Proper Child Rearing

Proper child rearing? I’m sure they had good reason, but what happens when she needs a diaper changed?

Uh … yeah. “Proper Child Rearing,” if you’re Father God, ’cause he’s the only one who ever got it right, but look what happened to his first two kids. What does that make our chances of raising perfect little angels?

If you don’t yet have kids, get over the idea of being perfect parents or having perfect kids. It ain’t gonna happen! And if you currently have, or have had kids, you already know perfection is an impossible dream. All you can do is your best, and your best will be good enough if you understand Bible passages like Ephesians 6:4 and the fathers enrage not your children but train them up affixed in the Lord’s discipline and admonition. The Lord’s discipline means according to Biblical principles, and the Lord’s admonition means correction by his words. And all that means you have to know God’s word.

Thing is, even if you could do a perfect job you can’t make their decisions for them; you can only prepare them to make their own decisions. They will make mistakes, even stupid ones, and you will scratch your head wondering what happened to all that lovely Scripture you fed them. It’s still in those brilliant memory-banks, but regardless how you try, you can’t digest and internalize it for them.

This is where example comes in: You tell them stuff and they think, “Fine, show me what you’re talking about.” So they test you to see if you will practice what you preach. If you say, “Don’t hit,” but you slap them in anger, they think, “So much for that rule.” If you tell them, “Don’t gossip,” but you talk about other people’s problems … Well? Violating that principle will certainly cause them to dismiss everything you say.

Did you catch my drift here? To keep from confusing and exasperating your kids you will have to change. To have any chance of raising godly kids, you will have to model godliness.

Keep in mind, though, that living a good example does not guarantee their following it. Your ultimate example will be how you respond to their screwing up their lives. So, should you tenderly welcome them back into the fold if they’ve gone out and become alcoholics or dopers, or begat children, or robbed a convenience store, but refuse to repent? NO WAY! There’s a reason the pros who deal with such things call that, “enabling.” If you want to provide a godly example, remember how God responded when the children of Israel refused to honor him; he removed his protection from them and allowed their enemies to take them into captivity. And do you remember the outcome? Eventually they repented and he welcomed them back into his graces. And do you remember how many times they went through that cycle of apostasy and repentance? I don’t, but I do remember that he forgave them every time they truly repented. That’s how much he loved them, and that’s how much he loves us!

God’s grace is sufficient, even for us failures.

C.S. Lewis on The Worst Kind of Sin

Uncle Jack must have been a carpenter, as he continually “hits the nail squarely on the head.” From Mere Christianity:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

I’m afraid Uncle Jack was a smidge off hitting this particular nail squarely. The generalization with which he opened this excerpt is wrong; most Christians do regard unchastity as the supreme vice, completely missing the the attitudinal sins Lewis mentions later on. Even if you’re reborn into a new person by faith in Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection, you still have to deal with the sin-habit you’ve developed over the years before you came to faith.

When we’re first saved we all marvel at the sensation that freedom from sin-guilt gives us. But just as all changes become mundane after a while, we begin taking the freedom that Jesus so dearly bought for granted. The sensation fades, as does our revulsion to sin, and   (name your poison)   doesn’t seem so bad after all.

I love Lewis’ categories of sin: Animal, and Diabolical. Or, maybe I should say I hate them, as I recognize their icky feelers trying to creep into my life. All that stands in the way of those embryonic buggers is God’s Holy Spirit working through his Word and prayer; no Word, no prayer, no protection.

Any sin, regardless how slight, if unconfessed, will open the door for those buggers. And diabolical sins of attitude are the worst because they’re almost invisible.

Do you think you’re free from attitudinal sin? That’s the primary symptom of having a bad case of them. Think of homeowners; termites are never a problem until the homeowners get their house inspected by the pros. Attitudinal sin is even more destructive than termites, and God’s Holy Spirit is the Pro you need to consult for finding those diabolical, soul-chewing sin-buggers.

If you’re not read-up and prayed-up, you’ll soon become fed-up with your lackluster Christian walk. You may hang onto “a form of godliness,” but your profession will be a lie.

