Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

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Forsaking The Body

Dear children,

A couple of years before you were born your mother and I happened to follow a minivan into a grocery store parking lot.  The words “Praise The Lord” were splayed in large letters across the back window accompanied by various Christian symbols and stickers here and there. So we were both excited to speak to the lady who was driving.  It wasn’t long before your mom asked her where she fellowshipped.  The lady responded in the strangest way.  With noticeable disappointment, she said, “Oh.  So yall are still doing that?”

Well, the “that” she was referring to was the act of attending church. And yes, we still were doing it, and still are.

Since that time I’ve seen quite a bit of this sort of thing among professing believers, and I think they are in error. You can’t leave the Church and still be the Church.  My hand in the other room does me no good.  It must be attached to my body to be of any use.  Besides, it needs my heart to keep revitalizing blood pumping through it whether I’m using it or not. Without that blood, it would simply rot. And when I see attempts by some to remove their gifts from service to the Body, it perhaps rightly seems a little rotten to me.

In contrast, I can also remember visiting a little Baptist church in Georgia on a Thursday evening not long after surrendering my life to Jesus. They were assembling to go out visiting people, sharing the Gospel and knocking on doors. While I was there I can remember speaking to an older gentleman who said he’d been a part of that congregation for 40 years. I now know with all confidence that that man had been through a lot with that little fellowship of believers for the same reason I knew he’d been through a lot with his blood kin; because in the end there’s really very little difference. It’s because that’s how long-term relationships are. It’s just reality.

I’ll never forget either of these two people. They both, little did they know, left a lasting impression on me.  I would rather be the latter than the former, and I’d rather you be as well. So let’s discuss a few things to be on the lookout for and to expect when it comes to the fellowship of the brethren.  I’ll discuss some things I’ve seen and perhaps some things to look for as you guard your relationships with your church family.

The Parachurch Ministry

Church is hard work, especially for the pastor.  Don’t ever forget that. Preaching on Sunday morning is but a fraction of his job, and probably the easiest and most rewarding part. For the rest of the week he’s holding together a congregation of sinners who all have their hobby horses to ride, axes to grind, pet doctrines to push, scandals, pregnant daughters, wayward sons, men and women abandoning their families, drug, alcohol and money issues, illnesses, deaths, births and lots more I’m sure. And if that’s not enough there are building issues, money woes, payroll and state bureaucracies to contend with.  But sure enough, on Sunday morning there are three or four hundred ears gathered to hear a message.

But there are some who see a congregation as a ready-made audience, just waiting to hear their important messages; and who knows, there might even be a little cash in it; you know, to “support the ministry”.  And without any of the work it takes to manage the storm that is the week in a pastor’s life, or without shedding any of the tears through the night with any of the congregants, and bearing any of the burdens of the flock, there they are, desiring access to this flock… through the back door so to speak.

“Para” means beside, and as such parachurch is an apt description of these ministries. They are headed up by folks who are walking alongside the Church. And while some of these ministries are worth their salt, perhaps most even, some are nothing more than parasites. They exist off the hard work of other people. They are not themselves in a church, but rather can be best described as functioning beside the Church. They bounce here and there, never really being part of a local Body, not really being accountable to anyone, but always kind of… nearby, feeding, if you will, off of the true Body. Beware of these. Approach them or participate with them with extreme caution. God is preparing a Bride for His Son, and I am confident that there won’t be any “best men” to stand “beside” that bride at the great wedding.

House Churches

House Churches have always had a special appeal to me, and I don’t think there’s any question that these churches were the norm in the early Church. And I see no scriptural basis to make the case against the “house church” today if it’s really a church; which is to say that if it’s living out the biblical mandate of coming together as a body of believers and functioning as the Body of Christ. I would be the last to say that house churches are of the Devil. But like anything else, beware. It might well be that there has been so much division and inability to get along with the rest of the body that a very small group has retreated into a living room somewhere and are finally able to be of one accord with one or two other families; until, that is, it all explodes. A good house Church will probably outgrow the house at some point, so it will probably either go very well there, or very wrong, but for sure it’s going to go somewhere. If you find yourself in a house church, make sure there is love for Christ’s Body found in it, and not just criticism of it. Make sure that there’s love of Christ there, and not just love of His doctrine. And make sure that the Word is preached, and there is communion. In other words, just as I said, make sure that it functions like any other healthy Body, or at least as healthy as any Body can be expected to be.

Loaners and Hyper Spiritualists

In my judgment, this probably describes the lady we met in the parking lot, though in our short encounter I can’t be certain. Nevertheless, we need to understand the truth about who we are as human beings so that we might ward off some of the setbacks that come with being such beings. One truth is that it’s in our very nature to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  In addition, and just as importantly, we tend to see our own failures in a more favorable light than we do the failures of others. These two truths work together for the detriment of the Church.

It has been my experience that I tend to judge myself more according to my intentions and desires than my actions. At the same time, I tend to judge those around me according to their actions. Such tendencies can easily lead to spiritual snobbery, and indeed it has with me. But it’s far more complicated than just that. I’ve given to you only a couple of factors. There are more. So let me add another. We all, being just one part of Jesus’ Body, naturally see and experience things differently. So we can tend to hold everyone else to standards that we like, because of the gifts God has given us, while at the same time giving ourselves a pass on other important things. And sometimes when the rest of our congregation doesn’t snap-to in a way that we think they ought, why we up and leave because who wants to “worship” with a bunch of spiritual failures who aren’t serious about God?

But it’s far more complicated than just that. I’ve given to you only a couple of factors. There are more. So let me add another. We all, being just one part of Jesus’ Body, naturally see and experience things differently. So we can tend to hold everyone else to standards that we like, because of the gifts God has given us, while at the same time giving ourselves a pass on other important things that don’t happen to be particularly important to us. And sometimes when the rest of our congregation doesn’t snap-to in a way that we think they ought, why we up and leave because who wants to “worship” with a bunch of spiritual failures who aren’t serious about God?

I also think that some of our negative mentalities toward the church might be rooted in our tendency to think of the congregation in a general sense.  This “sense” might be derived from our negative experiences and judgments concerning individuals which our minds eventually conflate to a general representation of the entire local Body. Having developed that picture we then wrongly apply it to everyone individually, and at the same time, no one in particular.

If you work at thinking of your brothers and sisters as individuals, not as “the Church” in general, you may be able to ward off such a deceptive and destructive mentality. Still, I think we are all prone to such thinking, especially when we’re walking along the spiritual peaks; probably not so much while we’re in the valleys.  It’s actually much easier to get on our high horse then and to not think in terms of fellow individuals and their struggles.  But when we do think of the Body as individuals, then that might just lead us to think of ourselves in context also, which, as difficult as it is, is an excellent start down the road of considering our own failings.  Ultimately loaners and hyper spiritualists, I think, have a difficult time of differentiating between their desires for the Church, and the many individual realities that those who make that church up are going through.  And then they have difficulty being a part of something that they see as lacking, or committing to a thing in which they are not the beginning and the end of. (See Parachurch) Many of these will transition through the next group before vacating the visible church.

Church hoppers

I’ve done no research on this.  I can’t say whether “church hopping” has ever been as prevalent as it is now, but I don’t think it has. Church is in many ways like marriage. A friend told me before I married your mom to keep both eyes wide open before we were married and to close one afterward. A prospective local body should be approached in the same way before you sign on with it.  And once you do, I promise you that you will find plenty of reasons to keep that one eye closed.  But your church is also like your wife or husband in that you don’t just up and leave because of a few problems.  It really is a part of your larger family, and if your blood relatives are not believers, then the Church is actually more your family than your kin are.

