From The Archives: Tear Down This Wall

Editor’s Comment: In light of the tragedy and unrest being played out in the world today, editor’s thought it good to re-share an older blog from Pastor Warner, Tear Down This Wall.  Instead of being caught up in the media fanfare, inaccuracy, sensationalizing and politicizing of these kinds of events.  We need to think and live Biblically.

  One of the most famous speeches in recent times was delivered by President Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate, prior to the demolishing of the Berlin Wall that has had existed for many years, and symbolized the divide between freedom and communism that marked the Cold War.  One of the most memorable lines the President delivered was, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe... Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!  Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”  He firmly believed that freedom would pave the way to prosperity, and result in the burying of what he called “ancient hatreds”, as well as clearly marking the path forward.


Take A Visit With Me To The Wall

   I want to take you to another wall, if that’s alright.  I’m not talking architectural such as the Great Wall of China; not geographic/political the Berlin wall.  This is not historical memorable such as the Vietnam War Memorial dubbed simply “The Wall.”  I don’t have in mind the religious symbolic such as the Western or the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem that carries with it profound implications of identity and title deed to the Jewish people.  No, what I have in mind is much, much closer to home.  In fact, it resides in the human heart and is referred to as “the dividing wall of hostility.”  Please read and consider (Eph.2:11-18) ESV which so richly declares:

   “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

   Recently, much of the nation was stunned and captured by the tragic events surrounding the slaying of a 17-year old teenager Trayvon Martin, by a local neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, FL, George Zimmerman.  There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions, but almost immediately this even was jumped on and politicized by numbers of people. There were very few sober, restrained voices warning of the dangers of any case being tried in the media without all the facts investigated and corroborated.  In the end, what we are left with is a sad, sad legacy that will forever scar this teenager’s parents, and all the others close to the case and individuals.  What it has served to accomplish is to bring the issue of “race” or racial divisions to the forefront of the cultural conversation.  I don’t have statistical evidence of this, but it seems that the “race card” is being played and exploited by a lot of people more & more frequently, and is not helping.  So, instead of people being brought together and old wounds being healed, the racial divide seems more pronounced than ever.  This was not supposed to happen!

   It is right here that the true Gospel of Jesus Christ shines!  The Gospel paints the glorious picture of humanity reconciled to God, and thru Jesus Christ, to each other.  Ephesians 2/3 present us with the Biblical and theological foundation of this reality. According to God’s word the life lesson about the problem is two-fold. First, the one word that sums up the human condition and so much of human history is the word...alienation.  As a very young Christian, the earliest explanation given to me about sin was the fact of separation: sin separates people first from God, and then from one another.  The second lesson that follows is that the roots and origins of racism are not political, social, or economic (although these certainly contribute to the problem); no, they are spiritual.  You don’t have to look any further than the human heart to what gives this its death-dealing power!

   It’s also true that you don’t have to go very far or look very hard to find examples and illustrations of this alienation, this “dividing wall of hostility.” You have the tribalism in Africa that often carries genocidal tendencies like what happened in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis, which much of the world turned a blind eye to.  In the Asian community, the Koreans don’t like the Japanese, and vice versa; plus they both dislike the Chinese.  I live in Arizona where the label ‘racist’ is attached to any attempt to address the problem of illegal immigration.  Among some Latino people they get very offended and say, “Don’t call me Mexican; I’m Spanish.” Amongst the Native Americans you find the neighbor on neighbor conflict between the Navajos and Hopis that has been going on for generations; also including their neighbors to the north, the Utes.  Then there’s the Islanders.  In the Micronesia, the Chamorros hate the Chuukese.  Not to be outdone, in the Polynesians, the Samoans and the Tongans are not wild about each other.  My chaplain friend, Bob Mecado, confirmed that the prison system is one of the most segregated places on earth where you’re forced to make a choice about “what car you’re going to ride in.” Will it be white, or Mexican, or Black?  It’s hard to fight a war and bring stability in Afghanistan to a people where tribes or clans have been fighting one another for generations.  Dear ones, this is just a small sampling of the world we live in, with all its walls.  I haven’t even got into the travesty of apartheid in South Africa, and the wall between whites, blacks, and colored.  Or Sierra Leone, where you have the Mende and the Temne, with the Creole feeling superior to all the indigenous people.  We can look around and find the ancient political tactic of DIVIDE & RULE is being propagated, and originated with and learned from the “father” of it all, which is the devil!

   Where I get some hope is from our Scripture.  As real as these and all the other social distinctions are: they can’t hold a candle to, and are not nearly as intense or unrelenting as the “dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile in Bible times.  The Jews believed that Gentiles were only good for and were created to fuel the fires of Hell.  It was not lawful for a Jew to give aid to a Gentile woman giving birth, since you’d be helping to bring another heathen into the world.  The collision of Jewish/Gentile exclusiveness was monumental.  The Gentiles were dog sin Jewish parlance; and the Jews were homicidal enemies of the human race in Gentile terms.  Among the Gentiles as well it was written, “The Greeks wage a truce-less war against people of other races (whom they consider to be barbarians).  My reason for wanting to visit this wall with you is that if we’re going to experience revival and kingdom fruitfulness then...this “spirit” must be broken.

