Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Archive for the month “March, 2015”

There’s A Worm In Everything, Managing Expectations And Preparing For Marriage

Dear children,

A friend once told me over a cup of coffee, “There is a worm in everything”, and it’s true.  No matter what the wonderful thing you’re looking forward to is, you can count on there being worms in it once that wonderful thing happens.  You build something up in your mind with great expectations and it becomes this perfect thing to look forward to.  But then the day finally comes and things happen that seem to get in the way of your fun.  And the bigger the expectations the bigger, even small problems, can seem to become.  Those problems and other unexpected difficulties are the worms, and you need to know that those worms are going to find their way into everything.  That’s just life.

But if this is true for a young person who is looking forward to simpler things like, say, camping trips or birthday parties and the like, think about how much more it is true for big things like marriage and family. Well you can know that there will be worms in those too.  No matter how wonderful you think something is going to be now, it will not be perfect then, so you would be wise to prepare yourself ahead of time by expecting the worms along with your other expectations.

It is my desire for you to learn these things, and to think this way about the things that you look forward to in your young lives. It will not only help you to overcome disappointments that are coming, and so therefore be a happier person, it will also help you to learn while you are young to approach all of life with this same mindset.  Then when you do move into those bigger life events, you will not be torpedoed and sunk because of a little worm that finally showed up.

When marriage does come for you, it will probably be the most expectation filled adventure that you will ever have, and likewise, it will also be the one place that worms can do the most damage in your life.  God made us to feel a powerful feeling when we find ourselves attracted to someone who is attracted to us.  There’s nothing like it.  It’s almost like a drug.  But also like a drug, it wears off, and then you realize that you’ve been blinded for a time and there are some worms that you will be dealing with, perhaps for the rest of your life.  But don’t feel bad.  Your spouses will be dealing with their fair share of worms too.  Such things are a given.  It doesn’t mean you ought to abandon your new family and go off chasing that high again.  It means that it’s time to begin the work of loving and sacrificing for someone else, in the true sense of those words.  And whatever you do don’t forget, those who trade in their old worms only trade them in for new ones.  Better to let the familiar worms perform the work of turning you into a good, decent and faithful adult who knows how to love someone even when you don’t feel like it.

That all said, I feel it necessary to talk a bit about my marriage to your mom.  It might be misunderstood that I am insinuating that I’m not happily married.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The real truth is that, because I never expected perfection, or marital bliss, I’ve not been in any way disappointed in our marriage.  I married a fellow sinner which means that I married all the little things that make her a sinner.  And she married someone much worse, as I’m sure you both can attest.  And we have managed to love each other through the years, and in fact, we have become pretty adept at slaying and managing worms, and are looking forward to a long life together with godly anticipation, should God so grant us that privilege.  But we both had to slay and quarantine some worms to get where we are now, and that doesn’t happen by running from one can of worms to the next, ever searching for that empty can.   I promise you, it is not out there.

A friend gave me some good advice about marriage.   He said to keep both eyes wide open before the wedding, and then afterward to close one.  That was good worm management advice.  That “drug” induced fog we can find ourselves in has a way of minimizing worms, or making them disappear altogether.  But that is the very time that you need to be taking a close look at worms because they have a way of growing.  After you both become one with someone else, then both your and your beloved’s worms become your worms; “your” meaning the two of you.  So one of the things you might keep both eyes wide open for is to see how your future spouse manages worms, because he or she will have plenty to manage.  Such is life.

Keep in mind that some of the worms that you can encounter can grow to monsters.  Believe me also on this, my beloveds, love will not overcome some worms.  We humans are masters at lying to ourselves to get what we want, and then to get rid of the same when we realize that we no longer want it.  The best plan is to have realistic expectations, ask for and listen to Godly counsel, and be willing to put yourself through a little pain early to save yourself from a lot of pain later.

I talked to an 85 year old man just the other day.  He was on his 68th year of marriage and his wife is now suffering from dementia.  As I talked to him I didn’t have to ask him if he had lived through 67 years of marital bliss.  Ups and downs are a part of marriage, and the ups can be high and the downs can be low.  But learning that love is more than some blissful high, and in fact can endure dark days void of any feeling at all, will not only pave the way for the happiest life you can expect, it will grow you up into a sound, grounded and mature human being.   As your father I want you to live as happy of lives as you can possibly live.  But I am a realist, and I desire that you be a realist also.  So I pray that you would thoroughly understand that you live in a fallen world, and that you bring your own fallen nature to bear on that world also.  I pray that you learn to manage disappointments and even to flourish as a husband and a wife in spite of them, and perhaps I might even dare to say, because of them.  I pray that you would be godly, raise godly children, and would love God with all you can muster, all the days of your life.

