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New York Crowds, New Year's Commitments

For my family, the Northeast quickly proved to be our land of opportunity. Not in the traditional sense of the phrase--as in this is a place where we can "make something of ourselves" or anything like that. This became our opportunity to do and see things we could never have done while living in Texas.

Not that living in Texas is a bad thing, but when you drive for several hours in any direction--you're still in Texas! Now when we go a couple of hours in any direction, we can be any number of places doing any number of things. Skiing in the Poconos in the winter. Swimming at the Jersey shore in the summer. Trips to New York or D.C. or Pennsylvania Amish country or the Chesapeake Bay in between.

So with that kind of access, we rightly rung in the new year the best way we knew how--a trip to New York. It wasn't a white Christmas this year, but there's something magical about New York at Christmas. The ice skating. The lights. The window displays on 5th Avenue.

The crowds. The hustle and bustle. The incessant honking.

And the crowds. So maybe not everything about it is magical. You can always tell who's visiting from down south when you're in New York. They're the ones walking slower than everyone else.

And then there's the crowds.

But this year I remembered something while walking through those crowds. There were very few times when one of us wasn't holding a kid's hand. And I noticed something every time I crossed a street with Hailey's hand in mine; we'd step off the curb and as that intimidating crowd opposite us approached, her grip got a lot tighter. She was afraid, and didn't want to let anyone (or anything) get between us. She knew the best place to be was as close to me as possible.

At some point this year, I’ll be walking towards something that I can’t see the other side of—and that’s when I’ll have to hold onto my Father a little tighter.

By simply squeezing my hand a little tighter as we walked across the streets of Manhattan, my 11-year-old reminded me that this year, I'll be intimidated by situations that look big and scary. They may even look like they could separate me from my Father. At some point this year, I'll be walking towards something that I can't see the other side of--and that's when I'll have to hold onto my Father a little tighter.

This year I'll have a choice to try to do it on my own, or trust God and let him guide me safely through--even if I can't see how. As I cross the proverbial street of whatever comes my way this year, the temptation will be to navigate the oncoming crowd on my own. To let go of God, to stop praying, to stop seeking him in his Word, and just get through it. But Proverbs 16.25 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."

As you begin the new year, let me encourage you to make a commitment. Another resolution, if you will--but one with real, spiritual benefits like joy, peace, and contentment. Instead of letting go when trials come, join me in committing to hold onto our Father even tighter. He knows the way; he sees to the other side.

He can handle the crowds.

Enculturation Through Memorization

“Every family ought to be a little church, consecrated to Christ and wholly governed and influenced by his rules.”
-Jonathan Edwards

This week we began by considering the command to bring up our children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord"--or in Paul's words, in the "paideia" of the Lord. Paideia is the Greek word we've translated "discipline and instruction," but paideia has a much deeper, richer, and all-encompassing meaning than simply formal education. In fact, the best way to describe paideia might be "enculturation"!

Reminiscent of Deuteronomy 6 (think back to last week), Paul's instruction is to teach the things of God in a totally immersive way. Teach it. Talk about it. Talk about it when you get up, when you lie down, when you're driving, when you're shopping, write it on things, do whatever it takes. Because enculturation cannot happen in one hour a week at church and in prayers before bed. It's simply not enough!

 “Just a few generations ago a man was considered spiritually responsible if he led his family before the throne of God in prayer, read and taught the Scriptures at home, and led family devotions (among other things). Today parents are considered responsible if they find the church with the best-staffed nursery and the most up-to-date youth ministry.” (Family Driven Faith, 95)

Many years ago when we got serious about discipleship in our family, it was overwhelming--intimidating even! What if I mess up? How can I teach them when there's so much I don't know, myself? What am I supposed to do? How will we know they're learning anything? It made me sick to think about messing up something as profound as the spiritual climate of my family--but the truth was, that's what I was doing by not doing anything! But God knows what he's doing, and we were reminded of a few things: that there are great resources out there (I recommend a couple here), and that children learn in different stages. Knowing those learning stages took off a lot of pressure and introduced us to something that's been done for a long time....

The Trivium (of Classical Learning)

1. Grammar: The fundamental rules of each subject.
2. Logic: The ordered relationship of particulars in each subject.
3. Rhetoric: How the grammar and logic of each subject may be clearly expressed.