Think of your own family. Think of our worst times, or maybe one of our worst days as a family. They were really bad weren’t they? And you know when I say really bad, I mean really bad. But did anyone throw up their hands and go join another family down the street, as if that family had it all together? Of course not. That would be unrealistic. I can tell you now that you will get angry with your brothers and sisters in Christ. So there, I’ve told you. So don’t be all shocked and surprised when it happens. Bad things are going to happen in all families and they’re going to happen in all churches. It’s just the nature of family. If you up and leave too quickly I believe you will find one of two things will happen. Either you will church hop until you discover that the whole idea of “church” is futile, then become a loaner. Or you will mature, settle down, and learn to navigate the bumps, twists, and turns of family life. My experience has been that I’ve had horrible experiences in our church, and I’ve been the horrible experience for others. I even think that I might just have been the horrible experience more often than I had horrible experiences with others.

We’ve been with our current church for 18 years, and in those 18 years I’ve seen a lot, and not all of it was good. But God is not shocked or surprised. In fact, the whole thing is His doing. He created it. We are all rubbing against each other and being formed into building stones that actually fit quite well together, which is biblical. It is actually a living out of Roman’s 5, where Paul tells us that we, “...glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We are also told by James to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds because it brings about maturity. There’s no indication that these trials and tribulations are found only outside of your church body. No, they’re on the inside too. We are learning to love and forgive as we grow in grace together, and that’s something you just can’t get as a church hopper.

Conclusion

Now, with all this said, please don’t think I’m telling you to never leave a church. I would not ever tell anyone in an age such as ours, during a great falling away, when churches are abandoning the Truth of God’s Word in droves, to stay in a church come whatever. But it’s also not as easy as it may seem. Church leadership can ride the ragged edge of apostasy and you may find it difficult to know for sure if it’s time to abandon that local body in favor of a more solid and healthy fellowship. Add to this the relationships you will have formed over the years in your church, and it becomes even more difficult to make these decisions; because if you’re doing church right, you will be leaving deep relationships behind.  Much prayer, counsel, and discernment will be required. Still, I’m confident taht the American church would be much healthier today if more Christians would take their commitment to their church seriously, and would not abandon their local bodies so readily.

But I can tell you with all confidence to never abandon God’s Church altogether. We are meant to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. And just so you know, sitting through sermons once a week doesn’t qualify as fellowship. We refer to our brothers and sisters in Christ as brother and sister for a reason. We are family. And that family is not so different than the one with which you share your home. There is anger, flare-ups, grudges, unforgiveness, moodiness, and failures of every sort. But there is also happiness, restoration, forgiveness, joy, laughter, celebration, and relationship. You get the whole gamut with both your family at home and at Church. So we don’t cut and run from our family, and we don’t cut and run from our fellowship in unhappy times. That’s just how it goes.

So dear children I pray that you will have discernment in your relationship with your local fellowship. It actually is a beautiful thing, and God will use it to mature and complete you as He uses you to do the same for others. Church is God’s doing. Don’t ever think you’re too good for it, of not good enough. I pray that your relationship with your local body will be rich and rewarding.

Your father.

A Familiar Story Of Apostatizing Youth

Dear children,

As you might imagine I am keenly interested in any advice that would help me to help you develop a stronger faith.  So when I see an article entitled 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church, it gets my attention.  It is but one of many appropriate articles that express concern at the number of today’s youth who are abandoning their Christian faith when they leave home.  But what caught my attention, and what I would like to discuss in this letter, was a comment left by a young woman, fresh from her parent’s home herself, who explained why she abandoned her “faith”.  The first half:

These articles keep popping up all over the place in my feed and I find it so interesting. You see I am one of those kids. I am one that was raised in a very Christian home and now am definitely not a believer. I was very involved in my church. I sang up front many many sundays. I helped out in the nursery. My entire social life was wrapped around the church. That was all I knew. I loved God. I read the Bible cover to cover many many times. I prayed fervently on the constant. I witnessed to those around me. I published a Christian girl’s online magazine/newsletter. I served at the nursing home about once a month. I went to Africa with the Jesus Film. I was the definition of “youth that don’t leave the church.” You say it’s not a formula and yet you basically endorse it as if it is. 

As a father I can say that I would be encouraged by these things; encouraged yes, but not persuaded.  Your mother and I do the best we can to examine your hearts.  We don’t just assume that your conformity to the surroundings that we’ve immersed you in is evidence of a regenerated heart.  For all we know, a different environment will bring about a different conformity. We can see that this has been the case with this poor soul.

When she continues with her comment she transitions from herself as the topic to accusations against the Church.  She explains why not any of the external evidences that she manifested earlier mattered in the end:

I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person. And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked. I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity. I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore. I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics. I left because I had discovered what real love looked like. I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace….Instead of writing articles on why the youth are or aren’t leaving the church, why not just ask us? You may be really surprised at our answers. 🙂  

I’d like to respond to this part of her comment for your sake.  So let’s look at each statement individually.  She starts:

I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person. 

Curiosity is a human trait. No one need deny it in order to be a Christian, nor does having more of it keep anyone from being a Christianity.  But we do begin to pick up on a veiled arrogance as we read this sentence in the context of the rest of the comment.  It is but an arrogant assumption that curiosity and Christianity are not compatible, which is an unsubstantiated assumption.  That arrogance will become more blatant as we continue with her comment.

 And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked.

You will hear this accusation often, but is it true?  Does “Christianity” really discourage the asking of questions?  While I can’t speak to her personal experience, I can speak to Christianity in general.  But before I do, I’d like to speak to her–unwitting I’m sure–sleight of hand in this statement.  She makes a general indictment against a very large, old and encompassing thing, Christianity.  And she bases it on a narrow and limited thing, her experience.  Where was her curiosity?  If she felt discouraged from asking questions in her limited experience, why didn’t she go elsewhere for answers?   She is, after all, living in the age of the internet, with lots of answers at her fingertips available to anyone with just a little bit of curiosity.  But man is a blame shifter by nature, and he is quick to shift blame from self to others, and I think that’s what’s happening here.  I’ve never been discouraged from asking questions.  That’s been my experience.  And I certainly haven’t discouraged you from asking them.  But even if I had been discouraged I would not have been thwarted, I have more curiosity than that.

But there is another side to this equation.  Some of the answers will necessarily be, “I don’t know.”, which is the truth.  And that is the rub for many I think.  There is so much that we don’t know.  But remember that this will be true regardless of whether you are an atheist, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever.  It is not as if this poor soul has moved into a system of thought that has all the answers.  We can know she hasn’t.  But as far as Christianity is concerned, God promises to save us from our sins.  He doesn’t promise to make us all knowing.

I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity.

Here I’m sure she has a point.  She herself was obviously not authentic.  But even had she been authentic, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity within the Church.  Jesus tells us that weeds are planted among the wheat.  So it should not have surprised her.  But even if she were surrounded by “wheat” only, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity.  This raises a serious question that demands an answer.  If others had looked at her life alone, and judged Christianity on it alone, would they have seen a “huge gap between Christianity and authenticity”?  I know the answer because I know humans.  The answer is yes, they would have seen a gap.  So have grace my dear children on your brothers and sisters in the Lord.  They are running a race and fighting the fight just as are you.  True authenticity is the admission to each other that we are not authentic.  The believer understands this.  The unbeliever can’t.

But I will chalk this up to her youth, which is naturally idealistic.  She will in time discover that no matter what she pursues, the lack of authenticity will be a part of it.  Even if she pursues lawlessness, she will still be inauthentic, because she will be offended when others steal from her, harm her, lie to her and so on.  Should she become an environmentalist, a secular humanist, an activist, it won’t matter.  She will still be in the midst of inauthenticity, and I can say this with the utmost confidence.  Why?  Because man is fallen.  He can’t be authentic in anything. There was only one authentic person to ever live, and she has rejected Him.  She will eventually have to either accept this fact, or shut down her curiosity altogether.  She will have to lie to herself, which might finally, after all, allow her to exist in an authentic, if unreal, world.  Man is most authentic when he is deceiving himself.

