This loosely organized faction, of which Rick Warren is one of the leaders, has been around for a few decades. I saw disturbing signs in their words or actions long ago that pushed against the boundaries of doctrinal truths. I saw flashing red lights when he went to Syria and got cozy with Bashar al-Assad, the evil Syrian leader who is even now systematically butchering his people in a no-holds-barred attempt to maintain his power. I was especially appalled when Warren turned a deaf ear to criticism over that visit and other issues. I’ve watched too many well-known Christian leaders over the years slide into sin when they were too proud to accept criticism.
And anyone, regardless of who they are, should very careful about trying to guide people to the truth that are deep in sin, lest you find that you have a weak spot during your contact with them that Satan will exploit and cause you to stumble into sin. You cross a line, however, when you go into the presence of wicked people and hold back on the truth, ignoring their sin and refusing to say anything about it, especially when their sin is actively harming people. Jesus certainly did go into the homes of sinners, but he went into homes of people who were receptive to truth, and He confronted them to convict them of sin and lead them into His kingdom, the promise of which he would fulfill later on the cross. He went into homes with fertile hearts. God is always concerned with the heart, with the intentions and motivations there.
I was personally impacted by this worldly evangelical faction when we attended a church in the late 90s in Opelika, Alabama. The pastor seemed to be doctrinally correct, but I had a real disquiet in my spirit about the man. He was one of those pastors that would brook no challenge to his authority and would run rough-shod over anyone that tried to question him. This just did not seem to be the humble character you would expect of a man of God. At one point while we attended the church, the pastor and the deacons started pushing a church-wide study program that was built around a book titled Contagious Christianity. I’m not sure who wrote this book because I tried to research it for this blog and found numerous books with those words in their title, so without examining them all, I couldn’t be sure which one was the one we used. In any case, the book we were using and its methods left me very uneasy in my spirit. The gist of it was a slick sales program built around worldly methods to get people to buy into our religion. But it seemed woefully short of truth and power. It relied on the same sales methods that one might use to push any product to customers.
The book advocated not using “churchy” words as this could be a turn-off to potential prospects. This was a red flag to me right away. There are certain words that may not be recognized among people of the world, but those words are part of our faith, so we should never apologize for them. If you water down the truth, then it is no longer truth. But what disturbed me most about this approach is that I knew from my Bible study and from witnessing programs I had been through that the Holy Spirit is central to all spiritual work. It allows them and us to understand spiritual truth; hence the churchy words are no stumbling block. Moreover, the book completely left out the leadership of the Holy Spirit in developing your Christian character so that you would always be in service to people, thus opening up the opportunities to witness. Instead, the book relied on sales tactics of constant contacts to prospective customers, treating them as objects in your sales pitch rather than human beings with feelings and needs. Also, it left out the requirement to be led by the Spirit in knowing who to witness to, when to witness to them, and what to say. We can certainly use these business methods, but there will be no power in them, and our witness will have no effect if we are not guided by the Holy Spirit who knows all things and knows when someone’s heart is fertile and what message they may need at that particular time.
Please don’t be deceived, Islam does not worship the same god that we do. You have to go by description and character, just as you would in a court of law, to know who our God is and who their god is. Our God is love, truth, righteousness, order, impartiality, justice, holiness, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, etc. Our God demands of us a holy, righteous, and loving lifestyle of service to others as well as an exacting requirement of our character and actions. Their god is a bloody, violent god that even allows deception in his name. As soon as you allow bending or manipulation of the truth, then you have wandered off the narrow path of truth that leads through the doorway of our Savior, Jesus. You are, instead, on the broad, fast moving highway that leads to destruction and Hell. There will be no celebrations in Hell as Satan has deceived many, even trying to make it sound joyous as in the AC/DC song “Highway to Hell.” There will be, instead, unimaginable, incomprehensible suffering. This is not a destination that we should wish upon even our worst enemies who have abused us repeatedly.
