Raising Wholesome Children

25 05 2015

tumblr_mcgll0TL1N1rt0kevo1_1280(Not necessarily brilliant, handsome, or talented, and certainly not perfect, but wholesome.)

In 1950 the Gallup organization gave a questionnaire to a large sampling of high school seniors. To the question: “Are you a very important person?” 12 percent said yes.

In 2005 Gallup administered the same question to another large sampling of high school seniors: 80 percent said yes.

The large increase in percentage may seem remarkable to some. Others will quickly relate the upsurge to the great increase in narcissism in our culture.

Remember Narcissus? He was the handsome young man of Greek mythology who gazed at the reflection of his image in a pool and fell in love with himself.

Narcissists are self-absorbed. They betray a sense of grandiosity and self-importance. They have a need for praise, and often show an explosive anger when their fragile sense of self-importance is in any way met with reserve or disbelief.

(Anyone who wants to know more will find a great deal of information by googling not only “narcissism,” but also terms such as “narcissistic injury,” and “narcissistic supply.”)

My understanding is that a majority of teenagers show narcissistic traits (as our generations before them did). But for most, the wear and tear of fighting their way into adulthood rubs away these traits or reduces them greatly.

Also, people of any age may have narcissistic moments or blind spots, but only a small percentage reach adulthood with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Some experts suggest one percent.

What resources can Christian parents draw upon to assure that their children grow up with a wholesome sense of self-respect and at the same time a proper interest in and respect for others?

Perhaps a key insight is given us by Jesus when he said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is apparently a proper sense of self-love — perhaps called self esteem. So parents should be concerned that children develop appropriate self-esteem but also neighbor-love. To encourage the development of a healthy sense of both, what practices should parents attempt to follow?

To begin with, we must recognize that children are a gift from God and that they bear God’s image. Therefore they are to be treated with respect even when we are correcting them. Sometimes we need to sit down and prayerfully review our child’s value to God so as to check and amend our own vexation over their slips.

At the same time, Christians believe their children (and they too) are members of a fallen race. So early in their lives they will show a “bent to evil” and this will manifest itself early and require parental alertness as well as readiness to instruct, restrain, and discipline.

Parents will be alert and respond in a correcting, teaching way, for example, to their child’s first intentional untruth, the first conscious disobedience, and the first unkindness to others or selfishness.

Parents will want to provide a home where there is lots of warmth, love, and laughter but never lose sight of the fact that moral instruction and Gospel claims are serious tasks.

The tendency to romanticize human nature, strong as it is in our culture, may cloud the minds of Christian parents, making them overlook or see as cute or charming the sinful conduct in the developing child. This laxity could easily plant early seeds for narcissism.

Countering the tendency for our children to be narcissistic calls for a 24/7 alertness so that we can show appropriate but not overblown approval when growing children do what’s right, and appropriate and pointed correction when selfishness creates trouble.

By these means parents help children to form a realistic sense of themselves — that they bear God’s image and have gracious gifts from Him, and at the same time along with all of humankind, they have a sin nature.

At the same time, the deepest remedy for curbing narcissistic tendencies is the embrace of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That must mean true repentance — a turning away from sin; and faith — a deep turning to Jesus Christ, declaring him Lord and Savior.

Nothing short of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ can begin life’s transformation at the center.

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Image credit: John William Waterhouse





One War On Two Fronts

18 05 2015

Imprimis_Share-250x235I’m a Canadian — born and raised in Saskatchewan. But Kathleen and I lived for 18 years in the United States where I went to college and seminary and where we served pastorates. We now live in Canada but spend five-and-a-half months each winter in Florida.

This means when we are home in Canada we listen to Canadian cultural and political news, and when we are in Florida we get American cultural and political news.

In both countries, it seems the news media we follow report the same culture war between sexual revolutionaries and Christianity.

The sexual revolution is not new, tracing its beginning to the years following the Second World War, intensifying in the sixties of the last century, but in recent years showing open and increasingly malicious opposition to the Judeo-Christian roots of the western world.

The April, 2015 issue of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, reports a speech given there on this subject in April by David French, a writer for the National Review.

He says, “… the battle is not between gay rights and religious liberty … but between the sexual revolution and Christianity itself.” In his long piece he convincingly supports his contention.

Yet, there is a guarded optimism in his presentation. He contends that “From the grassroots to the intellectual elite, conservatives are girding themselves for the long war, and a long war it will be.”

Those who cast this conflict in favor of gay rights have come forth with fierce aggression. By attempting to overwhelm the culture they try to define committed same-sex relationships as equivalent to marriage.

