Discipleship Quick Tip: Metaphors in the Bible

Discipleship Quick Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Resources

Here are some examples of metaphors in scripture.

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

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

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

 

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!

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 Quick Tip (5/17/2011)

Share with your children challenges you faced where God was working, but you didn’t understand it at the time.

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5)

What does it mean to love the Lord with all of your soul?

Your soul is the part of you that is eternal, so it has the ability to perceive the eternal truths and character of God, so that we can see the big picture of God’s will and ways. This means we can love Him even when our immediate circumstances stink.

Share with your children a difficult time in your life, that, when you look back at it, you see that God was at work even when you didn’t know it. For example, once I lost my job in a very unfair set of circumstances, and we struggled with the injustice of it all, and with our own anger. Looking back, though, we can see that God was actually protecting us from later, worse, situations that took place at that organization. His provision for us was my job loss! Understanding God’s promises that He has plans for us (Jer 29:11), that He works things out for our good in the long haul (Rom 8:28), and that the path to spiritual maturity is loaded with difficulties and even persecution (e.g., James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-4) helps you put life’s difficulties in eternal perspective. Understanding this helps you love God with your soul.

Pray for opportunities to share eternal truths with your children.

Discipleship Quick Tip (5/15/2011)

Do a quick check with your family of the ways your family reflects the greatest commandment. Where can you improve?

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5)

In the introduction to this passage (Deut 6:1-3), Moses instructs parents to carefully obey the commandments of the LORD in order to receive generations of blessings (see my earlier blog). And here are the first two parts of  the commandment: 1. Acknowledge the supremacy of Jehovah, and His right to your love and worship and obedience. 2. Love Him in a way that matters for your attitude and behavior.

Loving the Lord requires a heart transplant. The heart is your spiritual core; the source of your attitudes and behavior. Do your attitudes reflect a complete commitment to theses spiritual truths? Just as importantly, do your actions reflect a heart that has been redeemed by Christ? If you are being transformed, the things you say and do must change as you grow, because “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matt 15:18) and “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45).

Sit down with your family and ask yourselves: Do our attitudes reflect love of the Lord? Do the words that proceed from our mouths reflect redeemed hearts? Do the things we do reflect hearts that love God, or hearts that love ourselves?

If you have found areas of your heart, words, attitudes, and actions that don’t reflect the love of the Lord, pray for Him to guide you to make the changes He wants you to make. Then act on them!

Discipleship Quick Tip (May 11, 2011)

Talk to your children about a challenge you faced at work, and how your faith helped you through it.

Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.
I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. (Proverbs 4:10-13)

One of our goals as Christian parents is to train our children in how to live as mature Christians, even in the most challenging times of our lives. We do this by passing on the wisdom we have gained from the combination of living life and learning our own lessons, often the hard way. Several years ago, it became clear that I was going to lose my job, in an unjust move by my employer. Even though I had some really bad days in that season of my life, Deb and I decided to keep our older sons “in the loop” about the challenges facing our family and me as a father-provider, because one day, our young men would be heads of households, and very likely to face similar challenges. By talking with them about the problem and the challenges, the Lord gave us the opportunity to model for them how men and women respond to those challenges with Christ-like character.

Take a few minutes this week and talk with your children about a challenge you recently faced, or currently face at work. Speak very clearly to them about how your faith helps you to respond to the challenge, and how you were or are trying to be Christ-like in your attitude and behavior. Let them see you work through your problems, and so pass on the wisdom you have acquired.

Discipleship Lesson: Journalists for Jesus!

writingHere is fun and easy idea for helping your children (and their parents) learn about the process used for putting together the Gospels. We did this activity with our whole-family Bible study last week and it worked really well; you can do this with any small group, but it’s particularly fun with tween-age children. 

The point of the exercise is to illustrate how the gospel accounts were constructed; how people can come up with slightly different versions and descriptions and details about events; and how they all still can be reliable sources of information despite these differences.

