Discipleship Quick Tip: Metaphors in the Bible

Discipleship Quick Tip

“How can God be a rock?” my seven-year old asked me.

This was a great opportunity to teach her about an important principle of interpreting scripture: the use of metaphors.

A metaphor is defined as “a word or phrase used to describe somebody/something else, in a way that is different from its normal use, in order to show that the two things have the same qualities and to make the description more powerful.”

Metaphors essentially create “word pictures” of one thing in our minds that help us understand another thing. In this case, my daughter had read verses like Psalm 18:31, among many others:

For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? (NAS)

This verse uses the imagery of a rock to help us understand some qualities of God.

Because we had already laid the groundwork that God is a spirit and doesn’t have a physical body, she understood that God does not have physical characteristics at all. So I reminded her about other places in scripture where God is described as having body parts, such as hands and nostrils.

I then asked her to think about a large heavy rock.

“Like the one in our island [in the driveway]?”

“Yes, exactly. What is that rock like?”

She came up with several ideas, such as it is too big for her to move; it’s a place where she rests when she’s playing, if it were bigger she could hide behind it during hide-and-seek. (Others like it is smooth in some places, rough in others, gray in color, etc. didn’t seem to work in the God-imagining process!)

I then asked her to think about why David might use the word rock to help us understand God. I think you can see where this conversation led.

That was an easy one. A little while later she asked me how Jesus’ body and blood could be bread and wine. That led to a deeper conversation about how Communion and the Lord’s Supper are reminders Jesus gave us about His sacrifice on our behalf.

As parents, when we read scripture for ourselves and with our children, pause, think about, and discuss the metaphors and other figures of speech (such as similes and analogies) that the Bible authors used to communicate certain ideas to their readers. Our grasp of spiritual truths will be deeper for the process.

 

Resources

Here are some examples of metaphors in scripture.

Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament is a classic and in-depth discussion of figures of speech.

This is a useful tool on “types” of Christ in the Bible (a “type” is a kind of metaphor or analogy)

I found helpful Howard Hendricks’ Living by the Book (also available for Kindle) for guidance on interpreting scripture generally. Search for the book+workbook set, too.

 

3 Reasons Most Christians Should Go to College

3-reasons-college 

Recently, I’ve heard many Christians challenging the idea that college is something our kids should be considering once they finish high school. Most of the complaints fall into two groups: the high cost (including student loan debt) and ideological objections (colleges are too liberal and too secular).

Student debt meme, grabbed from Facebook

I completely understand these concerns. Parents may not be able to afford college; the basic answer to this concern is to not get sucked into the PR machine of colleges that will cost you an arm and a leg. One important way to do this is to have a specific goal in mind for going to college so you don’t waste your time and money. In short, go to college with a purpose.[i] From the financial perspective, students can work while in school, even if it requires a “gap” year or two, earn scholarships, and go to college while they live at home, or pursue an online degree—all of which so that they need not incur huge student loan debts. Like the guy in this Facebook photo.

Or parents are concerned that their kids will lose their Christian faith in college, given its secular liberal and sometimes anti-Christian environment and pressures. Let me suggest that the real problem here is not the secular or anti-Christian environment and ideas. The real problem is the fact that most churched high school grads are not schooled on the rational, factual bases for the Christian faith. So the issue is that the kids are not adequately prepared with a biblical worldview and apologetics arsenal when they’re sent into Canaan. This is not a reason to avoid Canaan, it’s a call to arms for better, deeper teaching and discipleship in churches. I wrote about how kids can keep their faith in college here.

With those objections briefly noted, there are several reasons why objections to college miss why it is important for most Christians to go to college. Let me propose three.

1. The Great Commission

As Christians, our “marching orders” are to go into “all the world” and make disciples, teaching Christ’s commandments. By “all the world,” I have a strong sense that Jesus didn’t mean “all the world except centers of higher learning,” or “all the world except where postmodern-secular humanist-LGBTQ-New Age-atheist-Marxists are going to challenge my most cherished beliefs.”

Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Matt 28:18-20)

Colleges and universities are short-term mission opportunities. There are many good Christian campus fellowships and ministries where college students can grow their own faith while also meeting other, less mature or new believers. Moreover, study groups, dorm life, and a wide range of social opportunities are where Christians are very likely to encounter non-Christians—the people who need to hear the gospel. Even better, these groups are prime audiences for apologetic conversations—most of them genuinely want to know whether there is any reasonable, rational, logical, factual basis for the Christian faith. If Christians are not participating in those conversations with their arsenal of historical and apologetic facts and arguments, many of these students may never hear them.

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Rom 10:14-15)

Colleges and universities are also long-term mission fields. Biblical Christians are extremely under-represented among college faculty. While the college environment is in many ways antagonistic toward Christians, one major reason for that is that so few Christians choose higher education as a career. How can Christians contribute to scientific knowledge? How can Christians influence such fields as philosophy, sociology, political science, social work, and English, all of which currently seem antagonistic to the faith? How can Christians rise to positions of administrative influence in colleges and universities? There literally is only one answer. More Christians have to choose careers in college education, and this requires Christians to go to college and graduate school in order to be eligible to teach and participate in the intellectual leadership of colleges and universities.

To refuse to go to college so is to abandon these crucial mission fields.

 

2. Economic self-sufficiency

A central economic principle of the Christian life is that we are supposed to provide for ourselves and our families, and even to take responsibility for our extended family if needed (e.g., 1 Tim 5:9-16).