But while there is only one way to heaven, there are many ways to Hell, and one of those ways is by watered down doctrine. One example of it is the whole “purpose driven” fad which I’ve always been wary of. If you’ve gotten something out of it and have a stronger walk with God, then I have no problem with it, but so many such faddish programs get people out of a singular focus on the Bible and a close walk with God by offering easy, slick, well-packaged religion. They are a big departure from the messier, harder path that follows in our Savior’s suffering. This and so many other modern Christian fads have never seemed right to me. They sounded too much like the methods of the world with slick marketing and truth bound up in convenient bite-size nuggets. God’s truth is so much bigger, touching on every aspect of life, just as He wants to be intimately involved in our lives like any loving father.
I always felt in my spirit that this was not real truth. I felt that God was showing me years ago how these methods were worldly and were extra-biblical, stepping outside the bounds of truth. People lean too much on packaged theology; they always have. It is so much simpler to accept someone else’s ready-made package of ideas and beliefs. It is so much easier than the path of struggle and turmoil to discover and live out truth personally. But finding truth for ourselves is our responsibility. As 2 Tim. 2:15 admonishes, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So when it comes to biblical truth, we’re supposed to be thinking for ourselves. But we reap what we sow. If we sow to easy shortcuts, we will reap the harvest of apostasy and destruction. If we sow to real truth and put in the hard work to understand it within our spirits, getting accustomed to thinking our own thoughts that are worked out in hard effort either through prayer, meditation, or during our daily obligations, then we will reap the real and tangible victory of God’s work in our life as we apply His truth to every aspect of our lives and become the people that we want to be in His service.
In the late 80’s when I was attending one of my mandated military officer schools, we were assigned to small study groups along with officers from allied military forces from countries across the globe. In one of these groups was an officer in the Saudi Arabian army which a friend of mine had been assigned to mentor and escort. This was part of a program that helped the foreign military officers assimilate and find their way around while they were attending our schools and was part of our diplomatic programs to foster friendship with nations we were allied with or wished to be allied with. As you can imagine, the escort/mentors had a pretty big job sometimes, especially when there were language or cultural conflicts. One day, as my friend was escorting this officer in a visit to a local mall, the officer’s wife was in tow, a few steps behind the two men. As they approached the doors of the mall, this Saudi officer allowed my friend to enter, then the man let the door go, closing right in the face of his wife. A stranger from the local area, a young man, had been leaving the mall at just that instant and watched what he interpreted as a very rude gesture and immediately launched into a verbal tirade against the Saudi officer. My friend had a really hard time defusing the situation and explaining the seemingly rude actions of this man.
The man meant nothing by his actions. This was typical of his Islamic culture in which women are looked on as inferior beings and are frequently treated poorly. But this is a shining example of why we should be very careful in our interactions with practitioners of the Islamic faith. We can witness to them and even find ways to give loving service to them, but we should never, ever water down the truth of our faith, nor deny the full truth of who Jesus is (or other key biblical tenets) so that we can reach them. Not all people are so careful. In fact, there is a supposedly Christian group that is intent on erasing the differences between Christianity and Islam and merging the two religions. Some have called this unholy alliance Chrislam. And despite denials by some of its adherents, to include well known pastor Rick Warren, their words and actions betray what’s in their hearts. Moreover, faithful men of God such as Jack Van Impe have tried to call them out on their apostasy and have suffered for their witness by being shut out of the power corridors and media platforms.
We should never yield to negative thoughts of our spouse. In our minds, we should portray them always in the best light, not perfect, but still the same Eve or Adam that we loved in the beginning, still possessing the same personality and unique talents that attracted us originally to them, our perfect complement. We can recognize flaws in the other without rejecting them. The flaws should not diminish them but rather simply remind us that they are simply human, not perfect. They should never be the object of our worship or the repository of all our hopes, only the hopes we have of what we and they together can be. Our trust for life’s storms, our hope for a better life, and our worship should only be focused on God, not a human being. Moreover, when we lean on another human being to save us, we put an excessive amount of pressure on them to be something they aren’t. They will inevitably fail and leave us disappointed and heart-broken. Too many relationships fail because they look to the other to be their savior, a role no human has ever been or ever will be qualified for.
