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.

Where is your citizenship?

US-Green-CardAs a student of politics I’ve been thinking about my citizenship. I love the United States, and I love our history, our diversity, and our shared values. At the same time, as a Christian I get frustrated by what I see in our nation’s evolving culture. While some changes have been good, many cultural changes have not been good, in the sense of being objectively good the way God sees things. If the US ever was a “Christian Nation,” we certainly aren’t anymore (even back in the 1970s Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer labeled the US as “Post-Christian.”).

It’s useful, then for me to return periodically to a biblical definition of where my loyalties actually ought to lay. That is, when I look at the culture of death that is growing in our nation, the intractability of human trafficking, the passing away of our society’s moral standards and fabric that for so long supported our culture, and the growing antagonism toward traditional Christianity in the public square, I wonder whether being American is all it’s cracked up to be. If I travel abroad and meet up with other brothers and sisters in the Lord, would I be proud to say I’m an American?

As usual, scripture must guide my thinking, so what does the Bible say about being an American? Nothing directly, of course. The British colonies were just a twinkle in Europe’s eye when the canon of scripture closed. But the apostles Peter and Paul both address citizenship in interesting ways. In Phillipians 3:20, Paul writes that “our citizenship is in Heaven,” which enables us to bear earthly problems with a heavenly mindset. But Peter provides a more thorough teaching.

Nestled between the metaphor of The Church being a building of “living stones” with Christ as the cornerstone and instructions on submission to governing authorities, such as the king or one’s employer, Peter writes,

But you are a CHOSEN RACE, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY NATION, aA PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12, NAS)

The capitalized letters tell us that these phrases are quotations, and these are from the Old Testament—phrases that were used to describe the nation of Israel (e.g., Exodus 19:16, Deut 7:6; Deut 14:2; Hosea 1:10, 2:23). This is consistent with other New Testament passages demonstrating that Christianity is an extension of Judaism, Israel’s spiritual heritage and co-heir to the promises God made to Abraham (this is a major theme of Galatians and Romans, for example).

Our National Identity. But in the context of Peter’s first century letter the phrases suggest that Christians have a distinct national identity, just as Israel did…now Christians are the chosen race, the royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession. The identifying mark of our national identity is that we once weren’t unified (we “were not a people”) but now we are unified as “the people of God.” Our nationhood is based on the mercy we have received through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. We now have received mercy—the undeserved forgiveness for our sins—and that is what distinguishes us from other people groups, not circumcision, skin color, sex, socioeconomic status, or nation-of-origin.

Our National Mission. Peter provides a mission statement for this nation: “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This means the purpose for our existence is to proclaim the truth of God’s excellence to those around us, and the most excellent thing we could proclaim is the gospel message. Thus, we are to be about acting out Jesus’  Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). By definition, this means we ought to be known by our unusual message, wherever we are. If we are going out and making disciples our values are going to conflict with the culture where we find ourselves. This is likely to be uncomfortable and it will sometimes get us killed. (Just this week the North Korean government executed 13 Christians for obeying Christ in this way.) If we compromise this message and the teachings of the Lord out of some sense that we don’t want to be offensive to others or “old-fashioned” or intolerant (the values of a certain nation in which I happen to reside), we will be soon be off-track in obediently pursuing our true mission.

Our Immigration Status. Peter then uses two interesting words to describe us: “aliens and strangers.” These actually are two legal terms in the Greek.  The word translated “alien” is paroikos, “a stranger, a foreigner, one who lives in a place without the right of citizenship,” while “stranger” is parepidēmos, “one who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there by the side of the natives” or “sojourning in a strange place, a foreigner.”

Did you catch that? Christians are foreigners wherever we live. We have come from our home country into a place that is not our home to live side-by-side with the natives. Our loyalty must not be displaced: we are Christians who happen to be living in a foreign land called the United States, China, Nigeria, or [insert where you reside]. This helps us make sense of our mission, because we don’t have to proclaim the excellencies of God to our countrymen, because we already know about them. It’s the citizens of the nation where we temporarily reside that need our message, so they will want to acquire naturalized citizenship and we can help our King grow our nation.

Our testimony in a foreign culture. We serve a different king than whoever is in charge of the country where we happen to reside, and we therefore represent Him where we live.  In the same way that we observe foreigners and make judgments about their people group or nation, our behavior reflects on our King and the rest of our nation. Thus, Peter instructs his countrymen to “abstain from fleshly lusts” and “keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles.”  Why? Because when we speak and act just like the people who belong to the country where we live, there won’t be anything special about us. If we’re thinking and acting just like the Gentiles around us, adapting the teachings of our true nation to the values of our temporary lodging, why would any of them see the need to change their citizenship?