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim 5:8)

The question is, in modern and future American society, what is the path that provides the most opportunities for economic success? (Keep in mind that God can provide material blessings to whoever He pleases, and that there are no guarantees of any particular income, regardless of one’s education or religion.) In the American economy, a college education provides the best chance of getting a job, and getting a better paying job, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produced this figure.

Source: http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

Education and Unemployment Rates. The red bars show the unemployment rates for people based on their level of education in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available). The average for the whole population was 5%, while the rates for people with less than an Associate’s degree are all higher than average. Meanwhile, people with any college degree have lower than average unemployment rates.

Education and Earning. The green bars show 2014 earnings for people of different education levels; the values represent median weekly earnings—the midpoint of all wage earners in each group. The median US worker earned $839 per week ($43,628 per year). People with less than a Bachelor’s degree earned less than average, while those with at least a Bachelor’s degree earned significantly more. For example, people with only a high school diploma earned a median $668 per week ($34,746 per year), while those with a Bachelor’s degree earned a median $1,101 per week ($57,252 per year).

This pattern of college education producing lower unemployment rates and higher incomes is not unique to 2014. The charts at this site and at this site show that this has been a consistent pattern for many years, for both younger and older workers.

Giving. Of course, the point in holding a job and getting a better paying job is not simply to earn more money, but to have more opportunities. A materially “comfortable” life is not the main point. But the reality is that having a better paying job means that, at the very least, a person can be more generous to the causes one holds dear. If Christians tithe on their income, the annual tithe on the median high school graduate’s income is $2,250 less than the tithe on the median BA degree-holder’s income. What could your local congregation or ministry do with an additional $2,250 next year?

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house.” (Mal 3:10)

The Future Employment Outlook. What will the future hold? What are the jobs that are likely to grow and have good incomes over the next decade? In this report, Kiplinger projects those jobs to be: Speech Language Pathologist, Computer Systems Analyst, App Developer, Registered Nurse, Information Security Analyst, Health Services Manager, Medical Stenographer, Physical Therapist, and Nurse Practitioner. All of these require education after high school, and seven of the ten require at least an Associate’s degree.

College is for Christian Women, too. For many Christians it is not a given that our young women should be college bound, but there are as many reasons they should go to college as there are for young men. This should be obviously the case if God’s calling for her life needs a college degree. But if you are even skeptical of this, consider her worst-case scenario. It is possible your daughter’s husband will die, or that a divorce may unexpectedly rock her world. As news analysis has shown, “The percentage of female-headed households with children living in poverty has gone up, from 33 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2011. All told, more than half of all children living in poverty in this country are part of single-mother households.” The economics of being a single mother are daunting, and having a college education is a hedge against the possibility that, God forbid, a young mom will have to support her own family. This chart, which I created from data on this page, shows that women with a college degree have much higher incomes than women without a degree. It is simply prudent for our Christian young women to go to college, too.

Women's earnings, by Education

The long and the short of it is that In order to have the best prospects in the American economy to provide for your family and to increase your giving, college education gives you the best and most opportunities.

 

3. More Influential and Meaningful Career Options

Part of the testimony of Christianity over the centuries has been our role as public leaders, politicians, educators, and health care providers. Christians in Europe, for example, started most of the early universities, hospitals, and orphanages (see, for example, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart), and most of the early colleges in the US were started by Christians for Christians (including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton!).

As I began thinking about this article, I asked my Facebook friends (the vast majority of whom are conservative Christians) two questions about influential jobs or careers. (As a political scientist, I fully admit this is an unscientific survey, but the results are instructive.) I then researched the basic education requirements of those positions; if they weren’t obvious, I used this Bureau of Labor Statistics table. Below, I organize their answers into categories based on the education required to go into these professions.

Slide2

Slide3In short, most of the “most influential” professions my friends mentioned generally require a college degree; and most of the jobs my friends think have the potential to have a positive influence in our culture generally require a college degree.

Finally, there is the PayScale Report on Meaningfulness of Jobs, based on surveys of workers and how they themselves evaluate the meaningfulness of their own work. The vast majority of jobs that workers consider socially “meaningful” generally require education after high school, and most require at least a four-year college degree. On the flip side, the PayScale report also listed workers who report that their jobs are not meaningful, and the vast majority of those jobs don’t require education after high school. The tables are in this footnote: [ii]

In short, the most influential and meaningful jobs and careers in our culture generally require post-high school education, and the vast majority require at least a four-year college degree. If Christians are going to be influential in our culture, they must pursue educational options that qualify them to hold those jobs in the first place.

 

A few other reasons…

Here are a few more reasons for going to college that I personally think are important, but would take too much space to discuss extensively here.

  • College education tends to strengthen critical thinking skills—so that as citizens in our society and culture we have the ability to evaluate and see through most of the logical fallacies and polemic we are fed by the mass media (liberal and conservative).
  • College education provides an opportunity to interact with a more diverse set of people than most of us will have for the rest of our lives—students get to spend unstructured social time with people from around the world, from different cultures, speaking different languages, and practicing different religions. (Yes—this is genuinely a good thing…see point #1 above!)
  • College students are forced to read an expansive set of works from an expansive set of topics. These improve our literacy and our ability to interact with a wider range of people on a wider range of subjects than we would absent a college learning environment. Yes, yes, you can read all those things without going to college, but once you get married and have children, it is much harder to find the time to do so.

What College Will Not Do

A college education is not the be-all and end-all of a person’s identity and value. People who don’t go to college are not inferior to those who do; indeed, many of the best people I have known in my life have not been college educated. So it’s important to acknowledge what college doesn’t do for us.

