing the Lord's Supper, and my heart smiled. It smiled big.

Here's what twenty-five years of parenting in a covenant home has taught me. Some conversions are like a knife through warmed butter. Seamless. Easy. The kid just steps into God's kingdom and never looks back. Some conversions are hard. Every square inch is hard-fought, hard won. Satan snarls over every square inch, refusing, absolutely refusing, to give ground. Kuyper notwithstanding, every square inch comes with grit and sweat and warfare.

Both types of conversion are cause for vigilance and cause for worship. The angels rejoice over both types of conversions. And I'm learning that moms can rejoice over both types of conversions, too.

Too, parents are parents for every square inch. When the kids are young, we make choices for them. As they grow, we 'help' them make choices. Then one day they become adults, and we take a step back to watch them make their own choices. But we're still parents.

We still find things coming out of our mouths like, "What were you thinking?" when they do something foolish or "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?" when they're considering doing something foolish. We don't weigh in like this because we don't love them. We weigh in like this because we do.

Bilbo Baggins, do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks! I'm not trying to hurt you; I'm trying to help you!

The effectual love of a parent abounds in knowledge and depth of insight. We need to pray for our adult children that their love will abound this way, also. What does love look like when it abounds in knowledge and depth of insight? DA Carson, in his book, Praying With Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, says it this way:
Without constraints of knowledge and insight, love very easily degenerates into mawkish sentimentality or into the kind of mushy pluralism the world often confuses for love. Christian love will be accompanied by knowledge--that is, in Paul's use, the mature grasp of the meaning of the gospel that is the fruit of sound instruction and full experience. Christian love is also accompanied by "all insight": the 'all' here signifies not total insight or 'depth' of insight (NIV) (sic) but rather breadth of insight, that is moral perception across the entire gamut of life's experiences. (106)
If Paul is correct, loving cannot operate outside of thinking. Unthinking love is not love; it is only 'mushy' and 'mawkish.' True love must be constrained by the knowledge of and mature grasp of the gospel.

And why is that? Carson continues, "The point is that Christians must abound more and more in this quality of love if they are to test and approve what is best. So what is best must be delicate or subtle or difficult to spot for those whose love is not abounding in this way." (emphasis added) In other words, if our love is not a thinking love, we will not be able to spot what is best. And if their love is not a constrained love, they won't, either. Yikes.

I've started praying this prayer over my children since I read this a couple months ago. I'm praying that we and they may walk every square inch with the kind of love that abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.

Yet--and here's the kicker--at the same time, sleep. The farther I walk down this path of parenting, the more I'm realizing that I don't need to get rattled by the crossroads of Foolishness and Wisdom. That's not to say that my kids don't throw things at me that aren't worth getting rattled over. Oh sister, they have, they do, and they will. But time and again, I get my chain yanked, and then I see God come through. And I wonder why I ever doubt.

Because it's not over 'til it's over.
And it's not over until God says it's over.

There may be warfare over every square inch. But Jesus is Lord over every square inch, too.
He's Lord when they're young and high-maintenance.
He's Lord when they hit puberty, and you wonder who this alien child is.
He's Lord when they burst into adulthood.
He's Lord when they wonder; He's Lord when they wander.

My father-in-law was kind to affirm our parenting. But we both know Who gets our kids where they need to be. We both know that only Jesus can fill them with the fruit of righteousness.

I've only recently been able to articulate a recipe for rattle-free parenting:
Bring your kids to the cross.
Preach the gospel to them.
Pray Philippians 1:9 without ceasing.
And sleep.

Think back over the many ways God has been faithful to your children, and smile.
Smile big.
Jesus is Lord over every square inch.

And this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11