Thursday, July 28, 2011

Choosing Blessing

My experience, of course, does not trump truth. God, after all, is true, and every man a liar. That same lying spirit, however, also infects our arguments. We yet hold onto a modernist conceit that when we are stacking syllogisms, and citing learned reports we can actually do so as neutral, dispassionate scientists. Now it is the postmodern conceit that suggests that we can’t really know anything, that our propensity to lie has spun an inescapable solipsistic web around us. Sound arguments exist, can be followed, and minds can actually get closer to the truth. It’s just not that easy.

What follows, a list of observations on some issues that we struggle with, is not designed to be a careful, exegetical argument. Neither, because what follows is experiential, is it designed to thwart careful, exegetical arguments. These are just some observations that I think we should think about.

First, I have never met a Christian homeschooling parent that regretted the decision to homeschool. I have met countless Christian parents who have chosen the government’s schools for their children who regret their decision.

Second, I have never met a Christian parent that regretted adopting a posture of welcoming children as blessings from the hand of God. I have met countless Christian parents who regret embracing sundry technologies to try to avoid adding new children to their families.

Third, I have never met a Christian that regretted faithfully paying a tithe to the church from their income. I have met many Christians who regret failing to do so.

Fourth, I have never met a Christian that regretted the time spent with their own children. I have met countless Christians who regret not spending more time with their own children.

Fifth, I have never met a Christian husband or wife who regretted having his wife cover her head when gathered for corporate worship. I have met Christian husbands and wives who regret not having done so earlier.

Sixth, I have never been to a church that regretted celebrating the Lord’s Supper each and every Lord’s Day. I know of many churches that regret failing to do so.

Seventh, I have never met a family that regretted spending the copious amounts of money it can take to adopt a child. I have met many families that regret buying boats and rv’s and vacations and fancy, new cars.

Eighth, I know of no father that regrets deciding to actively seek to guard the hearts of his daughters as they prepare for marriage. I know many fathers who regret failing to do so.

Ninth, I know of no family that regrets faithfully having family worship. I know many families that regret failing to do so.

Tenth, I have never met a family that wished they had been less gospel-focused. I have met many that regret not being more gospel focused.

Nothing above argues that any of the choices above are in themselves sins. They may be, but that argument is not being made. Nothing in fact argues that there aren’t people whose experience is different. Nothing above suggests that any of the choices above are matters of eternal life or death for the one making the choices. Nothing in the above suggests that these are the most important issues that we need to grapple with. Nothing above suggests that those who choose the latter route will have miserable lives. Nothing above suggests that those who choose the former choice are better Christians than those who choose the latter. All of the above, I hope, gently encourages us to consider if our rationalizations of our choices might just have caused us to miss the greater blessing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Well-Oiled Machine?

From Every Thought Captive, Volume 5, Issue 1
by Denise Sproul

I am thankful for technology, but am sometimes still confounded by it. Ask any friends of mine who have to wait almost an eternity for an e-mail from me – or ask my husband who just had to hold my hand through getting on this computer to write this article! My subject, in this, my first regular column, is utilizing technology – and therefore, systems – in the home without allowing ourselves to become machine-like. How do we keep the heart of our homes a living, beating, feeling entity rather than a cold machine made of steel? Technology has invaded our homes, just as it has touched every aspect of our world. Sometimes this is a blessing; other times it can be a curse. I am thrilled not to have to rub my family’s clothing against a rock in a cold stream somewhere. On the other hand, I’m less than excited about the mountains of clothing we possess that I have to wash and press (though I have gotten smart about that and now have very few items that need to be ironed). The very machine that makes the clothes easier to wash has also multiplied the clothes.

We sometimes allow technology to affect how we view our families; we come to think of our loved ones as a single economic unit (which they are) but look at each family member as a spoke in the wheel, each with an important job to do. While each person in our family does have an important role and function, he is much more than just that. Going to the opposite extreme of this technological view of the family is likewise unhealthy- the romantic reaction of thinking that whatever is ‘natural’ is best. It should occur to us that whatever is natural, since the Fall, includes sin. It is natural for our children to belch, but unless they’ve just eaten a meal in China, we want to teach them to control certain natural impulses.

We don’t desire to just “let things happen naturally, kick back and relax, just do whatever floats your boat”- I could go on with the aphorisms, but I’m sure you get my drift. We want to bring order, intentionality and deliberateness to our family lives. All of us adults, whether or not we will consciously recognize it, want structure and predictability just as our children do. Part of me is pleased when my husband comments that I run our home like a well-oiled machine; however, I don’t want to take this too far. It is a hard thing to find balance though, because if I am tending capably to things like meals, laundry, homeschooling, and cleaning, those things are very outwardly measurable. One can easily look at a clean house with clean children sitting down to a delicious meal and think, “Wow. She’s doing everything right.” What cannot always be seen are attitudes, lack of time reading to or talking with the children, an in-tune, how-can-I-help-you-today demeanor towards our husbands. For those of us who may struggle with more of a Martha (as opposed to a Mary, choosing the better portion) outlook, we have to constantly be thinking, “What is my focus? Is it what God wants it to be?”

