Rebekah wanted Jacob to head to her brother’s land mainly to save his life. But her excuse (and ironically, a correct one) was that the women of the land would corrupt her son. We see this played out in Judges. The people of Israel intermarried with the people of the land and “they served their gods.” Some people use that idea today to speak ill of intermarriage between races, but that was not the issue at all. The issue was character. The cross of Christ and its effects in creating one new redeemed man should put the thoughts of race being a dividing line out of our head. The issue of intermarriage is not race. The issue is a relationship with God. We are called to not be unequally bound together with others because of sin’s power to influence and pull down.


A Mind Set on God

Jesus, the night he was betrayed, went off to pray. He encouraged his followers to do the same. They slept and eventually succumbed to temptation and fled when the mob arrived. Jesus remained faithful.

Isaiah reminds us of this truth. He says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.” When our focus is on God, when we’ve wrestled with our thoughts and moved them to the father, we can find peace in the midst of storms (or mobs).

The nation of Israel did not do that. We read in the beginning of Judges that “there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord.” And the story of the judges is one sad episode after another of people unable to find peace in any form.

We can chose today to think about all kinds of things. But will we chose to set our minds on God, seeking his peace and his strength for the tasks ahead.


So, What Is a Dad to Do?

The New York Times ran several articles last week in their “Room for Debate” series on fathers’ role in the conversation about parenting. Many of the contributors noted the negative stereotype of men as played out in the media. While we as men may not be able to change that stereotype in the short run, we do still have influence in our own small spheres. And it is up to us to use that influence in a positive way.

The greatest influence we have, of course, is with our own kids. That being said, our greatest responsibility is not to bemoan the culture, but to be good stewards of that responsibility. So I want to lay out three areas where dads need to be dads, where they need to take an active role in parenting.

The three habits or responsibilities come from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. In 2:9–12, Paul writes these words: “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (ESV)

The first issue has nothing to do with dads but with whether or not we can accurately use this passage which is not directly about dads as an example for dads. Paul is not a father, in the physical sense; he has no children. He is just simply making an analogy. He claims that his actions are father like. The reason we can apply these ideas to dads is because Paul assumes the Thessalonians would understand the analogy. If fathers didn’t behave this way, the Thessalonians could simply say, “Hey, Paul, you’re not acting like a dad to us. Dads don’t do those things.” For Paul’s argument to make sense, he needs to use actual responsibilities that dads participated in.

The second issue is motivation. We can often do the right things for the wrong reasons. The reason that we behave the way we should toward our kids is not for our benefit. It is not to relive our past. It is also not to make them successful, happy, rich, beautiful or well-adjusted. The reason we do what we do is so they will walk worthy of God. If that is not our sole reason, we are spinning our wheels.

So what are the three things that we need to be doing. We need to walk beside them, enter into their hurts, and speak the truth.

Paul uses three words: exhorted, encouraged, and charged. When translators are doing their work, they often want to translate word for word to avoid clutter. Each of those words captures a shade of meaning from the Greek words Paul used, but there are some nuances that are left out. It is those nuances I want to discuss.

The first word that Paul uses is the verb form of the word that John uses in his gospel for the Holy Spirit: paraclete. This term is often referred to as helper or comforter. It can take both of those shades of meaning. In general the Holy Spirit enters into the life (sometimes we use the phrase “comes along side”) of the believer and gives them what they need when they need it. He knows them intimately. He has a relationship with them, and because of that, he can provide encouragement when they need encouragement, and comfort when they need comfort and urging when they need urging.

Dads need to do the same thing. We need to know our children well enough to provide what they need when they need it. We need to have a PhD in our children, knowing their ins an outs, what makes them tick, what pushes their buttons, what makes them happy. And this is a never ending job description because, as you know, children are constantly changing. Even if I learned everything about my ten year old, she will be eleven next year, and her personality is still undergoing transformation.

The second word that Paul uses means to console, especially in the face of tragedy. It is to enter into someone’s hurt. What we need to keep in mind as dads is that this tragedy is from the child’s perspective, not ours. We may think something is no big deal. Well, it may be a big deal to our kid. Men, especially, have a I-can-fix-this attitude. We think we can explain why our kids shouldn’t cry over spilled milk or a broken toy or a disappointment at school. But if they are crying, that is not the time to try to fix it. It is the time to offer comfort, to enter into their hurts and console. There may be a time later when we talk about big deals versus small deals and the proper way to react, but in the moment that is not the time.

The third thing that Paul says that fathers do is tell the truth. This word means to testify or bear witness or to insist upon something as a matter of great importance. It is related to the word where we get our word martyr. A martyr is someone who holds to their convictions at great cost to themselves. And we as fathers need to make sure that we are telling our children the truth. Which means we need to live the truth. It is not only that we let them know right from wrong. We also need to make sure that we are modeling right from wrong. We cannot tell them one thing and do something else. That is not loving or helpful to our children.

