Sunday, October 18, 2009

There is a Line

By Song Writer Susan Ashton

It's hard to tell just when the night becomes the day
That golden moment when the darkness rolls away
But there is a moment none the less.
In the regions of the heart there is a place
A sacred charter that should not be erased
It is the marrow; the moral core that I cannot ignore.

Within the scheme of things
Well I know where I stand
My convictions they define who I am
Some move the boundaries at any cost
But there is a line, I will not cross
No riding on the fence - no alibis
No building on the sands of compromise
I won't be borrowed and I can't be bought
There is a line, I will not cross.

Ask the ocean where the water meets the land
He will tell you it depends on where you stand
And you're neither right or wrong.
But in the fathoms of the soul that won't ring true
Cause truth is more than an imposing point of view
It rises above the changing tide
As sure as the morning sky.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Family and Culture (part 10)

The Husbandman

The headthe husbandthe father, is not only the image bearer of God the Father and Christ the Husband, he is the image setter for the rest of the family culture (and ultimately the broader culture). Not only what he says, but more importantly what he does will become the model for the rest of the household and future generations. He is the cultivator of the vineyard and it is that cultivation (or lack thereof), that will be the basis of cultural fruitfulness (Pr. 24:30-34). If he is a man full of grace and godly character, he will act courageously with clear and resolute purpose, especially when no one else is looking. Like God, he is a man of his word; if he said he would do it, it is as good as done. A man who self-consciously and joyfully does his duty before God and man is respected by those who are under his care, and emulation of that character becomes the root of generational and cultural transformation.

Like the heavenly Father, an earthly father is a provider and protector, but he must also be one with the vision to lead the family (by example); to show them where they are going. Like Christ, he is the loving, sacrificing husband for his bride; and like the Holy Spirit, his labor manifests his true relationship with the Father and the Son. Christian family culture cannot develop and prosper without these clear images constantly being portrayed. Families are outposts of the Churchthe Kingdom of Godand fathers and husbands are building little cities at those outposts. Leadership must have a clear and resolute plan.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Family and Culture (part 9)

Logical and Analogical

God the Father is Logical; we are analogical [reflective]. It is, therefore, essential that we have before us the proper "form" of a father, without allowing it to become "formalism" (form without substance). It is always an issue of the heart; we cannot be simply technicians. We must be full of both wisdom and grace, self-consciously setting before the world a true image of God the Father. Through this we can change the world for many generations; this is the work of the gospel.

The world is full of fathers: kings and governors, judges, teachers, and pastors. When the hearts of children are turned toward their fathers, they will likewise be turned toward these fathers. Affection and respect go hand-in-hand. It is no surprise that there is such disrespect for authority all-around us. This is what pastors and elders do: "…You know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:11-12). "Exhorting, encouraging and imploring" is the work of a father. And like any good father it involves the courage to confront, the willingness to serve, and the realization that gratitude might not be immediate.

A word of caution is, perhaps, needed for over-compensating fathers. Men need not thump their chests, but rather to recognize that when we are reclaiming some lost territory, balance is essential. In our rush to get out of the ditch on one side, we can easily fall into the ditch on the other side. Well-intentioned but over-zealous fathers can also leave children hungry. Force-feeding is not the solution. We must be careful not to provoke our children to wrath.

As image-bearers of The Father, we show the world what a father is supposed to look like. We are great lovers (i.e., great givers). It is a high standard, but when the questions are asked about you as a father, one response should dominate: "He loves his family." And when the follow-up question comes—"how do you know?"—they say, "We see it in his sacrifice for his family's sake. He is there when they need him. He is there before they need him. He defends, he confronts, he feeds, he protects, he weeps and he rejoices with them and for them. He never asks them to do what they haven't seen already seen him do. He is masculine, courageous and lovingclear, resolute, wise and gracious―he imitates the heavenly Father in every way possible." This is where a Christian family culture begins.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Family and Culture (part 8)

Fathers and the Gospel

The light of the Gospel is the only light. So, as the Gospel light shines through fathers, and then through the family cultures that are produced by that Gospel light, the darkness of the broader culture is exposed and dispelled. This is one of many ways the world can see the work of the Gospel.

Father-hunger is really the hunger for love. True love provides; it provides everything. The father's first duty is to love—to love first. "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Central to love is giving, or sacrificing for the sake of the beloved. John 3:16 sets this before us: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." And so, earthly fathers—if they are to fill the emptiness—must likewise give of themselves; sacrifice themselves for the sake of their families.

Lovelessness, like fatherlessness, produces hunger. The lack of love, like the lack of some key nutrient, produces spiritually stunted adults. So, in one sense, love does make the "world go round." This love is manifest in many ways, but it can be summarized under the headings of: feed, guide, and protect—and of course, this is the work of a shepherd. A father who does not love (in the biblical sense), will not provide godly instruction, training, and discipline—he hates his child (Pr. 13:24). Such an unloved child eventually becomes a hungry teenager. We love because we are first loved—we hate because we are first hated. Since earthly fathers represent God the Father, loveless, hateful fathers produce resentment against God the Father—God-haters instead of God-lovers. This issue is singled out in the last two verses of Malachi:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse. Malachi 4:5-6

This is not a footnote to the Gospel, rather, it is at the very heart of the Gospel message. Neglectful and unfaithful fathers had abandoned their covenant obligations. Continuation in this would result in the entire land or culture being cursed by God. These verses provide the hinge between the Old and New Testaments. At the opening of the New Testament we read of the fulfilling of the promise God made at the close of the Old Testament. This is the other half of the hinge between the Old and New Covenants.

