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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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!

Celebrating Image Bearers with Down Syndrome

Today, March 21, is World Down Syndrome Day. While our family has no member with Down Syndrome, over the last few years we have become advocates for orphans with the condition internationally. Specifically, we strongly support the efforts of Reece’s Rainbow, an agency with a mission to raise money for children abroad who are waiting for adoption and adopting families. My wife and daughters fundraise for these children in an entrepreneurial spirit through handmade crafts, my wife’s Etsy Store and Lilla Rose franchise, which she started so we could increase the amount we give without further taxing our family’s budget.

Our motivation is loving compassion born out of awareness that people with Down Syndrome are also created in the image of God, as you and I are (Gen 1:27-28). Therefore they are worthy of respect and dignity. We also are encouraged by the many passages of scripture in which orphan care is praised and commended to us as part of living out our faith (e.g., James 1:27, Psalm 82:3, Psalm 146:9). Moreover, since we have also been adopted by our heavenly Father:

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. (Ephesians 4:4-5)

when we adopt or support those who do, we are living out God’s image stamped on our spirits, and are working out our salvation (Eph 2:10).

Today, on World Down Syndrome Day, consider what you can do.

1. Encourage families with members who have Down Syndrome. This video is an encouraging reminder that even those among us with cognitive disabilities have tremendous potential for, and therefore deserve happy lives.

Here is another touching video along the same lines. // And another one.

2. Consider supporting families who have a mission and calling to adopt special needs children. In most areas of the world, these young ones are thrown away or abandoned due to social stigmas or superstition, even if their parents are still living. Moreover, many orphanages around the world are simply horrific, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia. We can help! Check out this before and after shot of a beautiful girl rescued from an Eastern European country in February of this year!  

JoJo 1 month homeReece’s Rainbow  is a great organization that targets and collects money toward children’s adoption grants; when a family comes forward and commits to adopting a child they can be reimbursed from the child’s account.

Friends who have adopted or are adopting can be found here and here and here. (If I missed your page, email me and I’ll add you to the list!)

The opportunities are not international only. In the United States people with Down Syndrome also need support, and sometimes adoption. On the other hand, the US Government’s expansion of prenatal testing coverage, which with the medical community’s negative attitude toward DS is sure to reduce the rate of Down Syndrome in the population through the only way it can occur medically: abortion. (State prenatal programs even had the goal of reducing the DS population!) So even though less “enlightened” countries deal with special needs children by committing them to orphanages and mental institutions, in the “civilized” USA  we simply kill them—at a rate of 90%!

3. Learn about Down Syndrome and educate the people around you. Teach your children or the kids in your sphere of influence that people with cognitive disabilities are children of God, too. Recently the medical community agreed to eliminate the phrase “retarded” and “mentally retarded” from their diagnostic manuals; let’s eliminate those and the word “retard” when we’re talking about people, shall we?

4. Encourage your church leaders consider how they can come alongside their church families that have members with cognitive disabilities. Many of these families feel rejected by their churches, even though churches should be where they find support. Growing up in Connecticut, our church was involved with a group home a block away, in which several young women with Down Syndrome lived, and they attended worship services and many church events. Is your church a welcoming place for “the least of these” and the family members who care for them?

Me with our friend Daisy

Me with our friend Daisy

My family has been blessed by our interactions with children and young men and women who have Down Syndrome. I pray that you will take this day to seek out this blessing as well. You’ll be glad you did!


Parents Need to Keep Learning, too!

"teach them diligently to your children, 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 (Deut 6:7).

Deuteronomy 6:7

Over at christianmomthoughts.com Natasha Crain provides a great list of  65 questions that Christian parents should learn to answer. These questions cover the major topics of having and living out a Christian worldview. Parents–pay attention: most churches will not teach you these topics in Sunday School or in a Sunday morning sermon! And your kids’ public schools won’t teach them either!

These are big questions of life, and you probably have to learn it on your own. Fortunately, the internet provides access to many Christian websites that enable you to study these topics. (I’m working on a page compiling those links.) We also have more books than ever (hard copy and eBooks) that address these issues.

I guarantee you that the opposition has plenty of advocates and apologists out there pushing their perspectives–often through the public schools, colleges and universities, and the media. Are you prepared to un-indoctrinate your children?

Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents to talk about the things of God all day long…”You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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.”

My Worldview and Apologetics Seminar is specifically designed to address some of these questions, and to point attendees to some of the best resources out there for getting equipped in these areas. You don’t have to be an expert in everything (the Lord knows I’m not!), but you ought to have a foundation for answering these questions.

God and Our Tragedies

girl cryingBackground: On December 3, 2013 two Kalamazoo teens were killed in a car crash, and another took his own life. Many of my students knew these young people, and it was an emotionally wrenching time for the Kalamazoo-area home school community. I wrote this open letter, first and foremost for my students, but then someone suggested that I post it more broadly; I did, and the response to the letter was more than I ever expected. In it, I try to help those who have experienced a tragedy begin the process of grieving and dealing with the hard questions of why God allows such suffering and bad things to occur. This week another young person was in a serious crash and people are asking again, “Why?” In another post I’ll address some of the “why’s” we can explain, but for now I’ve been asked to re-post the original open letter, with only slight edits. I hope and pray you find it healing and helpful.

