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Two Birthdays, Two Symbols of Courage


Today is November 10th, and a significant day if you enjoy freedom and appreciate courage. There are two birthdays worth remembering today. The United States Marine Corps, long admired as a symbol of elite military strength. And the man who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the 500th anniversary of which was just recently celebrated -- Martin Luther.

The United States Marine Corps was formed by Captain Samuel Nicholas by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress, on November 10, 1775. For almost 250 years, the Marines have stood ready to fight for our country. Honor, courage, and commitment are their tenets. Amphibious assault, air-ground, expeditionary -- they do it all -- and do it as the smallest of the armed forces under the Department of Defense. As of June, 2011, there were less than 150,000 active duty Marines. As a branch of the armed forces in America, they symbolize protection from tyranny, freedom for the oppressed, and courage in the face of adversity. The Marine Corps slogan is semper fidelis, which is Latin for “always faithful.” But there is another birthday today that produced for us a man who pointed to the One who defines "always faithful."

Martin Luther was also born on this day in 1483. His mining father wanted more for his son, and enrolled Martin in school to become a lawyer. But in a moment of desperation, Martin made a vow to God that he would become a monk if his life was spared. So entering an Augustinian monastery, Martin Luther was put on a path that would ultimately revolutionize the Christian faith and the history of Europe and the Catholic Church.

As time went on, Luther became increasingly convinced of the abuses of the church and the Pope. That, coupled with his own wrestling with assurance of salvation, led him back to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith as he studied through the book of Romans. With his famous 95 Theses posted to the Castle Church door on October 31, 1517, Luther’s honor, courage, and commitment to stand up to the Pope and the Catholic Church unintentionally ignited the Protestant Reformation. During this period of the church’s history, the Bible was recovered as the sole authority for life and faith, as the “Five Solas” came to represent the Reformers' commitments: Solus ChristusSola GratiaSola FideSoli Deo Gloria, and Sola Scriptura. In that order these Latin phrases mean “Christ Alone,” “Grace Alone,” “Faith Alone,” “The Glory of God Alone,” and “Scripture Alone.”

While Luther was fighting a different kind of oppression and abuse than the Marines have, they both stood/stand for freedom -- one national and the other religious. Today, be proud of your country and those who’ve served. Thank the Lord that he -- in his grace -- has placed you under the protection of a strong armed force such as the United States Marines (and all other branches of the military) to protect your right to freely worship.

But most importantly, also be thankful that God has had men and women throughout the ages -- like Martin Luther -- willing to fight for truth in Scripture, willing to stand up to tyranny and abuse, and willing to seek the Lord for reform, freedom, and purity in the church.

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? 

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!

"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!

The Perfect Woman

Okay, maybe the title should be "The Perfect Model For A Woman." Because believe it or not, there is no perfect woman - just like there is no perfect man. We all have flaws, we all sin, and relationships take work when flawed, sinful people are involved. But the Bible does offer a pretty good picture of the godly wife and mother.

Read Proverbs 31.10-31.

Though most of the Proverbs were written (or recorded as spoken) by Solomon, no author is named for this acrostic that ends Proverbs. Written in a similar format to Psalm 119, each verse begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

"Excellence" is the theme. Verse 10 begins, "An excellent wife who can find?" and the poem begins to wrap up in verse 29, "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." By starting and ending the description with "excellence," the author creates a framework for all the virtues to fit and blend into. In other words, her excellence comes from her having (or being) the whole package!

As the author describes the perfect (model for a) woman, he fairly consistently alternates between her virtue within her own household and her involvement in economic matters. In verses 11-13, 15, 17, 19, 21-22, 25, and 27, she is extolled for how she manages her house and her family. She has her husband's trust and is good to him, she works hard, fixes dinner, dresses everyone warm when its cold, has a good sense of humor, and isn't lazy. Then in verses 14, 16, 18, 20, and 24, she is praised for her wisdom and financial savvy. She is wise financially, she's a good steward, she is entrepreneurial and works hard for financial reward, but she's not greedy - she helps the poor and needy.

All of which lead the author to conclude in verses 28-31 that her children see her effort and her husband also, and it inspires praise from them. A woman who "fears the LORD" is worthy of praise - her godliness outweighs her charm, beauty, and all of these other qualities. This model is presented in the light of her fear of the LORD. And that's the key - this is a model.

Something for all women to aspire to.

And something for all men to look for.