But French casts a ray of hope. Pointing to the church, he writes, “not a single orthodox denomination is making or even contemplating such (doctrinal) changes” so as to support the same-sex “marriage” drive.

“This means,” he goes on, “that tens of millions of Americans will remain – indefinitely – opposed to the continuing expansion of the sexual revolution.”

At the same time as I read David French I read a news report from Christian Week here in Canada for the same month. It was headed, “Christian Worldview Under Fire.” Christian Week is a substantial and thoughtful evangelical paper published in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Christian Week piece is about Craig McCartney, a member of the Canadian parliament from Vancouver Island, and his decision to leave the conservative party to sit as an independent. He does so, he says, to get greater freedom to speak out more effectively against what he calls an attempt by atheism to silence the Christian worldview.

With a federal election in view, he says, there exists a smear campaign “to undermine and discredit those who hold a Christian worldview in politics, law, medicine and academia.”

This threat can be documented from many incidents. Here are just two examples: On both sides of the border, heavy fines have been leveled against small businesses when, for reasons of conscience, proprietors refuse certain services intended for religious observances. And the legal establishment’s effort to keep a university from creating a law school simply because the university is a Christian institution.

If David French is right when he writes “a long war it will be” then Christians on both sides of the border must face the questions: Is it going to be a war worth fighting? How do we wage spiritual, not carnal, warfare in a conflict like this? In such an environment can the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of marriage be shored up, at least in the Christian community?

Here are three things Christians — whether nominal, Protestant, Charismatic, Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, etc — can do to make our influence more clearly felt in the ensuing struggle. First, there is widespread need on both sides of the border to take the Christian faith more seriously at the personal level.

St. Peter wrote to Christians in deeply troubled times: “Therefore rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:1-3). That could mean revival.

Second, we should commit ourselves by prayer and participation to strengthen the local church we are a part of. Congregations of all sizes are in need of a deepening in both pulpit and pew that will make them greater spiritual powerhouses in our world.

Third, there is need for Christians in greater numbers to make our voice heard more clearly in public life – via comments to or from the various media we have access to, in public discussions, and in private conversations.

May the prophetic words of the prophet, Amos, never apply to the present community of faith on this continent at this critical time: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion” (Amos 6:1).

 

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Image credit: imprimis.hillsdale.edu





Justice in the Church

11 05 2015
512px-120.The_Prophet_Isaiah

The Prophet Isaiah, Gustave Doré

In recent days Kathleen and I have been reading through the eighth century prophets — Isaiah, Amos, Hosea and Micah.

These are less familiar to the church than virtually every other part of the Bible. My friend, Pastor John Hendricks, referred to them as “the clean part of the Bible.” He meant the portions of the Bible we don’t read much so they don’t have smudges or thumbprints on their pages or pencil marks in their margins.

Admittedly the prophets are not as easy to read as the gospels, and they often do not seem very warm and “evangelical.” But they are filled with passages waiting patiently to speak to the church today. We should listen to them more than we do.

The second half of the eighth century before Christ (the 700s B.C.) was a time of great prosperity and accumulated wealth for the nations of Israel and Judah, but this created problems. Abundance brings its temptations in every age. Wealth itself gives a sense of power and self-sufficiency; and unless treated as a sacred trust, power seems almost invariably to corrupt.

Amos forewarned the northern kingdom of Israel: “You oppress the righteous and take bribes, / and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. / Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil” (Amos 5:12,13). There was a breakdown of just or fair dealings.

During the same period Hosea, speaking for God, says of the people of the capital of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria) “They practice deceit, / thieves break into houses, / bandits rob in the streets; / but they do not realize / that I remember all their evil deeds” (Hosea 7:1,2). There was a breakdown of moral order.

But in spite of all this secular decay these clear-eyed prophets noted that, curiously, there was no letup in the showy practices of religion.

Elaborate worship practices were an insult to the Lord when offered with soiled hands and from deceitful hearts. “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me? says the Lord…. When you come to appear before me, / who has asked this of you, / this trampling of my courts? (Isaiah 1:11, 12).

You would think prophets of such courage and candor would sway the people. What giant proclaimers of truth they must have been! After all, their prophecies still occupy a place in the Bible 2800 years later.

But, religious or not, they had a stubbornness in the face of rebuke that would call down severe judgment.

These prophets were actually lonely men, an irritant to those who heard them. Their prophecies of impending judgment were scoffed at and rejected. Across history, true prophets have often disturbed consciences and paid for their courage with their lives.