Your father.

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God Is Not A Man

Dear children,

It’s a good thing to think about God, to ask questions, to ponder the attributes of our Creator as we walk down this path we call life.  And I think our heavenly Father invites us to do just that.  In doing this we realize that God is not a man, and then others times it’s a little too easy to forget that.

That God is not man is the easy part.  What man can create heaven and earth, is all knowing and almighty?  These attributes of power and strength give us comfort for good reason.  Still, there is another way that God is not like us that might seem a little odd at first, maybe even wrong, until we think about it a bit.

Man, that is you and I, possess personality traits that are sinful.  We might think of someone who is jealous, who is a “glory-hound”, who is self-centered, or who always has to have things their own way, as having personality flaws.  But what if I asserted that God possesses these same traits and in doing so is holy and righteous in possessing them?  Is it possible for God to possess the same traits for himself that are sinful for mere man to possess?   Is it wrong for God to want attention, to demand all glory, to be self centered, and to always want everything His way?  Well, if God is nothing more than a glorified man, perhaps not; and I’m afraid that’s the very way that many actually do see Him.  But God is no a glorified man.  He is our creator, the maker of heaven and earth, holy and righteous, perfect in every way; and he is worthy of all praise, and all glory and all honor forever.

The first time I heard someone say that God was self-centered it sounded like blasphemy to me.  But as I thought about it, I realized that God set some standards for Man that He did not set for Himself, the center of all creation.  While it is bad for man to be self-centered, it is a good thing for God.  He is God. What other “centered” would we have Him be?  What other “centered” could He be?  Man centered?  As Paul would say, “May it never be!”

Thinking about attributes that would be sin for man and righteousness for God will help you to guard yourself against diminishing God and raising up man in your thinking; which is a common tendency that we mortals seem to have.  It helps us to remember that He is the reference point for all things, not us.  And again, that is a good thing.

I pray that you would spend your lives contemplating the attributes of God.  That you would see His hand in the smallest of things just as much as you see it in the large things.  It’s probably all small to our Creator, after all.  I pray that the awe you have of Him would grow stronger through your years as the “you” diminishes, and the “He” looms ever larger, and ever more powerful, and worthy of our praise.

Your father.

Providence, God’s Forgotten Hand

Dear children

I was born into circumstances that would wind up shutting some doors for me for the rest of my life.  There was no way, for example, that I was ever going to become the CEO of a large corporation.  Nor was I ever going to get a doctorate’s degree at a university, or become a rockstar. Still, I was also born into circumstances that would open many doors that were shut to the rest of the world.  There was opportunity for one thing, simply because I was born in America.  I was raised by two parents who loved me, and who managed, probably because of the rural setting of my childhood, to keep the ugliness of this world at bay until I was older.  I was blessed.

You likewise were born into a set of circumstances that ultimately opened and shut doors for you, as was every other human being… ever.  The question we must all consider as we contemplate all of this is, did these things happen by mere chance; or were all of the large and small particulars surrounding our lives set forth in advance by God’s invisible hand?  How you answer that question will depend on whether you serve a large or small God.  Is God big, all powerful, and able to protect us from bad things but chooses not to?  Or does He desire for us a wonderful  trouble-free life but  just can’t seem to pull it off?  The answers you give to questions like these will determine your outlook on life, and your response to circumstances, in many ways.

If all that is is the result of happenstance, then not only are all things ultimately meaningless, but we can also safely claim that all is not fair.  Some just so happen to be born with everything, and others with not much of anything.   And the rest of us end up somewhere in between with plenty to complain about as we ever compare ourselves to those who are better off.  It just seems all wrong.  Life just isn’t fair.  With this mentality we are ready to assume our status as victims and join the hordes of Hell who are attempting to turn this fallen world into paradise by accomplishing the impossible; to make all things fair.  Please know that such is a fool’s errand.

But then we consider a sovereign God in light of eternity, Who, scriptures teaches us, knit us together in our mother’s womb.  There were no mistakes.  Nothing just “happened“.  Everything is according to God’s sovereign plan.  God gave us our strengths, and He gave us our weaknesses.  We were born into exactly the circumstances that He planned for us to be born into, equipped exactly as we were supposed to be equipped.  And with this we navigate life’s circumstances, some of which will be horrible.  But when we consider God’s sovereignty, everything changes because everything, good or bad, is providence.