But once we accept that our mate is inherently flawed, yet still wonderfully unique, and possessing infinite worth in God’s eyes, and once we no longer require that they be our gods, then we can find the true unique beauty of our relationships and the beauty within them that God will make more abundant over time as He sanctifies them, working on their hearts and character. Love should always be bigger than our flaws, and it can be, as long as we maintain a good, regular relationship with our source of power, our amazing God, turning to Him constantly in prayer, not legalistically with whatever harsh strictures that have been shown to us, but rather in freedom, speaking to Him as we would speak to a cherished friend while walking and working through our daily life. Prayer should never be seen as a burden or a chore. Perhaps when we are still immature in spirit, we do see it that way. But over time, we should see prayer as our sanctuary, our oasis, and our cherished time with our best friend. Prayer can be done so many ways. We can speak to Him out loud if we are alone, or we can speak to Him within our mind since He can hear our thoughts. We can speak to Him while we are working or laboring over a chore or driving or walking or whatever we may be doing during the day. He is ever present, waiting to listen and to teach us.
Finally, I will share some things that forever changed my prayer life such that I can easily spend hours and hours every day for days on end in His presence. One thing that made a big difference is that I discovered that I can speak to God in whatever state I am in, even if I am inebriated with alcohol or drugs that I have had to take for medical conditions. This may come as a shock to some, but we do not ever have to be perfect to approach the throne of grace if we are covered by the Blood of our Savior. So long as our thoughts are clear and our heart is humble and pure in our desire for Him, He does not mind. Another thing that made a big difference is when I realized I can speak to Him with my eyes open and even while I am working, just like you might speak to a friend (which He is) while you are working through a task. I’ve even spoken to Him while I was in conversation with another person or sitting in meetings. God can hear our thoughts, so you can be praying without anybody around you being the wiser. Lastly, I discovered that I can use the voice in my head that we all have and that we normally use to reason through things before we act or to reason through them after they have happened. I have turned that voice around toward God such that most of my thoughts or voices are directed at God in prayer. Instead of posing questions or making statements to myself in my head, I speak to God.
When I am not praying, I am usually meditating on His word or His ways or whatever thought that connects to Him and my duties to others during the day. I’ve reached the point that I rarely even have thoughts simply within myself for my own pleasures. The result of all this time with Him is that my life has been literally transformed, with God taking out most of the sin and selfishness, replacing it with His Agape Love and His Wisdom. Now I am a much better servant to those around me, and I have become the man that I always wanted to be. I am not unusual in this. Many others have gone through the same process to become powerfully effective tools in the hands of our loving Lord. Most importantly, you can be one of those, if you simply yield to Him for His sanctifying work. We will still be prone to sin as long as we have this treasure in earthen vessels, but over time, we can become so much more loving, so much more effective in service, and so much more pleasing to our Father and our brother and Savior, Jesus, as well as to those around us.
The Christian marriage which regularly practices unselfish love will navigate emotional and financial storms successfully every time as each remembers: that there is usually wrong on both sides of an argument; that money is not the main thing; it’s just a tool to help meet the needs of you and your family; to regularly put ourselves in the other person’s shoes in order to understand the struggles they have and the pressures they are under; to subordinate self interest during and after arguments, getting in the habit of quickly yielding to and admitting flaws and wrongs to the other. There may truly be a right and wrong in the argument, but the important thing is to make the problem the focus of your anger rather than the person. It is not flesh and blood that we fight against. In these moments of turmoil, there is a spiritual battle going on. So it is good to always remember that you are both on the same team, fighting against the world to establish your place in it, fighting against Satan’s attempts to devour you and your family, fighting to build your family with spiritually loving principles, fighting to provide for yourself, and fighting through all Satanic obstacles to lovingly serve others.
