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Christian Living

July 05, 2011

Several years ago I wrote a series of articles in which I sought to explain why my wife and I have chosen to educate our children as we have. Since then I have often wanted to revisit the subject but have held back, largely because of the concern that whatever I write will inevitably offend people I love. I know people on both sides of the debate who have been badly wounded. This debate is so personal and so urgent that it is nearly impossible to discuss it without offending someone; I do not want to be a cause of unnecessary offense.

And yet this is an important matter and a matter of growing concern within the church. It is with some trepidation that I begin to take it up once more. I plan to take an approach that I hope will speak equally to people who are on either side of the debate and even to those who may be undecided. Primarily I want to talk about how the Lord calls us to relate to one another—how homeschoolers are to relate to public schoolers and how public schoolers are to relate to homeschoolers. I’ll leave the Christian schoolers among you to decide which group you most closely line up with; for sake of ease and clarity I will largely leave you out of this one.

Here is how I am going to proceed. Today I will take a brief look at the contemporary landscape within the church and make a couple of assumptions about the nature and importance of the debate over education. In the next article I will turn to the Bible to find guidance on how we will be prone to relate to one another over an issue like this one. From there we will see how the Bible can guide us as we seek to make wise decisions concerning education and how we can then relate to those who make a very different decision. What I want to do is get past the debate and to the heart—your heart and my heart.

The Landscape

Some people reading this article will have little context for the debate. In some parts of the Christian world homeschooling is almost unheard of while in other parts the public schools have long since been abandoned. But for many of us, perhaps even most of us, this is a very important and timely discussion. In my travels I have observed that the conservative Christian world, and the Reformed world at least, has begun a great migration away from the public schools so that today the majority of families in many churches, perhaps even most churches, are defaulting to homeschooling. Even those who do not homeschool continue to consider it and debate its merits. In most good-sized churches it is likely that you will find a mix of public and homeschooled families (and probably some Christian school families as well). Many families have or have had children in a combination of all 3. My own church seems typical with about two-thirds of the church homeschooled with the other one-third mostly in public school (there are a couple of children in Christian schools as well).

This represents a massive shift. When I was a child, homeschooling was a fringe option. I knew only a handful of people who were homeschooled. In those days the homeschoolers felt the weight of mockery and condemnation for stepping outside the mainstream. Today the situation is very nearly reversed. If you visit a conservative church and speak to those who have their children in public schools, you may well find that they now feel the weight of condemnation, or perceived condemnation, and that they feel as if they are the ones outside the church’s mainstream.

June 27, 2011

I grew up in a Christian culture in which very little evangelism took place. How little? The first believer’s baptism I ever witnessed was my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and that was when we were eighteen or nineteen. It was the first time our church had ever baptized an adult. And what’s more, it was the first time most of the people who attended that church had ever seen an adult get baptized.

A few years after my wife’s baptism we moved away from the town we had grown up in so we could be closer to my place of business. In the past decade we have been members of two different churches that place much greater emphasis on reaching the lost. We have seen many, many people come to faith, including several who are now close friends. We have seen lives altered dramatically and have seen more baptisms than we can count—baptisms in churches, rivers, pools, and a really big, ugly aluminum tank. We have shared in the joy of seeing people profess their faith by being baptized. It truly is one of the greatest joys of any church.

Over the years I’ve had to reflect on what made the churches I attended as a child and teenager so ineffective at evangelism. While there are several reasons I could provide, and they are of varying importance, there is one that I believe stands at the foundation of the rest: These churches often regarded the unbeliever as the enemy. Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play or even interact with the unsaved children in the neighborhood. I knew an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were forbidden from playing with the other children. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

My observation was that this approach failed and failed badly. First, the church was not faithful in its calling to take the gospel throughout the world. They preferred to exist in an enclave, safe from outside influences. Second, and ironically, the children developed a fascination with the world. I believe this was, in large part, because access to the outside world had been denied to them and they had never seen the pain and heartbreak that are the inevitable results of forsaking God. The world can look awfully attractive until a person sees the results of giving himself over to it. Third, the parents were prone to ignoring worldliness in their own children. I know that I saw more drugs, more drinking, more disrespect and more awful behavior in the Christian schools I attended than I did in the public schools. This isolation simply did not work. What I saw was that we do not need the world to teach us worldliness. Worldliness arises from within.

