Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Sound of Silence

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; (Ecc. 3: 1, 7 ESV)

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. I, however, often mix the times up. From my youth, I have known of my tendency to speak before thinking. I memorized James 1:19 during my teenage years and quoted it often to myself.

James 1: 19 ESV … let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

By God's grace, my speech has slowed down, and I listen better than I did as a youth. Yet, I've noticed that my tendency to choose silence at inappropriate times has increased of late. It took the wounding silence of a friend with me to awaken me to the inappropriate silence I had shown another.

A committed friend with whom I had shared many intimate conversations stopped replying to my emails, leaving me hanging as we were scheduling our next time together. Her silence was deeply wounding. But it opened my eyes to my inappropriate silence with my other friend who had called and left a voice mail for me months ago. I just left her hanging. I don't know why I didn't return the call. I just didn't. I could analyze it here and give some reasons, but I won't. Though I had reasons, they weren't REASON ENOUGH. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. I had chosen silence when I should have chosen speech. Oh, Lord, please open my eyes to know which is which!

Silence has often wounded me more deeply than any other sound. It's the sound of someone's heart who is just not interested enough in me to even make an attempt. Many of us choose silence because we don't know what to say, but it gets translated instead as “I don't care about you” whether you mean it that way or not.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remember that sometimes the loudest message you can communicate is said through nothing at all. Silence can be deafening. If you've been silent with someone, even appropriately silent, remember that Ecclesiastes speaks of it as a time, a season, that eventually gets replaced by the time to speak. Don't choose it forever, because whatever you likely mean by your season of silence, the one on the other end of it hears it as a very loud voice of rejection.

Eph. 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.


**If you struggle with speaking to a person of high emotion that turns every conversation into a conflict, here's an interesting secular resource. This link hasn't been showing up for some, so I'm reformatting it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Golden Rule for Conflict

In the last week, I have been in a conflict that I caused with one person and in a conflict with another that I did not cause. It wasn't until I longed for grace extended to me by the first person that I recognized how little I extended to the one who had wronged me.

"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 ESV

Note the phrase at the end of Matthew 7:12, "for this is the law and the prophets." This phrase is similarly used in the Greatest Command.

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:36-40 ESV

The Greatest Command teaches that all the law and the prophets hang on the foundation of loving God and loving others. When I put Matthew 7:12 together with Matthew 22:36-40, I see that the Golden Rule is a great summary statement of what it means to love others as the Greatest Command instructs. While we are given a very specific definition of love in I Corinthians 13 (love is kind, love is not rude, love is patient, love doesn't take into accounts wrongs suffered, loves believes the best of others), the Golden Rule shows us that love, the foundational principle of the law and the prophets, can be summed up, "treat others the way you want to be treated."

When thinking about biblical love in conflict, the Golden Rule gives me an interesting perspective to consider. When in conflict, if I want to fulfill the command of loving my neighbor as myself, then a great summary question to ask myself is how would I want to be treated if I were the other person? Most of the time in conflict, I am self-righteous and self-absorbed with my own wounds, and the last thing I consider is how I would want to be treated in a similar situation if I were the other person.

Thinking about what I would need if I were the other person is very informative. When I have been wronged, I want the other person to seriously consider how their actions affected me and take responsibility for making that right, and when I have wronged others, I want them to extend me grace, not anger. I want them to say, “I forgive you.” Then I long for a response from them that lets me know they really are not going to hold my actions against me.

Think about the last time you were genuinely wrong about something (and if you can't remember the last time you were genuinely wrong about something, you need to ask yourself some hard questions about your beliefs about yourself and the gospel). What led you to recognize your sin or how seriously you had hurt others? How did Jesus draw you to repentance? If someone else was involved, what about their response was helpful in seeing your sin? Or maybe the other person's response made it harder for you to repent, not easier. If so, what about their response created a stumbling block for you?