Our good deeds are supposed be evidence to counteract what our opponents will say about us. Imagine living in a country where your motives are questioned, your language is defined as “hate,” you’re accused of being a threat, and your values are so unusual that people will trash you and say bad things about your home country. They’ll slander you because of your foreign ways and values; you won’t talk like them, act like them, you’ll disapprove of things they tolerate, and this will earn you their ire. UNLESS your good deeds outweigh your weirdness. It will be our good deeds that testify to why we sojourners are good to have around, why our King is righteous, and why it’s worth renouncing one citizenship for a better one. As Jesus put it, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Fellow Christian, you are part of a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, diverse, chosen, redeemed, holy nation of priests, who are temporarily residing in a foreign country. If you’re pursuing the mission our King has assigned us, expect to be rejected and hated, because His ways will contradict the ways of this land. Nevertheless, live uprightly and do good in this land so that your King and citizenship in His Kingdom will be attractive to others. In the same way that the United States was for two centuries the destination of choice for people around the world because of its freedom and opportunities, let us make citizenship in our true Kingdom a desirable thing.

Haggai’s first prophesy continued (1:12-15)

For the introduction and historical context for this study, please go here.
For my post on part one of Haggai’s first prophecy, please go here.

In the first part of this prophecy, God reveals that His people got off-track in rebuilding the temple; facing discouragement opposition, they stopped His work, and then in order to justify the work stoppage, they told themselves that it just wasn’t the time for the work to get done. Instead, they focused on their own homes, building “paneled” (luxurious) houses. Thus, they had their priorities out of whack, separating themselves from God.

In the rest of the prophecy the LORD calls them to repentance, to recalibrate their priorities, and to get back into right relationship with Him.

5 Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! 6 You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.” 7 Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways!” (NAS) 

Twice He says, “Consider your ways!” (The NIV translates it “Give careful thought to your ways!”).  Now, whenever the Lord repeats himself it’s not because he lacks imagination, it’s because He is making a point very strongly. Even though their houses are paneled, their financial situation is difficult—their harvest doesn’t match their sowing, they never seem to have enough to eat or drink, their clothing is spare, they can’t seem to keep hold of their money. Somehow, God is connecting these situations with what they are (or are not) doing.

The reason for this never-enough life they’re living is revealed in verses 8-11: God himself has withheld His blessings.

8 “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. 9 “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” 

Why has he withheld the blessings of the harvest? It’s because they have neglected building his house (1:4,9). They rebuilt the altar and the foundation for the temple, but then stopped (Ezra 3-4). They hunkered down in their self-centered worlds and forgot their calling as the people of God! He has been disciplining them, not through catastrophe, but by simply giving them only enough to get by. Because they’re off-track in terms of their priorities and obedience, they have brought poverty on themselves, even though they try to project an image of success through their paneled houses.

What does God want instead? He wants them to

> Reflect on their purpose as His children (“Consider your ways!”). By doing this, they will realize their need for humility before the Lord.
> Be obedient (“rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified”). By doing this, He will be glorified.

Notice what God doesn’t promise: He doesn’t explicitly tell them that if they consider their ways and repent they will get a better harvest or have an easier life. He simply points out the facts of their situation, tells them why it is what it is, and tells them what to do instead. No new covenant is established, He just lets them process these things for themselves.

I love their response.

12 Then Zerubbabel [and] Joshua [and] all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the LORD.

Their first response was not to get busy doing stuff, it was to humble themselves and reverence the Lord. This is what the Lord really wanted in the first place…He wanted their hearts. His response to them is immediate:

13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, “ ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD.”

They must have been thrilled! Just a few minutes ago, God wouldn’t even claim them as His Own (1:2), and now he declares that He is with them!

After they re-oriented their hearts in God’s direction, three weeks later they went back to work:

14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.

What can we learn from this exchange?

Remember, The Church is now the temple of the Lord (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-6); each Christian is part of The Church; your local congregation is a collection of pieces of The Church in your community.