The Miracle Of The Church

   Oh yes, God has something in mind!  Something much bigger, much deeper, much broader than any human solution!  God’s answer to all this was to create a whole new race!  “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility... that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” Only God could think of something so radical! He’s going to take from the mess around that wall and “create” something brand new: a whole new humanity; not Jews, not Gentiles, but the church of God.  Clement of Alexandria commented on this, “We who worship God in a new way, as the 3rd race, are Christians.”  Paul goes on to spell out the Church’s charter in vs.18, 19,“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”  The death of Jesus Christ has created a new humanity (a 3rd race) reconciled first to God, then through Christ to each other.

   Never mind the propaganda.  The Cross of Christ is the greatest unifying force in the world, “might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  The meaning here is not that we feel a little bit closer to “our kind” but those who were formerly hostile, divided and hating each other, now experience a profound bond of love and unity.  It also helps to define our task, where Jesus said, “Go make disciples of all nations.”  The word “ethnos” refers to various ethnic groups. This means in the church there are no 2nd class citizens, but dignity or full acceptance for all, and expression, enabling people to fulfill the destiny of God, is open to all.  It reminded me of the “snapshot” we’re given of the church at Antioch. “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”(Acts 13:1-3) This church on fire for Christ had an amazingly diverse or heterogeneous staff. Barnabas, a native of Cyprus; Simeon or Niger (Latin for “black”); Lucius of Cyrene (region of North Africa); Manaen who was raised in Herod’s household with privilege; and a young Rabbi named Saul or the Apostle Paul. This is a kind of microcosm of what the church would and should become in the world, a racially integrated group of Christ-followers and missions-minded people.

   I guess the question that begs to be asked here is what about single-ethnic churches?  I understand there are some exceptions due to various circumstances factors, historical, linguistic, and geographical.  The idea is that people come to faith easier when there are people of the same ethnic and socio-economic background.  That might have some truth to it, but how does it differ from a religious-flavored being comfortable with our kind?  The real model should be local churches that reflect the ethnic diversity of heaven and God’s glory. The song of redemption that says, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”(Rev.5:9, 10) A church where Jesus Christ reigns will be a “pocket of reconciliation and shalom in an alienated world.”  Dr. Martin Luther King is noted for saying that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11:00am, which is when whites go to their church, and Blacks go to theirs.  I’m not denying that this happens; I’m saying that this is not manifesting the life of Jesus Christ or His Kingdom.  A people whose prayer and heart desire is “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The building of God’s kingdom necessitates the ministry of racial reconciliation (“tear down this wall!”), which results in a multitude of diverse people worshiping, serving together, loving, and seeking first the Kingdom of God.  The witness that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom.14:17)

Ministering The Mystery

   The word “mystery” in the Bible is not talking about a crime thriller or an Agatha Christie novel.  The word indicates something beyond natural knowledge; something that has been previously hidden, but is now manifest.  It refers to an open secret!  Paul is over-the-top thrilled that he would have an opportunity to preach among the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ” and to bring to light this mystery. “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  (Eph.3:6) The mystery involves a “miraculous togetherness” that is the fruit of Christ’s reconciling work on the Cross.

   Our calling as Christians and as a church is to manifest this mystery: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”  We are called to give truth and validity to the “many-colored wisdom of God” in the fellowship of the Church!  This will come at a cost since the flesh (fallen human nature), the world (with its many power-centered agendas), and the devil is constantly trying to re-erect what Christ came to tear down.  A Church that is “manifesting the mystery” is a work of God, not something we can concoct on our own.  It happens when the central impetus of ministry is preaching the Gospel and making disciples.  It also is the fruit of the pastor’s heart.  He must be seized by the Biblical conviction and cast the vision that God wants the local church to reflect the “manifold wisdom of God,” or a multi-ethnic ethos.  It is also the fruit of a spiritual principle found in (1Jn.1:1-3) that the closer we are to God, the closer we become to each other.

   I must point out that there is a cosmic drama to all this since not only is there a witness to our broken world, but there is a heavenly audience to all of this. The text says that this “might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” I’m not sure if I fully grasp the entire meaning of this, but there’s something about a local church that is first, committed to the process of tearing down the wall, and second, committed to manifesting God’s “many colored wisdom and plan” that draw the attention of the angels!  They long and love to peer into the nature and purpose of God being played out.  Not only is the world watching, but angels are watching as well!  Wow!  That’s why the place where you’ll find a demonstration of this is not the U.N. but the C.I.C. (Church In Christ)!

   I was talking to Pastor Artie Aragon in Chinle, AZ about some of this.  He had conducted a funeral service for one of the original Navajo Code Talkers. What an amazing story and confirmation and conclusion to what we’re looking at.  During the war in the South Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, the Navajo Code Talkers became one of the Marine Corps most valuable secret weapons. The pilot project began with 29 Navajo volunteers in April of 1942, and grew to a force of more than 400 by the end of the war.  They were an integral part of the South Pacific strategy, and only God knows how many 1000's of American lives were saved because of the unique contribution of these “code talkers.”  The Navajo people were used for victory and freedom for the whole of the United States.  To me, one of the amazing features is what they had to overcome.  They fought for a country that had caused them great pain and struggle.  How easy it would’ve been for them to be trapped in the past, and become prisoners of bitterness.  They fought for a country that had broken 197 treaties.  They were willing to submit to the training of a different culture and race, some of them under General George Patton.  They chose to be United States Marines first, embracing a new culture of character, discipline and excellence.  Because they “manifested the mystery” they have been memorialized forever, and rightly so, in a way that brought them great dignity, and a cause much greater than themselves.

