Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Encouraging Parents of Prodigals

everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me.”  Ezekiel 18:4
What could be more grievous to Christian parents than to have their adult child reject the Gospel?   Some children go through a season of rebellion and return to the Lord,  but when a grown child makes a cogent decision to forsake the essential truths of Christianity it is heart wrenching.   I’d like to share some things parents commonly experience when this happens  and try to offer a little encouragement for those going through this.   

Any parent who has  faithfully raised  their children  in the Lord will experience a range of emotions when their child abandons the faith.    Self-examination prompts them to consider,   “Had we done a better job of this, or had not allowed that,  would things have turned out  differently?”
Hindsight usually turns up some things the parents  might have changed  yet we know that  David was a man after God’s own heart and Absalom rebelled anyway.    And what about Isaac’s beloved Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew and married two Hittite women in violation of God’s commands (Gen. 24:3)?   Romans 9 gives us the reason for that whole situation.    
Because training in Biblical parenting is often focused on  being a “successful” parent,  there’s usually not much preparation  for the possibility that a child might grow up and reject the faith.  Unfortunately, not many books give attention  to the sovereignty of God in our children’s salvation.
Consequently, when  children fall away the parents can  feel like failures and  may sense judgement from other Christians.   Unbelieving friends and family who don’t understand the spiritual dynamics involved  may  be critical because  of  the parents refusal  to condone their child’s beliefs or practices.    

In short, these are parents who are grieving for their child’s soul and also for the loss of the sweet relationship they once enjoyed,  but may find little encouragement from others.     

When our kids were young,  there was a popular teaching going around  that the sins of the parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents  are somehow spiritually transmitted to their children  and  this alleged  generational bondage needed  to be broken.    As a 29 year old mom this freaked me out until I learned that it was a  misinterpretation of Numbers 14:18.    There's  a wonderful passage  in the eighteenth chapter of  Ezekiel  that debunks this  notion and offers great  hope to everyone,  especially parents. 
“ The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.”  (vs. 1-4)   
The passage goes on to illustrate how every person will  be judged individually regardless of their heritage,  but that any person can be fully forgiven no matter  how awful  their sin  is if they repent and turn to the Lord. 

But did you  notice verse 4?      The Lord said  “every one belongs to me.  The parent as well as the child.”   Yes, even the rebellious and unbelieving belong to the Lord to do with as He chooses.    I find this very comforting.   Parents can find rest knowing that  God is sovereign over their child’s destiny  regardless.    Can we say it often enough?   Salvation belongs to the LORD”  (Ps. 3:8).   If it had been up to me I would have never chosen Christ, and that also applies to my children.   It is God alone who saves whomever He chooses, whenever He chooses, and we know that He is  a good and merciful God.   

So then, if  it is God who determines  our destiny and not ourselves,   what role can a concerned parent have in this?   Pray! Pray! Pray!     If this  describes your current situation,  leave your beloved child at the throne of grace because that is the only place of hope for any of us.   The fact that God continues to prompt  you to pray for your child should be an  encouragement!
“Abhor it as a great sin to faint under this affliction, that is, either to be disabled for thy duty or to sink thy comforts.  It is a sign that thou didst place too much  of thy happiness in thy children, if their wickedness make thee faint under this calamity.  I shall only plead with thee, as Joab did with David when he made that bitter lamentation for his son Absalom, “Thou has declared this day, that thou regardes neither princes, nor servants” (2 Sam. 19:6).  So I say to thee, thou hereby declares that thou regardest not God and Christ, if thy soul faint under the burden of a disobedient child.
This is an affliction that ordinarily befalls God’s dearest children.  Ye must not think of this as if ye were the first godly parents of ungodly children, or as if herein some strange thing happened unto you.”  1 – Edward Lawrence
1. Parents' Groans Over Their Ungodly Children  by Edward Lawrence

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Different Sort of Post

Today's post is a bit unsual. When my fellow theologians and I write a post here, we typically link to it from our individual blogs. I'm reversing that today. The post I've written at my own blog belongs there because it's quite personal. I'm linking to it here because I think it may speak to some of our readers here. I imagine I'm not the only one who needs to stop making bricks.