June 23, 2011

Yesterday I offered 3 statements on assurance of salvation. Today I’d like to follow that up with a brief word on the right basis for assurance of salvation. After that, I will offer a few book recommendations for those who struggle with this issue.

It is a sad but undeniable fact that many people who think they are Christians are not. At the final judgment many will approach Jesus convinced that they are saved only to be told that Jesus never knew them (and hence that they never knew him). The fact is that many people ultimately depend upon themselves for assurance of their salvation. This applies to believers and unbelievers. A person may be truly saved yet look to himself for assurance of this salvation. This is dangerous ground to tread; when a person experiences a time of doubt his misplaced assurance can drive him to despair. When our assurance rests on something we have done, a promise we have made or a prayer we have prayed, we have placed our assurance on shaky ground.

Let’s turn to the Bible to discover the true basis for our assurance.

Assurance Rests on God’s Character

In the last article I quoted the words of the Apostle Paul as we find them in 2 Timothy 1:12 “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” What was the basis of Paul’s assurance? He rested in the character of God. He knew whom he had believed and trusted that God was good and would preserve him. He trusted in the goodness of God and in God’s desire to save his people. He rested in the words of Jesus that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He knew that Jesus will never reject anyone who comes to truly comes to him, who rests in him for salvation.

Assurance Rests on God’s Promises

If our assurance of salvation rests on God’s good character, then we can also trust in his good promises. Here are a few of the promises of God regarding salvation.

June 22, 2011

Today I would like to make 3 statements about a subject that is always relevant to Christians: assurance of salvation. This is an area of great confusion for many believers and an area that can lead to great discouragement. I am going to make 3 statements about assurance and then, Lord willing, follow up tomorrow with a word about the true basis for assurance.

1It is possible and even normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation.

John MacArthur calls assurance of salvation “the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ.” This assurance is not only possible but should be the normal experience for any believer in Christ. Romans 8:16 teaches that assurance of salvation is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Hear what Matthew Henry says about this verse: “Those that are sanctified have God’s Spirit witnessing with their spirits, which is to be understood not of any immediate extraordinary revelation, but an ordinary work of the Spirit, in and by the means of comfort, speaking peace to the soul. This testimony is always agreeable to the written word, and is therefore always grounded upon sanctification; for the Spirit in the heart cannot contradict the Spirit in the word.” 2 Peter 1:10 goes so far as to command us to pursue this assurance. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

Yet even more clear than these verses is 1 John 5:13. As John wraps up this epistle he reveals his purpose in writing it. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” God has seen fit to provide us an entire book in the Bible that will teach us to know that we have eternal life. Surely, then, we can agree that God intends that we have assurance that we are his children.

Having seen that it is both possible and normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation, we now turn to a second point which seems very nearly contradictory:

May 30, 2011

Desert
Every soul thirsts. This thirst may not be obvious in every moment, but at some point and to some degree every soul thirsts after something, something it does not have. We are rarely content in our current condition, rarely content just the way we are. But while we all thirst, we do not all thirst in the same way. Donald Whitney’s book Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health has much to say about this. Whitney identifies 3 ways in which our souls thirst.

The Thirst of the Empty Soul

The soul of the unbeliever is empty toward the things of God. Until the Spirit fills the soul with his presence, it is devoid of any love for God. Without God, the unbeliever is constantly looking for something, anything. But he is unable to fill the emptiness. This is something many people do not understand, but something the Bible teaches clearly: While the believer’s soul is empty because he does not know God, he does not and cannot seek to fill it with God. Many people believe that unbelievers are truly seeking after God but unable to find him. The Bible tells us, though, that the empty soul is unable to understand or satisfy this thirst. Not only that, but the empty soul does not want to understand this thirst, and would not, even if it were possible. The empty soul is completely and fully opposed to God; it is deceitful and desperately wicked. As Paul writes in Romans 3:11, quoting David, “no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Psalm 14:2).