After asking ourselves those questions, we start to get a picture of what confrontation and restoration looks like when it is governed by the Golden Rule and Greatest Command. I humbly submit that any confrontation that is not governed by the Golden Rule and Greatest Command has little hope of accomplishing anything spiritually healthy. May God teach us all how to minister the kind of grace to others when they have wronged us that we hope someone will show us when we have wronged them. May we respond to others that they see both their sin and the hope of reconciliation that Christ's sacrifice on the cross gives us. And may God's grace flow through us so that we can draw others to make things right instead of giving them impossible hurdles that leave them with no hope.

**My pastor has a helpful sermon on this topic here.**

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

False Humility, Worm Theology, Self-esteem, and Other Related Concepts

“The greatest enemy of the spiritual life is self-rejection BECAUSE it contradicts the Voice that calls you Beloved.” –Henri Nouwin

As I read the resurrection narrative recently, I was hit by Christ's words to Mary in John 20.

17 Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

I have always been challenged by the idea of being a co-heir with Jesus Christ.

Romans 8 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

If the Bible didn't say it so clearly itself, I'd think it blasphemous to claim it for myself. Yet, Scripture is clear – I am a co-heir with Jesus Christ. CO-heir.


But I must keep all my verses in the Bible, right? I can't choose between seemingly conflicting passages. Instead, I must use opposing statements in Scripture together to inform and interpret each other. Scripture is the best commentary on itself. And Scripture also says that I am a sinner, incapable of saving myself.

Ephesians 2 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins … and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved …

Holding the two together is a necessity. I sometimes hear a phrase, worm theology, that refers to how Christians view themselves. Here's a blurb from wikipedia.

Worm Theology is a term used for the conviction in Christian culture that in light of God's holiness and power an appropriate emotion is a low view of self. … The name may be attributed to a line in the Isaac Watts hymn Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed (Pub 1707) [1], which says "Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?"

A low view of self. I seriously, strongly reject that. I can't say strong enough how unhealthy I think that is for a believer. Like Nouwin's quote at the beginning of this article, that view tempts me to downplay what GOD HIMSELF says about me. Pastor John Piper, who has greatly influenced me, wrote this recently. I appreciated his clarification of what he means when he uses the worm analogy. Yet, I still resist the terminology. God doesn't have a low  view of me. He created me in His image and names me a co-heir with Jesus. He calls me His beloved and affirms His lavish grace poured over me from before time began. As I sit with Jesus as a co-heir (God's term, not mine), I can't imagine that the term worm will describe any part of that relationship whatsoever.

I'm concerned that the use of the term worm in today's evangelicalism is more a result of a hymn than Scripture. Did you know that the phrase “for such a worm as I” is not in the Bible? In my own study, I found 3 references in Scripture where humans are referred to as worms (Job 25:6 , Psalm 22:6, and Isa 41:14). Are these the foundational verses on how we are to view ourselves? Do these 3 verses inform all the others on God's view of His children? Scripture is the best commentary on itself. In light of that, it's valuable for us to go back to what Scripture itself says about the value and worth (or lack thereof) of humans. And there is no better place to do that than the origins of man in Genesis 1.


26Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
 27So God created man in his own image,
   in the image of God he created him;
   male and female he created them.
 28And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

If we use these verses to interpret each other, it gives us parameters for how to think of ourselves. God made us not worms but like Him to rule the worm. I get annoyed at facebook statuses among Christians that seem to compete on how lowly they can talk of themselves. We don't have to put on a false humility. I personally can easily fall into self-deprecation and self-condemnation. But my version of worm theology becomes as self-centered as any manifestation of pride from which I'm trying to protect myself. Perhaps that's why I resonate with Tim Keller's quote on the gospel which I keep at the top of my blog.