Many dear friends are grieving tonight…for three young lives ended today. Among many in our community hearts are broken or are breaking, and people we love are crying their eyes out. Parents all around us are hugging their kids a little tighter, as many of our teens are experiencing, for the first time, the death of a peer, a friend, a classmate, a Prom Queen. Worst of all, two families have lost beloved children.

What are we to make of this? How can it make sense? What purpose could there be in these tragedies? These are the situations when, as we sit in puddles of tears, we just can’t see the way clear to a rational reason for any of it.

Just two weeks ago, in my worldview class (which includes several friends of those who passed on), we discussed the nature of suffering. Why do we suffer? Why does tragedy occur? What could God possibly accomplish in horrible circumstances?  I told my dear students that, if they hadn’t experienced tragedy yet, they would.

I promised.

Because that is what happens in a world that was created good, but not perfect, and which is falling apart around us. Creation groans in its fallen state, and tonight we groan along with it.

But our groaning and grieving and weeping is not everything, and need not be the end of the story.

I told my students that when you’re in the weeds—in the middle of a horrible situation, like a sibling or a parent dying, like a typhoon wiping out your home, like a cancer diagnosis, like an assault—that in those close quarters of desperation and grief we can’t understand it at all. We can’t see what any of it means, where God could be, or what God could be doing by letting our world fall apart around us. But, as Corrie ten Boom (who lived through horrors most of us will never face) wrote, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

Even the pit in which you may now find yourself, you are not alone.

I told my students that because your world is so dark when you are in that pit, that you must decide ahead of time to understand something about God and cling to it, desperately, as if your life depended on it, when you don’t have any answers:

God intends all of our human experiences to direct us to Himself.

Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Paul, James, and Peter all told their readers that God is accomplishing purposes through our suffering and tribulations, even when we can’t discern the designs of his handiwork or the tragedies He permits (Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:8-11). And then there is that familiar promise, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). And we’ll hear this a lot over the coming days and weeks, about how not everything is good, but that God works things together for good. And in the short term, it will sound trite and maybe even a little pathetic. But wait.

Let’s not forget how Paul introduces that promise: He writes a couple of verses earlier (Rom 8:26-27),

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Paul is saying that when we are in a pit of grief so deep that we don’t even know what to say, the Holy Spirit groans before God on our behalf. My children, you do not walk this painful path alone, and you have not been abandoned.

My point to my students was that we must intellectually grasp the principle that the purposes of God—yes, even His unknown and unknowable purposes—are somehow, inexplicably, being accomplished. And we must understand this before tragedy strikes, so that in our grief we do not curse God or abandon him in what seems like a hopeless, pointless, and purpose-less situation.

Young people, gather together with your friends and loved ones and grieve for a time, for this is right and necessary and healthy. But also gather with older people, those gray-headed elders of The Church who have already walked this path more times than they care to remember. Talk with them about those times that the Lord used tragedies—including deaths of people taken from them much too soon—to do something in their lives. (I can tell you that some of the most important times in my Christian walk occurred among fellow-worshippers in ICU waiting rooms or funeral parlors.) Allow them to speak this evidence into your life, to testify about the Lord’s work. Perhaps there are things they don’t yet understand, and that’s okay, too.

 Older people, seek out opportunities to share your experiences with young people in your circle of friends or in your church. Tell them that you understand what they’re going through. Share with them how the Lord has grown you and those around you through life’s tragedies. This day is one of the reasons you lived through that day…to minister to the broken-hearted around you, and testify to God’s goodness.

Love one another, comfort one another, care for each other, treasure the moments you had with your friends who have gone home ahead of you. And if you can’t talk to God quite yet, or you don’t know what to say, let the Holy Spirit groan on your behalf until you can. Grieve, and in time, you will move forward. Your life will be better for having known them. And then, after a little while, bit by bit, let the Lord show you how He wants to use these friendships and relationships, the loss of your friends, and what you are experiencing now to draw you nearer to him, and to grow you ever more into the likeness of His Son.

May the peace of God the father, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Jesus surround you, enfold you, and comfort you.

Peter

When your children say to you…

ExodusPageReading about the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt today, I was reminded of how God views our jobs as fathers (and parents). While giving the instructions to the Israelites about the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread, God foretells three specific conversations

  1. And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” (Ex 12:26-27 NAS)
  2. You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year. (Ex 13:8-10)
  3. And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’  So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” (Ex 13:14-16)

What can we learn from this? 

  1. As parents we have the first and foremost responsibility to explain to our children the reasons for our beliefs and worship, not just dictate that we go to church, say grace before dinner, or any other part of our Christian walk. This is central to discipling our children.
  2. These conversations are regular and planned, not random. For Israel, the conversations took place at specific times–it wasn’t left to chance.
  3. The purposes of the conversations are to pass on the knowledge and understanding of the Lord and His ways, and the basis for our faith. If we fail to do this, we should not be surprised when our children don’t hold onto the things we believe are important.
  4. These conversations are between parents and children, not youth group leaders, or Sunday school teachers, or pastors. Parents, you can’t delegate this to others, because you are in the best position to equip and influence your own children. Pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teachers come alongside you in this process.

The apostle Peter wrote, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). 

Being ready to make a defense includes preparing conversations with our children. Have you explained to your kids why you do what you do, and why it is important? Find an opportunity to do this sometime this week; your drive to church will be a great time!

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