Children are not machines. Yes, they need order, structure, and of course, discipline, but they cannot be crammed in to fit on an assembly line. Whatever our systems are, they require flexibility. It is good to have a plan for when certain household tasks will be done (lest they remain perpetually undone) but it is not good to allow that plan to lead to hyper-scheduling and insensitivity. If I plan to dust from 9:30-10, I don’t tell Campbell to wait for me to hold him when he’s split his lip. If playtime at the park is planned for Saturday morning, I don’t drag my children out in the rain or try to bring the swingset inside. Now, I know as you ponder the two solutions to these dilemmas, you might be thinking, “Oh, I would never do that! How ridiculous!” But how many of us would have a bad attitude about the disruptions to our plans? Do we look at these disruptions as divine intervention, as opportunities for obedience, as things that are also part of God’s plan for our lives for that day, or do we think as we’re holding our crying child, “Now how do I rearrange the rest of the day so that my house is clean?”

Resist the urge to think that all structure and planning is bad. Being like Jesus’ friend Mary does not mean sitting back and letting life happen to you. We are called to live life simply, separately and deliberately. God does exhort us to do things “decently and in order.” We are not to be constantly flying by the seat of our pants and praying that when we land, we’re all in one piece. “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Luke 4:12). Being loving and sensitive is not to be equated with being wishy-washy and undisciplined. As in many cases, balance is the key. If our focus and structure is too narrow, we scrunch our loved ones in to fit our agendas. If it is too broad, our families turn to jelly – no one seems to know which way is up. We must also always keep our eyes on the prize: our goal is to raise godly children, not well-ordered heathen. We must teach our children to be orderly and disciplined, but must also teach them with our words and with our actions what Christ’s love is like. If I grudgingly hold my hurt child, I’m teaching him that love is rude. If I have a fit when we can’t go to the park, I’m teaching him that love is impatient. We want to see godly seed flourish as godly men and women. To be like Christ to your children, never fail to take them into your arms and bless them. Never fail to suffer the children to come unto you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Good Word

Though it didn’t look like it would go that way, it turned out to be a good conversation. Concerned about some attitude problems, my dear wife and I sat down with our three biggest to express those concerns, to encourage repentance, to wash them with the Word. From our perspective the children were falling into a common habit among teenagers, looking to their parents as peers, and seeing their instructions as fodder for arguments. Denise and I were quick and happy to confess that our children haven’t been showing outright defiance, just a bit of cheekiness. They have been forgetting their place.

After some struggle they began to own the problem. They repented of their recent weaknesses. That, however, wasn’t the best part, nor the great turn to the good of the conversation. That happened when they, graciously, humbly, remembering their place, gently suggested that their peace and their place might be more secure were my wife and I more quick to speak encouragement into their lives. It seems our correction may be losing some of its power because it is not sufficiently seasoned with the salt of encouragement.

Our failure to speak more encouragement is likely the fruit of our own lack of gratitude. Were we grateful like we ought to be, we would be quick to speak to those for whom we are grateful. I’m mad about my children. I’m button busting proud of them. But my own sin is to focus my attention on their sin. My sin is to grumble for what is amiss rather than rejoice over what is going well.

This propensity is not limited to just me, nor just to family contexts. The gifts God has given our pastor become the norm, the baseline, what is expected. His weaknesses, on the other hand, become what we focus on, what we think we must correct. Thus we grumble more than we give thanks.

In our work the blessing of our calling becomes what is our due, while the thorns and thistles that we all have to deal with receive our attention and our focus. We think something is amiss with the world, not because we are shocked by the blessings, but surprised by the challenges. Frustration becomes our default position.

God has been so good to my dear wife and to me. We have each other. We have eight wonderful children that pepper our every day with joy. We even have older children that are able to encourage the two of us toward righteousness. There aren’t many parents that can say that about their teenagers. Better still, all of us together have a Lord who forgives us for what we forget. He forgives cheekiness from children. He forgives ingratitude in parents. He gives us peace with each other, and better still, peace with our Father in heaven.

And having forgiven us, He blesses us, with parents who love children, and children who love parents, and a good Word that corrects us all. Yes indeed, those are some fine children. Far better than we deserve.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ask RC: We can’t find a family integrated church, what should we do?

First, whenever the question is, “What should we do?” the best first answer is “Repent and believe the gospel.” God does not welcome into His kingdom only those who both trust in the finished work of Christ alone and don’t allow their children into youth group. Some, sad to say, get so excited about discovering that the notion that our children must attend youth group or Sunday School is nothing more than tradition with no biblical warrant, end up with a rather distorted sense of priorities. Some forget the vital distinction between primary and secondary issues. Some, I’m afraid, would rather be in a family-integrated Mormon “church” than a divided evangelical church. Even more, almost as bad, would rather not be in a church than be in a divided church. In order not to divide up their family, the whole family is divided from the church, as these families set up their own “churches” in their own homes. These are in turn cut off from the blessings of elders, pastors, the communion of the saints and the grace of discipline. They are divided from the church. It is madness.

