Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Just Another Flavor of Ice Cream?

We subscribe to Randy Alcorn's quarterly newsletter (Eternal Perspective Ministries). Alcorn always includes a section of inspiriational quotations. Whenever my wife finds anything that is inspirational, she clips it or adds it to a quote book she keeps. Providentially, one of the quotations from a past newsletter fell out of her book and I found it. It was by one of my favorite authors and theologians, A.W. Tozer! He writes (emphasis in the quotation is mine):

"The church's mightiest influence is felt when she is different from the world in which she lives. Her power lies in her being different, rises with the degree in which she differs and sinks as the difference diminishes.

This is so fully and clearly taught in the Scriptures and so well illustrated in Church history that it is hard to see how we can miss it. But miss it we do, for we hear constantly that the Church must try to be as much like the world as possible, excepting, of course, where the world is too, too sinful....

Let us plant ourselves on the hill of Zion and invite the world to come over to us, but never under any circumstances will we go over to them. The cross is the symbol of Christianity, and the cross speaks of death and separation, never of compromise. No one ever compromised with a cross. The cross separated between the dead and the living. The timid and fearful will cry "Extreme!" and they will be right. The cross is the essence of all that is extreme and final. The message of Christ is a call across a gulf from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and from Satan to God." ...The Set of the Sail, pp 35, 36

When Tozer advocates the "church" being different from the world, he is not speaking of a building nor is he speaking of a segregated part of our lives that should be different. In several of his other writings he points out that for the "church" to have certain characteristics, the "Christians" in the church must have those characteristics. So for the church to be different, the Christians in the church must be different…and it is an all-inclusive difference. We can't be different in just certain segments of our lives. As Christians, our lives should every day become more and more illustrative of a holy life based upon the Word of God. This is sanctification; becoming more and more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.

So why is it so critical to be "different?"

We as Christians are charged to influence our world, to take dominion over it, and to penetrate the darkness with the light of the Gospel. Tozer is absolutely correct when he posits that the church's influence and power varies directly with her difference from the world. When we as the church are compromising with the culture, we are weak. When we are different, we are strong. Why? A church that has compromised is just one more selection in the smorgasbord of ideas with nothing distinct to offer...one more flavor of ice cream in one of those shops with 30 different flavors. But when a church is distinctively different and stands in stark contrast to everything else in the world, it illuminates the cravenness and false hope that is offered by the world. We would no longer be just "one more flavor," but rather a distinctly different light streaming into the darkness.

Tozer's third paragraph seems especially appropriate given that this post is being composed during Holy Week. The Cross is our focus for it is where our redemption was accomplished. Will we stand and call the world to come to us, to die to their sin and to live to Christ? Or will we downplay our distinctiveness, compromise with the world, and go over to them? Remember when well-meaning people tell us to build bridges to the unregenerate that "bridges" offer traffic in both directions…and compromise is inevitable!

Tozer recognizes that we will be called "extreme" when we determine to stand on the Bible in all facets of our lives. Yet he realizes that the message of the Cross IS extreme, and it is that very extremism that brings life to the dead. If we truly love our neighbors, we will desire to bring that Life to them…and that involves being "extremely" different.

As we raise our children (and just live our lives), do we ever sit down and consider just how much of what we do is influenced by our culture, i.e. "the world"? How "different" are we? I dare say that for most people who go by the name "evangelical," the difference is minimal and usually restricted to a short list of things we don't do…sort of like Tozer declaring that the church is like the world, except where the world is too sinful. Where is the distinctiveness, the difference? Where is the aroma of Christ?

OK…so we are to be different. How might that be accomplished?

There is certainly a myriad of ways for Christians to be distinct from the world. I would suggest a good place for the individual and his family to start would be here.

But this is a blog about discipling our children. How would this apply in the raising of our progeny? First, please note that our world has seduced us into raising a generation that is becoming known as "Generation Me"…a generation that is so completely focused on self and self-esteem as to not even comprehend concepts such as duty and service to others. Sean McDowell has an excellent article on Generation Me here. So one way to be "different" is to raise our children in such a way that they do not subscribe to the narcissistic ways of Generation Me. Again, there are many ways to do this, but here are two suggestions:

1) Practice hospitality in your home on a regular basis (please note that hospitality is different from entertaining). Make your home a place of comfort, refuge, and witness to your neighbors and people you don't know in your church. After all, hospitality is literally "love of strangers." But more importantly, involve your children as their maturity allows. They should be assisting in preparing the meal, serving it, and cleaning up afterwards. They should be at the table participating in the conversation. But most of all, they should be learning the necessity of serving others.

2) Through the practice of hospitality, you will actually get to know your neighbors. When there is a need, your children should be part of the solution. If they are young, then they should be helping one of the parents as the parent seeks to minister. If they are older, then they can be directly involved in ministering to those in need. But if you are following the world's direction for rearing children, that would be very difficult. Your children are most likely in a school, where most of their day is taken up. Then they will have after-school activities and sports, not to mention homework. Their entire day will be spoken for in activities for building up "self", leaving no time for the critically important lesson of serving others in the name of Christ.