Powerful Stuff

When your ship is sinking, grab this!

We often hear well-meaning Christ-followers (myself included) quote Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But we typically leave it at that, forgetting to reveal what “therefore” is there for.

That’s an easy one. Just read Romans 7:13-25, or better still the whole chapter. Remember when you read verse thirteen, “that which is good” refers to the Old Testament law that demonstrates our inability to obtain justification through our own efforts. Then go on to chapter eight, where verses one through eleven provide the full promise, and define exactly who is in Christ Jesus. Make no mistake, Romans 8:1 revolutionized my walk with him, but as I began growing in Christ, my hunger for the meat of his word drove me beyond “verse one.”

We love God’s promises, grasping them as a sailor who has gone overboard grasps the life preserver, but we aren’t always quite fond of the qualifiers. I call them the “if” passages, even when the word “if” isn’t included.

God’s Promises

Speaking of powerful stuff, God’s promises make the H-bomb seem like a mere candle. 1 Peter 1:3-11 provides a great introduction to God’s promises under the covenant of grace. I can’t tell you how powerfully meditating on it has encouraged me during my occasional lapses of faith. Here’s the link to a topical search for “Promises of God.” Pursuing a study of those Scripture passages will greatly reinforce your faith. If you feel you’ve never witnessed God’s power, making his promises part of your life will knock you off your worldly feet.

Conservative Actors and Other Oddities

Wonder of wonders, a Cool Guy Conservative

The Hollywood in-crowd might be called the Liberal Club. It’s like a high school social clique where the movers and shakers hold so much sway that the little people try to be popular by association. The litmus for acceptance to the clique is how well you can humorously slander President Reagan without being brought up on sedition charges. Only the Charlton Hestons of Hollywood dare spurn the liberals, knowing they will become the butt of endless jokes, yet without responding in kind. Can you imagine Heston getting all bitchy about the ridicule? That’s the Liberal Way, not the way of real people.

Speaking of ridicule, have you ever noticed how social liberals react to valid criticism? Name-calling and personal slurs are their specialty, rather like junior high school girls.

I was surprised at how many conservative—that’s a euphemism for Republican—actors there are: Jimmy Stewart. Gene Autry. Cary Grant. Ronald Reagan. Gary Cooper. But wait, I used the present tense in my introduction for conservative actors. I’m afraid the list gets much shorter with that qualification. Let’s see, there’s Adam Sandler, Chuck Norris, Kelsey Grammer, James Caan, Drew Carey … the list goes on to 143, most of whom are new to me, but I’m far from being an authority on celebrities.

And what is a celebrity, anyway? Celebrity comes from celebrate, and I’ve scarcely seen any reason to celebrate most celebrities, unless their stupid choices deserve accolades. Yes, many of them are competent performers, but by that standard shouldn’t a talented physician, machinist, or policeman be celebrated as well?

Of course, you’ve found this tirade on a Christian blog, so maybe I’d better include some Christianistic commentary. One of my pet peeves is the inextricable link between Evangelical Christians and political conservatism. Dubbed the Christian Right, I find myself asking, “What are they right about?” Yes, there are the watershed issues like government supported abortion and school prayer (a non-issue since the early ’60s), on which virtually all Evangelical Christians align themselves to the conservative side, but what about the Second Amendment controversy? True Christ-followers are personal pacifists (as opposed to those who refuse to take arms for any reason) because the New Testament doesn’t command, or even condone, violence for personal reasons. Many will argue that the “turn-the-other-cheek” command applied only to Bible-times, when the Roman occupiers persecuted those who refused to worship the Caesar, and perhaps they’re right. But the line I hear from Christian, Second Amendment supporters smacks strongly of a militant attitude, illustrated by the, “… cold, dead fingers” bumper stickers. Nowhere in the New Testament are we told to defend our rights, but rather to die to self, which includes the rights we hold so dearly.