  • College will not change your value in God’s eyes. God’s love for us does not depend our level of education. An important result of this is that a person’s educational or social status should never be a cause of favoritism among Christians. Every person, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, influential or not-influential, blue-collar or white-collar is equal in the eyes of the Lord, and ought to be treated with equal respect and honor.

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?…if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-9)

  • College will not guarantee comfort and success. Just because a person has a college degree does not mean that they are guaranteed a job, a better job, a more influential job, or a higher income than anyone else. But the statistics are in favor of people who are better educated.
  • College will not change your character. Your personal integrity is not related to your education. It does not mean you will be a superior husband, wife, father, or mother.

 

Conclusion

The potential payoff of going to college is great. It is great for the kingdom of God and the possibilities are great for Christian youth and their future families. Rather than assuming that college isn’t for you or your child, look at the opportunities. The thing is, we have to be wise and strategic in using our limited resources, and we have to prepare young people for the battle over their hearts and minds.


 

[i] One major cost-inflator is changing majors—this extends the amount of time required to complete your degree, and the cost of doing so. If you don’t have firm career goal in mind take a gap year after high school to earn college money; you can also take this time to take general education courses that will eventually transfer into a BA degree program. Give serious prayer to what the Lord wants you to do, and then pursue a degree related to that. Even if you change careers (and most people do at least a few times in their lives) having the BA degree puts you at an advantage over other potential employees who don’t.

[ii] Payscale Report: Most Meaningful Jobs.

Slide1

 

Why would a good God send people to hell?

This is a common question, and sometimes reflects misunderstandings about a number of issues, including God’s character, the “free gift” of salvation, and how the Bible talks about both.

God’s will is that all people would be saved—he wants each person to make the choice to receive the free gift of eternal life and of the Holy Spirit. Scripture makes this clear in 1 Timothy 2:3-6:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (NAS)

But how does that work? If God desires “all men” (and in today’s language that means “all people”) to be saved, why doesn’t he just save everyone and be done with it?

God’s Character is Complex

First, it is important for us to understand that God is a complex being, and that though He loves each person and has a will for their salvation, He also allows people the freedom to reject Him.

This reflects the reality that God’s character is complex and multifaceted (see, e.g., Exodus 34: 3-7). While God is Love, God is also a holy and righteous Judge—the Supreme Judge of the World. These characteristics aren’t contradictory, they just mean that God is complicated. Kind of like you.

Receiving The Free Gift

Now, how does this relate to salvation and damnation? I once heard an older preacher use an example to explain the way God gives people the gift of eternal life, and it has stuck with me for many years.

gift cardImagine that, for no reason, someone just decided to give you a $1,000 gift card to any store in the world.

Did you pay for the gift card?

No, someone else paid for it.

What if you don’t use it? Do you get to enjoy that gift?

No, the gift card just sits there.

If you don’t use the gift, you haven’t really received it, have you? It has been given, but not received.

In order to enjoy the gift card, you must choose to receive it and use it.

Jesus’ gift of eternal life to us is the same way. He died so that every person who ever sinned can have eternal life and fellowship with the Father. But every person must choose to receive the gift and use it.

[Jesus] came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. (John 1:11-12)

Just as God loves every person so much that he was willing to sacrifice His son for them, He loves them so much that he won’t force them to bend to His will. That is, each person gets to makes their choice, and live (or die) with the consequences of their choices.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)

So God’s just-ness in His character means that people who choose to receive the gift, live eternally. His just-ness also means that people who choose not to receive the gift also choose eternal punishment.

But what about those who haven’t heard?

Many critics of Christianity complain that this is profoundly unjust and unloving. They point out the situations of people who have never heard of Jesus, who lived their whole lives and died never even having the opportunity to accept or reject him.

There are at least two responses to this criticism. First, it makes the Great Commission a very urgent task! Second, over the last two millennia there has been a standard response, because The Bible tells us what the resolution is. In Romans 2, Paul writes about the Gentiles who didn’t receive the Law (the Old Testament), but who managed to live righteous lives anyway.

14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Paul argues that when the Gentiles instinctively lived righteously, they demonstrated that the Law was written in their hearts (that is, their minds and wills), and that God will judge them according to that criterion. They, however, face a much more uncertain judgement than those who accept the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The problem for the Gentiles in this situation, is how much obedience is enough? How much compliance with the Law written on their hearts is needed to balance of their disobedience to that Law?

Uncertain though it is, Paul seems to be arguing that this is the opportunity for salvation for those who have never heard the name of Jesus. But it is still a clearly worse option than the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

How much better to accept the free gift when you hear about it!

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Check out Sean McDowell’s video on another important dimension of this question.

A Graduation Message for My Son

M grad crop

This year we graduated our second son from our home school, Legacy Academy. These are the words I spoke about and over my son, but also about our home school journey, and how God changed our vision of family to his vision of our family. My son has given me permission to post these remarks publicly.

Thank you all for coming today to celebrate M and his high school graduation. We appreciate your friendship and that you would take your time to share this moment with us. Deb just did a great job sharing about M’s life and her love for him (read them here). I’d like to take a few minutes to pull back and share with you some of our family’s big picture from this father’s perspective—and to bless M as he continues his journey.

Our original vision

Early in our parenting we had a pretty typical vision for what we wanted to accomplish in our kids. And you can tell something of what our goals were by the books we read: Dr. James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child. Even though we of course wanted our children to grow up to be responsible Christian adults, the main path I envisioned was through discipline, obedience, and self-control. And so discipline, obedience and self-control were what we focused on. Our three first children (of our eventual six) were the primary “beneficiaries” of those early years.