So maybe the first step will be rethinking what exactly you are trying to accomplish in raising your children and then asking yourself if the way you are going about it is taking you in that direction. If you want to avoid "Generation Me" for your children while creating a family that has a very distinct Christian witness, look at what the world says to do…and then do the opposite! Your family will show Christ as not just another flavor of ice cream, but as the treasure He really is. And for raising your children to know Christ and make Him known, your children will one day rise up and call you blessed...and many of those to whom your family ministered will join you around the throne in eternity in joyful worship of our Father.

To me, that makes "different" sound extremely good....

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

To Be or Not To Be

Think of the most common question your children are asked about their future, especially as they enter the mid-teen years and later: “What are you going to BE?” Think of the answers that are usually given: doctor, engineer, nurse, musician, etc.

Note the link our culture places between what you do and who you are.

But how true is it? I contend that for the Christian, it is a dangerous falsehood. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that there shouldn’t be a connection between the two. Unfortunately we tend to equate the two, to our detriment.

I have a friend who is an airline pilot. He suffered a medical condition in midlife that caused him to lose his medical qualification to fly, forcing him to medically retire in his early forties. He tells of wandering aimlessly through life, unsure of who he was. This is because he had completely equated what he did (airline pilot) with who he was (airline pilot). When the one was taken from him, who he was ended up taken as well. (The good news is that his medical was restored many years later and he returned to flying status…but this time he understands that flying is only what he does.)

Consider how many people go through midlife crises. (Yes, I’m playing psychologist here.) Could it be that they, too, have attached who they are to what they do? At midlife, you start to discover that your career progression is probably not going like you planned in your younger years. The end of your career appears on the horizon. What you do has turned out to be somewhat mediocre and will soon end. Therefore, who you are is also mediocre and will soon end, leaving you aimlessly wandering through later life (or trying to hit a little white ball into several holes each day).

It only takes a moment of introspection to realize how much we as Christian parents have bought into that very same lie and how we communicate it to our children. What is the primary focus of our child-raising? I heard of a Barna poll of Christian parents that showed a horrifyingly large number of them considered their first parenting objective to be to raise a child who was “successful” (meaning economic and worldly success). Even worse was the number who listed raising their child to know Christ as the third or fourth most important objective…or didn’t list knowing Christ at all!!! This shows one of two things: either how parents use the moniker “Christian” when they aren’t really a Christian, or how deeply they are submersed in the American culture of “success.” We raise our children with a primary focus on career…what they will do…and communicate both our success or our failure as parents as well as the child’s success or failure as a young adult with how they do regarding what they will do/be. Knowing God and having a lively, intimate relationship with Him is considered something that just “happens” as long as we get them to attend church and youth group. Could this improper focus on what a child will do instead of who a child is be why 75-88% of young adults walk away from the faith of their parents?

I see two applications here:

One…for us as adults. We need to take a good look at ourselves and have an honest evaluation of whether we consider who we are as what we do. I know that is especially a factor in many men’s lives, but probably also in many women’s as well. So in truth, who are we? If you have repented of your sin, placed full trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are a Christian…a blood-bought, heaven-bound adopted child of God, with all the attendant responsibilities and privileges. You are not what you do. That could go away tomorrow and it would not change you at your core. This is a freedom those who put so much weight on what they do cannot ever comprehend. You are free in Christ to live a life of Christian love and service, to the glory of God. You are free of the tyranny of the career; you are free of being defined in terms of economic output. In reality, as a Christian, you will make the best employee your employer could ever ask for…but you do it because you are free NOT to do it should God call elsewhere.

Two…for your children. Are they Christians? Have you led them to the Lord? Are they showing fruits of the Spirit? If not, then this discussion as far as they are concerned is moot. All of your efforts need to be geared toward entreating God to bring them into the Kingdom. If you are reasonably confident they are saved, do you disciple them? Do you communicate their worth as who they are in Christ? Or do you communicate their worth as their grades, their standardized test scores, their success in sports, and their career direction? Do they know in the deepest recesses of their hearts that they are loved and cherished by their Creator and that HE alone reserves the right to define who they are and that they are His children? Only then will they be protected from the mental anguish of being defined by the world based on their economic productivity. Only then will they be protected from the feelings of loss that accompany an unstable career. Only then will they have self-esteem that arises from the correct source.

Imagine a family where each member knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he or she is a child of the King. Each of them will be growing in Christlikeness. Each of them will be embracing their roles as defined by their Creator. Each of them will be growing in love for one another and for the lost of the world. Each of them will be growing in maturity and wisdom because they know the fear of God, which is where one finds true maturity and wisdom. Each of them will have an accurate self-worth based on truth instead of on worldly definitions. As a family, they will be grounded; they will be a rock. And they will be a witness of the glory of God to the lost and dying in this world.

So…to be or not to be…will you be a child of God, or will you be a doctor, a lawyer, a mechanic, or a ditch-digger? Will your children be children of God, or will they also hang their worth on being a nurse, an engineer, a plumber, or a pilot?