I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore.  I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics.

Given the rest of her comment this makes sense.  But it raises yet more questions.  What is real?  If she was so convinced all her life that Christianity was the real thing, and then it suddenly becomes unreal, what then?  How can she ever trust herself in judging “realness” again?  She will necessarily discover, with even a tiny bit of curiosity, that this lack of realness will follow her wherever she goes, unless, again, she deceives herself.  Christianity confronts the lack of realness head on.  It provides answers concerning our purpose, evil, pain and suffering.  That is real.  She won’t find these answers elsewhere.  At best she will only be able to expend herself attempting the impossible task of rebuilding Eden.  And she will fail like the millions who have attempted it before her.

I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace.

The vail has been removed now and she is revealing her true reason for leaving, which is that she hates God.  She hates Him because He is Sovereign, and she is at war with Him, hence no peace.  But most of all she hates Him because he is Just.  She, like all people, has broken God’s law.  She, like you and I, have lied, and stolen, and have hated–which Jesus equates to murder.  We are all guilty, and there is a just reward for us all in our guilt.  But God, in his love, sent his Son to die on the cross.  He has reconciled us to Him through His Son.  He has made peace with us.  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”  Sure, there is a measure of peace that can be found in living in self-deception.  Whistling in the dark can gain a measure of peace I suppose.  But it doesn’t change the reality that not only will she sin against those around her, those around her will sin against her.  And while her sin might not seem all that bad to her, we can know that the sin of others, who do not buy into her way of thinking, will steal back what peace she might muster, and then some.

I left because I had discovered what real love looked like.

This is arrogance completely unveiled.  Can she really believe that she, a young person in the 21st century, has figured something out that 2000 years of scholars, martyrs and devouts missed?  Evidently so, and there is the arrogance.  Those lovers of God would be in tears to “learn” that the whole thing has been nothing but a hoax, perpetrated on hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years.  But not her.  Oh no.  She’s smarter than all that, and in her thinking herself smarter, she exudes pride.  She knows what real love is, and all those who have gone before were fooled, lacking perhaps the curiosity to not be fooled.  They had no idea what real love was.

Her curiosity ought to have led her to the realization of her ignorance.  Real love was Jesus dying on the cross for those who hated God, and then reconciling them to Himself while they were in the very act of warring against Him.  That’s real love.  Real love has nothing to do with feelings.  It has nothing to do with what’s in it for me… like achieving a few temporary and fleeting warm and fuzzies.  Dear children, please understand, you do not want her “real love”.  The love of self, and how others, or things, make the “self” feel is often mistaken for love.  But in reality it is only self-centeredness.

 

So what do I, your father, think about this?  I think that she is the victim of her times.  You will notice that she rejected a religion, and not the Gospel.  It is a religion that preaches grace without justice.  And, “God loves you unconditionally”  is a religious message devoid of the Gospel, and devoid of a need for the Gospel.  But you will hear it preached time and again.  And it will be preached to unsaved people who are already convinced that God loves them.  And some of them, with a little more curiosity, will know that the threat of eternal Hell fires make the message of unconditional love seem ever so slightly… inauthentic. In fact it is this very thing that she is pointing to in her statement: “I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity.” 

You will live in a time that has confused social service and unreal love with the Gospel, which removes the power from Christianity and relegates it to just another religion.  The Gospel is key, but the Gospel is not about how great you are in God’s eyes, but rather about what a sorry state you are in, in God’s eyes.  That is an extremely unpopular message in this day.  But once you understand it, the Gospel, and grace, are beautiful; much too beautiful to trade in for a worldly counterfeit.

I came out of the world that this poor girl has fallen in love with.  I know what lies ahead for her and can only hope she will be “very curious” after all.  But for me, I will never forget the words of Peter in John 6.  Jesus had just preached what seemed to those present to be a bizarre message, that one must drink His blood, and eat His flesh to have eternal life.  Most abandoned Him on hearing this, but not His disciples.  After all were gone, Jesus looked at them and asked, “Are you going to leave Me too?”  Peter responded, “To whom shall we go?”   If this girl had received the Gospel, if she had understood justice, and then mercy, she would have asked the same question.  “To whom shall I go?”  She would have known that that question is the question of the ages.

I pray that God would arrest you.  That you would understand justice too, and then mercy.  I pray that you would understand, in the great scheme of things that extend outward, far beyond your being, what a great salvation the salvation offered us through the cross is.

Your father

One Way To Free Yourself From The Surly Bonds Of Common Deceptions

Dear children,

Sometimes different things get mixed up and start swirling around together in such a way that makes them dangerous.  They can get so out of hand, in fact, that they wind up tearing lots of stuff up while standers-by watch, wide-eyed and gasping with hands over their mouths.  If you could pretend for a moment that separating the debris from the wind in a tornado would render it harmless, that would go a long way in helping me to explain what I want you to understand here.  For the truth is, in a lot of different things that seem to bring confusion, if we could separate the parts that make them that way, it might bring clarity.  In short, we need to be able to look at the whirlwind while discerning the dust from the wind.  I have learned that it is possible to train oneself to do this.  If I could teach you to do the same, perhaps I can help save you from some confusion, or at least to better understand the confusion that you will be finding yourself emersed in.

The difficulty in getting this across is first one of words, for I must attempt to explain it well enough, and with enough examples to get you started, while at the same time not bore you too much.  So, in order to attempt that, I’ll simply move right into a few kinds of examples of what I’m talking about:

Education and morality -I was working with a man recently who told me that his 16-year-old step-son was living alone in another state.  So I asked him how the boy was coming along without adult oversight?  He answered by telling me that the young man was making good grades.  But that didn’t answer my question.  He was confusing good grades with morality. You will find this to be quite a common thing.

As for me, I’ve seen news reports where young people have gotten into terrible trouble. The response from those who knew one of those involved was all too common. They always seem to be shocked. And, they’re shocked because, after all, the kid did make good grades.  You are living in a culture that idolizes education, and as such, I think it may be a little challenging for it to separate its little god of education from its morality. So when you are older, know your children’s heart as much as you are able.  Don’t confuse their smartness, or their accumulated knowledge, with their goodness.  And remember that really smart people can be really evil too while mental slowness is by no means a sign of a moral handicap.  I’m personally thankful for that one.

Another similar thing to education that gets mixed up with morality is health.  I asked a woman once why she thought her daughter’s fiance was a good man for her.  She seemed as though she had been caught off guard by the question. It was as if the thought had never occurred to her.  After thinking a bit she finally said that it was because he was healthy.  “Oh”, I said.  Still, many others confuse beauty with morality. But probably worse than anything else along these lines is the confusing of feelings with morality, as in, if it feels good, it’s moral.  But all of these are totally separate things and should be discerned from each other when deciphering the realities that whirl about you.

The institutionalization of sin – As I write this we await what might be the greatest spectacle of hubris ever put on display by man.  Nine judges are going to decide if a square can be a circle. Of course, that’s not what they’re really deciding, but it might as well be because deciding whether or not a man can marry another man is equally as absurd.  Of course, the court’s decision will have no bearing on reality, but rather it can only succeed in changing the meaning of a word: “marriage”.  It will also determine in many ways whether or not we will be a nation that plans on living in reality or some fantasy land.