All human learning happens in a form of these three stages, but children are naturally much more adept at soaking in everything because their minds are still being formed. They're memory machines in the elementary years (grammar), so they're just learning the basic building blocks, vocabulary, etc. At the jr high age (logic) they begin to make connections, find meaning, and see how the parts fit. At the high school age (rhetoric) they are mastering the subject and beginning to be able to discuss and express it.

So how can this help us disciple our kids?

Knowing how they learn, we can give them what they need when they need it.
Remember the earlier warning in Ephesians 6 not to provoke our children to anger? One way to make life harder is to frustrate everyone by trying to teach too much too fast. Keep it at a level they can handle. At an early age, they can't filter out the bad yet, so make sure you put in lots of good!

Give them the blocks, and that's what they'll use to build.
Catechisms are a time-tested, systematic, question-and-answer method designed to teach kids (or any believer, new or old) the basics of Christian doctrine. Even at an early age, kids can memorize the questions and answers. They may not understand what they're memorizing, but they'll put the pieces together later--and when they're ready, they'll have the foundation. Over time, this information can shape an entire worldview, and pay off as children begin to master the information, own it, and express it themselves. This is the one we use; it's a catechism and devotional all in one. Makes it pretty easy!

Oh, and guess who else learns it while they're teaching the kids to memorize it?

Make More Worshipers, Not Just More People

This week we continued our study of family discipleship (I'm not even calling it "parenting" anymore) by considering God's command (or blessing) in Genesis 1.28, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it...." Most notably we identified the importance of bearing children not simply to populate the world, but to populate the world with worshipers of God. 

And since marriage is designed by God to teach what God is like, and (think back to Ephesians 5) the nature of the relationship between Christ and the church, no marriage--no matter how many physical children it produces--is excused from making spiritual children. The Apostle Paul uses the language of motherhood and fatherhood in his letters to teach us the importance of investing in the next generation of disciples--though he, himself, had no physical children. 

So since we have a spiritual responsibility to make disciples of the next generation--and that with our own children first--it's important to understand the family as God's primary learning community. No other institution can replace the family as the first place children learn about God--no, not even the church!

"And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work he had done for Israel." Judges 2.10

In Judges 2.6-15 we have a grim description of what happened to the Israelites within one generation (one generation!) of entering the promised land. One group of people entered a land of blessing, by God's miraculous work--and their children grew up and turned away from the Lord, worshiping the idols of the peoples around them. 

They failed to adequately teach and remind their children of the Lord's commands, and train them to remember what He had done for them. They failed at living out Deuteronomy 6.4-12.

But how does Deuteronomy 6 help us parent? 

It's one-size-fits-all, but it's not the same for everyone
The command for parents to make disciples at home first, is universal. In Deuteronomy 6 we find the call to parents to teach, train, and raise children to worship God--and to do it by way of immersing them in talk and recognition of the Lord, His teaching, and His works. The mandate is for everyone, but it looks very different from family to family.

It happens slowly, and the parents change first
This is not an overnight fix. There are no six-steps to follow. Without giving us a list of do's and don'ts for good parenting, Deuteronomy 6 tells us how to target our children's hearts, minds, and souls--where their actions really come from. If we talk all the time about God's goodness and how He's blessed us, it's hard for our children to learn bitterness. When we have a problem, if we always first turn to God in prayer, it's hard for our children to come to believe that God can't be trusted. When God hears those prayers and answers, if we celebrate His goodness, it's hard for our children to come to believe that God is not intimately involved in our lives. And finally, when we act, react, think, and talk in godly and intentional ways, our children will begin to imitate us. It's what they do; it's the way God designed it to work!

Next we'll look at a serious, rubber-meets-the-road method families can employ to intentionally seek the heart transformation and head knowledge that equip children for lifelong discipleship!

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage...

Last week we began a study of parenting and family discipleship. I was asked to lead the study, so I pulled a switcharoo on all the couples that signed up; they thought they were coming to a parenting class, and I'm having us all take a step back to look at God's design for the family and making disciples at home.

In the first session of our "parenting" class, we didn't even talk about parenting at all! We started with the foundation--marriage. More specifically, we asked the question, "What are God's purposes for marriage." Because when we understand God's design for marriage and his purposes for our families (the indicatives), then we'll have the freedom and motivation to honor God in day-to-day parenting do's and don'ts (the imperatives).
 