So join me today at One Quiet Life, won't you?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review - Side by Side

We are needy, and we are needed. That is the central truth in Ed Welch's new book Side by Side. This is a book for the entire body of Christ, not just counselors. Welch opens with this exhortation:
We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people. God is pleased to grow and change us through the help of people who have been re-created in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. That is how life in the church works. 
In our era we consult experts, professionals, and specialists, but when you look at your own history of having been helped, it's likely that you'll notice very few experts among those who have helped you. Who were your helpers? Were they professional counselors or specialists? Probably not. Most often, they were friends -- the regular people in your life. Friends are the best helpers. They come prepackaged with compassion and love. All they need is wisdom, and that is available to everyone.
Welch believes that we don't have to leave everything to the professionals. Ordinary people are in unique positions to help others. There is indeed a place for professionals, but there is also a place for using the resources within the body of Christ.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section addresses our neediness. Welch discusses the reality of struggle in the Christian life. He emphasizes the weight that sin places upon us and our need to reach out when we want help. Even as we help others, we have to admit our own weaknesses, because that fosters humility, and humility is necessary as we come alongside others. Personally, I receive help better from someone who comes across not as superhuman, but as someone who understands the struggle of trials.

In the second section, Welch gives excellent suggestions for how to start conversations to foster relationships with others. He recognizes that being able to help someone begins with trust. If we show our love to others, they will know that we care about them. We cannot follow Welch's advice and be lukewarm toward people. If we truly want to help people, it means making an investment in the other person. Often, it means putting our own needs aside.

In the chapter "Prepare to Talk About Sin," Welch provides guidance about how to talk to someone about sin. It can be a tricky business to confront others about their sin, yet there are times when we must. Sometimes we can see someone is tempted; sometimes, we can see the person sinning; and sometimes, someone will confess sin to us. This is where love, grace, and careful thinking are required. Welch gives some examples of how to bring up such conversation. He admits that it can be hard, but if we love others, we won't want them overcome by sin. And at the same time, we have to be compassionate as we approach others.

What I loved about this book was the unmistakable message that we are in a position to help those around us, that often, the ordinary person is the best source of help. In John 16:5-11, Jesus promises his disciples that he will send a helper. The word in the Greek comes from parakaleo, which means  to come alongside another, which is exactly what the Holy Spirit does with us daily. Likewise, we must come alongside people. As Welch points out, we do have the tools to help others. We have God's Word, which provides us his revealed will and the source of wisdom. We also have the Holy Spirit. We may not be able remove someone's trial, but we can walk through it with them. Recently, I have been the recipient of someone walking through something with me, and I have been able to walk alongside a young mother who needs a listening ear. It's a beautiful thing. This is what the body is for.

If you are in a position of needing help or giving help, Welch's book will provide a lot of guidance and encouragement. It's not a difficult read, nor a long read, but the principles are eternal value.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield

(I appreciate Rosaria Butterfield's books very much. I believe God has placed her in a unique position to be able to help the church respond to the difficult cultural issues of our day. Included in this response is the ministry of hospitality to believers and unbelievers alike. What she has written regarding community and hospitality has had a profound impact on me. So as a followup to my previous post, I am cross-posting a review of Butterfield's latest book.)

Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, July 2015, 206 pages.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield is one of the most thought-provoking and challenging books I have read. I was convicted of my lack of love for the lost and lack of faith in the power of the gospel, but it also encouraged me to believe that God is able to save to the uttermost. If you haven't read it, read it!

Because of Secret Thoughts, I was eager to read Butterfield's second book, Openness Unhindered. Identity and specifically sexual identity are hot topics and even more so following the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. How should Christians address the issue of sexual orientation and identity? How do we come alongside our brothers and sisters who struggle with sexual sin and have made the choice to live "in chastity with unwanted homosexual desires?" (pg. 144) These are a few of the issues tackled in Openness Unhindered.

This book begins with a brief summary of the author's journey to Christ from feminist, atheist, lesbian college professor to reformed pastor's wife and homeschooling mom. But before jumping into the cultural issue of sexual identity, Butterfield devotes an entire chapter to identity out of union with Christ. This foundation of the gospel must be laid first because who we are and everything this encompasses flows out of Who we belong to. She then tackles the issue of repentance, obedience, and fighting sin. Butterfield enlists the help of Puritan heavy hitters such as Thomas Watson and John Owen. In no way is sin taken lightly, but likewise the glorious power of the gospel to transform isn't minimized either. Her real-life example of mortifying sin when her writing time was interrupted by her children's lightsaber battle is priceless.

Regarding sexual orientation, Butterfield traces this back to Sigmund Freud who rooted identity in sexuality rather than being made in the image of God. This has profound implications because people are now identified in categories that reject Original Sin. She then discusses self-representation in relation to one's sexuality and challenges the use of language that is at odds with the Word of God and our identity in Christ. There is a chapter containing a dialogue of Butterfield's disagreement with another sister in Christ over these descriptors. Although still unresolved, we would learn much from how these sisters handle this conflict with mutual respect and love.