Each of these three things is impossible to do on our own. We may come close at times, but we will fail to be consistent in them. That is where our relationship with God comes in. If we do not depend upon him, who loves our children more than we do, we will not be able to adequately fulfill our responsibilities as fathers. So our first priority is to develop a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To know him through his word, by spending time with him in prayer, and in fellowship with other believers who can offer encouragement and exhortation to us when things get difficult.

Jesus vs. Michael Phelps: Part II

In an earlier post, I wrote about the humanity of Christ. That, however, only tells half the story. This morning I read Revelation 1:17:

When I saw him, I feel at his feet as though dead.

John has seen the Lord Jesus in His glory and it renders him speechless, motionless, unable to do anything—like a dead man. Isaiah has the same reaction to seeing the Lord in glory. When Isaiah, saw Him, he cried out, “Woe is me for I am undone.” 

So while we might not be overly impressed with the human Jesus, might be able to beat him in a foot race or swimming race, might not think he was worth sitting by at the church potluck, much less appear on the cover of GQ, we will respond differently to Him when we see Him again, for we will see Him in His glory.

Michael Phelps has enjoyed great fame and idol status since winning 8 gold medals. He has done countless interviews and appeared before screaming fans. No doubt if he walked into any school auditorium in the coming days, cheers would erupt from those desiring to see him. 

When we see Jesus again, we will not treat him like a celebrity, nor as a good buddy, slapping Him on the back and asking Him how the fishing is in heaven. No, His glory will move us beyond our knees until we fall prostrate as John did. 

Jesus is both God and man. If Jesus held only human characteristics, He would not deserve our worship. If Jesus only appeared in glorious form, we would not be able to approach Him. But He laid aside His glory for our sake, becoming like us, identifying with us that we might be called His brothers. And now He has taken up that glory again. He deserves our worship and adoration. 

I hoped that Michael Phelps would achieve the 8 gold medals. The races were thrilling. But Michael Phelps did none of those things for me. Jesus achieved far more. His accomplishment on the cross made it possible for me, a sinner, to have relationship with the God who created the water and the minds who designed that pool, and the engineers who designed those suits, and the muscles and body frame of Michael Phelps that allowed him to do what he did. I worship Jesus—the God-man.

Sorrow: Proof of God’s love.

I have been working on an OT survey curriculum that I will be teaching to middle school kids in the fall. This morning I have been wrestling through Genesis 16 and the story of Sarai and Hagar. As I am trying to figure out how to take something 4000 years old and make it real to the kids, I think about the big issue of Christianity borrowing ideas from the culture. I hope to discuss this in detail.

But something else has been fermenting in the back of my mind this morning. While the word regret does not show up in the text, it seems that plenty of it shows up in Sarai’s heart. Why is it that we only regret after sinning? Couldn’t we save ourselves some trouble if the regret emotion would just kick in a little sooner?  I know conviction can set in pre-sin. I praise God for that. But if we could just feel the regret, sense the agony of our poor choices before we make them…

As these thoughts were ruminating,  2 Corinthians 7 came to mind. The context is sorrow over sin:

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance, without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

My whole perspective changed. I do not want to downplay sin—Sarai’s or mine or the kids—but I am floored at God’s hand in the post sin aspect of our lives. The role of the Holy Spirit in the process is restoration not condemnation. Notice the pattern: sin, conviction, sorrow, repentance, life! The other option is a downward spiral that leads to death. Regret that grows and festers and buries itself deep in the heart does not come from God. The Holy Spirit moves the believer back into relationship with God not away from him in self pity and anguish. 

But make no mistake, God does take sin seriously. That is why we have His Word. It teaches and informs and encourages us to walk in love by the Holy Spirit and not according to the flesh. It challenges us to think about how we think. It admonishes us to think correctly as wrong thoughts lead to wrong actions. I think that Sarai and Abram knew that this “Hagar solution” was a shortcut that God did not intend. We still experience the consequences of this choice today. Sin is deadly.

Thankfully, He also takes His relationship with us seriously. He desires reconciliation. It may be that when I said earlier that I wish the regret emotion would kick in a little earlier, that what I am describing is Biblical sorrow. I am grateful for His constant ministry in my life of conforming me to the image of His Son. I am thankful for the concept of repentance. So while sometimes I wish I would “feel” a little more acutely the consequences of my poor choices before I make them, words cannot express the joy and comfort of the Holy Spirit in my life—pre and post-sin.

Can you distinguish between regret leading to death and sorrow leading to life?