   It’s easy to take the posture or attitude of “being more comfortable with people like us...people of our kind.”  But, if we are going to think and live Biblically, then we are Christian’s first, and then whatever else: white, black, Mexican, Asian, native-American, rich or poor, educated or uneducated etc.  Why? Because WE ALL HAVE THE SAME FATHER, THE SAME CITIZENSHIP, THE SAME FAMILY, THE SAME GRACE AND SALVATION, THE SAME PROMISES, AND THE SAME HEAVENLY HOME by aligning ourselves with God and His truth and His people, we too, become part of something much greater than ourselves in a world hopelessly alienated.  That, my friend, is worth contending for; don’t you agree?! TO GOD BE THE GLORY!  

 


 

Note: Pastor Warner is a white guy from New England, married to a Mexican girl from the barrio, going on 40 years.  He is also glad and privileged to serve in the same church made up of numerous ethnicities, with a burning desire to “manifest this mystery” as a living illustration.  They seek to do this in the context of a passion to reach the world with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which at this time includes people from 5 different continents, and 26 different countries.

Gatekeepers of Purpose

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NEW Audio Narration Now Available. Narrated by Bob Darling.


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Our theme for 2018 is “Pursuing God’s Purpose.” This is a far cry from the world’s advice: “Be true to yourself and follow your dreams.” The goal in life is to discover God’s purpose for you in Christ. You must pursue that purpose. It won’t just fall into your lap — it is the fruit of living intentionally. One important aspect of God’s purpose plays out in the arena of the home, with parents and children.

 

Ed and his wife dropped in on some friends to catch up on their adult children who were home for a visit. As they left, he sat in the car for a moment, then banged the steering wheel in frustration. 

“What’s wrong?” asked Nancy.

“All I heard was talk of new homes and boats, and their children’s sports – but nothing about God. Not one of them knows Jesus as Savior. They have substituted cultural success for salvation.”

His frustration is understandable. Besides the obvious Eternity factor, these parents lost sight of one of their most crucial functions: helping their children to discover God’s purpose for their lives. One of a parent’s crucial functions is to usher their children into what author Phil Cooke calls The One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do. Obviously, parents do not completely control this process, but they are set as the gatekeepers whom God has placed to shepherd it to fruition. Paul especially singles out the role of fathers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

The discipline and instruction of the Lord means leading them to pursue maturity in God’s wisdom; cherishing and training them by example, by instruction, and by discipline. All so that they might discover God’s purpose.  As a freshman at the University of Connecticut I had very little purpose – beyond, maybe, playing ice hockey. I was not a bad student, I just cut lots of classes. I had no discipline in my life, because I had no real sense of why I was there – except that, well, this is what you do after high school. Don’t think for a moment that I’m blaming my parents at all. The problem was all mine. I had no clear purpose.  It is no surprise, then, that failure followed, and I flunked out.

PARENTS ARE GATEKEEPERS

As Bob Dylan sang, The Times, They Are A-changin’, more rapidly and profoundly today than ever before. It has never been more important to have an “understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). The need for God-given wisdom and discernment is massive, and the one constant in any age is the need for the helping hand of mothers and fathers in shaping the next generation in God’s ways.

 
The greater issue is how we are shaping our children’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and moral appetites and interests.

Our appetites are shaped from birth. What we grow up eating becomes adult comfort food. Hence, today’s concern to cultivate children’s appetites for healthy and nourishing foods. But the greater issue is how we are shaping our children’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and moral appetites and interests. Is it healthy for parents to shape a child’s worldview, appetites, and desires? Shouldn’t we just leave it up to the kids to figure it out on their own?

It wasn’t so long ago that parents knew their influence was required in helping their children’s lives move forward. They knew their role was to guide and groom their sons and daughters from childhood to adolescence and into maturity, and from there to a life path that they could pursue with passion and dedication.

A parent’s greatest fear was that their child might wander through life with no direction or purpose. This comes off as horribly restrictive in an age that enthrones Self at every opportunity, when parents are counseled to let their children be free spirits who embrace and live their own “truth.” History will record that millions of families were destroyed as the self-proclaimed experts came on the scene to vilify traditional marriage and God’s wisdom for child rearing; as time-tested biblical foundations were traded in for novel notions of social engineering.

Secular Humanism declares each person their own god. With the One True God removed from the human equation, each one is an independent agent and every idea or impulse, no matter how foolish or selfish, has equal value. “Therefore, children are ‘free’ to develop their own ideas about the world around them, apart from the wisdom of experienced parents or mentors,” writes Stephen Simpson. “Correction is viewed as ‘negative,’ while pats on the head, winks, nods, and participation stickers train little cherubs to become narcissistic sociopaths when they get older. 