But that word, providence, seems to have morphed into God providing affluence, peace and health, in more recent times.  If God did not provide what we consider good things, then He did not provide.  And in even more recent years the word has seemed to almost disappear from our vocabulary completely as our culture and church increasingly sees the world through the lens of random chance.

But the thinking of Christians has not always been this way.  In the days of old, the farmer would plant his field and then he would pray for rain.  If rain came, it was the providence of God and God was praised.  If the rain did not come, it was the providence of God, and He was praised.  God either brought the rain, or He did not.  But He was praised either way.  We might also consider Joseph.  By God’s providence he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and he suffered.  By providence God did not send rain into Canaan which resulted in a famine.  By God’s providence Joseph was in Egypt to give the family refuge from the famine.  None of this was by random chance.  God had a plan, and he provided for it.  It is how the entirety of scripture reads.

Therefore, providence should be the lens through which you interpret your life, with the light of scripture shining on it.  I can promise you that really bad things are going to happen to you during your short life in this land east of Eden.  But I can also promise that not one small bad thing will happen by mere random chance.  No, all will be by God’s providence.

Again, dear children, we must never forget who we were.  We were “man”.  And man is corrupt.  Our only hope is in Jesus Christ, to be clothed in His righteousness, and for Him to dwell in us.  Nothing bad ever happened to a good man.  So all good things that we receive as “man” are ultimately unfair because we instead deserve God’s wrath.  But if there was one thing not fair that is above everything else, it is that God’s wrath was poured out on His son and not on us, for that also was the providence of God.  That I am not as smart, handsome, wealthy, personable, talented and good as I would like to be is nothing compared to the great love that was poured out for me on the cross.  I am in no position to make claims of victimhood, come what may.  I was redeemed in eternity before a holy and righteous God through His providence.  When bad things happen I get to accept them therefore with praise.   I am redeemed!  Whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, it is well with my soul.  (From the Hymn “It Is Well”)

Now I know that these things that I say conflict with our experience in these vessels of clay.  From our early years this flesh pounds its fists and shouts, “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”  But as your mind is renewed your salvation ought to become a great thing in your thinking.  And for it to become great, you must realize what you were saved from, and that Jesus did not die for anyone who was worthy of dying for.  You are not a victim.  Good things do happen to bad people.  Life is not fair, and we may praise our God through Jesus that it is not.  That is providence.

Your father

Hell On Earth Is Rejecting God

Dear children

As a father who honestly and sincerely believes that there is much more to this life than simply working, playing and sleeping until death overtakes us, I don’t think it is possible for me to overstate how important it is that God would overtake your hearts and dwell within.  You see, I don’t believe for a second that this earth and all the life that lives on it simply popped into existence by mere chance.  I don’t think that you or I are mere flesh machines running to and fro, guided only by the chance electron flows in the gray substance that just happens to fill our heads.  No!  You have a purpose that transcends all that your eyes can see, your ears can hear, your skin can feel and your mind can think.

But there are those who reject God, indeed God says that very few will not reject Him.  And in their rejection they march on past the narrow gate which leads to a narrow path and then to an eternity, free from the sin, and all of its fallout, that corrupts this world.  But by passing the gate, they forego more than all that.  Much more.  They pass up an eternity in the presence of their creator and redeemer.  They pass up all that they ever wanted, their Utopia, free of death, free from tears, free from pain, and free from the chains of time.

And for our short lives here, when we reject God we necessarily reject along with God other things that, though they may not be acknowledged, they nevertheless undermine.  We reject:

Eternity. Just like those who came before you, you were born.  And likewise you will also die.  Do not be fooled.  That day is a certainty, though it may seem now to be far off.   Life as you now know it will not go on forever.  It is finite.  But its worse than that.  For those who reject God, any hope of eternal remembrance is vane.  The sun will one day burn out and this planet will be but a cold cinder in space; no one left to remember, no purpose, no nothing, just cold dead matter.

Purpose.  Without eternity the idea of purpose is just another meaningless spark in the neurons in your brain.  Anything “good” that was ever done, any sacrifice that was ever made, any great feat that was ever accomplished, all will disappear and are ultimately as meaningless after the sun burns out as they were when they were accomplished.  Without eternity there can be no purpose, no ultimate reason to do good, nor any ultimate reason to avoid or embrace evil.  There in fact will be no ultimate reason for anything.  Matter, even matter with electrical impulses, is still only matter.