The book finishes with a powerful chapter on community that is convicting, encouraging, and very practical. Why community and hospitality?
[H]ow do we help a young person (or old person) struggling with homosexual desires? My answer is to come to the table together. Stand side by side. Share real life together in real time. We do the same thing we would do with any other sister or brother, any other image bearer, and any other soul. We open our hearts and our homes. We open the Word. We answer the phone at midnight, and we interrupt in a permanent, consistent, and organic way seasons of loneliness for our friend. We find out where the hard places are and bring comfort. And we keep an eagle eye on our own prejudices and assumptions, our privileges and our blind spots... In other words, we listen and we create real and regular friendship. (pp. 140-141)

I loved Openness Unhindered, and I can't recommend it too highly. I was convicted of my own blind spots. I was encouraged again that the Triune God has the power to save and change, even if the journey is fraught with struggles. I was challenged to take community seriously beyond the set meeting times of the church and begin to open up heart and home. I also believe Openness Unhindered will help prepare believers to address the pressing issues of sexual identity and same-sex attraction from the solid foundation of the gospel rather than a mindset of fear. Who knows what God may do in the days ahead? The Supreme Court decision may have just opened a new field that is ready for harvest, and this book will be an excellent resource to that end.

This book is available at Crown and Covenant Publications | Westminster Bookstore

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Obeying God in the Hard Places

“But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”  Exodus 1:17
Have you ever wondered what might have been going through the minds of  Shiphrah and Puah  on that awful day  when  they were summoned by the king of Egypt?   Here were  two ordinary  God fearing women  dedicated to the care of mothers and their new infants  who suddenly  found  themselves  in  the presence of  their people’s  bĂȘte noir.
Since they are the only women named,  Shiphrah and Puah  may have been in charge of  all the midwives in the burgeoning population of Hebrews.   Imagine how overwhelmed with anguish they must have been upon receiving  Pharaoh's command,
When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him.” Ex.1:16
Knowing rebellion would spell disaster for them and perhaps even for those working under them,   the midwives  must have had to think fast before the next baby arrived.     Their fear of God outweighed any fear of retribution the king might impose on them because  they refused  to comply  with the diabolical decree.    When they  were  subpoenaed for interrogation  as to why they had allowed  the babies to  live,  the women shrewdly convinced Pharaoh  that the Hebrew women were a hearty lot who gave  birth before the midwives could arrive.    Satisfied with their answer, the king moved to Plan B,  insisting that every newborn Hebrew boy be cast into the Nile.
Pharaoh’s relentless persecution of God’s people proved  completely unsuccessful however,  because  instead of dwindling  their population the Hebrews  continued to increase,  just as  God  had promised Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).     Furthermore, the Lord rewarded  Shiphrah and Puah’s fear of God.
“So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.  And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. Ex. 1:20-21
God’s predetermined purposes could not be thwarted by the evil machinations of this or  any other ruler.     The Pharaohs who reigned in  Moses’ day were under the same sovereign directive that our presidents and governments are under today.   Whether good or evil,  those in places of  civil authority are instruments  in the Lord's hands to display His sovereignty  and power and to bring glory to Himself.  
“For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Romans 9:17-18
In these troubling times  when we  become  disheartened by  those ruling over us,   it is good  to know  “The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD;  He turns it wherever He wishes.”  Proverbs 21:1.    Most of us here in the West have never faced serious persecution  for obeying Christ,  but that  may change as the freedom to exercise our religious convictions are restricted.
Historically God’s people have thrived under persecution,  and we see this happening today in places like the  underground church in China.    And  last week’s Voice of the Martyrs email read:
“‘What we’re seeing around the world is really a gospel wildfire.’ … ‘We’re seeing the gospel go forward like never before in the history of the church.’
One of the five keys to the gospel’s unparalleled movement is persecution, which Jonathan says, is the “accelerant” for the wildfire.    The church is persecuted,  but it is thriving and expanding in the world’s most dangerous places.”
The Lord’s return is imminent but until that day  He is still in the process of  building and sanctifying  His people.    If our faith should  be put to an extreme test some day I  pray the Lord will give us the kind of courage  these two ordinary women had.

Addendum:  “How Will Persecution Affect the Church in the US?” (excerpt)  by John MacArthur.   3 min. 37 sec