A new vision

As we lurched into homeschooling when our oldest two were starting school (another story for another time), the Lord started realigning our vision for parenting into His vision for parenting. Over time we came to see that His vision was not that we focus on right behaviors in the short-term but on the long term outcomes the Lord desired—Christ-loving adults who would pursue the Lord’s mission for their own lives and families.

This meant that our focus had to change by first re-orienting our own hearts, and then dealing with our kids’ hearts toward God, and modeling our parenting after God’s heart of grace toward us. The passages on how this played out in our family are familiar to many of us. Rather than emphasizing all of those great verses directed toward children (in which the emphasis is on obedience, listening to the wisdom of your mother and father, sparing the rod, and so forth) I began meditating on verses directed toward fathers and parents.

In this journey to being a God-centered father this verse about Abraham became my compass rose:

compass-152121_1280Genesis 18:19: For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

And I was challenged by this verse:

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

As my brother will tell you, one of my natural gifts is exasperation, so this verse particularly challenged me.

And of course the passage that became the touchstone for our family, from Deuteronomy 6:

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, 2 so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God,”

And here is where my emphasis as a father changed. I had to learn that the purpose of my obedience and keeping the Lord’s commandments is to influence the ways my children and grandchildren relate to God. The emphasis is not on getting them to fear and obey me, but to fear and obey the Lord their God. In specifically mentioning “your son and your grandson” Moses casts a multiple-generation vision of having a right spirit toward our heavenly Father, not merely extracting my childrens’ obedience and compliance toward their earthly father.

Moses continues,

5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.”

The key to God-centered parenting was transforming my own heart so that my descendants would be blessed. Finally,

7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The spirit and structure and decor—the very DNA—of our home and family life was to be one of diligent teaching of the ways of the Lord. All day. Every day. Everywhere. Because the Christian life is not to be compartmentalized into the Jesus time and the other times, nor the Christian time of the week and the rest of the week. Rather, discipleship is supposed to take place in the normal everyday course of life, from rising to setting.

Making the handoff

HandoffOver the last two years we have been in a new season of our family—what Jeff Myers calls making the handoff. Although we’ve been preparing for years to transition M into full adulthood, now is the time to actually do it. While he’ll still be living here for the time being, and while we’ve been releasing him gradually over the years, this moment—his completion of our academic education—is a turning point.

It is the moment when our responsibility for his academics dramatically decreases and his dramatically increases. We’ve already seen in M, for his whole life really, a great deal of wisdom and discernment in decision making. He isn’t perfect of course, but we see in his character great strengths. We have been praying for years that the Lord would take M’s natural bent toward critical thinking and his quick wits for the Lord’s kingdom.

In our culture high school graduation is the moment when M makes his entrance into the so-called “real world,” whatever that means. This is supposed to be the moment when a person leaves the protective shell of a very structured educational environment and enters into the largely unstructured world of adulthood’s rights and responsibilities. Of course, we’ve worked hard for years at exposing M to the real world, and he has been operating in the real world in some ways already for some time now.

In the eyes of our culture this moment is a most significant point in a person’s “coming of age.” But M has long been on the path to this moment and, for the most part, we think he is prepared to handle it. So in the spirit of biblical tradition, we pass on to you the primary responsibility for your growth and decisions.

The Launching

M,

Having accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, may you continue to grow in your relationship with Him;

Having studied the ways of the Lord, may you continue to grow in your fear of the Lord and your understanding of His ways and will for your life;

Having been trained in and having cultivated your own God-given work ethic and character, may you continue to diligently strive for success in the Lord’s eyes first, and in the eyes of men second, and may the Lord use you to grow His kingdom;

We pray that our 19 years of discipleship will ripple throughout your life in ways that bless you, your future wife and children, and the Kingdom of God; and we trust that the Lord will fill in the gaps of our own shortcomings and do in you the things we didn’t or couldn’t do;

As your father, having caught God’s vision for what a husband, father, and head of a household ought to be and do, I pass that vision on to you—that you would understand that God has chosen you “so that you may command your children and your household to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” Though you don’t have your wife and children yet, the Lord knows his vision for you in this area, so cultivate your own heart and mind for the Lord for your descendants—our great-grandchildren. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:32, while you remain unmarried, be “concerned about the things of the Lord, how [you] may please the Lord;” that is, cultivate your relationship with the Lord (because when you get married, you’ll have a lot less time to do it!);

Finally, having finished this major accomplishment in your education, may you continue to pursue a life of continued education and love of learning;

Last, I bless you with the famous blessing from Moses to his brother Aaron, and which I have sung for years while tucking you kids in:

The Lord bless you, and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine on you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance on you,

And give you peace.’ (Numbers 6: 24-26)

I love you and am proud of you.

4 Reasons for Parents to Keep Reading

© Pamela Hodson | Dreamstime Stock PhotosIt was the kind of question that makes parents quake in their boots!

The other day my 13 year old daughter was reading Leviticus—on her own!—and came across a passage that perplexed her:

16 The Lord spoke to Moses: 17 “Tell Aaron: None of your descendants throughout your generations who has a physical defect is to come near to present the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect is to come near: no man who is blind, lame, facially disfigured, or deformed; 19 no man who has a broken foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has an eye defect, a festering rash, scabs, or a crushed testicle. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to present the fire offerings to the Lord. He has a defect and is not to come near to present the food of his God. 22 He may eat the food of his God from what is especially holy as well as from what is holy. 23 But because he has a defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar. He is not to desecrate My sanctuaries, for I am Yahweh who sets them apart.” (Lev 21:16-23)

Because we are advocates for Down Syndrome adoptions [read more here and check out Reece’s Rainbow here] and have many friends with special needs, my daughter began wondering whether this passage means that God does not find people with special needs acceptable as ministers. And then she asked me if her thinking was right.