My friend Steve submitted a valuable qualifier to the issue of Christ-followers taking up arms. He pointed out that we must prepare to defend others’ rights. This is an issue where we must be in touch with our inner motives. Where anger or pride motivate our taking up arms, it is sin. And where our pure motives require armed resistance, we must maintain vigilance over our motives lest the sin of self corrupt our witness and dim our light.

No doubt I’ll catch some flack about that position, but I believe it’s Biblical. And everyone has a right to his opinion. Right?

Free Love

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11

A social movement existed in the ’60s and ’70s called, “the Free Love Movement.” In fact, it was quite social indeed, producing rampant “social” diseases and unwed pregnancies, and millions of broken hearts. I know that because I would have liked to be part of it, but I’ve never been a candidate for the “World’s Greatest Lover” prize; I was way too shy to go after that one. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a true social movement like the feminist and civil rights movements, but simply flaunted promiscuous sexual practices that had always been hidden for the benefit of polite society.

Also strictly speaking, “free love,” as in sexual promiscuity, was never free. Besides the costs listed above, it enabled the HIV/AIDS virus to freely spread from Africa to the more developed nations, and then to expand at epidemic rates here.

But there is another kind of “free love” that is truly free, and oddly enough, the most costly of all loves.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

In case you’ve forgotten, the Son that Jesus spoke of is Jesus himself, the eternal Word of God made flesh. And to what did God give him over? Only the worst torture and death that both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman occupiers could devise.  And why did Jesus have to suffer so? Because he was the only one who could fulfill for us the absolute righteousness that God requires, without which we have no hope for salvation.

In simple terms, Jesus traded his righteousness for our unrighteousness, then submitted to God’s wrath in payment for the guilt-debt we had accrued. He actually loves me, you, and all of humanity, that much.

Hard to believe, eh? That’s why God’s Holy Spirit gives us just a glimpse of our depraved condition (that’s called “conviction”), and enough of a faith-boost to think that, just maybe, his salvation is for you and me. Then, if you grab that hope and run the race he has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2) throughout the New Testament, faithful to the end, his promise is yours … forever.

Screwtape on Marriage

Satan’s lies actually make sense to some people.

Screwtape’s warped philosophy on human marriage exhibits a circuitous “reasoning” typical of all his better temptations. If what follows seems confusing, it’s meant to. If you manage to read all the way to the end of his lecture, you’ll discover it’s all about competition.

The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy. Ever since our Father’s first great victory, we have rendered the former very difficult to them. The latter, for the last few centuries, we have been closing up as a way of escape. We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually shortlived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.

This idea is our parody of an idea that came from the Enemy. The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into astronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition’.

If what you just read seems strikingly familiar, there’s good reason; it is the world’s way of thinking, which is the antithesis of God’s way for ultimate human fulfillment and happiness. Of course, that should not surprise anyone, as everything the world deems right and proper contradicts God’s design for us.

So if you want to know God’s way without delving into the Bible, just watch secular TV, read secular novels, watch secular movies and attend secular schools, and assume it’s all diametrically opposed to God’s best for us. That strategy is dangerous, however, as if you listen to a lie long enough it’ll seem true.

C.S. Lewis on Prayer

TO DR. F. MORGAN ROBERTS: On Lewis’s own rules about prayer.
31 July 1954

I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1) To make sure that, wherever else they may be placed, the main prayers should not be put ‘last thing at night’. (2) To avoid introspection in prayer—I mean not to watch one’s own mind to see if it is in the right frame, but always to turn the attention outwards to God. (3) Never, never to try to generate an emotion by will power. (4) To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par. With renewed thanks. Perhaps you will sometimes pray for me?
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Like Uncle Jack, who claimed to be unfit to give advice on prayer, I am possibly the least qualified to lecture anyone on how to pray, so this isn’t a how-to piece, or at least that isn’t my intention. I just want to share a couple of things that draw me closer to my Father.