Thus the empty soul is left seeking to be satisfied by other things, fleeting things, good things and bad things. It seeks satisfaction in work, family, love, sex, money and everything else the world has to offer. It may seek satisfaction in religion and even the Christian faith, but it never truly seeks God and thus never truly finds him. Until the Holy Spirit enables that soul to understand the source of his thirst and enables him to see the One who can satisfy, he will continue to look in vain. “Just because a man longs for something that can be found in God alone doesn’t mean he’s looking for God,” says Whitney, “Many who claim they are questing for God are not thirsting for God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, but only for God as they want him to be, or a God who will give them what they want.”

The Thirst of the Dry Soul

May 26, 2011

Beauty?A short time ago blogger and author Rachel Held Evans wrote an article she titled “Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go?” She began it this way: “In my quest for biblical womanhood, I’ve found that sometimes there’s as much to learn from what the Bible doesn’t say as there is to learn from what it does say.” Her article, she suggested, reflected something the Bible doesn’t say. She looked to Mark Driscoll, Dorothy Patterson and Martha Peace and pointed out how each one of them has at one time suggested that a woman has to be careful that she does not “let herself go” after having children or after being married for some time.

“The message is as clear as it is ominous,” she concludes. “Stay beautiful or your husband might leave you. And if he does, it’s partially your fault.” She spent a month “studying everything the Bible says about women and beauty.” She “turned the Bible inside out, combed through dozens of commentaries, conducted word searches and topic studies and extensive research” and at the end of it all “found nothing in the Bible to suggest that God requires women to be beautiful.”

It is an interesting question: Does God want a woman to seek to remain attractive to her husband even while she grows older? Is there any significance to her doing this, or not doing this? Evans believes that emphasizing physical beauty, even as a woman ages (or perhaps especially as a woman ages) points to a new kind of misogyny. But after long reflection, I am not convinced. Hear me out here.

The Inner and the Outer

I agree that when the Bible speaks of beauty it largely downplays physical beauty in favor of inner beauty. According to the Bible, a beautiful woman is not one who is perfectly proportioned (by whatever society determines to be perfect) or one whose face is stunning. Rather, a beautiful woman is one who is genuinely godly, who reflects “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” The beauty the Bible commends is a beauty of character more than a beauty of appearance.

But. You knew there had to be a but. I think Evans may draw something of a false distinction between the inner and the outer as if these things are entirely disconnected. I would suggest that these two things are actually inexorably connected: the outer is a reflection of the inner. And this means that the outer person matters too. What a person wears has spiritual significance because what a person wears or how a person treats her body reflects her heart. This is contra the Gnostics who believe that what is spirit is inherently superior to what is physical. The Bible allows no such tension. Though only one is immortal, both were created by God and deemed very good. Our responsibility extends to both.

May 24, 2011

Rain
On Wednesday night I headed home from our mid-week service, just like I always do. Around halfway home, while cruising down the highway at, well, highway speeds, I suddenly hit a powerful rain storm—one of those storms that hits like a wall of wind and water. Rain was dishing down and already the roads were beginning to flood a little bit. Passing cars were throwing up great sheets of water in their wake. I immediately flicked on my windshield wipers. They went up and back; up and back. And then they just stopped.

I didn’t panic, but I knew I was in some trouble. With the wipers out of commission, I couldn’t see anything ahead of me but the distant glow of another car’s lights. I turned the wipers off and on but all I saw was a weak little attempt to rise. Then they fell again and that was that. They were dead.