“God’s idea for the family is different. He gives children to parents as an entrustment to be stewarded and cherished. Parents aren’t primarily called to be the ‘buddy’ to their kids, and children aren’t given to be some kind of trophy or play-dolls for the parents’ amusement. The goal of a parent is not to be popular with their kids; it is to prepare them for a life of faithfulness to God and healthy relationships with other people.”

This dynamic is enshrined in the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Too many have grabbed this verse from a “promise box” and taken it to mean that if I bring my kids to church and Sunday school, then they’ll follow the Lord later in life. When this is not the case, many parents feel that God has let them down. But this observation on life is predicated first on training: Train up a child. The word used here means narrow.

It presupposes the presence of a gate and a gatekeeper, as opposed to no boundaries and limitless freedom. “In the way he should go” is rooted in the word for speech, or communication. That is to say that parents must hear, study, and be attuned to the unique “bents” – for good and bad – in each child’s life, talents, and personality – to discover where and for what God has uniquely suited them. The romantic notion that we should just live life as it comes, and whatever path is fine so long as “you just do you” may make for good pop music, but it makes for horrible life choices.  

UNIQUE CHALLENGES

Parents today also face unique challenges. Outside influences are more aggressively hostile to biblical family norms than they were just a few short decades ago. Add to this the multiplied gateways these influences have now gained into your home via the Internet, social media, smart phones, television, gaming, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

When I was growing up, we often went out and left our doors unlocked. That would be unthinkable today, but the greater question is, do you guard these other portals into your home? If you feel you’re in an alien universe, it’s because you are. You need to study the enemy forces that seek to claim your children and grandchildren.

Have you forfeited your influence over your kids? Rest assured, there is a multi-billion-dollar entertainment and advertising industry that has no such reservations and is more than willing to fill that void.

Have you forfeited your influence over your kids? Rest assured, there is a multi-billion-dollar entertainment and advertising industry that has no such reservations and is more than willing to fill that void.

Neither can you casually and confidently send your kids off to school, because the secular humanist educational system is plotting to shipwreck godly input, substituting godless fallacies that promote wayward living. Thank God for those willing to swim against the tide to teach the truth, but by and large today’s schools are more committed to indoctrinating children than educating them.

Rather than simply insulating our kids from outside influences, we must deliberately and continually inoculate them with godly, spiritual influence. The Old Testament centerpiece in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says: "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Loving God and pursuing His purpose comes not just from a sermon at church, but also diligent teaching at home. It is to be woven into the fabric of normal, everyday living and communicating. We live in a 24/7/365 world. A “few minutes of Jesus” once a week isn’t going to cut it for your kids. Christ and His Word must be at home in their hearts because of its constant presence in your home and all along the way of life.

Pray together. Take a walk and talk about the Scripture, asking questions to see where your child’s walk with God is. Attend church and worship together. Talk about the sermon or the children’s church lesson on the way home. What did they see and hear? What did God speak to them? Tell your children about the areas where you have failed or fallen short, and how God’s love and grace met you, forgave you, and restored you. In every area, shape the spirit and values that you want imparted to your kids.

Please, start doing it sooner rather than later.

STUMBLING BLOCKS

Trust me, for every stifling, over-protective parent there are so many more whose hands-off approach has left their children wandering through life with no sense of purpose. I’ve observed over the years that kids aren’t derailed by their parents’ flaws. While it’s popular to blame your parents for all your problems, the truth is there are no perfect parents. We’ve all sinned and there is not one righteous.

The deadly element comes when parents set a double standard: they’re one thing at church and something else at home. They teach and preach one thing, then depart from that truth and start living a contradiction. Kids are not stupid. They pick up on this, and often use it as license to go their own way rather than pursue God’s purpose.

I read a fascinating piece about the famous drug lord, Pablo Escobar. As one of the world’s foremost cocaine suppliers, he earned an estimated 22 billion dollars per year. This ruthless criminal was responsible for the deaths of many of his enemies, as well as police and politicians.

This dichotomy of Escobar – loving dad and ruthless criminal

The anomaly in the story is that he was also known as a loving father, affectionate and encouraging to his son and daughter. This dichotomy of Escobar – loving dad and ruthless criminal – is chronicled in the book written by his son, Sebastian Marroquin: Pablo Escobar, My Father.

Changing his name for his own protection when he fled Colombia, Marroquin dedicates the book “to my father, who showed me what path not to take.” What a sobering statement. All the riches showered on his kids could not make up for the poor example he set.  The loving words he offered them could not eliminate the pain he caused.

Affection for our kids is not enough. Providing for them financially is also insufficient. They need our example. That’s why the words resonate: “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” It is impossible to train your kids without your example. We all learn by what we see in others more than by what they tell us. Christian dads (parents) must live in such a way in the presence of their children that they say, “He showed me the path to take: the narrow road that leads to life.”

EXAMPLES TO EMULATE

The parents who stand out in the Bible are those who helped cultivate a sense of God’s purpose in their children. In 1 Samuel 3:9, we see Eli’s effort as surrogate parent to usher Samuel into God’s purposes: “Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.'"