Remember that it is a marriage of equals. Neither is subordinate to the other, although there must be a head and leader in the husband who will be the protector and provider for the most part, and although there may be situations in which the wife works and brings in more than the husband. But the family should willingly submit to the leadership of the husband and father, who should be submitting, in turn, to the Father in Heaven, and should be fulfilling his responsibilities in a loving, honorable, and spiritual manner. Marriage should never be a power struggle, although many make it into that. This is driven by pride or the desire to be right in any situation. This attitude is destructive and should be addressed and submitted in prayer to God where the Father will then turn the attitude of the heart to something more beautiful and pleasing.
Most importantly, we should remember that both spouses are inherently flawed and need help to become the people that we desire to be, that the other desires us to be, and that God desires us to be. So, when we find moments such as Paul wrote about in Romans 7, when we desire to do right and just don’t seem to have the power within us to do so, then we should always take the situation to God and ask His power and wisdom to make us into what we need to be. This is especially true when you have strong feelings or wounds from the past that seem insurmountable. With God all things are possible.
Never forget that the Bible says it is the “hardness of our hearts” that leads us to divorce. There should never be divorce. Once we have been joined together with our spouse in heart and spirit, there cannot be a dissolution without pain and damage to ourselves and our children that came from our bond. It is a Satanic lie to say that there is nobility in divorce or that things will be better once the divorce is executed. We should avoid this at all costs, always working through the pain and damage that might come between us and our spouse. But certainly, there are times when divorce might be the only answer if one spouse is committed to sin and is abusive beyond our capability to endure, refusing to change, or if the spouse is bringing harm to the children in some selfish, evil way. But the decision should be worked out with God and according to His principles, with love and the greater good for all involved as the ultimate aim. Try not to let hard or hateful feelings drive your actions because, when you do, you will inevitably shoot past the mark of proper action or you will be too consumed with bitter anger that you will not even want to do the right thing.
God does not desire that we should suffer needlessly or that we be abused, although there are certainly times in our lives when our suffering is part of His plan. But He does not want the little ones to suffer during their formative years in ways that may hobble them the rest of their lives. It is an unavoidably tragic fact that divorce prospers in our fallen world, primarily when we habitually practice selfishness and let our minds and hearts drift into sin. But there is a better way when we turn to God. Over time, if we put in the effort necessary for a healthy relationship, with God and our spouse, and cultivate the right thoughts, the marriage grows into something so beautiful, so much bigger than we could be individually. Such a marriage is joy manifested for all involved, and is a powerful tool in the hands of our Lord, witnessing His power and His love to a fallen world. As always, we can head off many of our troubles by controlling the mind, renewing it through contact with God daily, with meditation on His word, and by always thinking positive thoughts of our spouse.
(Continued on the next blog posting)
The famous song-writing duo of Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a song called “Candle in the Wind” which debuted on Elton’s 1973 album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The song was a tribute to the celebrated American beauty Marilyn Monroe, who had died tragically 11 years prior from a drug overdose while she was still at the height of her popularity and still young at 36 years. Just as in the song, her death is a tale of poignant tragedy, coming when she seemingly had so much going for her and should have been happy. But her life is a morality tale, a real-life warning that we can gain the entire world and lose our own soul when we try to negotiate life without God.
She reportedly had a genius IQ and made many memorable quips to reporters. But one of her quotes has always stuck with me as it seemed to be a glimpse into the deep sadness of her heart. She noted that she had never been told she was pretty when she was a little girl and said, “All little girls should be told they’re pretty, even if they aren’t.” It seems so sad that such a beautiful woman would be doubtful of her own beauty. Not that there is no danger in vanity, but I believe that the need to be beautiful, to be admired, is hard-wired into every woman. I believe this is inextricably part of their self-worth.
I’ve tried to give my daughters constant encouragement about their own beauty, wanting them to always believe in their infinite worth. I think this is essential to their development. Every little girl and every woman should believe in their own beauty. Whether you are capable of perceiving it nor not, I believe every woman and girl has at least some beauty, some charm which is part of God’s plan. For those that were designed to eventually be married, I believe their unique beauty is built to fit into their eventual mate’s view of what beauty is, part of God’s marvelously intricate and accurate plans.