But be that as it may, the Church has for some time been in a difficult place concerning such cause-celeb sins of our day, only because so many in its midst have not separated the debris from the wind.  As is typical, there are many things that are happening at the same that must be understood separately if they are to be understood at all.  For example here are two things that work together.  On the one hand, Jesus clearly taught His followers to love their neighbors as themselves. And I am inclined to believe that Jesus did not mean to exclude those who practice any certain sin as being our neighbor.  But, on the other hand, there are political movements afoot that are much greater than any one individual and we must not confuse a poor soul with a political movement.  These movements appear to have as their goal the wiping away of all vestiges of God, family, and Church as the Bible defines these entities; preferring instead to redefine them in ways that are more malleable and palatable.  They approach under the cover of compassion, and they seem to only be requesting from the Church what Jesus commanded of it anyway.  But Jesus also taught that the Church is the light in this world.  He never taught us to have compassion for political movements that seek to justify sin.  Sadly, many Christians bristle at the suggestion that there should be any resistance to these movements because they are simply unable to differentiate between resisting collective evil and loving an individual caught up in that evil.

We are to preach the Gospel to the individual, which includes repentance and forgiveness.  We are to shine a light into dark places in this world, which we know will cause it to hate us, and our Savior.  But Jesus tells us that some will repent and become redeemed children of God.  We are to be the very hands of God, pulling individuals from the torrents of collective evil, and not fearing what man thinks of us for daring to call those torrents evil.

Judging others – Sin destroys.  So, we have on the one hand your sin.  And then on the other we have my sin.  And the two are similar things in that they both destroy.  But they are different things too, in that we are two different human beings.  When a loved one calls us out on our sin we have a choice. We can feel attacked, and we can make counter-accusations, but in doing so we cause a destructive whirlwind.  If I, your father–or someone else who is a friend–points out sin in your life, it is a loving thing for them to do and you ought to see it as such.  It is foolish to evade such love by daring them to “judge” you because they themselves are not without sin.  If anyone wants to discuss the sin in my life, let us do so. There is much to discuss. But let us not discuss my sin at the same time as we discuss theirs.

If we dare not help each other pick the splinters from our eyes, we will end up both blinded, and the best we could ever hope for is to not wander into a pit. Blinded is where much of Christendom lives today, but you don’t have to live there.  Thank the brother who loves you enough to hold you accountable. And don’t be afraid to love others enough to hold them accountable.   It is important to understand that no one else’s sin makes your sin not sin.  Desire to live righteously.  Ask the one who points out your sin to help you overcome it as you help others in any way you can.

______________________

So here I have given you just a few examples of how some things that would otherwise confound can be better understood.  I hope that you will train yourself to disassemble them and grasp and interact with their component parts separately.   If you work on thinking in this way it will become your second nature, and you will be all the wiser for it.  I pray that you would grow in this area.

Your father

Beware Of Church Forms

Dear children,

When I was a child my dad had our driveway paved with concrete.  It was an exciting time for us because we would have a place to ride our bicycles and roller skates.  He began the project with an old farm tractor, scraping the driveway as level as he could.  Then those who were experts in concrete came out and set up little wooden barriers along the sides of where the driveway would be.  Next the cement truck came and poured the formless “mud” in between the barriers, which are called forms.  It filled the area, flowing out against the forms, and adopted the shape of what would become our new driveway.  Once it hardened, we threw the forms away.

But think about it.  Did the concrete need the forms to become a useful driveway?  Not really.  The concrete could have just as easily been poured right out onto the ground and the top smoothed out for a place to drive.  But there’s something about the order of the straight edges that is more pleasing to our eyes.

I would learn later in life that more things use forms than just concrete; many more things in fact.  One of those things is the church.   In some ways the church is like wet concrete in that it has liberty.  The Bible really doesn’t say that much about how we ought to do church, so in some ways the whole Sunday morning observance is formless.  It’s like the cement truck pouring out wet mud for us to do with as appeals to us most.  Some like to simply pour the mud out and let it flow wherever.  Others like to build elaborate forms that make elaborate shapes.  And then there’s everything in between.

But like concrete, the church also hardens.  It takes jack hammers and chisels to change the shape of hardened concrete, and pretty much with church forms too, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  This is true… well, maybe mostly or somewhat true, for every church form, even the “formless” forms.  Yes, some like to think that since they didn’t use a form that they are still malleable.  But that’s not true.  Just try to put some shape into a hardened pile of concrete and you’ll see what I mean.  The formlessness is itself the form.  And others like to think that because they have elaborate forms, that their forms make them orthodox, or at least protect them against unorthodoxy.  That’s not true either.

I just read of a pastor who surprised his congregation one Sunday by installing a pulpit and wearing a suit and tie.  In other words, he tried to changed the form of the service a tiny bit.  He said that even though his preaching style didn’t change, nor his message or doctrines, he was accused of being a false teacher by some, changing his doctrines by others, and still more unpleasant things by yet others.  He was shocked by the response.  My guess is that if a preacher who wears vestments and uses a big elevated pulpit, removed the pulpit and wore a tee-shirt and skinny jeans one Sunday, the result would be much the same.  Why is that?  It’s because the forms are important to us as man, and we all need to realize that so that we can actively distinguish between truths and forms.

Western “Church” 1  has an overall shape something like this:  We sing some songs as a form of worship, and then we listen to a message.  You would be hard pressed to find a church that doesn’t fit this basic form. Since the Bible is not specific on exactly how it’s done, there is liberty to do it this way, or to not I would say.  But within that form you will find many different sub-forms.  Some want upbeat songs with lots of instruments, and others want more solemn songs, or no instruments, or whatever.  Some people want a preacher who gives a little chit chat, and others want a preacher who yells to make his points.  So each believer goes to the particular church that suits his particular fancy, and that’s kind of how it all works; and that’s fine I guess.  But be on your guard.  The mere existence of all of these forms can invite decption into your midst and your minds.  Here’s how.

As someone once said, the mind of man is a 24/7 idol factory, and church forms are not immune to becoming, in themselves, idols.  They, in fact, can become such an idol that the form becomes more important than the content.  Consider that performing is an idol for a musician.  Then it’s easy to see how the “worship band” form can become a performance opportunity for that man.  Many apostate pop-stars in fact got their start right there on the worship team at some church.  Or for the rhetorician want-a-be, perhaps the preachers’ unique style, or ability to engross, can be an idol.  Then there’s the experience worshipper, the form of emotional music with an emotional “message” might be more important than teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs 2  for that person.  There really is no shortage of ways to turn forms into idols.  Some worship families, others youth, and still others liturgy; all of which are fine to a point.  But then again, that’s what makes them a more hideous kind of deception.  It’s all so good and righteous… until it’s not.

You ought, therefore, to watch yourselves.  I would that you simply love God’s Word, and His truth that is revealed within, no matter what form it’s poured into.  Rote singing of doctrinally sound hymns with cold, dead indifference is worse than singing a twenty minute, upbeat ten-word song with great joy and thanksgiving over the truth it conveys.  And, in like manner, all the joy, hand clapping, yelling and dancing in the world can’t make up for singing the singing of a lie to the same kind of music, even if it does have the word “Jesus” somewhere in the lyrics.  Guard your hearts.  Form is not an indicator of truth, and truth is not confined by forms.  Yet, if reverence for God and His Word are not present, then that’s a good indicator that things have gone awry.

It is glaringly apparent that no form has thwarted the deluge of apostasy in our day, but only the hearts of men who have kept God’s Word.  Truth always trumps form.  Always!  So the more you love God and His truth from scripture, the less the forms will matter to you.

I pray for you dear children that God would put an unquenchable thirst for Himself, and His truth in your hearts; that you would see past the distractions that are so plentiful, and that God would bless you with discernment.  I pray that wisdom would reign in your hearts and minds, and that you would not get swept away by this fad or that, but that you would set your faces toward the mark, eyes fixed on Jesus, and that you would walk the path laid out for you.