Absolute truth.  Without eternal meaning and purpose there can be no truth.  The very words good and evil become finite and relative.  Good for me can mean what the meaningless thoughts in my brain tell me it is.  I could just as well consider it a good thing to kill someone and take their food when my body tells me I’m hungry.  Who’s to say it would be evil?  The masses on the road to destruction like to think that they can derive truth from themselves through consensus.  That is to say, they believe that good and evil can be determined by simply programming the majority of their fellow flesh machines to agree.  Of course they must destroy and oppress those who refuse to be reprogrammed for they are defective.  But in the end it is meaningless either way.

Men have risen to power and lorded themselves over other men since time began.  And they will until it ends.  They will become little gods for awhile, decreeing this and that good and evil.  But their decrees, just like the electrical charges that cause them to think that their decrees have meaning, are ultimately meaningless.  They will die and turn to dust just like all that came before them.

Love.  God is love.  In a world that rejects God, love is corrupted also.  God is love becomes “God is what I think love is”.  But man cannot even know what love is unless he first knows who God is.  To know God is to begin to get a glimpse into the meaning of “love”.  But without God, love becomes just as meaningless as everything else.  It becomes the result of some warm and fuzzy feelings brought about by chemicals and electrical impulses in the brain.  To love might very well be to murder.  When I, your father, am old, it might seem like the loving thing to do is to give me a pill that will put me out of my suffering and send me back to the dust from whence I came.  But more importantly, by labeling it love, you can go on without any feelings of guilt for murdering your father.  There are perhaps a million ways that hell can be unleashed on this earth in the name of love, for when you reject the Father, you must therefore reject any true meaning or understanding of “love”.

Hope.  The Bible says that “hope that is seen is not hope, for why does one hope for what he already sees?  When we reject God, we abandon all hope except that our eternal state will be nothingness and we really aren’t ultimately accountable for our decisions in this life.  But if our eternal state really is nothingness, then all meaning, all purpose, all truth, and all hope are just as meaningless while we exist.  Man is  left with YOLO,  (you only live once)  and he becomes an hedonistic animal attempting to somehow derive meaning from self-gratification; ever on the lookout for that next thrill or pleasure, driven on by nothing more than minuscule little electrical and chemical signals in his head.  His short existence is plunged into a Hell as millions claw and scratch in their attempts to live this one and only meaningless life doing what the impulses in his brain tells him to do.  He is a slave to his flesh and without hope.

___________________________

Life on the narrow path is nothing like this bleak and hellish existence.  Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me”.  Picking up our cross is rejecting the flesh’s rule over your destinies.  We are liberated from our slavery to the flesh through the cross.  In the eyes of a world that has no basis for purpose, truth, love or hope, a world that orders itself according to YOLO, picking up your cross and following Jesus will of course make no sense.  But for those on the narrow path it makes perfect sense and in fact,  for them senselessness is trying to derive meaning from nothing.

It is my prayer that you not suffer during your short life.  But I also pray even more that you enter through the narrow gate and walk along the narrow path.  I, in fact, pray that even if the narrow path is filled with suffering, and it may well be, that you will walk that path anyway in God’s abundant grace.  His grace is able to sustain you in temporary suffering much more than all the riches in this meaningless world can in a comfortable pain-free life, and I pray that His Grace will do that very thing.  Paul tells us that “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.”  So I admonish you dear children, ask your Father in heaven to give you the grace to enter through that narrow gate, and then to walk along that narrow path, and to set your sights beyond the grave which, you should remember, looms much nearer than you think.

Your father

Is God Really “Good”? Are You?

Dear children

There are some words that we use… that I use, which I have termed “neon words”.  I call them this because it seems that every time I hear them they shine bright in my thinking and generally suggest the need of a definition.  These words are so common that we often make assumptions that they mean the same thing to everyone when they don’t; and that causes a lot of confusion.

Today I want to talk about one “neon word” in particular.  It is used often and it often communicates very little between people.  That word is “good”.   Here are a couple of things to think about when you hear it:

First, the word “good”, when you think about it, appeals to a standard.  It in fact must.  No confusion there just yet.  The problem comes when the source of the standard is unclear, or whether that standard is subjective or objective. For example, if someone says: “Chocolate ice cream is good”, good appeals to a subjective standard. It does not imply that the goodness of chocolate ice cream is, or ought to be, universal. But imagine if the speaker, or hearer, was making assumptions about that the statement.  Suppose someone understood that statement in universal terms.  That would change everything?  The statement would then be an objective and would appeal to a universal standard which would make it an objective truth.  But, when we’re talking about ice cream it is easy to discern that the statement is not making an objective or universal claim.  But trust me, it is not always quite so clear.