I know I had little understanding of feminine beauty when I was a young man. I knew when I saw a woman that I liked, but I had no idea what my ideal beauty should be, what my future mate should look like. When I finally relinquished control to God for this search for my mate, for my Eve, He went above my dreams to fulfill a reality that I could not have imagined because I did not truly know what I wanted and what I needed. When I saw my Lesia for the first time, though, I knew in my heart that this was it. You could say it was love at first sight, but it was more than that. This was love for the one who was designed for me and I for her. I felt like Adam seeing his Eve for the first time. Somehow, there was an abstract vision of beauty in my mind for which she was the perfect manifestation.
I don’t know how God does this, but He is an awesome God, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. He loves us better than we love ourselves and more than we or anyone could ever love us. So He knows what is best for us, and I believe, He designs, for every single man and woman that is designated for marriage, a perfect mate – an Adam for every Eve, and an Eve for every Adam – so long as we yield to His plans. Marriage is part of His original plan for us to “be fruitful and multiply.” And it is part of His perfect plan to found society upon this nucleus of family, begun in and founded on love, the most sure foundation in life. And, of course, that sure foundation is best built upon the ultimate love of God in the perfect gift of His Son on the cross. When founded upon that Agape love, our marriages will not fail because, when we remain true to sacrificial love to each other, and when we seek God’s presence and power in our lives regularly, we receive the capability to enact our love for each other to the fullest measure. Such a marriage cannot and will not fail.
One of the main reasons we fail in life or in relationships is because we don’t yield to God, and we don’t love humbly and unselfishly. When we refuse to relinquish control, and when we pursue self indulgence, we place ourselves on the destructive path of sin. Life is tough enough. We need God’s help to get through it successfully, and we desperately need His help to make our relationships in life successful. We should never forget that we are fatally flawed. That fatal flaw lurks in the background waiting for the moment to bring us down just like Achilles’ heel. We cannot escape that we are born into sin, but God can reclaim so much lost ground if we yield to His plan and His control and work with Him to improve our lives. Unfortunately, when two fatally flawed people are put together, the union can sometimes magnify the flaws or make inevitable a day of reckoning when the flaws of each reach apex. There will inevitably be days in which both people are at their weakest points and will yield to selfishness resulting in conflict, sometimes painful and damaging conflict.
(Continued on the next blog posting)
God has revealed many truths to me through the relationships I have had in life. He has taught me much about what a loving father should think and feel toward his children, and by extension, how these lessons apply to His relationship with us. To really understand God’s perspective, you have to imagine yourself in His shoes. He often uses the framework of our own human relationships to give us a conceptual understanding of how He works with us. Think about how you respond to your own children. Think about how you treat your children in your best moments of patience and compassion with them, wanting what’s best for them. Think about what you want to do for them, what you want to teach them, etc. Think about how you often remember them during the day, relishing the memory of things that they have said or done or activities that you have shared together with them. Think about how you look forward to doing things with them.
Now, starting with this framework, to then understand God’s perspective, you have to realize that His love is so much more powerful, so much more persistent, so much more tireless, etc. Because He is God, He can love so many levels beyond how we can love our children. Because He is infinitely wise and intelligent, His thoughts, while somewhat similar to ours, reach far higher levels than we can, taking into account millions of variables and factors that affect us in mere seconds, and processing the information in a tiny span of time – knowing things that would take our best minds a lifetime to even begin scraping the surface of. Now, if He is so extraordinarily powerful, boundlessly loving, and infinitely capable of being His best with us all the time, surely He is not bothered by our eccentricities. He looks at our faults as any loving father would, with a patient and compassionate eye. If you think about it, there are so many different ways of encountering and approaching God. You can see this in the multiplicity of denominations, and ways of worshipping and serving Him. Some experience Him with dumbfounded awe, and sit quietly in reverence, while others feel an explosion of joy and worship exuberantly, dancing in the aisles and so forth. Still others feel Him in deep contemplation of the complexity and wonders of the world around us, trying to understand just how amazing our universe is and realizing that the God behind all this is so awesome and incredible.