What a perceptive question! I am so proud of her for thinking through this passage of scripture, and I told her so.

But let’s be honest: Even though it is a good question, it is a very hard question. How would you have answered? I mean, Leviticus is often perplexing because many of the social and theological issues it deals with are so foreign to us. Who among us could pull a correct answer out of thin air?

In God’s perfect timing, I have been reading Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, which addresses exactly these kinds of questions. Though Copan is dealing with New Atheist misconceptions about God, he lays out some specific ways God expressed his will that Israel understand holiness, and did so through the rules and regulations we find in Exodus and Leviticus. And (praise the Lord) he also deals with the passage that challenged my daughter!

Because I had been reading this book recently, I had a good answer for my daughter.

But I wasn’t off the hook! The next night at dinner, my other two daughters had equally grown-up questions:

The seven year old asked, “Why did Eve want to sin and disobey God?” In God’s perfect timing I had listened to a sermon that morning that addressed this exact question in a way that provided me with new insight that dovetailed precisely with the way she posed the question.

She then asked, “How can we be God’s children and He be our Father when he doesn’t have a wife?” And then the eleven year old asked, “How did people get saved before Jesus died?”

Can I tell you—these are important questions with which Christians have been dealing for two millennia. And they were asked by my tween kids, over a single meal! This is why as parents we have to be continually feeding our own minds, growing our own faith, and building our grasp of the deeper things of the Lord. Four points come to mind.

It is important to keep reading and studying…

  1. So you can learn and grow as a Christian. This might seem obvious, but the ability to answer your own questions and those of others requires some self-education. Reading the Bible is mission critical to your own preparation. But you should also be reading other materials to give you insight as to how major themes of scripture and theology work together. (For example, the Bible itself does not tell us how its manuscripts were transmitted to us; the Bible does not tell us when the Trinity became an accepted doctrine in Christian history; nor does not provide much explicit information about the social and political contexts of first-century Judea, though its narrative corresponds well with what historians tell us, for example here).

The right materials can help you learn how to think biblically about your world. Scripture admonishes us to move from spiritual “milk” to spiritual “meat” or “solid food” (1 Cor 3:1-3; Heb 5:11-14); this means we are to seek deeper answers to deeper questions, on more challenging topics than you were satisfied with as a new believer. Moreover, you are responsible for your own spiritual education in this process; maturing believers are not just sitting back and letting their preacher do the work for them, letting them simply dump information into their heads for 20 or 30 minutes each week and then call it good. We often speak of our kids having to “own their own faith” once they leave their parents’ home, but adults also have to own their own faith, too, and part of that is taking responsibility for learning.

  1. So you can answer questions from your spiritual children. As parents, our biblical obligation is to disciple our children—to pass on to them the knowledge of God and His ways to future generations. A central part of this is the children’s questions! (See Exod 13:11-15; Deut 6:20-23; Josh 4:5-7; 4:19-24.) Even if you’re not a parent, or if your kids are gone, the longer you’ve been a Christian, the more likely it is that someone else will see you as a spiritually-knowledgeable person. Therefore you owe it to them to be prepared. Again, you are responsible for seeking understanding and wisdom for the day in which you get asked that question.
  2. So you can be known as one who seeks truth. Your children will observe you feeding your mind and faith with the Bible and excellent materials that help you understand the Bible and God. As a father or mother, your children need to know that you are growing in your faith, so that they see that you believe growing in the faith is important. Not only will they tend to emulate you, but you will become known to them as a person who is trustworthy enough to ask difficult questions! In my children’s case, I also have to be honest about when I don’t know the answer to a question, and then seek out the answer.
  3. So you can listen thoughtfully. When you know what is true, you can more easily identify what is false, and this is a critical skill for Christians. If you are not feeding your mind with the truth, you will be less able to discern falsehoods that you will hear from the culture, from critics, and even from some teachers. How can you discern whether the teachings of Joel Osteen, Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism), Rob Bell, Billy Graham, or your pastor are true or false? By learning and educating yourself on Bible truth and the truths accepted by orthodox Christians for twenty centuries, you equip yourself to provide a reasoned defense of God’s truth and the gospel (1 Peter 3:15-16); to not be captured by this world’s false philosophies ((Col 2:6-8); and to critically evaluate false teachers (Matt 7:15; Matt 24:10-24; 2 Peter 2:1).

A few cautions…

Be sure that you are seeking God’s truth. Since the early days of Christianity, heresies have cropped up that, grounded in the spirit of anti-Christ, have pulled believers away from the straight path of godly knowledge and wisdom (1 John 2:18-24, 1 John 4:1-6). Truth does not just make you feel good about yourself, or confirm what you already believe (Heb 4:12), but is to teach us, rebuke us and train us out of incorrect behaviors and beliefs (2 Tim 3:16). And second, be humble and gentle, because you are accountable for what you teach others about the Lord (James 3:1). This is another reason to be sure that you are learning correct doctrine—you want to pass on correct doctrine, lest you be held accountable by God for perpetuating heresies and false doctrines, risking the souls of your children (Heb 13:17).