Your father

________________________

1. We should always remember that “Church” is much more than a weekly service, but here, the weekly service is all I’m referring to.

2. Colossians 3:16

Living In Reality

Dear children,

Every now and then you will hear someone say that so and so has lost touch with reality or some such thing.  Or they may even question the existence of reality.  So I think it’s worth thinking about, the question, what is reality?  It might seem like a dumb question at first, but it isn’t really.  In fact, it’s a question you should be asking yourself regularly.  So, to begin, let’s look at the definition of the word.  It is  “The state of things as they actually exist”.  My own one-word definition is, “truth.”  And as you will learn in this life dear children, truth can at times be quite evasive.

As I’ve discussed before in these letters, we are living in two different worlds at the same time.  There is the natural world and the spiritual world.  So granted, if we are defining reality in terms of this material world only, then the question of reality might rightly be judged as a dumb one.  Not many people question the existence of physical things.

However, we should remember that some things are abstract, that is to say that they’re neither physical or spiritual.  A man can be living with his wife, for example, and have no idea that she is secretly planning to divorce him in a year.  He may be making plans for his family’s future, but unfortunately, he’s not living in reality. He is in fact ignorant of reality and is on a collision course with it.  So let us first conclude that one does not need to acknowledge the existence of a spiritual world to understand that reality extends beyond physical things.  That is the first challenge, even for the atheist, of keeping our feet firmly planted in reality.  And it is also important to consider that had this man acknowledged the spiritual world, namely the existence of a personal God and Savior, it might well have helped him avoid his blissful ignorance.

Another barrier to grasping reality is change.  As time moves along things seem to be in a constant state of flux.  Standards appear to morph over time.  So, since we all experience this change, especially in social mores, we can see how we could see change as normal.  And we can also see how we could then define reality as that which we consider normal based on our experience.  It has become normal and acceptable, for example, that it is good for a woman to have her unborn child put to death because she doesn’t want him. That is normal, so it is what we experience, and so it is reality and so it is moral. Increasingly, understanding reality as a mixed bag of propositions that contradict each other defines the culture in which you live.  Such a culture is in the process of losing touch with reality.  So be warned, to buy into the cultural mindset of “normal” is to exit reality.  But we will discover that reality is not simply wished away.  It has a way of imposing itself on us after all.

As older generations die, with them die an old and more realistic way of seeing this world.  As the young of each new generation enter society they will not only be the product of 12 years of secular humanist education, they will also increasingly be the product of parents who are themselves products of secular humanist’s education.  The world you are living in, therefore, is in the midst of a great shift.  The mindset that there is no truth will not only be prevalent in your world, it will become even more prevalent with the passage of time.  You can expect, therefore, that anyone who holds that absolute truth does exist will be seen as abnormal, and even immoral.  This reality will present you with some challenges that are, perhaps, unique to your time.  You must not only hold fast to the truth that there is truth, you must hold fast to the truth.

Indeed, the belief that there is truth, is the starting point.  You will discover that there is another question, which is epistemological in its nature, and which must be considered if you will have any hope of living in reality.  That question is, “Can truth be known?”  We can believe all day long that truth exists, but if we are also convinced that truth cannot be known, its existence makes little difference.  So, let me emphatically answer that question for you: Yes! Truth can be known!  There is a higher order.  Reality exists, and you can know it.  The claim that truth cannot be known is a proposition that, like many popular propositions in your time, that is self-defeating.  It ought to raise the question right away,  “How can you then know that your claim is true?”  If one is to be consistent he must admit that he can’t know.  But you will find that those who do not live in reality seldom concern themselves with the internal consistencies of their worldviews.  Don’t be like that yourselves, especially if living in reality seems like something you’d like to do.

It is a stubborn thing, reality.  Man cannot create or rearrange it to suit his preferences or pleasures.  You will either live in reality, or you will be on a collision course with it.  If I believe that I can jump off a cliff and not get hurt, the moment I jump I will have set an appointment with reality, no matter how much I deny its existence on the way down.  In the same way, if I set sail on the sea of life in a ship constructed on the basis that truth can’t be known, I will have also set an appointment with reality.  Unfortunately for me however, since I deny that I can know truth, I won’t even realize that it was my own faulty compass that brought my life smashing against the rocky shores of reality.  Such is the nature of truth I suppose.  If you deny it can be known, then a shipwrecked life is nothing more than “stuff happens”.  But you don’t have to live this way.

Jesus told us that He was the way, the truth and the life.  There are reasonable and rational reasons to believe that He was indeed all of these, and much more.  So, with this in mind, let us look to His words:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt 7:24-27)

To be sure, “stuff does happen”.  Storms were a reality for both of these houses.  They will also be the reality in your life. The only real question is, will your house still be standing when it’s over?  Will your “reality” going into the storm be the same as your “reality” coming out of the storm?  Are the particulars of  your mindset, your worldview and your reality strong enough to withstand the winds of reality?  I pray that they are.

In closing, let me simply give you a few pointers to help you live in reality.

First, be open to the fact that you will have blind spots.  In the same way that you can see things in the lives of others that they can’t, they can see things in your life that you can’t.  If they love you they will won’t to help you.  Don’t dismiss their concerns.  Their love for you is trying to move you toward reality.  God made us to be relational, and part of relationships is just this sort of “building each other up”.  In that regard be approachable.  The truth often hurts and as such is often difficult to hear from a friend.  Love those who love you you enough to hurt you in order to make you better.

Second, renew your mind.  Paul admonishes us to not conform to this world, which is not according to reality, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  (Rom 12:2)  We renew our minds by programming it to think Biblically, and we program it to think Biblically by reading the Bible and asking God to teach us.  As our minds are renewed reality becomes increasingly clear.  We can discern the rocky shores long before we can see them.

Third, resolve inconsistencies.  Here are four ways to be consistent in your life and thinking.

  1. Live a life that is consistent with scripture.  God speaks to us through His Word.  Ask for God’s help that you may live according to his Word.  Remember that you are not earning your salvation, but are simply living it out.
  2. Avoid holding to internal inconsistencies.  We can’t, on the one hand for example, claim that God’s law no longer applies and then, on the other hand, say it’s wrong when someone steals our wallet.  That would be inconsistent and so therefore unrealistic.  Be aware that some internally inconsistent ideas are more difficult to resolve than they may at first appear.  That’s Ok.  Wrestle with them.
  3. Learn history, and especially the history of God’s Church, then think consistently with that history.  Don’t get sucked into “normal”.  God did not change his mind about things according to how they fit with an era or culture.  Still, you will find that consistency with historic views will be inconsistent with contemporary views.  Be aware also that old does not mean true.  Every age and place is impacted by the winds of that particular culture and place, so always start with scripture.  Look for consistencies throughout the history of Christianity, then try to remain consistent with those things.  God leads and directs His Church.  Be careful of “new-found” thinking or revelation.  You, right now, are living in a great falling away from the Church in America, a great apostasy.  The same denominations that are now confused about sins that are popular with culture, were the first ones to embrace other “new ideas” a hundred or so years ago.  Think beyond your own times.
  4. Understand your words.  Think about what they mean when you speak them, but more importantly, when you think them. Many times inconsistencies are present without our even realizing it simply because of the way we define words.  This is most evident in how we understand the word “love”, as well as what we expect from those who love us, and how we interact with those we love.  We can know that we are not living in reality when the meanings of our words morph, but our use of them does not.

I pray that you would live your lives in the city of reality.  I pray that you would be ever growing in the truth and knowledge of Jesus Christ, as the deceptions of this world grow ever darker.  It will be a battle for you, but it will be a battle that you, and your mother and I,  can fight shoulder to shoulder.