Our text was Ephesians 5.22-33, in which Paul employs the concept of "types." In the same way that Adam and many other Old Testament figures were "types" of Christ, foreshadowing and imperfectly representing the ideal, our marriages are types of the relationship between Christ and the church. This "mystery" as Paul calls it, is no longer hidden from us; it has been revealed in the coming of Christ. Marriage is designed to be a sign and symbol of the covenant relationship between Jesus and his redeemed people, the church!

"Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and to help carry it through according to her gifts."
"Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant leadership and protection and provision in the home."

Within the marriage, Ephesians 5.22-24 tells us the wife is a type of the church, submitting to her husband's leadership in the same way that the church submits to Christ. But we're not to hear the S-word in a negative way (submission)--the biblical concept of submission has its roots in the idea of order. Wives are equally created in the image of God, but with different gifts and complementary abilities. This idea of submission is not about an inferior person giving in to a superior person, but about an equal person yielding to God's created order of responsibility and accountability. As John Piper quotes above, submission is a divine calling and necessary to help the husband execute his responsibility to lead.
 
Paul then goes on in Ephesians 5.25-33 to tell us how husbands are a type of Christ in any marriage. Husbands are to lead, love, serve, protect, and provide for their families in the same unconditional and sacrificial way that Jesus does the church. He will be held responsible, as Adam was in Genesis 3 when God called him to account for the sin that Eve (technically) committed first. He's not to be domineering, but to lead by serving.
 
So what are the practical purposes of marriage? 

Sanctification
Who doesn't understand this one? Marriage helps us to become holy and more like Jesus, affording us plenty of opportunities to learn forgiveness, how to extend grace, anger management, generosity, sacrifice, love, and repentance. Living in such close proximity to another all the time, creates great opportunities for God to mold us and make us more like Jesus!

Procreation
"Be fruitful and multiply." We're to fill the earth with people who will see and worship the glory of God. More than simply populating the earth, God gives us children to make disciples. This leads us into the next session; we'll look at God's design for the family, and the importance of making disciples at home!

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

December 6th. St. Nicholas Day. The day that people all over the world are remembering the death and celebrating the life of Saint Nicholas.

Getting to the root of questions like “Who is Santa” and “Was he a real person” lead us back in time to the village of Patara, on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. Nicholas was born around 270 AD to wealthy, yet devoutly Christian parents who taught him to revere and obey the teachings of Jesus. While still young, Nicholas lost his parents to an epidemic and received his inheritance -- an inheritance that he spent living out Jesus’s command to “sell what you have and give to the poor” (Matt. 19.21).

Nicholas was appointed Bishop of Myra (also located in modern-day Turkey), and his reputation for being generous spread. He became known for his concern and generosity toward the needy, and also for his love of children. Then under Diocletian, one of the most ruthless of the Roman emperors, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith. However, after his release he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325, where he vehemently argued for the doctrine of the Trinity -- so vehemently that he slapped (some people say punched) Arius for denying the divinity of the Son! Almost twenty years later in 343 AD, Bishop Nicholas died. Now the day of his death, December 6th, is celebrated around the world as St. Nicholas Day -- a day of remembering the generous saint by giving gifts and feasting.

There are many extraordinary stories of the bishop helping the needy, including one about a poor father of three daughters who had no dowry (payment for marriage) to offer potential husbands. With nothing to offer, the daughters would likely be sold into slavery. But three different times a bag of gold appeared at the home. Tossed through the window, legend has the bags of gold landing in shoes set before the fire to dry. And unknowingly today, we still practice a custom born out of this legend -- hanging stockings on the fireplace for Saint Nicholas to fill.

St. Nicholas Day is celebrated all over the world in different ways -- in many places, its the primary gift-giving day, not Christmas. Parents, don’t waste this opportunity to start a new tradition in your family. Tell your children about the real Saint Nicholas. Let his example help you teach about Jesus’s commands to care for the poor and needy. Be creative! It doesn’t have to replace Christmas, but do something special to remember Nicholas and his generosity. (Parents, its also a great way to remind ourselves a few things about the Christmas season and the Christian message of hope, sacrifice, and generosity.)