Thinking back to my daughters’ questions…I have found that God knew exactly what I needed to know and when I needed to know it. Through consistently reading and studying the Bible itself, as well as reading books and listening to sermons and apologetics podcasts, God prepares me to answer the questions that arise about our Lord, His Word, and His Kingdom.

Adopting Families: Extraordinary Ordinary Families

Isabelle 2-2 Our Angel Tree Sponsored Child

“Isabelle 2-2,” Our Angel Tree Sponsored Child

This summer my family vacationed with a group of sixty extraordinary ordinary families. Almost all of these families had adopted children with special needs, and many of them had adopted their children from other countries. Down syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, limb differences, dwarfism…you name it, children with these conditions were there. And it was beautiful.

That week was the first time I spent an extended amount of time around special needs children, and I was both amazed and humbled. I expected to meet families of great strength and spirit, and they are, but they are also ordinary families.

Most of the moms had met through online groups, especially Reeces’ Rainbow. But few of the fathers had met or corresponded with each other. It was conversations with fathers that inspired me and one in particular provided a breakthrough moment, making this whole special needs adoption process very real to me.

At the poolIn a pool filled with a hundred children, most of whom had special needs, a beautiful blond girl was in her floater near me, clearly enjoying being in the water. She was splashing and giggling and looking lovingly with her huge blue eyes and charming smile at her daddy. I struck up a conversation with the dad about his daughter. After talking for a while, he happened to mention that one of the ways their family raised money for Lyla’s adoption was by selling t-shirts.

Suddenly I made the connection. We had bought one of those t-shirts! My wife wore it for months, and all of my children knew who Lyla was and had been praying for her. In that moment I realized that before me was a little child of God who only a couple of years earlier had been languishing in an orphanage. I told dad that we had one of the shirts and he looked me straight in the eyes and said a simple, “Thank you.” Even now as I write this down, my eyes are leaking.

You can help special needs orphans and adopting families by contributing to the 2014 Angel Tree drive. Won’t you please help “bump” an angel to their next funding threshold or their full goal? Or you can give Angel Tree Dollars as a stocking stuffer!

Ordinary People

These adopting parents and siblings are just like you and me. They aren’t independently wealthy, and they aren’t Mother Teresa either. The fathers work jobs just like everyone else and are fully sold out to their adoptions. The moms mostly stay at home with their children, making their important contributions one day, one child at a time.

I spoke with several of the dads, and their stories were simple. I asked, “Why did you adopt? How did you get to that place in your life?” There were no lightning bolts, no visions of angels. They just heard the stories and saw the pictures and were convicted that someone had to do something. And the someone was them.

“Samson,” who died before he could be adopted

Their children (biological and adoptive) are outrageously typical. They are sweet, friendly, shy, demanding, generous, whiny, clever, humorous, mischievous and perfectly lovely to be around. That is, they are children are just like everyone else’s children.

Extraordinary People

These families radically transform their lives and families. In many of their home countries, orphans are on the lowest rung of the social ladder, and people with special needs are even lower. The trauma experienced by these children in orphanages is often physically and psychologically devastating, and the parents who graft them into their families take on the medical and therapeutic costs of healing and caring for these precious ones.

They spend months or years raising tens of thousands of dollars to fund the adoptions. They often sell off many their own possessions and spend countless hours fundraising through crafting and activities in their community. Many radically simplify their lifestyles in order to make the adoption happen.

Adopting families open their homes to social services and CPS agency workers in what must be a stressful and intrusive process to evaluate the quality of their home and home life, in detail.

Single moms who adopt children have to do it all—work and fundraise and raise other children they may have.

These are courageous men and women of faith and conviction. Some are Christian, some are of other faiths, but all of them are striving to improve the life situation of orphans, one at a time.

Transformed Children

Adopting families and those who contribute to their adoption funding are literally rescuing children from mostly terrible conditions. The life of a special needs orphan (especially in current and former communist countries) can be particularly brutal, because a person’s value is based on their potential contribution to society. Viewed as a drain on society, those born with special needs are often consigned to poorly-resourced orphanages with underpaid staff.

In most Eastern European countries, orphans with cognitive disabilities are sent to adult mental institutions at 4-6 years old, where they stay until they die or are adopted (huge majorities, at least 90%, of those who remain die within a few years). Special needs orphans without cognitive disabilities age out of the system at around age 16, and are released without job skills and illiterate. Human traffickers are usually waiting for them, and you can guess the rest.

Here are some “Before-and-After” photos of Reece’s Rainbow children whose lives have been transformed by adoption.

RRAT 14 4RRAT 14 3RRAT 14 2 RRAT 14 1 JoJo 1 month homeBy rescuing “the least of these” adoptive families literally transform the children’s lives. Here is one of our favorite blogs about these kinds of rescues, and you can read about various adoption stories here.

You Can Help

Adopting children internationally is quite expensive.[1] The reason I like the financial model used by Reece’s Rainbow is that when money is donated to a child’s dedicated grant, it stays connected to that child until a family is actively in the process of adopting the child. Families who commit to a child can set up their own account. In either case, Reece’s Rainbow strives to ensure that money dedicated to a child helps that child’s adoptive family when the time comes.[2]

Reece’s Rainbow’s annual fundraising campaign is Angel Tree. Angel Tree Warriors select a child, and commit to raise $1,000 to jump-start a child’s adoption grant, increasing the chance that a family will be able to afford to adopt him or her.

You can help by contributing to the 2014 Angel Tree drive. Won’t you please help “bump” an angel to their next funding threshold or their full goal? Or you can give Angel Tree Dollars as a stocking stuffer! We are so grateful to those people who helped our family raise $1,000 for Isabelle 2-2!