Consider, for example, the statement, “I am a good person”. Unlike the goodness of ice cream, this is appealing to an objective standard. While ice cream is subject to personal tastes, in order to assert that I am a good person I must then compare myself to another standard completely; a standard that is independent of, and outside of, myself, and which is universal.

With a little thought we can see here how, if we confuse the source of the standard, not only will our communication suffer but so will our thinking. Consider for a moment the statement: “Mr. Smith is a good teacher”. What is most likely heard is that Mr. Smith conforms to some objective standard for teaching. But the person saying this might well be communicating that Mr. Smith makes him feel good about himself while in Mr. Smith’s class. Mr. Smith may well not be a good teacher at all but rather good in the skills of personal relations. There is no way the hearer can know without exercising a little curiosity about what is meant.  He must ask some questions like “Why do you say that?” Or maybe someone thinks Mr. Smith, although he has great interpersonal skills, is a rotten teacher.  That person may ask, perhaps sarcastically: “If he’s a good teacher then I’m wondering what your idea of a bad teacher would be?” Such questions are seeking to understand the standard being used.

We’ve all probably heard the phrase “God is good”? Does standard does this statement appeal to?  Is it a subjective or objective standard? Is God “good” because His character aligns with a definition of good derived from my own personal desires? To correctly convey the reality that these words represent, these questions must have answers. Is God’s character being compared to a higher standard than even Himself? What standard does one appeal to in such a statement that God might be judged as having measured up to it? Our own personal standard? What if, as I believe to be true, “God” is the standard? In that case we can rightly say with Job “Though He slay me, (a bad thing) I will hope in Him”1  and it would make sense? But if God’s goodness is subject to my own personal preferences, then not only is God diminished, but so is the word “good”. In such a case we can only say “God is good” when we, say, get that one thing that we’ve been wanting.  But we can’t then also say “God is good” when we then lose that one thing for what ever reason.  That would necessarily make God bad, would it not, since his goodness or badness is measured against what good or bad thing happens to you?  To judge God according to what you think ought to be, or a standard based on your own likes and dislikes will lead you to a misunderstanding of both, the meaning of the word good, and the very nature of God.

Second, it doesn’t help that we live in a time in which all standards are considered relative. The idea that an objective standard exists has been rejected because it is believed that there is no objective standard except what man determines that it is on any given day.  With this view we need not examine our own lives according to any standard other than the one we create for ourselves… which would of course be subjective. Using this sort of reasoning a mother, having just been convicted of horribly abusing her children, could still proclaim loudly to the court that she is a good person, as happened a few years back here in Arizona. Why shouldn’t she say it? To what objective standard would anyone appeal to argue differently?  We are all, after all, little cocoons wherein our own self-created reality, and its standards, aligns with our own desires. We can see why then that any suggestion that there is a standard that exists beyond our own personal tastes and pleasures is met with fierce opposition.

But it gets more confusing yet. You will hear that it is not good for you to impose your standards on others, and we are not to judge others either, as if the world outside our cocoon is now somehow subject to the subjective standards that exist on the inside. The fact that we feel better about ourselves because we are living according to a standard we created ourselves, for the purpose of making ourselves feel better about ourselves, hides the fact that we are now twisting ourselves into logical pretzels and are in reality functioning in an absurd world.

In this world the very word “good” is rendered meaningless and in many cases — according to any given person’s subjective framework — it is no longer distinguishable from “bad” so that good for some becomes evil for others. 2   Yet the word lingers in our language as if there were still a standard from which its meaning could be derived, while at the same time that standard’s existence is denied. The language therefore becomes confused and communication between souls breaks down so that we live in a modern-day kind of Babel.  3

In such a world it is then pondered, why are people these days so isolated? Why can’t we all just get along? Why is there such division and loneliness? One reason is that they have killed and dismembered a key and core concept. They have treated a foundational thing like the idea that is represented by the word “good” as if it were a pre-born child and ripped it from the womb of our thinking, and having thrown it into the trash bin, have celebrated the freedom to do so.  But such freedoms are not free.  They come with a price that apparently very few realize that we are paying.

So dear children.  Hold fast to the foundations laid long ago by God.  Don’t think yourself in a position to judge God, but instead cry out for his mercy as he judges you according to a perfect standard that was laid before the foundations of the earth; a standard that all have fallen short of.  As Paul admonishes us, so do I, cloth yourself in Christ that you may rise to God’s holy and perfect standard in Him, and therefore become good in the sight of God.

Your father.

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