In Judges chapter 13, the angel of the Lord visits Samson’s parents to make them aware of God’s purpose for his life: “He shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” Yes, Samson had his issues and was far from perfect, but his parents’ prayer was, “Teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.”

Parents of famous people? Have you ever thought about the parents of Moses? Hebrews 11:23 says, “It was by faith that Moses' parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king's command.”

Somehow, God’s purpose found its way into Moses’ DNA, and his parents recognized that.

Somehow, God’s purpose found its way into Moses’ DNA, and his parents recognized that. As a result, years later, he was able to stand on his own two feet, grateful for the opportunities he’d received, but definitely and unequivocally identifying with God’s purpose for his life. And yes, there is Timothy. He displayed a “genuine faith” that was first modeled and then transmitted to him by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).

In my personal devotions I am studying the Book of Proverbs. What’s intriguing about this book is that it served as a kind of parents’ instruction manual to see their sons and daughters obtain a heart of wisdom. Proverbs1:8-9 says: “My child, listen when your father corrects you. Don't neglect your mother's instruction. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck.” If they had an ear to listen to the voice of their father and mother, they would discover invigorating wisdom that would guide them into skillful living. 

EMPOWERED BY PURPOSE

The glorious truth of the Gospel is that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” As a brand new Christian I remember hearing that statement, and it ignited a passion in my heart. God loves me! Yes! Amazing! He saved me by His grace, through Christ’s work on the Cross for me! That alone is far more than I’ll ever deserve.

But, when you add to that the fact that He also called me with a holy calling, not based on my works but on His strong purpose… well, that truth still vibrantly lives in my heart 45 years later!  Madame Marie Curie, the two-time Nobel Peace Prize winner in science who discovered radium, was a woman with a strong sense of purpose. She said, “We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must, at whatever cost, be attained.”

Yes, I know life is not easy for any of us, but the confidence springing from our belief that God has a plan and purpose – that there is a special something we are here to accomplish – helps motivate us to dedicated perseverance. We are urged in Philippians 2:5 to have the “mind of Christ,” that is, to have the attitude, motivations, and priorities Christ had.

One particular focus of this mindset is found in the two bookends of the life of Jesus Christ on this earth. Remember when Jesus was 12 years old, and his parents mistakenly thought he’d gone missing from their traveling group? After anxiously searching for him for three days, they found him in the Temple.

Jesus’s response to their relieved remonstration in Luke 2:49 was, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" The Scripture goes on to comment, “But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” He was beginning to grasp that His life was all about God’s purpose. Any 12-year old with that sense of compelling purpose will generally not be understood by others.

The latter bookend is found in those regal words of Jesus as He stood before the Roman governor Pilate: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).

Clearly, at both the beginning and the end of Christ’s life, He was guided by the North Star of God’s purpose. Any child (or adult) that lacks this direction can end up drifting through life, chasing whatever pleasure they can. Dedication comes from purpose, which in turn, gives our lives meaning and direction. 

A MAN'S PLACE IS IN THE HOME

One of the takeaways for me is the need for clarity, focus, and emphasis on the importance of fatherhood. It comes as no surprise that one of the maladies plaguing our society in epidemic proportions is fatherlessness. This topic requires far more attention than this article can provide.

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“A related struggle that men encounter is not only trying to be a present father, but being a good father as well,”  Mark Strong writes. “Men who love their families constantly grapple with the question, ‘How can I be a better dad?’ You have to ask yourself, ‘Where can the average man find out what it takes to be a good dad?’ The short answer is – not in too many places.”

Thank God for the Bible. We can learn a great deal about the crucial role of fathers from the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17. If we examine verse 17, we see how our Heavenly Father provides the best example for fathers down through the ages.

First, Father God is present and acknowledges His Son: “This is my Son.” Make no mistake: He belongs to me. I am his Father and he is my Son. This declaration brings identity and a sense of belonging.

Secondly, the Father expresses his love for His Son: “This is my son whom I love.” These were not just words of sentiment, but a tangible expression of love seen throughout the Gospels.

The third element is the Father’s affirmation of His Son: “This is My Son, whom I love, with Him I am well-pleased.” Those are life-giving words!

God tells the world that Jesus is his Son whom He loves and that He is well pleased. I find this phrase amazing! It comes before Jesus had preached His first sermon, before He healed his first sick person, before He cast out any demons, before He called any disciples, before He dies on the Cross or rises from the grave.

Affirmation is a powerful force that makes a difference in men’s lives. Use it liberally. The father’s role is to shepherd his child into discovering God’s purpose. The good news is that even if your earthly father was absent and failed you, God will not. He promises to be the father you always wanted and needed. He can touch the pain in your heart and pour out love’s mercy to heal your deepest wounds.

Paul described his ministry to the Thessalonians in these terms: “And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11,12).

A man who is present, a man who will pray and make regular deposits of God’s Word in his heart, a man who will be devoted to his children and to his God, will help his child taste something of God’s kingdom and glory.

SETTING THE PACE

Many years ago, I preached a men’s class in another city. It was geared towards inspiring men to pursue God’s purpose. At the end, I opened things up for a time of questions. One guy raised his hand and asked me, “What about family time?”