Lewis offered sound advice in his letter to Dr. Roberts, as far as it went. Step one requires some trimming and sorting of your chores. Like giving, prayer is easy to procrastinate until either it doesn’t happen, or it becomes relegated to left-overs. And no, God won’t punish you for giving him your left-overs, but he won’t bless you, either.

Step two requires some discipline, and lots of practice. In one way it’s similar to falling asleep; it won’t happen as long as you’re thinking about it. Lewis’ steps two and four are so closely related that they could be two, and two-a. To avoid monitoring your prayer style you must meditate on the pray-ee, not on the pray-er. You must not gage in any way your “success” in prayer. It’s not performance-based. Which takes us to the next step.

Step three is true of both emotions and methods. Though will-power in the context in which Lewis used it—the teeth-gritting, grunting effort of a weight lifter—is inappropriate, clearing the way for genuine emotional intercourse with your Father begins with the will to do it. And again, meditation on him figuratively ushers you into his presence. Once your mind is staid on him, you’d have to be a robot not to receive a groundswell of emotion.

As to his step four: Praying without words suggests to me Romans 8:26-27. My experience tells me that I must meditate on God—who he is and what he has done, both for the world and for me personally—before I begin unrolling my shopping list. God’s attributes alone are enough to blow your mind, and when you keep envisioning his nature more and more deeply, somehow your shopping list becomes trivial by comparison. Scripture is an integral part of this meditation, so keep a list of passages that you have found meaningful, especially those dealing with his (literally) awesome qualities and works.

Please forgive me; for not being a how-to piece, that’s a lot of how-tos. I never realized I had so much to say on the subject of prayer. Now I need to take my own advice, and Uncle Jack’s, as well.

Golden Age, or Age of Fool’s Gold—America’s Religious Decline

Fool's Gold glitters brighter than true gold.
Fool’s Gold glitters brighter than true gold.

America’s first two hundred years gave safety and security to God’s church. During this “Golden Age” of religious freedom, Our Constitution’s Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom from government-imposed religious conformity. For the first 170 of those years the church thrived; even non-church-goers respected the Bible and those who believed in it. Then a fundamental, three-pronged attack on those freedoms began, as sinister as the mythical
Neptune’s trident.

The First Prong

After World War II ended, German scientists emigrated in droves, scientists indoctrinated under Hitler’s nationalistic anti-Christian, anti-humanist establishment. I say anti-humanist because humanism was a liberal philosophy that encouraged academic freedom of thought and inquiry, but such freedoms weren’t Hitler’s cup of tea. Those scientists landed in government research, industry and academia, and while some of them adapted well to our Judeo-Christian culture base, others militantly held to their atheistic or pagan roots.

While historical humanism was liberal in the sense of tolerating other philosophies and embracing all freedoms, it has evolved toward atheistic secularism, carrying liberals along with it, and causing this prong to stab even deeper into our religious freedoms. As a philosophy, humanism tends to color all academic inquiry, including that of many religious schools. But it is also a religion, as it asserts a belief-system that elevates humanity to the sovereign throne of ultimate authority—in other words, God. As such, it tends to seek dominance, trying to become the piranha in the river of religions, and has virtually become our state religion.

The Second Prong

Half-way into the twentieth-century, we settled comfortably into our easy chairs, squarely in front of our new television sets. TV antennas sprouted from rooftops like tall weeds in a lawn. Commercials splashed products into our homes that many of us never would have imagined, and we bought them. TV entertainment soon became big business, and big business has a way of changing things. As the song lyrics go, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” And our TV screens dropped “Paree” right into our laps. The TV networks’ programming gradually began challenging our customary standards of decency and propriety, which wasn’t hard to do. We gobbled it all right up, and never became sated with the glitz and glamour. In fact, we wanted it—we wanted it badly.

At first the church resisted all that wanton entertainment and commercialism, but it soon became so mundane that we no longer raised an eyebrow to it. Of course, we’d never consider doing those things ourselves. But as we watched the soaps, quiz shows, musical extravaganzas and sports spectaculars, we began thinking of what that little screen delivered as the norm. “Why can’t I have a life like that?” we asked ourselves, and the little screen provided the answer … CREDIT! Of course, the other side of the credit coin is debt, and rather than owning our possessions, our possessions, and the bankers, owned us. But we were living like kings, so who cares?