In this last ten days of the year, will you please take some time and look at the pictures of these children and find it in your heart to help their warrior reach their $1,000 goal?

As a Christian, God has adopted me into his family, making me an heir to the inheritance of the promises of Abraham, and one of his children.

Romans 8:15: For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

Galatians 4:3-7: So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Ephesians 1:5: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.

Helping families do this for children is one way my family pays this gift forward to others.

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Videos Links

Here are a few videos documenting the conditions in orphanages in Romania, China, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.

Romania

China

Bulgaria (The orphanage shown here has since closed; here is a follow up BBC story )

Ukraine

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[1] I originally thought that the high cost was due to corruption and bribes in the children’s home nations. It turns out, however, that most of the money goes toward the demanding travel and nation-stay requirements, and American social service and legal fees.

[2] Reece’s Rainbow is not an adoption agency, and must comply with US and home-country rules for disbursing funds.

Historical Evidence that Jesus Actually Existed

ravenna-jesus-212x300One of the more remarkable theories by skeptics of Christianity over the last century is that Jesus Christ never even existed. Fortunately, the historical record is quite clear, and the actual existence of this man in history is well documented by ancient historical standards.

In a forthcoming article in Biblical Archaeology Review Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk, a professor at Purdue University, carefully summarizes and discusses the historical evidence for Jesus in early non-Christian sources. This article is well-documented, with two-thirds of the published web-page dedicated to footnotes verifying or explaining his conclusions and broader scholarly debates. (It isn’t actually new information, but is an easy-to-understand and thorough discussion.)

You can read Mykytiuk’s whole article here, but based on reading and analysis of non-Christian sources, the following facts about Jesus can be known from two prominent ancient historians who briefly mention Jesus (and excluding dubious changes to those historians’ writings).

What do we know about Jesus?

  1. He existed as a man [Josephus and Tacitus]…
  2. His personal name was Jesus, as Josephus informs us.
  3. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean “anointed” or “(the) anointed one,” as Josephus states and Tacitus implies…
  4. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as Josephus reports.
  5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), according to Josephus…
  6. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him…
  7. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed, as both Tacitus and Josephus state.
  8. His execution was specifically by crucifixion, according to Josephus.
  9. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.), as Josephus implies and Tacitus states, adding that it was during Tiberius’s reign.[1]

While there is no good reason, historically speaking, to exclude Christian writings (such as those in the New Testament or by early church fathers), the non-Christian evidence about the historical facts of Jesus’ life and death is clear, despite the small number of people who claim otherwise.

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[1] It is worth noting that several of Mukutiuk’s conclusions parallel those of two Christian apologists who focus on the resurrection of Jesus. Gary Habermas developed the “minimal facts” approach to the resurrection, and with Michael Licona has written extensive scholarly work on this question (see examples here and here.

Quick Discipleship Tip: Teach your children about context

Daniel 1Reading the Bible and talking about it with your children makes a difference in the way they will approach scripture.

Tonight I sat down with 10 year old E to read the Bible. She asked me to randomly open the Bible and randomly point to a verse, and then she would ask me a question about the verse. So I did, and the verse was Daniel 1:11: “Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,”

She read it, thought about it for a moment, and said to me, “I think I need to read more so I can get the context.”

She has picked up, through our Bible reading, her Bible study with Mom, and her devotions, a key skill in rightly interpreting the Word of God.

When God doesn’t answer prayers the way we want

Image Source: huffpost.com

You won’t live very long on this earth before you have an experience that causes you to ask God for a healing. What we usually have in mind is that we want God to physically heal a person so that they can go on living life here with us “like normal.”

Sometimes, however, God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to. This situation is poignantly addressed in this beautiful blog post at scribblesandcrumbs.

The author describes her struggles to understand the suffering and eventual deaths of two people, her friend Chelsea and her son Charlie. Chelsea, an adult:

So many rallied around and prayed for healing for her. She was so deeply loved by many, many faithful Christians, but her healing did not come in this life.

And Charlie, her own young child:

I can’t tell you how many times Charlie beat the odds. I can’t tell you how many nights where all medical options were exhausted, and it was up to Charlie and God to pull him through. He had so many close calls, so many near death experiences. People rallied together. They prayed through the night, and Charlie would pull through.

God brought healing, and then Charlie got sick again. And again. And again.

I wrestled with the purpose of Charlie’s sickness all throughout his life, and after his death, I still do.

Her set of questions about our understanding of God versus the reality of God is insightful, and she points to the centrality of hope for coping with the things we don’t understand…

Sometimes God doesn’t answer prayers in the way we want. Sometimes horrible things happen.

God can still be good and still be strong and still be loving. Our world is sick and broken and muddied since the fall of mankind.

The tragedies we encounter sometimes push us to question or even reject God’s existence, out of our pain and misunderstanding of God’s perspective, his purposes, and his sovereignty. This is because we want God to do what we want him to do–we have such a high view of ourselves that in times of struggle we want God to comply with our will. When he doesn’t, we blame him for not really being a loving God. Instead, scribblesandcrumbs points us to the hope that she and millions of others find in their tragedies.

We can choose to reject or resent God for the times it feels he doesn’t listen or doesn’t answer or even the times that it feels he doesn’t have any regard for our lives.

I know those times, but I can tell you that, because of him, I can also see the beauty, see the joy, see the hope, see heaven. I see what was intended, and that only builds my hope for so much more after this life.