I was a bit taken aback since what I’d preached was nothing extreme or out of the ordinary – just a biblically sound case for putting Christ first and following Him.  Factoring in that this church had only a Sunday morning service, I’d say the people were not suffering from excessive commitments to take their family time. Maybe what was needed was a little more “kingdom time.”

We are all agreed that the family is critical on so many levels. But church time is not the antagonist of family time. They are meant to support each other as co-laborers in the transmission of God’s purpose. When this is not the case, the sad testimony results: “there arose another generation that know not the Lord.”

So, a practical question arises. Should parents force their children to go to church, when they don’t want to? The short answer? Yes, absolutely. The argument is made that in pressuring them to attend we alienate them from the church because they grow up resenting having to be there. That as soon as they have a bit of freedom, they will abandon that practice forced upon them by their unrelenting parents.

I see your point, but are people making that argument for, let’s say, visiting Disneyland? Going hunting or fishing? Playing video games? Following their favorite sports team or hobby? No, I think not. However, I make the case to you that there are four strong reasons for this practice: 

1. To teach the church’s purpose.

Ideally, we should all want to go to church, but desire alone is not king. We go there because we need to. We are sinful, forgetful people. We go and meet with God’s people because we need to be reminded regularly of who God is and His promises in the Bible. We need to be encouraged and held accountable, not just for our sake, but for the sake of others.

2. To put feelings in their proper place.

If we don’t make our kids go to church because they don’t want to, we are communicating that their feelings are their masters. Life has some very harsh lessons in store for those who ascribe to this tenet. By taking them you teach them that we walk by faith, not by sight (or feelings).

3. To exercise your own faith.

In taking our children to church, we are trusting that when we saturate our child in the things of God and the preaching of the Gospel that something is going to get through. God can use those moments to bring about an awakening of the necessity of faith in Christ in your children’s lives.

4. To feed the right appetite.

The law of life is that whatever area of life we feed will grow. This is true of both positive and negative. When we discipline ourselves and our children to go to church, we are, slowly but surely, feeding the appetite for godliness. It’s one spoonful at a time, to be sure, and covered with prayer before, during and after, that the Holy Spirit would do His heart-changing work. No, it is not a cure-all. But it’s feeding the right appetite. 

I had a “drug” problem when I was young.

One email that has been widely circulated should give you hope:

I had a “drug” problem when I was young. I was “drug” to church on Sunday morning. I was “drug” to church on Sunday night. I was “drug” to church on Wednesday night. I was “drug” to Sunday School every week and to Vacation Bible School every summer.

Those “drugs” are still in my veins, and I don’t think I’ll every kick the habit.

Yes, there are countless excuses for neglecting church. Yes, I am sometimes tired on Sundays. Yes, there are hypocrites in church. Yes, sometimes the sermons are too long and boring. But meeting weekly to celebrate Jesus with songs, prayers, worship, and fellowship is important. In Psalm 122:1;4, David exclaims, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ All God's people go up to worship, to give thanks to the name of God.”

The brightest star is the life of Jesus. Aware of His Father’s business at an early age, we read that as a man “He went to Nazareth, where had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom (Luke 4:16).

BE ENCOURAGED

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As you seek to set an example and raise your children, never forget that the Lord is with you. He gave your children to you and He will help you to raise them. Charlotte Parker says, “The Holy Spirit helps us pray for our children.” What a wonderful and comforting truth.  In Isaiah 49:25 He promises, “I will contend with him who contends with you, and I will save your children.”

I’ve always carried a vision for the power and influence of kids who will pursue God’s purpose. I’m drawn to the story of Daniel and his three friends who’d been taken captive in Babylon. They were schooled in Babylonian culture and were given Babylonian names. Everything that was done to them was for the express purpose of obliterating any distinction of Jehovah God from their lives.

They chose, nevertheless, to pursue God’s purpose, even while in captivity in a strange land. Their testimony is there in Daniel chapter 1 for our instruction and encouragement: “God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams. When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.”

That’s kingdom math: ten times more capable! This is the kind of testimony that our confused, corrupt and lost world needs today. And where does it begin? Where can it be found? With you and your house.

 

 

 

 

Tell Me the Old, Old Story!

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As Adolph Hitler rose to power in the late 1920’s, he thought to take over the German church and dictate a national religion. It seemed a perfect plan till he hit a major roadblock: Christmas.!

He could make cultural attempts to strip Christmas of its meaning by outlawing traditional observances in the public square, but he could not stop Christmas!

“This is that which is written, the stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. Whoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken, but on whoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” – Luke 20:17-18

The German people had faithfully observed Christmas celebrations for centuries, and the march of tyranny stumbled when it came to the influence of one small Baby who grew to become the Man, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

 

Hitler’s scheme failed as so many others before him and after him for one simple reason: you can’t spell Christmas without Christ.

 

The Christmas story is alive and real

I won’t spend a lot of time and effort demonizing the creeping secularists who want a holiday without the element of religion. But I do feel sorry for them, since the element of religion is the only reason we have the holiday.