When Amos went to the northern kingdom he was ordered by a man named Amaziah: “Get out you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there.” (Amos 7:12). In other words, he was saying, our ears are closed to your words.

Yet, there was actually urgent reason for them to pay attention; the mighty Assyrian armies threatened attack and later the Babylonian legions would come. Before such hordes, without God’s protection there would be slaughter and destruction. But somehow pride, self-indulgence and greed blinded the minds of their leaders.

Are these prophets messengers to the church today? Times of abundance tend to blur moral boundaries. Leaders not kept accountable slip easily into the abuse of power instead of the rightful distribution of justice — the exercise of fairness for all. The ancient prophets would caution believers in every age: be alert!

The health of a company of God’s people, whether a local church, a parachurch body, or a denomination of believers spread across the land, must be measured not only by its evangelistic zeal but also by the clarity and firmness of its commitments to be righteous and deal justly in all situations.

 

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Image credit: The Prophet Isaiah, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons





Antidote to Anxiety

4 05 2015

8786185166_31e2f2f978_mWhen W. H. Auden published his Age of Anxiety in 1948, the title caught wide attention in western society. The Second World War was over but there was a massive cleanup to follow, and many war wounds would never fully heal.

At the same time, the continuing influence of the industrial revolution was making life more and more impersonal and relationships increasingly fragile.

But if those times were marked by an undercurrent of anxiety, what shall we call our prevailing state of mind now?

War machines in the skies, on the ground and in the water have become thunderously destructive. We live in a world where children are no longer safe. There are recurring predictions that the economy will collapse. And worse, even in a land at peace terrorism threatens our well being in every city of the western world? A terrorist may live next door.

The trouble with anxiety is that we often don’t know we have it. Or it has us. Our fears lack a personal focus so we can’t very well fight back. We just carry our anxieties quietly, but at a cost.

Is there an antidote to anxiety for our times?

Here’s Simon Peter’s word to believers scattered from their homes, probably by persecution, and in peril of settling to live under a cloud of anxiety: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 RSV).

The most important element in our struggle with the terror of our times is the view we have of God. If he doesn’t exist then we’re on our own through all of life’s perils. If he’s only “the man upstairs” then our situation isn’t much better for he may not know what goes on downstairs. Or if he knows he may not be able to do much about it.

But if he’s the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and everywhere present, then our issues are different. We know from both Jesus’ message and his life during his stay on earth what God is really like. He is as a Father to us.

That doesn’t mean he’ll protect us from every cold blast or sweeping storm. He knows that struggle builds muscle of body and mind. But if we live in faith he’ll never let perils and fears go beyond what we can take, and in our most troubling times he will stand in the shadows “keeping watch above his own.”

When our two boys were teenagers delivering papers I left them to deliver papers on bicycles or on foot because I believed the effort required would make them stronger and more self-reliant.

But one morning very early they came to our room before we were awake to tell us it was pouring down rain outside. I let them take the car for their task. Both decisions were fatherly. Some struggle was good for them. It would make men of them. But there was a time for a father to step in also. Our God knows when to step in.

Whenever our anxieties build up we should ask ourselves: Am I living as though I have to keep the whole universe on its course? Our first need in coping with anxiety is to realize this world is still God’s world and to renew a genuine faith in him. When Jesus said to his immediate followers, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” he was addressing them — and us too.

This brings us to the main verb in Saint Peter’s assurance to the scattered ones. It occurs only one other time in the New Testament.

During his passion, when the disciples brought a colt to Jesus, before he mounted they threw their coats on the animal. Peter tells us that is what we are to do with our anxieties. We are to cast them on God. Then, unburdened we are to live in the confidence of his love.

 

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Photo credit: Pietoso sollievo (via flickr.com)





Marriage and God’s Judgment

27 04 2015

172651522_7c748a64e1_mIf, as some expect will happen, the Supreme Court of the United States rules that same-sex marriage is a civil right guaranteed by the American Constitution, this will create distress within the Christian community and beyond.

In Canada the decision has already been made in favor of revision. On July 20, 2005, the Federal Government passed Bill C-38 making same-sex marriage a legal right in all provinces.

Believers who feel uninformed or uncertain on the issue, might begin by reflecting on the question in the first two chapters of the Bible, where marriage is presented as “an order of creation.”

The first chapter of the Bible begins with the timeless affirmation, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Then this creation account unfolds to a climax with the creation of man as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). And to male and female together God gives the mission to “be fruitful and increase.” (Genesis 1: 28).