  1. God wants our hearts. God didn’t “return” to his people when they went back to rebuilding a building, He came back to then when they humbled themselves and reoriented their hearts toward Him. If you, your family, or your church are not humble before the Lord, then you will be adrift spiritually. Even if things seem successful from a worldly perspective (after all, the Jews were in paneled houses), you might not be pleasing the Lord.
  2. Our hearts can get discouraged and distracted. When we get our spiritual priorities out of order, we miss out on opportunities that God wants for us. If we listen to those who discourage (like the Samaritans did to the Jewish remnant) we will lose focus and drive to do what we’re supposed to do. Watch out for leaders or others who are about the business of discouraging and who exhibit a spirit of condemnation. They will push the faithful off the right track instead of edifying them, and dishearten the poor in spirit instead of ministering to them.
  3. God wants our obedience. It’s not that the Jews were particularly evil! They just weren’t obedient. What is God calling you, your family, or your church to do, right now, this moment, where He has planted you? For parents and church leaders, this means calling and equipping those for whom you’re responsible. If you say you’re supposed to evangelize, but never train or equip for evangelizing, the evangelizing won’t happen. If you ask a child to do a task, but never train the child how to do the task, they’ll be handicapped from the outset. In both of these cases, the real problem is with the leader or the parent, not the unequipped church member or untrained child.
  4. Pay attention to the clues! The Jewish remnant wasn’t in right relationship with God, and so He withheld blessings. Are there areas of spiritual blessing that your family or church are lacking? Are you or your children drifting from the Lord? Are people not being saved in your church? Has spiritual growth atrophied? Are spiritually mature people tuning out and leaving instead of plugging in? These may be signs of the Lord withholding his harvest from you because of your wrong priorities, distracted hearts, and disobedience.

Applying these lessons to you is up to you. Consider what aspects of your life you may need to re-orient and recalibrate in order for the Lord to declare to you, “I am with you.” Humble yourself, seek first His kingdom, and He will add all these things to you. I can tell you from experience that when you take these first steps, the Lord will encourage and energize you in ways you may never have known.

Haggai’s First Prophecy (Part 1): What are your priorities?

For the introduction and historical context for this study, please go here.

One of the first questions that came up in our Bible study had to do with prophecies telling the future. While some prophecies do foretell the future (for example, Haggai 2:6-9), the purpose of most Bible prophesy is to speak the Lord’s truth to a person or the community, to praise righteous attitudes and behavior or to criticize unrighteousness in order to bring about a change. Haggai’s first prophecy is of this type.

This first set of verses reveals the central problems in the hearts of the Jewish remnant:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.”’” 3 Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” (Haggai 2:2-4 NAS)

In these verses we see three points that reveal problems with the Jewish remnant.

  1. Whatever they’ve been doing (or not doing), they have become separated from the Lord, because the Lord calls them “this people” instead of “my people.”
  2. The Lord critiques the way that they talk about the temple rebuilding project. Fourteen years earlier they enthusiastically rebuilt the altar and temple foundation, but then faced opposition and discouragement (Ezra 4). Now, they’ve rewritten their history in a way that justifies their lack of progress. “Oh, we would have been rebuilding the temple all this time if the Lord really wanted us to. But He must not want us to, because otherwise we would have been rebuilding it.”
  3. To make matters worse, God points out that they were improving their own houses (the reference to “paneled houses” suggests an element of luxury to the appearances of their homes) while the temple went neglected.

In order to justify their own disobedience, the people concluded that the time just wasn’t right for doing what the Lord asked them to do. They then replaced their work on the Lord’s house by building homes that would be impressive to visitors and comfortable for themselves. The Lord, however, points out that their hearts had wrong priorities. By giving in to the outside pressures from the Samaritans, justifying their own lack of progress, and focusing on themselves instead, they brought about their own separation from the Lord, so that He would not even claim possession of them.

As the people of God, we are to keep the Lord’s temple (the people of His Church) as a high priority in our lives; we’re to build up and edify each other instead of merely focusing our attention on our own immediate needs (Ephesians 4:11-16). We’re supposed to have an accurate understanding of our place in the big picture so that the Lord can use us where we are, and so that we don’t get trapped into what the culture tells us is important (Rom 12:2-3).

As a parent, part of my job is to help my children see how their actions and inaction demonstrate their priorities as children of God. The things that we do and the words we speak reflect God’s place in our hearts (Luke 6:45). While my children will always be mine, it’s more important that they be the Lord’s. Don’t be afraid to seek the Lord’s mind regarding your own and your children’s hearts so that you can get to the real problems. Haggai didn’t just criticize the lack of work on the temple; the Lord gave him the understanding of what the real heart problems were.