God has made us infinitely unique in His measureless creativity. Knowing that we are infinitely unique, He makes allowances for each of us, letting us experience Him in our own unique way, always meeting us with kindness, always finding ways to fit into our unique personality and circumstances in life. He meets us where we are because He knows we're too weak and ignorant to figure out how to meet Him without His help. The Bible tells us that He first loved and sought after us, while we were still in enemy territory, fighting against Him. He is dogged in His pursuit of us, trying to get our attention and make us understand His love, trying to entice us to enter into covenant with Him through the doorway of His Son, Jesus.
But once we enter through that doorway, He executes His plans for us, and He becomes the ultimate teacher, trainer, and father. He is always indulgent with His children (those washed in the blood). Always compassionate and gentle. He does not mind if you struggle with Him, so long as He can see in your heart that you want to do the right thing ultimately and that you are merely trying to understand. He would rather that you struggle with Him, trying to find peace with Him, because He wants that relationship with you. He prefers this to the alternative of you forgetting Him and going your own way. In His indulgent will, He overlooks so many of our mistakes as long as our hearts are humble, and we are trying to walk in obedience. He doesn’t care if we stumble. He expects that. We don’t have to be perfect. We couldn’t be even if we wanted to. So why waste effort? Remember that “obedience is better than sacrifice” and “He giveth grace to the humble.” One example that really captures God’s compassionate understanding of our ignorance is when Jesus plead from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
It is that unyielding love for us, even when we are God’s enemy, that characterizes the greatness of His love. And one of the most poignant images of this restless, tireless, boundless love of God was beautifully captured by the English poet Francis Thompson in his poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” Since its writing, this poem has influenced many famous and influential Christians, including J.R.R. Tolkien. But this is a poem for everyone. It is the story of virtually all of us as we constantly walk the broken road back to the Father’s grace, just like the Prodigal Son in the Bible.
To truly understand the spirit of the poem, you have to know something of Thompson’s story. Thompson lived on the very gritty edge of society. The son of a doctor, he was very highly educated and had even studied medicine himself. But due primarily to his opium addiction, he ended up living in the streets of London for three years (1885-1888). He was rescued from this rough existence by a very kind couple who even helped him to publish his first book of poetry in 1893. But the rough living had taken a toll on his health, so he struggled through physical difficulties until tuberculosis finally took his life in 1907. You can see his tragic struggles in “The Hound of Heaven.” But the poem also charmingly captures the constant love of God which pursued him even while he lived on the edge all those years.
The poem’s driving metaphor is of a hound chasing its prey across a landscape of a lifetime. Thompson was trying to convey the persevering, tenacious pursuit of a hound, a metaphor for God’s no-holds-barred pursuit of every single human life as He tries to bring them into His kingdom. No matter what the fleeing person does to try to escape, no matter where he goes, God is always there in pursuit. The poem ends with God addressing the prey he has finally cornered, telling the man how unworthy he is, yet how greatly he is loved. As God reveals his unflinching love and the fact that He was the only one who truly loved this man throughout his life, He also reveals that all the things the man truly desired out of life can only be found with his God.
How hast thou merited--
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!'
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
'Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.'
We are better served, and our children are better prepared, when we admit that life is messy and difficult. We can help them by teaching them the rules and principles that will allow them power over these obstacles in their lives. Moreover, in the critical points of the struggle of life, we can show them how to lean on God for guidance and power. But perhaps the best teacher is a good example. We should model the principles that we say we believe so that our children know that they are true and so that they can see the possibility of how to go about applying these principles to their lives.
Moreover, we should accept the messiness of life that comes in our children, the playful exuberance that frequently shatters the day as they play various games with each other. We can follow the Victorian model of children that are seen but not heard, but this is foolishness, too. Children are not museum pieces that adorn our lives to be trotted out for display whenever we have the urge, then quickly put back away. They are real human beings that need fun and enjoyment and deserve our attention, affections, and teaching, which must be done, as the Bible says, “diligently” whenever we have opportunity for life lessons throughout the everyday activities. And what good is a silent house that doesn’t resound with the joyous music of life, children’s laughter. A silent house is a sign that things are “under control.” The silence is a harbinger of death, a sign that we have murdered our children’s spirits with constant scolding about their normal play or constant demands to live within an exacting, legalistic framework of rules, or that we have successfully taught them the lesson that they do not matter to us by not wanting to hear them nor have them intrude into our lives of self-indulgence.