Your father

Legalism, God’s Law, And Confusion

Dear children,

I do so desire that confusion not plague your lives in Christ.  And one thing that seems to have wrought a fair amount of confusion in this current age is a misunderstanding of legalism.  The confusion revolving around legalism is twofold and  involves both an increasingly doctrine-adverse Church and a culture that is becoming thoroughly intolerant of moral absolutes.  Each seems to feed off the other as God’s law becomes ever increasingly hated in the culture and shunned within church congregations and among their leaders under the guise of avoiding legalism.  And while legalism is a bad thing, the definition of it is being turned on its head with the effect of more and more people in and out of the Church living according to what is right in their own eyes.  To point to God’s Word and suggest that God has a law designed to restrain evil is now met with charges of legalism.  But it’s not legalism.  God has already determined what is right and wrong, so we don’t get to now change that.  Also, appealing to God’s law to determine right from wrong, and legalism are two different things.

So first let us start with my first premise by pointing to a fundamental doctrine.  Good doctrine, by the way, helps us to steer clear of error and confusion so it’s always a good starting point when confronting confusion.  So, in order to work through reconciling “God’s law” with “God’s grace” let us start with the doctrine of “God’s sovereignty” which teaches that there is absolutely nothing that man can do to save himself.  Legalism, on the other hand says that there is not only something that man can do, but there is something he must do, to be saved.  But the Bible does not teach that no more than it teaches that grace is a licence to abandon God’s law.  The doctrine of God’s sovereignty teaches that our salvation is totally God’s doing.   Paul gave us the reason for this.  It was so that “no man may boast”.

So to help us think through this let us ponder a little question.  “Why should God let you into heaven when you die”?  The answer to that question cannot use the word “I”, not even once, because to use the word “I” means that did something.  And if did something, even a tiny little itty bitty thing, then have reason to boast before my fellow man and before God.  And God will not have that.  If the evangelist knocks on your door, for example, and presents the Gospel to you, and you understand it and repent, and after he leaves your house he goes to your neighbor’s house and presents him with the same message, and he rejects it, what is the difference between you and your neighbor?  Were you smarter than him?  Wiser?  More open-minded?  If so, you have a reason to boast.  But scripture is clear that  no man has reason to boast.  This truth is our starting point for everything.  Our salvation is a work of God, begun while we were still living in rebellion.

Secondly, it only stands to reason that if there was anything at all, no matter how small, that you could do to receive the Gospel, then there is also something that you could do to lose the Gospel.  Again, not possible.  It is by God’s will that you are saved, and not by your own will, not even a molecule-sized piece of it.  So if there is nothing you could have done to gain your salvation, then there is no law that you could break once you’re saved to lose your salvation.  So three things to consider here: 1) To earn your salvation through your own works is legalism. 2) To keep your salvation through obeying God’s law is also legalism. 3) God’s law still exists.

Even though we know that no righteousness on our part can earn us salvation, it’s still a good thing to desire to live righteously, and the Bible teaches as much.  And to desire to live righteously requires a desire to know what righteousness is.  That knowledge comes from God’s law, without which righteousness would become subjective and worldly.  It would simply mean doing what is right in our own eyes.  We are experiencing that all around in this age.  Keep in mind also that any righteousness we attain comes from the indwelling Spirit of Christ, which is a free gift from God.  It is not you, but Christ in you.  We can thank God for that, and indeed thankfulness and praise is the only appropriate response.

You need to make peace with the fact that you will never keep the law. It can no more be done than being the perfect child, or the perfect father.  But the desire to be good children, or good parents, is not thwarted by our failures, nor does it change the fact that we are children and parents.

For now I love you and I am praying that you will continue to fix your eyes on Jesus, casting off every sin that entangles you, and running with perseverance the race before you.

Your father

The Main Stream

Dear children,

We are all in this life faced with a choice between being in the so-called “mainstream” and not being there.  You will hear that word bandied about a lot in your life and when you do hear it, it will almost always be used in what is called a logical fallacy that argues in favor of something on the bases of “everyone else is doing it”.  So if you don’t either do it or agree with it being done then you’re not in the “mainstream”; and that’s suppose to be bad.  Unfortunately, this convinces many people to go with the flow, (pun intended) because it is only natural to want to fit in and be accepted.

But that word, “mainstream”, connotes a river flowing down hill.  It is flowing according to the course set by the happenstance of geography; and according to the least amount of resistance.  And it is flowing with great force.  Its flow might be temporarily impeded at times, as with a dam, but the river will overcome and destroy the impediment eventually. It is always only a matter of time.  In the middle of the river the current is strong and that is where the greatest mass of water exists and moves .  But then you have the water that is close to the edge that might be flowing slower, or perhaps almost not at all.  I think therefore that the word is quite accurate as it describe the masses of humanity.  I would also say that I do not want to be in the mainstream, nor do I think that that we are called by God to be there.  So let us go to the scriptures and see why.

Let us begin with one of my favorites which is Romans 12:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Rom 12:2)

Paul could have just as easily used the word “mainstream” instead of “world”, because in reality the main flow of this world is based on how the world thinks.  Our thinking is formulated.  We think about things according to a framework that is either installed by our culture, or by something else.  That framework is constructed of points of reference from which we make determinations and judgements.  Those who are in the middle of the river do not feel the current.  Their reference point is the water around them, which appears to be sitting still.  Rather it is the river’s edge that is moving.  But here God calls us to another set of reference points for our thinking.   He calls us to touch the bottom of the river, to stand up, and to begin our walk to the edge.  But as soon as we attempt to stand, the current becomes powerfully obvious.

We also have this gem in 1st John chapter 2:

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.   (1 John 2:15-17)

John is also giving us a contrast between the mainstream and our walk with God.  Those in the mainstream love the mainstream.  They work hard to appeal to the thinking of the mainstream, with all of its lusts, and they are proud of the fact that they “fit in”, and they do not like those who don’t.  If you walk out your life with your feet on solid ground, that is, not being “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14) you will experience the ere of this world.  But for me, being hated by the “mainstream” is comforting and assuring.  It is when I find myself in agreement with this world’s thinking that I become afraid.  And that is as it should be because Jesus warns us that the world first hated him and it will hate us also.  He also warns us to be concerned “when all men speak well of [us]” (Luke 6:26).

The idea of being called out of this world’s way of thinking, as it turns out, is not a New Testament idea.  We have God calling Noah out the world and into an ark that separated him and his family from the “mainstream”, which killed everyone. And again, we see God beginning the operation of redeeming His world by calling Abram out of the world as Abram knew it:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you...”  (Gen 12:1)

After God called Abram into his new life, he gave him a new name, Abraham, the progeny of which, many years later through providence, ended up in Egypt.  And then God called His children out of Egypt as well.

And then in the end of the scriptures we see again, as we read in the apocalyptic writing of Revelation, God commanding “His people” to “come out” of what might well be considered the “mainstream”:

“For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.”  I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. “  (Rev 18:3-6)

Remember that the mainstream flows downhill.  It does not war against its flesh, but on the contrary it embraces and celebrates it along with all of its carnal desires.  (Romans 1) Rather than war against the flesh, they war against those who do “war against their flesh”.  But man knows deep down all is not well.  He knows that he is in trouble.  So many attempt to console themselves beyond the approval of the masses by adopting the parts of the Christian religion they like.  They find consolation by extracting verses from scripture like the one that promises that God will remember our sins no more. (Heb 8:12)  But this promise is clearly only true for those who are hidden in Christ.  In this passage from Revelations, it is a downright terrifying thought that God “has remembered her iniquities”.