Christmas is a unique and opportune time of year because it is a Christian holiday that has also become a major secular holiday (arguably, our culture’s biggest). This results in two different celebrations, each observed by millions of people at the very same time.

As the two coexist, we each feel the intrusion of the one upon the other, a situation which doesn’t promise to be resolved anytime soon. It’s like two parallel universes on a yearly collision course. But during the two weeks or so that these two worlds approach each other so closely, and seem almost in sync, people tend to be more open to receive a supernatural deposit. This gives us the opportunity to engage people with the message of the Gospel and the real meaning of Christmas.

Yes, once again, we can tell the story! And this has been my approach for quite some time.

As I sat on the platform a few years back listening to announcements for Christmas activities, suddenly, the Holy Spirit whispered in my heart: You need to tell the story. There’s power in simply telling the story!

I made some quick notes, adjusting my focus. Since that time, I’ve made it my aim at Christmas not only to preach sermons, but to have a special night to tell the timeless story of Christ’s birth in reading, dramatization, and song.

This year our annual Christmas Reading happens to fall on Christmas Eve.

Joe McKeever gave some sage advice when he wrote, “Just tell the story. Tell the story with faithfulness and respect. Tell it accurately and fully, bringing in the accounts of Matthew and Luke, drawing from the prophecies of old. Tell it with gusto and love. Tell the story of the birth of Jesus with all the excitement of someone hearing it for the first time. Tell the story without detouring into theories and guesses and myths and controversies. Your Christmas sermon is no time for conjecture. Stay on the subject, pastor, don’t waste your time. Your Christmas sermon should not waste everyone’s valuable time on the pagan origins of Christmas or the history of Augustus’ census, unless you’ve found something worthwhile, pastor. Stay on the subject. Tell the story with imagination and appreciation.”

 

Christmas is part of a much larger story

A meta-story is a story about a story. It encompasses and explains other little stories that come together to make the larger scale story into a whole.

The power and fruitfulness of the Christmas story comes from the fact that it plays a crucial part in a much larger narrative of God’s His-tory of rescue and redemption. This is the meta-narrative of the Christian story.

The Bible is not simply a book of religious instruction. It is God’s self-revelation; it gives us God’s meta-story of how, where, and why things fit into a larger whole.

The Bible is the story of reality: How the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between. Not “your truth” or “my truth,” but THE TRUTH, God’s truth.

Children are experts at the question, Why? Why is the sky blue, Mommy? Why does the egg hatch, Daddy? As we get older, our Whys target the deeper heart of things.

Why am I here? Why is anything here? How did things get into such a mess? How can we fix it? What is truly important? And at Christmas time, What Child is This?

Christmas is all about the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

God initiated His rescue plan for man who is horribly broken in a world gone terribly wrong, by sending us the God-man, Jesus. Bible prophecy foretold that the “seed of the woman” – a genuine human being like ourselves – must do battle with the snake (Genesis 3:14,15).

It was essential that our Rescuer share our essential humanity in every way.

Though conceived by a miracle, Jesus entered the world through labor and pain, just like you and me. All that we experience, all that we desire, all that we dream; all that discourages us, all that delights us, all that disappoints us; all our hungers and hopes and distresses – all these were experienced by Jesus. He is like us. He is one of us.

But the companion truth is that Jesus said things that no mere man is able to say.

He said, for example, that He existed before He was born; that He has power to forgive sin; that the honor due the Father is due also to Him; and that the final judgment falls to Him: it is His lot.

He says that He is drink for the thirsty and bread for the hungry, so they will never thirst or hunger again. He says that those who trust in Him will live, even if they die.

The Temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus and they returned empty-handed.

“Why didn’t you bring him in?!” demanded the power brokers of the time.

"We have never heard anyone speak like this!" was all they could say.

Jesus Himself posed the pivotal question to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” said their spokesman, Peter.

Bingo! Revelation!

Of all the Gospel accounts of Christ’s birth, John’s is the most majestic, the most transcendent, the most far-reaching in its scope and theme:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

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He continues in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

“This, I think, is the greatest line in the Story, writes Gregory Koukl. “Making the world from nothing was a stunning work of wonder, to be sure. God becoming one of us, however, walking with us, being near us – knowing human joy, sharing human sorrow – is beyond wonderful. It is sublime. Our God has not remained remote and unapproachable, he has come to us in person. He did not just write us a letter. He did not just send us a representative. He did not just speak his laws from a mountain top. He came to us as one of us. The Infinite became an infant. This great event, God’s arrival on earth, reveals to us the heart of God so that the world and life itself is forever different.”

This, beloved, is what sets Christianity apart from all other world religions.

When Richard Nixon was president he said that the greatest moment in human history was when man walked on the moon. Evangelist Billy Graham said, “No, the greatest moment in history was not when man walked on the moon, but when God walked on the earth.”

The greatest moment in history was not when man walked on the moon, but when God walked on the earth.

This was Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us.

I encourage you this Christmas season to engage in a very edifying and mind-expanding exercise: the attempt to grasp a bit of what I like to call the dimensions of the Christmas story.