So there I was, traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, in the passing lane of a 6-lane highway, and I couldn’t see a thing. I had my 2 daughters with me, so I told them to pray while I tried to get over to the shoulder (the left shoulder was too narrow to pull over onto). I put on the 4-way flashers and gingerly started moving into the middle lane. One car had to swerve around me, but we made it. Then I eased myself into the slow lane. And from there I was able to get onto the shoulder and stop. To do this I had to drive with my head out the driver’s side window, but that was okay by me. I stopped the car and breathed a sigh of relief. Of course now we were on the shoulder in the lashing rain—not exactly a safe place to be. But we were okay. The wipers were well and truly shot, but I found that by driving slowly I could see enough to inch forward. I got off the highway at the next exit and carefully made my way home by side streets, occasionally stopping to cycle the wipers manually.

May 23, 2011

Open Bible Devotions
I recently wrote about Date Nights & Devotions or what the Lord has taught me about my relationship with him through dating my wife. In that brief article I simply sought to show that the purpose of our personal devotions does not need to be learning about God as much as just spending time with him. The great joy of personal devotions is not gaining facts about God but the joy of time spent together.

This leaves a question: How do we get to know someone better? How do we get to know God better? When pursuing God we tend to act differently than if we are pursuing another person. But I think we need to see that we should not break the rules of relationship just because we are attempting to relate to God.

Here are a few of the ways we relate to people which in turn point us to the ways in which we can relate to God.

We Spend Time

The way I came to know the woman who was to become my wife was by spending time with her. There was no trick to it and no shortcut. We sat in church services together, we went on dates together, we enjoyed one another’s company. We did this for 3 years before being married and we have continued to do so for almost 13 years since then. Any deep and healthy relationship will depend upon time spent together. This is true of human relationships and is certainly no less true when befriending God.

We spend time with God in personal devotions. Personal devotions need not be Bible study. They do not need to be a time where you depend upon commentaries and dictionaries, though these are wonderful resources. Personal devotions are simply a time to be with God, to enjoy communing with him. This is done by speaking and by listening, by saying words to God in prayer and receiving words from God through his Word. It may involve a long time of listening followed by a long time of speaking, or it may be far more conversational, far more back-and-forth. The purpose of it all is not to learn about God, but to know God, to grow in relationship with him.

We spend time with God in church. Jonathan Edwards was exactly right when he said, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.” When we sit under the preaching of the Word we meet with God. We may not remember a whole lot afterwards, but that does not mean that we have not met with God. We can commune with God in prayer, in singing to him, in the Lord’s Supper. Free yourself to make each of these situations relational as much as intellectual (though I will grant that this is a bit of a false distinction).

We Tell Stories

May 18, 2011

Open BibleAileen and I have never been too good at date nights. We know that, according to all the experts, we are supposed to go out on a date, at minimum, every couple of weeks. Those experts must all have lots of money or access to free babysitters because there’s just no way we can afford to pay someone the going rate to watch the kids every 2 weeks. What we do instead is wait until all the kids are at school on a Monday or a Wednesday and we set out on a midday date.

This has worked well for us. And i think we’re good at dating. We both know that the main point of spending this kind of time together is to return home with a lot of new knowledge about one another. We like to head to a favorite restaurant and split a sandwich and an order of 4-cheese spinach dip. We just sit and talk. And when we head home we know we’ve had a good date if we’ve learned things about the other that we didn’t know before. If we haven’t learned anything new we know that our date hasn’t been so good and we swear that we’ll do better next time. Because this is the point of dating—to accumulate knowledge about the person you love.

I’m lying. Well, only partially. That is exactly how we date these days. But it’s not at all how we gauge the success of our dates. We know we’ve had a good date when we’ve enjoyed spending time together. We don’t need to learn anything new. We don’t need to gain facts. We just need to be together, enjoying one another’s presence. We can go shopping and sit in a bookstore and consider it a great date. We return home refreshed, renewed and loving one another more than when we set out. And that’s a great date.