"The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less."
Tim Keller, The Reason for God

I love this. I understand the problem with swaggering. But I don't have to counteract it by sniveling. I am flawed, but I am loved. And it is this deep confidence in what God has said over us that frees me to REAL humility, not a false one clothed in self-deprecating terminology.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Karma is Seductive

Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives (Re: Lit Books)Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics … every action is met by an equal and opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff. ... I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

From Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

I believe in grace. I've written about it many times on the blog (here and here for instance). I found it core to the message of Ephesians as I studied and wrote By His Wounds You Are Healed. Yet despite my belief in gospel grace for myself and my commitment to live it out with others, I am constantly seduced away from it. The gravity that is our culture (both unbelieving and believing) pulls us down and away from gospel grace.

I remember a number of disasters in South Korea when I taught there—a gas explosion that killed 150 school children, a mall collapse that killed 500, and others. Seoul was so crowded that an accident that might kill 5 or 10 in the U. S. killed 300 there. With each incident, the culture screamed for a scapegoat. An individual government official or single head of a company would eventually be identified and sent to prison, if he didn't take his own life first. In reality, there were systemic problems in the Korean infrastructure, not the least of which was a widespread, inbred culture of bribery. But it was easier to cry for the blood of one than address the culpability of many. The culture craved focused karma on the one guy rather than diluted karma across a wider group, and grace or forgiveness was not to be spoken of.

I noticed a similar thing in the aftermath of the teenager raped by a church usher then made to confess in a church discipline service. I read one Christian fundamentalist web forum in particular where the posters were over the top in their cry for the blood of the rapist. “They should tie him up and cut off his ….” They used their over the top language calling for the blood of the rapist to deflect from examining the culpability of a larger group. Like the mall collapse in Seoul, it was easier to cry for the blood of one than address the culpability of many.

We have an unforgiving culture, and we as believers have contributed to it. Because karma is seductive, and grace seems threatening. But I'm with Bono. My hope is that Jesus took my sins on the cross. And Scripture is clear that I can't choose grace for myself and karma for everyone else.

But like everyone else, I'm much better at telling others to forgive than doing it myself. When something I love is threatened, my energy is aroused and expressed in either active anger or passive-aggressive manipulation. Karma seduces me – hey, they DESERVE it. And I forget that there is a better way.

The crux of grace is forgiving when you've been burned, as Christ has forgiven you. What does grace look like in the worst case scenario? What does grace look like for the pedophile? The child murderer? Is there anyone our culture hates more than them? They leave the worst kind of scars on their living victims. But if karma rules the day for even the pedophile or child murderer, it rules the day for all of us. And that is NOT the gospel. Karma's a bitch, a totalitarian dictator. NOBODY wants her in charge.

Gospel grace in contrast offers hope to both the victim and the offender. If you haven't yet read Generous Justice by Tim Keller, you really need to read it. He closes with this profound sentence (which I assure you he has proven from Scripture throughout the book), “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor (and abused) is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” Any kind of grace to a perpetrator that doesn't pursue justice for the victim is no grace at all. There are legal consequences in our culture, a result of God's common grace to us all. There is no grace found in circumventing the system. Instead, you just delay karma's hammer, and it hangs over the head of the perpetrator growing larger and larger until it finally falls and crushes them altogether. We all know of cases where a perpetrator comes forward, admits guilt, and enters a plea agreement with a reduced sentence. Our secular legal culture recognizes the value of immediate acknowledgement of guilt. Contrast that to the guy who managed to avoid police for 15 years and then fought charges in court instead of accepting a plea deal. Had someone loved him enough to walk him into a police station 15 years ago (grace), he'd be out of jail today. Instead, a pastor mistook grace to that guy as protecting him from the civil consequences of his sin, and now he's facing decades in prison. Karma's a bitch.

Authentic, Biblical grace is so, so, so much better. Grace is not hiding sin. Grace is not allowing someone to continue to wound others. Grace instead frees them to face their sin (and its consequences) head on. If you want to extend grace to someone our culture longs to make a scapegoat (because they have in fact committed an egregious sin), confront them and offer to stand with them while they admit their sin publicly and seek to repair as the legal system requires. Love them with the gospel away from defensiveness and self-protection. Offer them hope in authentic confession.