Then, in the second chapter of the Bible the author in a sense reaches back to chapter one to further develop what is implied there. In doing so marriage is spoken of in a visible, concrete way and we meet Adam and Eve — one man and one woman.

You can see from this that marriage is presented even before the fall of man. That is why we say marriage is an order of creation and see it as a design of the Creator God.

So, we cannot see procreative marriage merely as a relationship prehistoric man gradually stumbled onto over a period of many centuries, and developed little by little. If that were so, a lack of procreational capabilities at the outset would have registered mankind as extinct.

As the Scriptures develop they report many deviations from the model set forth in Genesis 2 — one man and one woman exclusively. In Genesis 4 Lamech is the first bigamist, taking two wives (Genesis 4:19). Later it is implied that Pharaoh, an Egyptian pagan ruler, keeps a harem. But when he intrudes into the one-man-one-woman marriage of Abraham the Lord shows him his offense by sending serious disease on him and his household (Genesis 12:10–20).

When it comes to “male and female” relationships both Old and New Testaments report negatively on all sorts of deviations from the exclusive union of one man and one woman — fornication, adultery, polygamy, rape, even a deviation to sodomy (Genesis 19).

These deviations are sometimes cited to support the new and experimental situations being tried in our times and to diminish the sanctity of “one man and one woman” in the present.

It is important to note, in reply, that the Scriptures acknowledge all of the above and more in order to report them because the Bible is a very honest book. But they do not affirm any of them except “one man and one woman exclusively.”

So, what would Jesus say about this issue? First, consider his honest but compassionate treatment of the woman he met at Jacob’s well. She had already experienced five failed marriages and was at the time in a live-in relationship (John 4). He did not affirm her wretched career but he was kind without being sentimental. He spoke to the spiritual thirst beneath her marital confusion.

And what did he say to the woman who had been seized in an adulterous act? Again, without affirming her action he offered forgiveness, restoring to her her dignity. (John 8:3–11). No one could thus ever call him a hateful person.

Yet, in another situation some pharisees tried to draw him into conflict over the knotty problem of divorce. They asked him to declare on what grounds divorce would be considered allowable?

He went behind their debate to speak of the nature of marriage as set forth in Genesis: “God made them male and female” and said, “be fruitful and increase.” (Genesis 1:27). He added, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In his response he linked together the first and second chapters of Genesis as though they were one (Matthew 19:4-6).

Marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman.

If for Christians marriage is an order of creation, not negotiable and not amendable, then any move to revise it radically should be seen as reckless and hurtful to participants and to society. A nation that scorns the loving provision of God for heterosexual union and potential procreation will invite his judgment.

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Photo credit: yeowatzup (via flickr.com)





A Baby’s Dedication in a Baptist Church

20 04 2015

Block-Party-9Yesterday morning Kathleen and I attended a Baptist church in the neighborhood called the Beaches on the east side of Toronto close to Lake Ontario. The occasion was to witness a dedication service for our ten-month-old great grandson, Lane.

The dedication was part of a Sunday morning worship service and the building it was held in was a big and old but well-kept edifice. It had character.

The sanctuary itself had a faded splendor. Attendance was sparse, perhaps 80 or so in a sanctuary that would seat 250. We were delighted that our grandchildren, Ian and Chloe, were eager to present Lane to the Lord in this manner and the pastor made the dedication ritual personal and meaningful.

He noted clearly at the outset that this dedication would not be a salvation event; that neither the parents nor the church could save this child; that Lane would have to respond to the Gospel himself when his understanding was adequate to know in some measure that he had a personal need for a Savior.

Nevertheless, the pastor went on to commend the importance parents acknowledge when dedicating a child to God in this fashion, noting that they along with family and church would be expected to carry out faithfully the teaching and training pledged in this dedication. Together they would instruct Lane in the admonitions of the Lord.

The pastor’s message was titled: How to Raise Children to Know God. It was fully outlined in the bulletin and delivered clearly and with personal warmth, mainly in a teaching mode. The flock listened attentively from their places scattered here and there in the sanctuary.

The community surrounding this church building was long-established; houses were close together but well kept in repair and in some cases refurbished. This narrow street and many streets throughout the community were lined on one side with cars. Their owners had parked to go to the beaches, or the shops in the area.

Because there was no available parking at the church our daughter and her husband, who had brought us, found a parking space about six blocks away and then walked back to the church.

It was clear from the bulletin that this church was actively attempting to reach beyond its physical boundaries to offer ministry in the area. According to the bulletin, there also seemed to be an active church prayer life.