The breadth, the length, the height, and the depth of God’s love and His grand plan, as explained in The Message rendition of Ephesians 3:14-20:

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My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.  I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit — not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength —  that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.  God can do anything, you know — far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working     within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

I love the starting-place of this passage, which explains the position of true understanding: “My response is to get down on my knees before the Father.”

We love to think that we human beings can figure things out logically, but real comprehension comes from that place of humility and worship before God. Paul’s prayer for us is specific: “that you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.”


1) “Reach out and experience the breadth!”

A phrase frequently found in the Bible is, “the ends of the earth.” Whether in reference to people’s needs, their worship, or God’s dominion, His salvation carries this breadth. “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalm 98:3). This is why it’s perfectly fitting to hear this song before the throne of God: "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Oh, there’s such a breadth here! Christmas did not initiate some exclusionary “holy club,” but the Good News that reaches out to all men everywhere!


2) “Test its length!”

I love the old worship song by Andrae Crouch that says of Jesus’ Blood that It reaches to the highest mountain; and it flows to the lowest valley. There’s an incredible length or reach here. If we want to examine this length in a timeline, we can go back to eternity past (1 Peter 1:20) when “God chose Him as your ransom long before the world began.” Then, go and attempt to measure the immeasurable, as it says in Isaiah 9:7: “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”  Can you see? There’s a length here that goes on and on and on.


3) “Plumb the depths!” 

Now you’re getting to the heart of Christ’s amazing condescension, as He lowered Himself, down and down. Gregory Koukl again summed up Christ’s great condescension in Philippians 2:5-8: “The Story is saying this: Even though the Son never ceased being God, still he surrendered his divine rights. He laid them aside. He let them go. Like a king who – out of love – removed his crown, set aside his scepter, took off his royal robes, donned the garb of a common beggar, and lived among the poorest of his subjects. Never ceasing to be king, he got low – so low he willingly died the death of a despised criminal–all to serve his own.” Here is the answer to the questions posed by the Christmas carol, What Child Is This? It powerfully reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. On June 5, 1978, a seven-year old boy named Martin Turgeon slipped off a wharf and fell into the Prairie River in Canada. At least a dozen adults saw him struggle for a few moments before he sank and drowned. Why didn’t anyone dive in to save him? As it turns out, just upstream, a plant used to dump raw sewage into the river. The water was dirty – dangerous to your health. So, nobody jumped in to save Martin Turgeon. I am so glad that our God did not take this attitude! Our radical, righteous and amazing God personally jumped into the putrid waters: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel - God with us."  It’s crazy, over-the-top love! The God of the Bible - the God of Christmas - is much better than we could ever imagine! It is this “with us” God that makes Christmas so astonishing! The living God was funneled into the womb of a virgin named Mary, in order to plunge into the mess and shame of our lives to bring us forgiveness of sins, and the promise of a new and rescued (saved) life!


4) “Rise to the heights!”

Here is the very thing that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Bethlehem’s starry night. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" (Luke 2:13,14). The glory of Christ’s love is that it can reach down and touch us in the lowest hell, and it can lift us up to “the highest heaven.”

It’s only as we take in these remarkable and extravagant dimensions that we can “live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” This is not a God throwing His weight around, pushing us against our will. It is, rather, the work of God’s Holy Spirit, like the wind, moving in and through our hearts.

 

Falling in love

Now you see why my strategy at Christmas time is to tell the Story! As Mark Buchanan says, “There’s no story like it: God among us, but not in any way anyone could ever guess. There is more drama here than in the entire corpus of Shakespeare. Every word of it is charged with power, crackling with drama, brimming with portent. A virgin with child. Travail in a stable. Smelly, grubby shepherds running through the night just to catch a glimpse. And then later, pagan seekers and a treacherous ruler. Could this old, old story ever get stale? To tell it again and again – with thoughtfulness, with care, with attentiveness, with fresh conviction – is not a burden. That you get to do it at all is sheer grace.”

We don’t have to come up with some new twist, some modern gimmick. All I need to do is to fall in love, again and again, with the old, old story. “It turns out, I don’t need to make the story, any of it, snazzier, sexier, funkier, Buchanan says. “I just need to recapture its aliveness and realness. I don’t need to make it more relevant or interesting. I just have to let it dwell richly within me, and to dwell richly in it, and then bear witness to what I have seen and heard and touched.”

The words of the old hymn by Kate Hankey resonate:
 

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above;

Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.

Tell me the story simply, as to a little child;

For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.

Tell me the old, old story. Tell me the old, old story,

Tell me the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
 

One of the longest-standing and successful TV shows is 60 Minutes. When creator-producer Don Hewett was asked the secret of its success with viewers, his answer was both simple and direct: “Tell them a story!” That’s what we all get to do at Christmas time.

It was probably my junior year in high school when I sat down with my neighbor’s twin boys to watch The Greatest Story Ever Told. I wasn’t a Christian then. I was not at all well versed in Bible teaching. But I remember to this day how deeply moved I was by the images on the TV screen that depicted the life of Christ. It impacted something deep within me, and, well… here I am. Fifty years later, and I’m still enthralled with The Greatest Story Ever Told. The story of God’s love. The best stories are like that. We simply can’t get enough of them.

So, play it again!