If you've been wounded and long for a scapegoat, don't get seduced by karma. She'll suck the life out of you. Because if you choose karma for the pedophile, eventually she'll find you too. If gospel grace doesn't inform how we handle the worst of life, it's no use anywhere.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, … nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A New Normal

I have had a few circumstances over the last 4 years that have grown and changed me. Inevitably, it is hard, not easy, circumstances that change us deeply.

Three years ago this month, my aunt was murdered. I remember my sister's story of the moment she had to tell my family. They were all on family vacation in the mountains. My sister got the call on her cell phone from another aunt. She told me she just stared at the scene in front of her--everyone enjoying the mountain air and time together as family--knowing that the news she had to share would change everything. It was a surreal moment. She did tell everyone, and nothing has been the same. Three years have passed. It's fully incorporated into our lives now. It's the new normal.

I've been thinking about this new normal. What has changed now? Besides all the obvious changes surrounding such a tragic loss, the foundation of change in my personal life has been, simply, my perspective. God shook the snow globe of my life, and some truths that were obscured by complacency have now taken a more prominent place in my thinking. Here are some truths that are front and center now.

1) This world is not my home. I have to repeat this to myself regularly, but frankly it's foundational to understanding everything else in this life.

2) Evil is very bad and we are not immune from it in this world. And rather than shaking my faith, this reminds me exactly why I desperately need a Savior. I need Jesus to save me from my own sin within me. And I long for King Jesus established on this earth as the sovereign authority who rules with complete justice. When God's kingdom is fully established, there will be no more murder. There will be no more sickness.

3) Happy is a yuppie word. I struggle with the term happy. It isn't a fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, and peace are not necessarily grown in our lives through traditionally "happy" circumstances. Yet the beatitudes use the term freely. Blessed or happy are the spiritually bankrupt, those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and, maybe most surprising, those who are persecuted for righteousness. Whatever happiness/blessedness is in Scripture, it is counterintuitive. I'm learning to think about happiness in new ways.

4) Our need for God is better highlighted in hard circumstances. When life is good, I inevitably gloss over my need for Him. But His unchanging character is the only anchor for my soul when life gets messy.

If you've had a life-shaking, perspective changing event rock your world recently, I recommend spending some time in Hebrews 11-13. Three years ago, the Lord saved me from despair through that section of Scripture. It reminded me that hardship, persecution, and endurance have been common to the Christian life since shortly after time began, and they will continue to be so until Christ returns. It also reminds me that despite it all, God's purposes can not be shaken. It teaches me that my new normal is really just the old normal with complacency removed.

Hebrews 12
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Normal Confession

In the past few months, I've had three pastors (in three very different contexts in three different states) seek me out to make sure they hadn't discouraged me or sinned against me on a particular issue. Two outright apologized to me, without any hints or prodding on my part. I didn't have to put out the vibe that I was disappointed with them or that I was waiting on an apology. The other was concerned that I might have taken something they said personally and sought me out to clarify themselves. In each encounter, what clearly was missing was defensiveness and self justification. There was authentic confession, genuine concern for me, and no circling of the wagons.

In fact, instead of circling the wagons in self protection, I noticed the freedom each seemed to have to be humble. Humility was the norm. “What?! We don't need wagons! No wagons allowed! We are FREE to confess sin and make things right. We have no need for self-protection.” I am starting to cry as I type this because it is SO different that my experiences with Christian leaders growing up and even well into my thirties. I remember pockets of humility back then, but it was mostly from those UNDER authority, rarely from those IN authority. I can't put into words how much it meant to me as each humble Christian leader sought to repair something with me out of genuine concern. I have MARVELED over it. It seems rare to me when it should be so very normal.