And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

At the very heart of God's redemptive covenant [the Covenant of Grace] is the relationship between fathers and their children. This is not only central to the immediate work of God in the lives of individuals and families, it is vital to the long-term perpetuation of the kingdom of God from generation to generation, and it is vital to a godly and healthy culture and society. The promise of the New Covenant―the Gospel of Christ―is to begin or renew this gracious work of familial affection. Thus, Zacharias is told by the angel Gabriel that his son, John, would prepare the way of the Lord by calling fathers to turn their hearts back to their children.

Our father Abraham was the pattern for godly fatherhood. God had promised Abraham: "to be God to you and your descendants after you," and, to make him a "great and mighty nation," and that "all the nations of the earth would be blessed in him," but God's covenant promises of blessing were conditioned upon Abraham and his descendants keeping the terms of the covenant (all a part of God's gracious work). "As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations" (Gen. 17:9). We then read in Genesis 18:19, "For I have known him [Abraham], in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him." Notice the centrality of the *condition of fatherly faithfulness: Abraham must personally keep covenant with God, his descendants must keep covenant with God. The means of accomplishing this would be Abraham's commanding his children and household to keep the way of the Lord. All of this is the work of Gospel grace in the life of a godly father.

*NOTE: In this instance, a "condition" is not a "cause," but is a means of appropriating God's promise. It is the demonstration of true and living faith.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Family and Culture (part 7)

Father and fathers

As we seek to rebuild the broader culture through our churches and families (our families are outposts of the church), it is essential that the gospel light shines in the darkness and shows the way. This is one of the key ways we proclaim the Gospel to the world. There is, perhaps, no place where this is more needed than in the area of fatherhood. Sadly, the broader culture is an increasingly fatherless culture—an emasculated culture—to the point where father-hunger is one of the great needs of the day. The more fatherless a culture is, the more dramatic the symptoms of the famine at both the macro and the micro level. And so, perversions of fatherhood and manhood filled the gaps and women and children are often neglected, abandoned, or abused. Feminism has been the hostile reaction to this pervasive father-hunger; the false answer to some very real problems. Feminism is not the problem, it's the symptom. Father-love is the solution to the problem. And so, a pervasive fatherless culture has led us to our aimless, postmodern, emasculated culture: "Who's to say? Who's to lead? Who's to protect?" We are left without authority, guidance, or protection—all of these are fatherly provisions, and we are left empty and hungry.

As Christian men desperately look for an image of a godly father and household, it is natural to look to the past. We find old images in books, and soon a movement is born that tries to recreate those nostalgic old images. As charming and quaint as they might seem, they are as out of place as three-cornered hats and buckled shoes. We end up looking silly, and worse, we become culturally irrelevant. We need to know what a father looks like today, painting a new image using the old colors of Scripturelearning how to worship and how to live in a community—how to pull together. We must learn how to live around the Table, and around our tables. We have to start thinking again. This will take a self-conscious re-design.

We are called to be fathers that truly represent The Father. This will feel awkward at first, because in many respects it is new. Yet, for our sons and daughters, it will feel normal. We buy what is familiar. This is why advertisers spend millions on branding. Our children are no different. Sons imitate their fathers (or anti-fathers). Daughters marry their fathers (or anti-fathers). What is feeding our imagination? It cannot feed on what it has not seen or heard. Pop-culture gives us father-images: buffoons and lovable idiots, the old fogey, the abusive father, etc. We begin with abstract knowledge: theology (what God thinks), followed by instruction and verbal images (preaching and teaching). Little-by-little the new pictures get drawn. Soon they become plausible, next, they become habit (culture), finally, they become generational.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No One Blinder…

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. ―Acts 17:32-34

But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. ―Luke 8:15

There is a word that goes out and there is a word that is received. Both the sender and the receiver have an ethical obligation to the truth. The Bible speaks of those who have eyes but cannot see, and who have ears but cannot hear. Hard hearts are impenetrable, but to the pure, all things are pure. The bitter heart cannot laugh. The noble Bereans, however, were “fair-minded,” and “received the word with all readiness” (Acts 17:11); that made all the difference. The old saying, “There is no one blinder than he who will not see,” captures this idea that our attitudes are filters. Spurgeon observed that “Every fly can find a sore.”

As we come to worship and to sit under the preaching of God’s Word, it is essential that we prepare ourselves, asking the Holy Spirit to apply His Word to our hearts and minds. All Scripture is profitable when it is received with joy and expectation; but that same Word also exposes a heart that is resistant. A ready heart rejoices in the convicting work of that Word as well as in the healing and strengthening work of that same Word.

Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him. ―Luke 8:18

Pastor John Piper recently wrote: "When you hear preaching or read your Bible take hold of it like a miser taking hold of gold and silver. Take hold of it like a pearl of great price and a treasure in a field. Take hold of it like a drowning man seizes a float. Fight off every word-destroying demonic bird and burning affliction and deceitful desire. Then you will “have” and “more will be given.” You will bear fruit with patience."