Who cares if a few things get broken from time to time. In those moments, we have the opportunity to teach our children that we all make mistakes and that it is okay to make mistakes. We can also teach them that people always matter more than things. Remember that we own those things. They do not own us, putting abnormal parameters on our lives as we fear losing one of these things and the subsequent unraveling of our world view built misguidedly on material things.
I am not advocating a house where there is no order or discipline or boundaries. As good stewards, we should exercise normal care and maintenance for the material things that God has given us. Also, safety is a paramount concern with children, and it is our responsibility to protect them from themselves since we have greater experience and wisdom. I am merely saying that it is okay for life to erupt into unplanned mistakes or mirthful craziness from time to time. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not just endured. When our children are playing those raucous games with each other, they are establishing relationships for the rest of their lives. You cannot force these things, and you cannot go back in time to teach them when the moment of teaching is past.
We should not fear making mistakes in these things ourselves. It is okay for us to make mistakes even in the great, important things of life. Character and relationships can be built in those moments if we remember two very useful phrases. “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong.” Never be afraid to speak these words, especially to your children. You do not diminish yourself by speaking them. Instead, you make yourself much bigger in the eyes of the listener. You show that there are principles bigger than you, and that you honor the God behind those principles. Moreover, you show that you are big enough to admit your own mistakes and frailties, and you show that your world is big enough to allow others into it.
Never fall for the foolish thinking that you can ever protect yourself from the messiness of life. People want to think this way because they love control. But control in life is often, if not always, an illusion. The people that tried to build the tower of Babel thought they could have such control, building beyond the reach of God’s judgment. You can never put yourself beyond the danger of life, nor should you try. It is okay to plan for the rainy day, but it is not okay to seek to be beyond need of God’s help. If you ever reach that point, you will not have the peace that you think you will. You will always be worried about losing that position. It is much better to live in dependence on the God who will never fail.
This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of one of man’s follies in trying to put himself beyond God’s reach. The great Titanic was touted as unsinkable. It was supposed to be the crowning achievement of man’s ingenuity and would prove that man is a god by showing mastery over the elements. There are many other examples in human history where we tried to exalt ourselves and find ways to be beyond God’s grasp, many additional chapters or footnotes to be added to the long list beginning with the Tower of Babel. Many have foolishly tried to enact this control on a smaller scale in their own lives. We have seemingly countless stories of men in history that sought to place themselves beyond God’s grasp and beyond His influence. It seems that I hear a new one every week. We remember the famous story of God’s hand as it wrote Belshazzar’s fate on the wall in Daniel 5.
In his pride, Belshazzar thought he had placed himself beyond the grasp of God such that he could violate with impunity God’s ceremonial laws for the use of the goblets from the temple. And we have stories continuously in history up to the modern era, such as the bizarre story of Howard Hughes, whose life is a revolting metaphor for our generation. After the wild successes of his life, all the money, the beautiful, glamorous women, the high-living, he became a victim of his success as he increasingly saw himself as a god, trying to control his own fate against all threats. The crazy, obsessive stories about Hughes are numerous, and people have attributed several factors to this long, slow train-wreck, but I can sum it up in a couple of words, sin and pride.
So, certainly, it is good to want your children to have a better life. But it is foolishness to think that you can protect them or inoculate them from the major challenges of life. When we try to protect ourselves and our children from the messiness of life, we set up our own destruction that assuredly comes when the reality of life crashes headlong into the cherished illusions (or delusions) that we’ve built up, and each time we are bowled over as we stand flat-footed, unprepared for the brutal force of the unexpected.