I thought today about what separated the pastors in my life over the last few months from those I have known previously for which such easy confession would not have been the norm. It isn't the age of the leaders. It's not their educational background. And it isn't their position in their respective churches. I think it's much simpler and much more profound. Why was concern, confession, and reparation the norm for these guys? Simply, it's their theological understanding of the gospel. It's their security in Christ that makes the difference. It's their confidence in HIS finished work that frees them to say, “I made a mistake.”

The gospel makes confession NORMAL. It makes it SAFE. And it makes it normal and safe for leaders, not just those under their authority. The gospel makes confession normal and safe for me with my children. I can say “I am sorry” as a parent, as a teacher, and as an author. It doesn't threaten me to own up to my mistakes and to seek to repair what I've done wrong. My standing with God doesn't rest on my performance, and I don't have to fake perfection with my kids. I don't have to fear that my authority with them will be forever lost if I admit I was wrong. The truth is that I will most effectively undermine my gospel ministry to them if I instead circle my wagons in defensiveness and self-protection when my faults come to light.

I look forward to the day when a Christian leader apologizing to me doesn't seem so out of place, to the day when it seems normal. As the gospel settles deeper in our psyche, repairing with others will be the natural outworking. It will be the standard. We rebuild the fabric of our relationships when we humbly say we are sorry, and I love rubbing shoulders with leaders whose view of the gospel makes such confession the norm, not a rare exception forced under duress.   

2 Corinthians 5:18-19
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Matthew 5:23-24
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Reflections on 13 Years of Marriage

My pastor joked in a sermon last year that he had been married for 14 years, which his wife referred to as the best 10 years of her life. I can identify and wrote about it last year. We’ve now had 13 years of marriage, maybe 9 of which have been the best years of my life and 4 of which were the toughest (not necessarily consecutively). I have certainly learned that marriage is not the end all of the Christian woman’s life. It’s not the place to rest, to find fulfillment, and so forth. My husband isn't the gospel. He's not my savior. God is the gospel. Christ is my Savior. But it's very easy to confuse the two in practical ways, and it messes up much in my head when I do.

As I've done the last two years, I'm thinking through the things I've learned (usually the hard way) about myself and my God through the institution of marriage. But first a disclaimer. I want to free anyone reading this from feeling constrained by what I share. I am not married to your husband, and if your husband is abusive and unloving, I don't want my sharing to add an undue burden on your heart.

As for me, I thank God regularly that my husband loves and respects me. I know many beautiful women who love God who do not have that. My husband and I laugh together well (sharing a warped sense of humor). Yet even with much love and happy times, marriage is not for the faint of heart. I've learned that LOVE and GRACE are not simply feel good words to repeat occasionally during a wedding ceremony. They are instead words with great, deep practical meaning that are absolutely foundational to surviving any given day in a Christian marriage.

LOVE.

I can never meditate too long or too hard on the Biblical characteristics of love in I Corinthians 13. The term love in our culture is such a wimpy, needy word. But Biblical love is strong. Love suffers long, love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, love isn’t resentful, love is ever ready to believe the best and give the benefit of the doubt. That last characteristic has become one of the most important ones to me. I have often assumed the worst of my husband and watched the light leave his eyes under my accusation. It’s never a good idea to assume anything in marriage. Ask straightforward questions if you need an answer. Don’t read into his answers (or lack thereof). Ask him what he means. In the early moments of a potentially serious conflict, I have come to respect the tremendous practical value of being ever ready to believe the best of this one to whom I am called to love as God, not my culture, defines the term. Many a conflict in our marriage has been diffused by this one simple principle.

GRACE.