I admired the pastor, a man of 45 or so, for his optimism and courage in ministering in this context. This Beaches area was a slice of the modern city. As would be true in most urban areas, there would be great need for the Gospel in the tightly spaced surrounding community. In its midst, to a remnant of Christian city dwellers, the pastor ministered gently and positively.

Before entering the church, I had scanned the densely packed dwellings of this middle class community. Remembering my pastoral experiences, with so many homes intact on the outside but reeling on the inside, I felt the brokenness of our world.

And I felt a little sobered to realize that here was a church building that had once served a robust congregation. Christian influence at that time was accepted and widely recognized. Now the throngs were in the shops or on the beaches nearby while this facility was challenged for its existence.

But the faithful ministry to our grandchildren and great grandchild reminded me that whatever state society chooses, whether postmodern or secular, God will continue to challenge chosen men and women to take up the task of preaching the Gospel and ministering faithfully to needy people

There is no pastoral ministry more challenging than to gather in young couples and aid them in establishing Christian homes. This may not seize public attention or fill church pews quickly. But it’s long range results are immeasurable. The dedication of a baby in the presence of the congregation is at the center of that task.

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Photo credit: waverleyroadbaptist.ca





Re-post: Is Meditation a Missing Ingredient?

13 04 2015

In North America, Christianity as it is practiced tends to make little difference in people’s lives. There is too little evidence of holy living, and professing Christians often show the same symptoms of enslavement as the population at large: pornography addictions, addictions to over-spending, out-of-control anger, domestic violence, rudeness in primary relationships, and surprisingly high levels of divorce.

Explanations are offered. For example, a fog of skepticism, possibly engendered by the Enlightenment and the rise of science, is said to have hung over the western world for most of two centuries and this tends to choke out a robust faith. The allure of materialism is blamed, or the preoccupation with “stuff.” Even post-modernism with its denial of objective truth comes in for blame.

But believers in China can live out a triumphant faith in Christ while risking severe governmental punishment. Believers in Egypt can thrive knowing they may be roughed up or worse for their faith. Why can there not be an inner life in Christ in our western world that can liberate us from our addictions, sanctify our temperaments, and sustain real faith in a land of freedom and plenty?

In his book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer says there is an explanation. And the fact that this book has sold more than one million copies since it was first published in 1973 gives testimony that there are souls aplenty who want to know the key to that more abundant life.

His book sets forth a Calvinistic doctrine of God.* Packer writes, “There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge.” But his purpose is not merely to dispense doctrinal truth. His larger goal is to set forth Christian truth on this subject, making it a basis for meditation. It is to take the reader from knowing about God to actually knowing God.

“Meditation,” he writes, “is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.”

Early on, the author explains how this is to be done: “We turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”

Meditation is done by Christians when they are alone, usually practicing it according to a plan and on a daily basis.

Is this a missing element in Western Christianity? Do Christians on a large scale make it a point to enrich their own experience with God every day? Do they set aside say 30 minutes or so each day to keep daily living in an eternal context? And in how many Christian homes are there family devotions that extend Sunday corporate worship to daily family worship? Furthermore, when believers come to worship on a Sunday, what spiritual energy do they bring with them?

I realize that some who come are like wounded warriors limping in from a hard-fought week. They come for renewal. Others whose faith is little more than an inherited tradition may not have much to bring. After all, a congregation is made up of people in all stages of Christian development.

But every congregation needs a core of believers who are inwardly energized daily by meditation, prayer, and praise, who bring the energy of the Spirit with them when they come to worship. This core may be found in the church board, or a Sunday School staff, or even among a number of fired-up young people, or seniors rich in faith – or all of the above. It’s this category of believers that needs to be expanded everywhere.

Years ago I read a curious story: In a sparsely-wooded area in Africa people walked from great distances to worship together on a Sunday morning. After the service it was their custom to light a large bonfire in the church yard, a sort of celebratory event. A visitor from North America witnessed this and asked how they could light such a fire when there was very little wood in the area. He was told, “All believers bring their own supply of wood with them, and that’s what makes the big fire possible.”

If we are twice-born believers, larger numbers of us need to commit or re-commit ourselves to the daily practice of meditation as a means of knowing God in personal and fresh ways. This would help greatly to deepen the faith of the church in the western world.

*I find great value in the book but I cannot square the author’s double predestination (P. 79) with the Golden Text of the Bible, John 3:16.

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Photo credit: khrawlings (via flickr.com)








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