There is one passage that is perhaps the most explicit and poignant when it comes to calling people out of  the “mainstream”.  Jesus is crystal clear in this short passage that following Jesus is not mainstream, and the mainstream are not following Jesus:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  (Matt 7:13-14)

Not only are we to make our way out of the mainstream–and its thought forms and lifestyles–we are to then walk along a narrow “stream”, so to speak.  The water in this path does not push you along with great force.  It is quiet and gentle, and there is peace to be found in its midst.

We are living in radical times.  The battles being waged against God and His law are hot and often.  The force of the mainstream, which was impeded for a time in the nation into which you were born, has breached the dam.  There are tumultuous times ahead for those now floating comfortably in the backwaters.  But if you will be found in Christ, while you will not be spared trials and hardships, if you will cling to him you will find your feet always planted on the solid rock that cannot be swept away by the raging torrents.

Dear children, we don’t know how strongly our feet are planted until the floods come.  But I pray that that your feet, and our, your parent’s, feet will be planted firmly.  I pray it often that God would fix us fast to His Son in order that we would not be swept away.  All around us it is happening.  Everyday news comes of some church, or man of the church, who has lost his footing and has been swept away.  So as the scriptures point out…

You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.
A thousand may fall at your side
And ten thousand at your right hand,
But it shall not approach you.
(Ps 91:5-7)

 …so I pray for you.  May it be so dear LORD, may it be so.

Your father

Some Management Advice For Disappointment

Dear children

We are fallen creatures and as such we don’t always behave well.   Knowing and accepting this fact is a good first step on the road to becoming a decent human being.  As I often tell you, the worst battles in your life will be with your very self.  With that in mind I would like to write to you this day on managing disappointments.  Here are four thoughts on how to do this.

1. Manage your expectations.

When it comes to managing disappointments this is a preemptive action.  What should we expect out of life?  Well one thing we ought to expect is a healthy dose of disappointment.  If we expect it, then we won’t be disappointed when it comes… if you catch my drift.

Also, when disappointment finally does arrive, we should also be realistic about what it is exactly that we are disappointed about.  As my good friend says, there’s a worm in everything.  We are masters at building the things that we look forward to up in our minds to be bigger and better than they could have ever actually been.  Such disappointments could be as big and encompassing as a career or failed marriage engagement, or something as small as a birthday party.  But when, for whatever reason, a thing we are so looking forward to doesn’t com to pass, we need to first realize that our disappointment is not with the loss of the actual thing but rather the loss of an idea that was created in our minds that is necessarily without the unforeseen worms.

Also, while we should have hopes, goals and dreams that are worth looking forward to or achieving, we should not hold them so tightly that we lose our sense of reality.  I once wanted to play the guitar and sing.  You both know that I can’t sing, which is something that I didn’t know when I first picked up the guitar.  I can’t sing because I am somewhat tone deaf, which is also why I’ll never be able to play any musical instrument very well.  Things like this, and much much worse, are going to happen.  When they do, some of them will have the potential to change our course in life from that which we expected; and we can expect that.  So it is important to manage those expectations and adapt, both in the big things and the little.

2. Manage Your Disappointments 

You can find yourselves a little depressed for a few days, when something small like, say, a vacation falls through.  Or it can be devastating when that fiance lets you know that there’s been a change of heart.  If we have managed our expectations well then hopefully we are more prepared to manage our disappointments.  First there are things we should do, like being honest with ourselves and others.  Larger disappointments are generally the result of an accumulation of causes.  As such we should accept our own responsibility for bringing them about and so learn from our failures.  We should let those close to us know that we are battling disappointment, and ask their forgiveness for the times that this battle has and will spill over into the relationship.  Ask for grace from those you love, and extend grace to those who are not handling your behavior well.  We should grieve if grief is due.  And we should realize that time will heal our wounds.  Your life will not be made by a few successes, nor will it be ruined, by a few failures and disappointments.  It will be an accumulation of successes and failures, wins and losses, victories and disappointments of all types that will end up making your life what it will be, and you who you are.  Learning to manage disappointments well will make it easier and quicker to climb out of the valleys when they come.  So begin now to learn how.

3. Manage Yourself

It is a learned skill to manage one’s self, though it does take some longer than others.  The learning process will be quicker if you realize that you are in the midst of just that, a process.  You will find that this process will be a life long venture that ever requires development and fine-tuning.

You can start with your thought life.  As I always say, think about what you’re thinking about.  Manage your thinking so that you don’t descend into an emotional pit.  If we actively attempt to direct our thought life it is actually possible to gain some semblance of control over it.  This will go a long way in helping you to manage your emotions and so manage yourself.

Second, ask for help.  Everyone, either knowingly or unknowingly. manages themselves in some way.  When you know someone who does this well, try to glean from their abilities.  But also keep in mind that everyone’s disposition is not the same.  Some are simply predisposed to dealing with adversity better than others.  But neither is anyone stuck where they are.  Growth is always possible.

4. Manage Your Relationships

There is probably nothing external to yourself that will determine your destiny more than the company you keep.  Some friends will feed your disappointment with words of rage.  You will be strangely drawn to their affirmation of your disappointment as it feeds a monster within, and your own thoughts will grow increasingly bitter.  This is Godlessness and it leads to misery.

There are some friends however who will come along side of you and give you a measure of comfort.  But they will also help you overcome your disappointment by assisting you in getting beyond it.  They will have grace for your failures, and will desire what is best in you and for you.  They can also help you gain some perspective that is outside of yourself and your current trial, and can help you see more clearly the reality that, no matter what the disappointment, not all is lost.

For this reason it is of the utmost importance that you choose relationships wisely.  Realize when someone is aggravating a situation, or is helping to heal it.  And with this in mind, be the friend to others that you need for yourself.  Learn from good friends how to be a good friend and be willing to teach the same in a loving way.

________________________________

So, dear children, I wish that I could say that I have lived up to this advice.  But, as I am well aware that you know, and that you know that I know, this has not been the case.  Still, I think that you would agree that I am not the same now as I was, and in fact have grown in my abilities to manage these things also.  And that’s just it.  Growth is all that I would ever expect from you, and it is also all that you should expect from yourselves.  I pray that God will give you the wisdom early to have success in managing this thing we call our flesh so that your lives will be Godly, and filled with as much happiness as one can expect while living in this sin soaked world.

Your father.

Love God

Dear children

I  can sum up every thing I want to say to you in these letters by simply repeating the greatest command: Love God.  Those two words, as simple as they are on the surface, will require your entire life to unpack, and perhaps even an eternity for all I know.  So here are a few things to think about concerning this simple challenge.

1. Don’t get things turned around.  Jesus said if you love me you will follow my commandments.  Some get this turned around and hear “you love me because you follow my commandments”.  Love God first, then following God’s commandments will flow from the Spirit.  If you simply attempt to will yourself to follow rules and rudiments, splitting hairs on what you can do in order to not cross a line into what you can’t, then you will be acting in the flesh.  Studying the law in order to live a hair’s width inside of it is not loving God, and it doesn’t lead to following God’s commands either.  When this is your mindset, you are not keeping the greatest commandment.

2. Pray.  Ask God to put in your heart ever more love for Him.  Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength is not a natural thing, and so we are not, in our fleshy selves, inclined to do it.  Loving God is a spiritual thing, and God is capable of giving  you love for himself based on His grace.  Once you love Him, living your life free from sin will be easier, though not easy.  But don’t let the “not easy” dissuade you.  No direction that you take in your life will be an easy one, even if you decide to reject God and live in rebellion.  If it looks easy, or it promises ease, you can know that Satan is involved somewhere.