The interviews
Have children interview adults about an event that occurred in the adult’s life; consider having multiple children interview the adults; assign one older child to be the recorder of the information. Choose some fun or happy event, or one that isn’t particularly lengthy to describe; it would be best to make the event something the interviewers were not present for. In our group we had children interview parents from a different family about how the married couple met.
Have the children report back to the group about the event, telling it in their own words; the recorder can do the reporting, but let the other children chime in when there is a detail they remember that the recorder doesn’t include, and let the interviewed adults insert vital corrections.
Point out when some details differ slightly; that the order of the events as described might not have been the exact order in which the events occurred; that the adults may have remembered or described some details slightly differently; and that the reports are still truthful.

Bible Study
When we read the gospels, we might envision Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John secluding themselves in a desert retreat and writing their books straight through from beginning to end. But it probably didn’t work that way. While the authors of the gospels used some common material, it’s also helpful to think of these men as first-century historians or journalists.
In fact, they probably put together their reports in a way that is similar to the interview activity we just did. We get a clue that this might be the case from the opening verses of Luke:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, NAS)
Ask the basic reporter’s questions about this passage (Who, what, where, when, why, how); let the people, including children, in the group answer. The leader should make the following points when appropriate.

Question: Who wrote this, and who was it written to?
Answer: The author does not tell us his name. Very early in Christian history Luke was accepted as being the author (a good Study Bible or Bible Dictionary will help you with this point). The book was written to “Theophilus” (thee-OFF-ill-us). We don’t know exactly who this is. It may be a person named Theophilus; it may be a made-up name to protect the identity of a real person; or it may be written to all Christians, because in Greek theo means God and philo is a word for friend, so theo-philus meansfriend of God.

Q: What is being written?
A: “An account of the things accomplished among us.” Luke is telling his readers about Jesus’ life and ministry, and later, the experiences of the early church (Acts). 

Q: When was it written?
A: To get this, we have to think about who was interviewed to write the book; the events “were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” Luke doesn’t claim to be a witness to Jesus’ life, but often uses the first person (“we”) in the book of Acts. Note that your interviewers didn’t see the events that occurred, but they were able to talk to eyewitnesses who did see or participate in the events. Luke’s sources were the eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life, including his death, burial, and resurrection. (More than 500 people saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion and death, and many of them were still alive when Paul wrote his letters; 1 Cor 15:3-7.) The fact that Luke was writing when his eyewitnesses were still alive is important, because it means if he made things up, people were around who would correct him, exposing his account as false; therefore, he had a strong motivation to give a truthful, accurate history. Since the apostles were not afraid to challenge and correct each other (e.g., Acts 15), Luke would strive to be accurate. Note that this is how your interviews worked; did a recorder make a mistake in his or her reporting, or leave out an important or interesting detail? Was it easy to correct the error?

Q: How was the information compiled?
A: Luke “investigated everything carefully from the beginning.” Lacking Google, he relied on eyewitness testimony. Would his information (starting from before the conception of John the Baptist and going through Jesus’ resurrection) have been acquired in the exact order it occurred? No, he probably picked up bits and pieces of different events and conversations, depending on who he was interviewing, and what they saw and remembered. In fact, Luke felt compelled “to write it out for you in consecutive order.” Remind your interviewers what it was like gathering the information just from the couple of people they talked to. (One of our 10-year old “recorders” even wrote the information out in the order it was received, and then during the “reporting” intuitively reorganized the information chronologically when he told the story.)

Q: Why was this account written down so carefully?
A: Luke writes that he did this so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Luke’s purpose is to communicate clearly truths, to reinforce the information that Theophilus already had heard. 

Conclusion
By conducting interviews with eyewitnesses about events, the participants in this discipleship activity can learn some important lessons about how the gospels and Acts were put together. If your experience is like ours, it will be fun; there will be some laughing in the telling of the stories; and there may be some poignant moments. I have to believe that as Luke was interviewing the people who knew and loved Jesus, it had to be the same. It wasn’t some sterile, boring lecture, it was real people relating and reliving their personal contact with the most wonderful and loving person they ever knew. The fact that many of those people were still alive when Luke wrote it motivated him to write it accurately. In itself, Luke’s introduction makes a great case for the accuracy of his gospel.