Shepherd your children’s hearts to love, obey, and serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Haggai’s Prophecies to Those Rebuilding the Temple

For the last several weeks I’ve been leading a study at my church of the book of Haggai. For a variety of reasons the Lord really laid on my heart that we should study this book carefully. Haggai gave his prophecies when the people of Israel were trying to rebuild their temple after it had been torn down years before, and after they came out of exile but still faced opposition and discouragement.The temple was important to the Israelites because in Old Testament times, God dwelled there (after first dwelling in the tabernacle). Beginning with the New Testament, however, Christians are the Lord’s temple, and the Lord dwells in us (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22), and Christians are the people of the Lord, His holy priesthood and nation (1 Peter 2:4-6, 9). So my application of the messages Haggai gave to Israel goes something like this: What was Haggai’ message? Why did the Israelites need to hear it? What was their response? What did God do? What do the answers to these questions mean for Christians today? And for me, what does Haggai have to say to those struggling to rebuild their own little corner of Christ’s Church?As a parent, one of the greatest struggles I’ve faced has been explaining to my children why difficult stuff happens. We’ve had our share of this over the last several months, and because some of these problems relate to church, my wife and I have had to shepherd our children’s hearts through these difficulties. Like the Israelites, the congregation to which we belong is in the process of rebuilding our “temple.” I’ve found Haggai to be very encouraging, because this little book is showing me facets of the Lord’s heart for His people that I didn’t understand fully until recently. Well, I still don’t understand it all fully, but I’m getting there. I hope you find these posts and lessons from Haggai encouraging, too, wherever you are.

Introduction

Haggai was a prophet in the time of King Darius of Persia. His prophecies were all given in the year 520 BC, shortly after the Israelite remnant returned to Israel from exile in Persia (they remained under Persian domination). The events of this period were…

Picture

Context: External opposition to the temple reconstructionAfter 70 years in captivity, Israelites are returning to the Promised Land, where they want to rebuild the temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. This begins around 536 BC, and we read in Ezra 3 that the initial rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem was going very well. Unfortunately, while Israel had been in captivity, Samaritans had settled the land around Jerusalem. When the Samaritans found out that the Israelites were rebuilding the temple, they offered to help, but the Jewish leaders refused because they had nothing common (in terms of their faith) with the Samaritans (Ezra 4:1-3). The Samaritans then sought to delay or stop the temple rebuilding entirely; they first discouraged and frightened them (Ezra 4:4-5), and then hired counselors (lawyers) that interfered with the Jews’ relations with the Persian kings for several years. Finally, in 534 BC Artaxerxes ordered work on the temple stopped by force of arms (Ezra 4:17-23).Fourteen years later, in 520 BC, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews, prompting Zerubbabel (the heir to Judah’s throne) and Jeshua (the high priest)  to begin rebuilding the temple with the Persian King Darius’ permission (Ezra 4:24 – 5:2). In that year Tattenai, governor of the region, wrote Darius, asking whether the Jews had permission to rebuild the temple. Darius confirmed this, and ordered Tattenai not to interfere with the rebuilding and in fact to fund the process with his region’s tax revenues (Ezra 5:3-6:13).Haggai and Zechariah receive and pass on their prophecies in 520-518, and by 515 the temple was completed (Ezra 5:1 and 6:14).

Haggai consists of four prophecies, precisely dated. Here they are with their general themes:

1.       1:1-1:18 (Sept. 1, 520 BC) Your lack of blessing is because you have focused on your own houses and not on the house of the Lord. “Consider your ways!”

2.       2:1-9 (Oct. 21, 520) The temple you are rebuilding may not look like the old glorious temple, but the glory of the new temple will be greater than the former.

3.       2:10-19 (Dec 24, 520) You have allowed unclean behavior to contaminate my people’s work. Set your heart on obedience from this day forward, and I will bless you.

4.       2:20-23 (Dec 24, 520) Zerubbabel will be like a signet ring to the nations.

Next time: Haggai’s first prophesy

Discipleship 101: God’s Commands and Promises

For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice. Genesis 18:19
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction / And do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

The Bible repeatedly tells us in both the Old and New Testament that the family household is the primary location for discipling our children. 

What is discipleship?
By discipleship, the Bible refers to the process of making disciples, which is related to the word discipline. In New Testament times, adisciple was a learner or scholar, who adhered to the teachings of their master. In this case, discipline doesn’t refer merely to punishment, but to training.
The biblical principle that discipleship is a parent’s responsibility – especially fathers – is very clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Deuteronomy 6 is a core text instructing parents on the purpose and process of training children in the Lord.