Grace is powerful. I thought I was a gracious person when I got married. But I wasn't really. I was nice. I was polite. I was generally kind and tried not to talk badly about others. While all good traits, that's not Biblical grace. Biblical grace is letting go of your right to retribution and then returning good for evil. When I felt that I had been done wrong in marriage, I was not gracious about it at all. I'm not one to yell and scream, but I can definitely pout. I can put out the vibe that you have done me wrong as long as it takes until you make it right. God has taught me much through marriage of His grace to me and His demand that I show it to others. Nothing has transformed my marriage more than laying down my rights and bearing long in love, learning exactly what God means when He uses the term grace.

Grace beats the heck out of manipulation or guilt in terms of facilitating real reconciliation and change. Men are different from women, and it’s taken me years to fully understand how profound those differences are. Conflicts, some real and some just misunderstandings, are inevitable. Maturity in marriage is not that you stop having conflicts. Maturity is realizing how to handle conflicts Biblically. People think of grace as a wimpy laying down of your rights that makes you a doormat. But the truth is that while grace is definitely laying down your rights and not repaying in kind, if you do it from a position of strength in Christ, you are anything but a doormat. Unless Christ fits your definition of doormat. Grace is POWERFUL – it is miraculously life changing.

God has changed me much these last 13 years. He's exposed a lot of sin and wrong thinking on my part, and He has taught me that the gospel is much deeper and meaningful to my marriage than I could have ever understood without walking this walk. God has been very kind to me in the gift of my husband. My husband sacrificially loves me as Christ does His church. I thank God for him daily. But marriage still disappoints me regularly, and there are an infinite number of things over which we can disagree and wound each other. I am very thankful for the gifts of Biblical grace and love, precious tools for enduring when marriage isn’t fun or fulfilling, and the miraculous way they transform situations that seem utterly irredeemable. Viewing my marriage through the lens of the gospel has been life changing. The gospel does indeed change everything, even marriage.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Protection or Inoculation?

I wrote on schooling our kids a few weeks ago, and the issue came up in the comments of exposing our kids to the ills of society often readily evident in public schools. It is an interesting conundrum. How do we protect our children from sin? Do we isolate them? Do we make sure their only friends are fellow believers who share our cultural convictions? How much TV should they watch? What books should they read?

I recently listened in on a conversation between two wise friends a few weeks ago that got me thinking about this issue. One brought up the scene in Proverbs in which the father instructs his son on avoiding the snare of temptation with the adulteress.

Proverbs 7
6 For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.

10 And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. 11 She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; 12 now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. 13 She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, 14 "I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; 15 so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. 16 I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; 17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. 18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. 19 For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; 20 he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home."

21 With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. 22 All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast 23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
24 And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. 25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, 26 for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. 27 Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.

One friend noted that the passage gives the impression that the father is proactively instructing his son. Maybe he walked his son down to the red light district and pointed out behavior to him from across the street. My other friend noted that, while growing up, his parents often had destitute people in their home for a season. He remembered watching a prostitute doing drugs in his home. And he noted the marked difference in his heart from learning of sin by witnessing firsthand the ugly consequences verses learning of sin via entertainment forms that usually sanitize it of its ugly consequences.

That conversation has provoked much thought for me. My children are going to be exposed to sin. Plus they are sinners themselves. I actually feel fairly equipped to navigate the sin within. I understand how the gospel equips us to face that head on. But now that I've gotten that biggie settled in my mind, I'm thinking anew about equipping them for the sin without. I have enough experience with cloistered Christianity to know that it is no savior from the sins of society. Yet I'm not naïve about the effects of unbridled exposure either.

This may be an unsatisfying post to some of you, because I do not yet have conclusions. Mainly, I'm thinking and praying through what it looks like to warn my children as the parent in Proverbs does. I'm praying through opportunities in our community for us as a family to minister to the broken and see the disastrous consequences of sin in people's lives. I need to make sure that my children don't first learn of sin from entertainment sources that hide its consequences. The first idea that comes to mind is serving at a soup kitchen with my children. I hope to find a long term ministry close to home where we can do that and more. I'll keep you posted on this journey and would enjoy hearing feedback from those further along in this process than I.