But isn’t it funny that when it comes to personal devotions, when it comes to our relationship to the Lord, we change the rules. We judge the success of our time with the Lord by what we get out of it, by what we remember, by what we’ve learned. We consider our devotions a success when we learn some new fact about God or about the Bible. We admire those who have great biblical knowledge or a great memory for the facts of what they’ve read. We get discouraged and want to give up when we feel like we have learned nothing through that day’s devotions.

May 11, 2011

The introduction of a new communications technology tends to bring with it an inevitable challenge of grappling with new rules of etiquette. This was true in the time of the telegraph when, for example, business owners had to decide whether or not they would receive work-related telegraphs at their homes after business hours. This was true in the early days of the telephone when people eventually decided upon the polite habit of answering the phone with “Hello” instead of “What do you want?” or “Who is it?” What seems natural to us was actually a rule society decided upon only after some conflict and some negotiation.

We are currently in the early years of another communications revolution and just like our forebears, we are negotiating etiquette. We find ourselves in that tricky space where many of us are applying old rules to new media. But we may also be excusing sinful or rude habits by our thoughtless dedication to these new media. In some cases we will look back in a few years and marvel that we could ever have been so rude. By that time society will have caught up and negotiated new etiquette. But for the time being many of us behave like barbarians (albeit barbarians with high-tech devices and Internet connections).

Let me give you just a few examples.

Present, But Absent

Many of our new devices, perhaps our smart phones most prominently, allow us to be present in body but absent in mind. While we may be standing before a friend or sitting beside a spouse, our minds are engaged elsewhere and with other people. I will grant that this disengagement is possible with a book, too (just ask my wife), but society has largely already figured out that we are to favor a person in favor of a book. My iPhone is just so convenient and so small and so alluring that I try to make myself believe that I can keep half my mind on my phone (Angry Birds or email or a text message) even while keeping the other half on a conversation. But we are quickly learning that if I give even a sliver of my mind to that phone, I am giving none of myself to the person trying to speak with me. I am present in body, but my mind is in cyberspace. Be present or be absent! Make your choice and make it clear.

Don’t Keep Me Waiting

Society has not yet fully negotiated the etiquette of call waiting, even though it’s been around for a while now. Personally, I consider it perfectly acceptable to hang up and allow a person to call me back if he feels the need to answer another call while he is speaking with me. Some may disagree. Text messaging is a new and digital equivalent to call waiting. While I am conversing with one person, another seeks to interrupt us. And the question is, is it polite for me to interrupt my conversation to begin another? Too many of us think we can. In fact, most of us cannot tolerate not knowing who has texted us and so, even in the midst of a conversation, we’ll rummage through purse or pocket to steal a glance at the phone to see who has sent us a message. And the moment we begin to engage with that remote person or his message, we have become present but absent (see above). Do not respond to your devices unless it suits you to do so at that moment.

Digital Courage

There are some things we do in life that are just plain difficult. They require courage; they cannot be easily avoided or delegated. A constant temptation we face, especially in an age of pervasive mediated communication, is to do in mediated form what ought to be done face to face (or to do by text message what ought to be done by phone). We can probably all think of times that we have chosen to communicate via email or text message what we should have said directly. We do not need to look far to find someone who has broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend through Facebook or through a text message. We gain courage when we do not need to look a person in the eye. But we lose presence, we lose empathy, we lose the holistic nature of face to face, real-world communication. Even the courage we gain may be too much courage, a courage that is really characterless bravado. Be wary of those times that fear or intimidation compel you toward mediation!

Putting On an Exhibition

Many of our new media bring with them the ability to make an exhibition of ourselves. And where they give us the ability, they also seem to give the desire. They may even impose a little bit of pressure to do so. And so we tweet everything we do and upload inappropriate photos to Facebook (or photos that a few years ago would have been inappropriate). What used to be private is now made public, what used to be shameful is now entertaining. Consider whether it needs to be said or needs to be shown.

These are just a few ways in which we would do well to use our minds, to use wisdom, to use common sense, to learn how to stop excusing rudeness, to fast-forward the construction of some kind of etiquette to govern the use of these new media available to us.

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