3. Read the scriptures.  As God, by His grace, puts a love for Himself in your heart, you will also love the scriptures.  As you love the scriptures you will find that they will increasingly become an anchor for you in a world that seems bent on going mad.  You will find, as your knowledge of God through the scriptures increases, that your Biblical worldview will at the same time grow stronger.  This will make you wise beyond your years, and it will guide you in avoiding much anguish and many tears, though not all anguish and tears.

4. Fight.  Paul, an apostle, and the one who physically penned much of the New Testament, said at the end of his life “I have fought the good fight”.  The love of God is worth fighting for, and your foe will be your own self and your carnal desires which lead to death.  What ever it takes therefor dear children, fight the good fight and love God.

5. Choose friends wisely.  They will help you fight the good fight, and you will help them.  The love of God is contagious.  Time spent among a body of believers that loves God will encourage you to love God all the more, and you will likewise encourage others.  But those in your inner circle will in many ways determine who you become.  Choose friends who challenge you, in how they live, and who also love you enough to challenge you personally by holding you accountable.

6. Be discerning.  As you know, I love doctrine.  I think doctrine is important to the extreme.  But I don’t like doctrine worship.  I am not drawn to those whose love for God has grown cold, but they can cite doctrine like a lawyer.  More likely than not, however, in this current culture you will encounter the other side of that extreme.  There are those who know a few verses, which by themselves can appeal to the man-centered heart, but who are otherwise ignorant of God and His Word.  You will know these because they will be repulsed by the teaching of doctrine and drawn to emotional experiences.  The love of self in these is confused with the love of God.  God is “loved” because He sees “what a special person I am, and He promises to give me lots of stuff and heal me when I am sick.”  Often these people’s lives will be in a perpetual state of turmoil because they lack discernment and wisdom because they lack proper doctrine.

7. Love others.  Everyone, you will find, is living somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes.  Do the best you can to love them all and to help them where they are weak as they help you.  Pray to your Father in Heaven and ask Him to give you discernment.  You will need it!

8.  And finally, seek to understand deeply the meaning of that word “love”.  It does not mean what this world says it means.  Search the scriptures so that you might gain clarity concerning this word.

Your mother and I remind each other daily of our number one desire for you.  It is a desire that surpasses every other  including your education and how well you make it in your life financially, both of which are prevailing idols of this age.  We desire more than anything else that you would love God with all of your heart mind soul and strength.  We have desired it also for ourselves and before we were even married set that goal, as much as we were able, as the foundation of what our lives would be about.  As you have noticed, we have failed, but the goal is still there.  Pray for us dear children as we pray for you that indeed our God would become the love of our lives in ever deeper ways.

Your father

 

 

Three Things You Need To Know About Politics

Dear children,

You will find in your life that there are only two things about which people can be trusted to passionately disagree: politics and religion.  That’s because the individual mindsets that undergird these kissing cousins are rightly the root of every controversy because they mark the intersection of life, truth, and reality.  Most will contend that there should be a wall that separates the two.  Those who say such things are being foolish and naive.  They are asking for others to do something that they themselves  can’t pull off. They are, in fact, asking for the impossible.

So in this letter I would like to give you three basics to consider when you are thinking about politics.

By “politics” I mean the process of sinners choosing sinners to govern sinners

Man is fallen, and just because any man (or woman) has convinced over half of a group of people to vote for him, that doesn’t suddenly remove his sinful nature.  On the contrary, power has a way of leeching our sinful nature to the surface. The first basic is this: man is not basically good.  This is a true statement even for those elected to government, and perhaps even especially for those elected to government. Knowing this will put you a long way ahead of your countrymen when it comes to politics.

Our founders understood this basic truth about man and so gave us a government with divided powers.  But that was an age still steeped in a Biblical worldview.  The government was therefore formed by a people who had an understanding of human nature that reflected reality.

This is not so today.  Even most people who attend a Church somewhere reject this basic truth concerning man’s depraved condition.  So these two realities should not surprise you: One, that many will be willing to believe that there are a select few who are benevolent and righteous, and two, they’ll be willing to make them their little gods in Washington in hopes that they’ll usher in a Utopian paradise.  But merely believing a thing does not make it true.  What is true is true, and no amount of denial will make truth or its effects go away.  So unlike those around you, who see gods and devils in Washington, it would be wise for you to not expect very much in the way of righteousness from your elected leaders.  That they might eke out a few decent laws is at best unlikely, and at worst a pipe-dream.

Politics is downstream of culture

Never forget that if a tsunami washed in and killed all 545 politicians and judges in Washington DC, the 20 percent of the society that votes would simply vote other people with the same “religion” back into office.  Reprobates do not elect righteous politicians.  So if you want to change government you will want to do two things.  First, start by spreading the Gospel and discipleship.  The Bible says that when we are born again that we are new creatures in Christ and have gained the mind of Christ (1st Cor 2:14-16).  It also says that the new disciple will see things differently, that he will have a different perspective on life and therefore will have a different perspective on what kind of laws should be governing the land.  He will know that elected sinners are not the final arbiters of good and evil, that taking wealth from one sinner and giving it to another is not compassion, charity, or loving, and that all men who have been given the reigns of power ought to be viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion.  He will also know that no man, no matter how righteous, is going to change the culture by forcing external behaviors.  The heart must be changed and only the Gospel is can do that.

Second, you must think intergenerationally.  You must look beyond your own life and into the future.  Societies are not won due to the work of one generation, nor the outcome of one election.  I, your father, hold no hope in seeing a better land for you with my own eyes.  My hope is that you, if you do the hard work of first teaching your own children, and second, of spreading the Gospel, might see a glimmer.  Scripture tells us that children are like arrows shot into the future.  You are my arrows, and I pray that you will be sharp and true, and not only that, but that your children would be the same.

Politicians are political

Always remember, for the man to win an election he must convince only about 20, maybe 30, percent of the people to vote for him.  20 percent you ask?  Well yes, something like that, because as best I can determine, only about 40 percent of your fellow countrymen actually vote, and the politician will only need 1% over half of those to win.  A good politician, that is, a person who is good at politicking, will know this, even if his constituency does not.  So when you hear a politician say something that you find to be outrageous, just remember he is not speaking for the benefit of all, but to only a relatively small group of people.

Also, it’s important to realize that every human does what he does because of a motivation.  Voters and politicians are no different.  Voters may well want free handouts from government and thus are motivated to vote likewise.  Others want to keep what they earn rather than have it confiscated, and so they also will vote likewise.  All want righteous laws, but all define “righteousness” differently, and so they vote accordingly.

Politicians are motivated also.  This is natural and normal, unless the politician actually and foolishly thinks he is a little god. They realize that no matter what they want, good or bad, selfish or altruistic, they must win elections to make it happen.  So they are necessarily motivated to please enough people to bring that about.

In conclusion

Politics is people and people are political.  Where two or more are gathered, there you will find politics.  One person will emerge the leader, even if there are only two.  That does not mean that the leader always gets his way, but only that he will be the one behind every decision the two–or more–make together as one.  Add ten people and it gets more complicated.  Add a hundred and little factions begin to emerge.  Add a couple thousand and then there are even more factions which begin to coalesce into parties.  The individuals exert themselves in the factions, the factions exert themselves in the parties and the parties exert themselves on the whole.  This is how things are.  It is reality.  No one in a group ever gets what they want; no one.  The final outcome will reflect the collective morality of the people, but not necessarily their collective will.

So I pray, as your father, that you would gain wisdom from the scriptures and vote accordingly.  Remember that the natural state of man in his six thousand years or so of history is slavery, not liberty.  Either way, fix your eyes on the author and perfecter of your faith and run the race laid out before you with perseverance.  Preach to and disciple your children in the Gospel, even as you live it out before them.  Pray that God would instill it into the hearts of your children, your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children.

Your father

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