In the movie “Parenthood,” the main characters try to negotiate a string of disordered events that constitute the normal, everyday life of parenting. The overarching message is that life is always unavoidably messy, but that the chaotic messiness is acceptable, maybe even enjoyable once you take on the right mindset. This chaotic disorder is part of the package that comes with each infinitely unique and creative human being, which is each and all of us. In fact, one of the critical moments of the movie is when Gil Buckman, played by Steve Martin, finally reaches an epiphany and gives up the desire to control, accepting life in all its disordered glory. In that scene, he imagines himself in a roller coaster, a metaphor for life’s ups and downs, and simply accepts the fear and the thrills that come with the ride.
Due to the length and depth of the subject matter, I will be breaking this into multiple parts.
I was listening to a radio talk show on Sunday morning, when I heard this well-worn phrase. The caller said, “I want to make sure that my children don’t have to go through the struggles I went through.” While this may seem noble on the surface, it can be very misguided, and I believe this attitude is at the root of some of the worst social evils in our country. If you think about it, all those fathers and mothers that raised the babyboom generation, having lived through the Great Depression and World War II, were probably so intent on protecting their children from adversity that they ended up raising a generation of kids who knew very little about want and subsequently had a very loose moral compass.
You would be hard-pressed to argue that our generation was a wild success. It was our generation that introduced the sexual revolution, the wild and wooly 60s and 70s complete with rampant drug experimentation, the introduction of abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, socialism as the default philosophy in most of our universities, the sarcastic and pessimistic worldview of postmodernism, deconstructionism that amplified flaws in everything and left us with a bleak outlook on life, etc., etc. I could go on for several more minutes, but you get the drift. It wasn’t just the abolition of prayer in schools. That was a symptom of deeper ills as we rejected God and opted for the emptiness of secularism in all of our institutions. And I probably don’t need to remind you that all of those institutions that embraced secularism and rejected the Judeo-Christian viewpoint are now greatly damaged, diminished, or broken seemingly beyond repair. This is what happens when you tell God that you don’t need Him. He simply steps back and lets you fall on your face.
It’s just my opinion, but I believe our downfall came when we divorced ourselves from dependency on God, thinking that our incredible success and wealth had come to us because we were special people fated for success. We forgot all of the struggles that brought us to success, making us a hardy people, as we overcame gargantuan obstacles in our history by leaning on our God and pushing doggedly through. In our success, however, we did what people have done since the dawn of human history whenever they became successful. We became proud and started trying to go our own way, do things our own way, telling God, “thanks, but we’ve got it from here.” Perhaps a good way to illustrate this would be a metaphor that God brought to my mind of a family on a walk through the woods, with one or more of the younger children gradually getting farther and farther out front of the group as their adventurous spirit compels them down the path. They get further and further until they can barely be seen. Eventually, they go around a bend in the trail. They no longer have eye-sight of their parents and probably are not even within earshot. At this point, they are no longer under the control nor of the protection of their parents.
This is what happens when societies become successful. They get further and further separated from God, thinking that they no longer need Him because they think they know the way. Soon, God is nowhere near. His guidance is gone, and His protection is gone. Wanting to be on their own, they foolishly achieve their desire only to find that being alone is not so glorious and that their success was not due to their power and intellect. It was only possible with the hovering, frequently intervening presence of God as He worked both individually and corporately to stave off the devourer, to inspire us with important ideas when needed, and to bless the increase of our work. Without God’s protection, the normal order of our sinful world sets in complete with all of the risks, dangers, and decay. Moreover, if the influence of sin and the dog-eat-dog environment of our world do not take away everything, we have the more active presence of Satan and his demons that tirelessly work to develop, nurture, and encourage trouble in our world.
As America rejected the struggles of life and dependency on God in favor of our blandly secure lives, we came up with ways to supposedly insure our future, control our world, and to even out the bumps so that our lives would be uneventful. This is the moral equivalent of the builders of the tower of Babel as, according to tradition, they had built the tower primarily to put themselves beyond God’s grasp, beyond God’s power of destruction, beyond the flood. They thought that they could build a building high enough to be above the waves should another flood come. In the intervening years between that point and our current world, man has repeatedly tried to achieve this protection from God, knowing that God has control over all the processes of life, including nature.