When the healing doesn’t come, hold on to hope. This world is the beginning. This world is a shadow compared to what is to come.

Indeed.

PS: If you are struggling with tragedy, you don’t have to go it alone. Here are some ideas I had for finding hope and meaning in the midst of community.

 

10 Pieces of Advice for My Kids’ Adult Friends

watch your stepI’m writing this letter in the first person even though we have not experienced everything in it personally, but everything here is a response to our experiences or those of our friends. By “adult friends of my kids” I am referring to family friends, teachers, youth pastors, coaches, relatives–anyone with a voice in my child’s life.

Dear Adult Friends of My Kids,

We need to talk.

I appreciate the godly men and women God has placed in our lives and in our kids’ lives. We are richer, wiser, and better with you than without you, when you partner in God’s vision for our family (Prov 11:14). Not everything has been positive, however. So we need to talk about how you give advice to my kids, because some of you are really messing things up for our family. Even if you think you are helping or supporting my children, you often are not.

I have now been a father for twenty years, I have six children, have had teens for seven years, will continue to have teenagers of my own in my home for another 13 years.  So I write with some degree of experience, if not authority on the subject. I read and listen to a lot of Christians who have successfully launched their own children into the world.

A first big point needs to be made, on which hinges everything else: My sons and daughters are not YOUR sons and daughters.

WE HAVE A PLAN we’ve been working since God revealed to us HIS vision for our family nearly 15 years ago.

YOU have not invested years into their lives, hearts, and spirits the way I and their mother have. We have spent thousands of hours trying to prayerfully and successfully weather seasons of emotions, inconsistency, hypersensitivity and immaturity in our young person (and sometimes in ourselves), as we disciple him or her to become more Christ-like in character as an adult (Prov 1:8; Col 3:20-21; Eph 6:1-4).

God has not given you ANY authority over their life, nor any accountability for the result; all of that authority and accountability is on our shoulders, and biblically speaking, on MY shoulders as Dad (Gen 18:19; Deut 6; Eph 5:23, 6:1-4). As Hebrews 13:17 puts it, as their leader I “keep watch over their souls as [one] who will give an account.” That is, I—not you—will have to give an account to God for my children’s souls. I take that responsibility very seriously.

So here is some advice to you, from the one man ordained by God to raise my children.

  1. DO get on board with OUR vision for their lives. If you are not willing to support our vision, STOP giving advice to my kids. NOW. If you think you know better than us, or don’t understand why we do what we do, STOP advising my kids, and come talk with me.
  2. DO make the most common phrases in your side of conversations with my children, “Have you prayed about this?”; “What do your parents think (or say)?”; and “You should talk with your parents about this.” If you are not willing, in every meaningful conversation, to point our kids back to us, DON’T start the conversation.
  3. DON’T encourage our kids to break the fifth commandment (“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Ex 20:12). This means…
  4. DON’T tell our kids that you think we don’t understand them, that we’re being unreasonable, or that we don’t remember what it’s like to be that age. Because chances are they already think those things, and you are throwing gas onto the fire and undermining the health of our relationships.
  5. DON’T tell our kids that it’s time for me to cut the apron strings. I first heard this from a well-meaning older friend when my oldest was SIX years old. Seriously, you have no authority to tell them I’m being overprotective. It is not your call to decide whether I’m overprotective; if you think this, talk to me about it.

If you can’t resist the urge to share your wisdom and discernment with someone, share it with ME. When you share these gems of your wisdom with my kids, you actually are driving wedges between the members of our family. As you do you act as a tool of Satan, the Enemy who wants to destroy our family and eviscerate God’s vision. By participating in their breaking the fifth commandment, you are actually taking away blessings from their lives (they don’t get the reward in the second half of Exodus 20:12).

  1. If you are an adult male and you see that my teenage daughter is struggling with stuff, and you want to reach out and help her…DON’T. It is inappropriate for adult males to be counseling and getting emotionally involved with teen young women, not to mention that it’s just plain creepy. If you don’t know why, you don’t watch the news enough. (Plus, Titus 2:3-5 teaches that older women–not men–should be discipling younger women.) If you’ve observed something concerning, bring it to me or my wife’s attention.
  2. DO…Ask me or my wife for permission to mentor or talk serious stuff with our teen. I’m sure your heart is in the right place, but this is still our young person, not yours. If our child/teen/young adult initiates the conversation with you that’s great—it means he or she trusts you. But keep us in the loop. DON’T make any promises about confidentiality and so on, because if they’re in trouble WE need to know, and how to handle it is OUR call, not yours.
  3. DO keep in mind that, if my child shares something with you about us, you’re getting only one side of what may be an emotionally-charged situation. STOP acting like my kid must be right and that I’m the unreasonable one, and follow up with me or Mom. (You may be surprised to learn that sometimes young adults and teens tell you only what they want you to hear.)
  4. DO…Pray for us! We need intercession before the Father more than we need you giving advice to my kids.
  5. DO…Tell us that you are praying for our family. Encourage us. Listen to us. If you’ve walked this path of launching youth out into the world, then offer to be there for us as a sounding board.

We appreciate the godly men and women God has placed in our lives. We are richer, wiser, and better with you than without you. That said, it is your responsibility to partner cooperatively with parents, not to undermine and counteract our decisions. If you are not consistently redirecting our kids’ hearts back to us and to the Lord, you actively undermine God’s design for the family, making our jobs much harder than they already are.

Sincerely,

My children’s father

What pieces of advice do you have for people with a voice in your children’s lives? Leave a comment below!