The Third Prong

The guarantees that our nation’s Founding Fathers had intended as a safe haven for believers and non-believers alike backfired. Before long, the church became complacent in their security. The unity they had clung to for safety became unnecessary, so differences and squabbles, instead of being resolved as they usually had, produced division and schism. Old-line denominations split at the drop of a hymnal, with the new leaders’ idealism soon degrading into a new, staid conventionality. Church doctrines were engraved in stone and perched high atop ivory towers, never to be challenged until some new, charismatic leader, like the pied piper, drew away those who loved his music more than unity.

Televangelists try to compete with entertainment television’s glitz and glamour,with lavish sets and costumes, and their prosperity-gospel’s emphasis on worldly possessions as a demonstration of God’s

Giving by grace through faith? That is blatant corruption of the gospel.

obedience to their demands. And they’ve succeed in seducing many in the church who are gullible enough to support their kingly lifestyle with “faith-partnerships” and “Grace giving,” while neglecting the local church’s valid financial needs.

As materialism eroded the church’s charitable giving, the federal government’s new-liberalism gleefully stepped into the gap with programs to “improve” the poor’s lot in life. Whether or not the welfare-state was calculated to create a government-dependent class and a cottage industry of cheating the system, that is the effect it had.

Rather than looking upon the poor with love, we religious-types began looking down our noses at them, resenting the government support they received that our ever-increasing taxes funded. Simply put, we quit loving the poor, and anyone else who didn’t act, look, and smell like us. We couldn’t grasp the spiritual law that says, where love fails, God removes his Spirit.

We, like the Laodicean church of Revelation, are becoming neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, and are in danger of being vomited out of God’s mouth. And we wonder why the church is impotent in today’s culture.

The church-age of fool’s gold is upon us, and only Holy Spirit-led revival will divert our course toward perdition. “Revival” requires a life that can be revived. It’s not about wholesale evangelism, but the church’s repentance. Right now, a remnant of faithful believers is praying passionately for that revival. Are you one of them? Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem? If you are not part of the solution, you must repent of the sin of complacency, in sackcloth and ashes if necessary. That means turning away from your material hoard, and the values that built it. It means changing your habits, your entertainments, your loves, from what the world dictates to what Christ died to give us. It means allowing, even seeking, brokenness of spirit, so God’s Holy Spirit can rebuild you, me, and the church, in Christ’s holy image.

If you and I fail in this charge, God will bring about the change he wants the hard way, by purging and purifying his church through persecution’s fire. The choice is ours.

Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem somewhat frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can though some think getting his attention is formulaic.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open sez me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening up to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

Peace Like a River

Horatio G. Spafford had ample reason to feel anything but peace that day in 1873 as his ship carried him over the spot where his four daughters perished in a shipwreck a few weeks earlier. Rather than sink into the slough of despond, however, he penned the following words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) The world freely gives no peace at all, but occasionally it reluctantly grants temporary lapses in violence. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, had something entirely different in mind, something those invested in this world system cannot grasp.

This morning I awoke feeling awash in a river of peace. God has taught me—and continues teaching me—that feelings aren’t facts; a hard lesson for any natural human being to learn. But God’s peace is entirely unnatural, so when that is what we feel, it must be from him.

During that unnatural moment, I pictured the river of peace as like the Columbia River, carrying millions of gallons of water swiftly from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. If all that water just lay there with no circulation it would become brackish, a breeding place for mosquitoes and disease. But it moves, slowly enough to be safe for navigation, but swiftly enough to keep it fresh, washing all its organic matter out to meet the purifying sea water. Like the mighty Columbia, God’s peace washes all the potentially putrefying matter from our lives, refreshing us moment by moment as only his Prince of Peace can do.

Please, don’t fall for the world’s counterfeit peace, but hold out for the unconditional, sanctified peace that only Christ can give.