Background
Moses has been told that he will not be entering the Promised Land (Num 20:7), and God commands him to remind the Israelites about God’s deliverance and promises (covenants) to them, and to give instructions for life. In the big picture, this passage gives a command, its purpose, and some specific and practical instructions to fathers especially, and all parents and grandparents by implication, about training children in the Lord’s ways. In future posts, I will write about those practical instructions, but for now I am going to look at the big picture of this teaching from Moses preparing the first generation of Israel to occupy the Promised Land.

1“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, 2so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3“O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. (NASB)

What is the nature, purpose, and instruction of this teaching? [vv.1-3]
1.It is a commandment.
This is the commandment of the LORD [v.1]. That means this whole passage is a single command with lots of application. That it is a command means it isn’t optional for the faithful parent. As with all of the Lord’s commands, we ignore them at our own peril; that we can be forgiven for our failures (thanks to Christ’s substitutionary death for us) does not mean we will avoid the consequences of our sins.

2.What is the command and its purpose?
To see God’s intended purposes for giving the command, we look at the clues in the text; in this instance, we see the word “that” repeated several times. This is a point of clarity for us.

  • v. 1 “that you might do them”
  • v. 2 “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God
  • that your days may be prolonged”
  • v. 3 “that is may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly”

In the style of ancient covenants, expected behaviors are followed by promises for complying with the terms of the covenant. The expected behavior is to “do them” (ie, follow the statutes and commandments of the Lord) and “fear the LORD” (ie, reverence Him for His holiness and just nature).
The instruction is to do “the commandments, statutes, and judgments” passed on from God through Moses; to “keep all His statutes and His commandments…all the days of your life;” and “be careful to do it.” Thus, the instruction is clearly stated: it communicates clearly the LORD’s expectations for behavior, so that the covenant’s promises can be kept.
Three promises are made, contingent upon the Israelites’ obedience: (1) their “days would be prolonged;” (2) “it may be well with you;” and (3) “you may multiple greatly.” The connection between the Israelites compliance and their reward is unmistakable, as are the implied consequences of disobeying the commands and statutes: their days would not be prolonged, it would not be well with them, and they will not multiply greatly.

3.The instruction is multigenerational.
Verse 2 states that the expectation for obedience is not about the present generation, but is for the next two generations (“you and your son and your grandson”). This is an important point about discipling your children in the Lord—there are multi-generational consequences. Think about it this way. When you disciple your own children, you are training your grandchildren’s parents; if that’s hard to grasp, the passage also reveals this: You are training your great-grandchildren’s grandparents (“your grandson”).

Application to us
The commandments of the Lord are hard to ignore, wherever they occur in scripture, so let’s apply them to where we are today.
First, the expected behavior is the same today as it was then. We are given instructions, commands and statutes, and we’re supposed to conform our lives to them. A helpful way of thinking about the law as Christians rather than ancient Israelites is to remember that we are redeemed for a purpose—we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10); because he has delivered and redeemed us, our grateful response is striving to live lives pleasing to him in the imitation of Christ. We don’t earn our salvation this way; rather, we make changes to our lives out of love and gratitude.
Second, the promises still hold. We are promised blessings when our behaviors match the Lord’s expectations. Does this mean we will live a long time in The Holy Land? Of course not, but our lives will be prolonged, and we and our descendants will be better off, by and large, by conforming our lives to the instructions and commands of God.
Third, in the US we have a hard time grasping the passage’s multigenerational concept because we are, frankly, pretty self-centered. We think primarily about our own comfort and convenience and temporary happiness, rather than thinking through the consequences of our actions for future generations. But God promises that following His commands will prolong your (and your descendants’) lives, and you will live well. There is no guarantee of what future generations will do, of course, and each generation in Israel had to choose whether to obey the commands.

So it is with us—we make choices that have consequences, even though there is God’s promise, but each generation has to make its own choices, and each can break the cycle of promise. BUT, each generation can choose to re-start the cycle of promise as blessing as well. We also can’t simply blame our parents for their bad choices and their effects on us, we have to choose to claim the promises for our and our children’s and our grandchildren’s generations; how do we claim the promises? By living lives in conformity to God’s principles, rather than the flawed and deceptive philosophies of this world (Col 2:8; Rom 12:2). Choosing to disciple our children biblically is one place to start.