Second, one can always be a family integrated family, even without a family integrated church. I know of no church that requires its members to send their children to youth group, or to Sunday School. You can keep your family together even when others don’t see the wisdom of doing so. You may have to miss Sunday School, or you could, graciously and kindly ask if your child or children might sit in on the adult Sunday School, or if you might sit in in theirs. You can always teach your family together at home before you go to join the saints in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day morning.

Third, you can relax. Though I am confident that a family-integrated church is the best way to go, though I would love to see many churches go back to how the church operated over the centuries, I know in turn that there are plenty of family integrated churches that have far deeper problems than some non family integrated churches. I know that most non family integrated churches have far deeper problems than not being family integrated. We are bodies made up of sinners, and so we ought not be surprised when sin shows its ugly head in our corporate life. When it does, our first instinct ought to be to look for the log in our own eyes. The youth leader is likely not secretly seeking to seduce your children to the dark side. He wants to help. The octogenarian Sunday School teacher isn’t the devil’s handmaiden. She wants to help. The elders who created these programs, even if those programs have some overlap with a Darwinian understanding of education, are not a cabal of Darwinians. They want to help.

With all the cancer my family has been through I have had countless deeply caring people suggest countless alternative therapies. Though they might be right, my response is a sincere, “No thank you.” I don’t need to make them agree with me. I don’t need to defeat their arguments or evidence. I don’t need to have internet wars over their theories. I just pass on what they offer. Sometimes I read their information. Sometimes I don’t. You certainly can feel free to talk to others about your commitment to keeping your family together. You can talk to your pastor and your elders about the issue. But if they don’t hear you as loving, gracious, relaxed, and committed to the well being of the congregation, then you have a bigger problem than age segregation. You have a Hebrews 13:17 problem.:
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief for that is unprofitable for you.
So back to step one. Repent, and believe the gospel.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shelter From the Storm

The grand special effect that caught the eyes of the audience in The Wizard of Oz was color. That’s it, just color. And they were dazzled. And though there were some exciting events, the effects were not up to our modern standards. Still, as the tornado closes in on the family farm, one can’t help but be concerned, or excited. A tornado has three key elements of excitement: speed, power, and unpredictability. I’ve seen my share of natural disasters. I’ve lived in Florida, and I’ve experienced hurricanes. I’ve lived in San Francisco, and I’ve experienced earthquakes. And I’ve lived in Kansas, and I’ve experienced tornadoes. The irony, in the providence of God, is that all three of these wild rides I experienced while living in Pennsylvania. I’m a weather junky. There has never yet been a storm that I have not wished to experience, from the center. When the rain, thunder and winds come our way, Denise is doing well is she can keep me in the sunroom of our house. She won’t coax me all the way inside. I want to be in the middle of it.

Perhaps the appeal is that it seems like such a safe danger, that it gives thrills without guilt. God, I think, isn’t going to get angry with me. I’m endangering no one else, and I’m not breaking His law. But those considerations did not always stop me in my own pursuit of excitement. Not only have I experienced some serious weather, so too have I experienced some serious sin. I’ve lost my lunch a time or two, from overindulging in liquid courage. I’ve been pursued by the law, once for entering where I should not have (I was exploring an abandoned hospital), and once for not allowing others to enter where they should not have (blocking the doors of an abortion mill). I could go on cataloguing the sins of my youth, but the point is that when I was young I did many things I shouldn’t have.

Could my youth have been any different? Of course not. Did God use my sins for my good and His glory? Absolutely. Do I want my children to go through the same things? Not on your life. I want to shelter my children, and I say so without apology. I no more want my children to walk through the storm of my own youthful rebellion than I want them playing outside when the funnel cloud comes blowing through. I want them in the cellar, where they belong, where it is safe.

Some argue against homeschooling on the grounds that such is sheltering children. I always reply, “What are you going to accuse me of next, feeding and clothing our children?” This parenting philosophy, that we throw our lambs to the wolves so that they might become brave, is thinly veiled folly. The argument is so transparent that I wonder that those who make it aren’t ashamed of their nakedness. It is work to guard the hearts of our children. It is no easy thing to fend off those who would consume our children. I mean, how are we supposed to watch NYPD Blue if we won’t let the kids watch it? It seems far better to order the sheep to guard themselves than to stop running with the wolves. We abdicate, and call it courage or wisdom.

Children need to be sheltered, to be protected. They need to be protected from themselves, and from those who would lead them astray. They are not ready to reason out the will of God in all circumstances, far less ready to defeat temptation in whatever form it comes. While God certainly can and does use sin for good, just as He can use a storm, we certainly can not sin that providential grace might abound all the more.

My children, like all children, are sinners. They were born that way. But that doesn’t mean they need to become experts on sin. Wise, yes, jaded, no. While they are by no means innocent before the throne of God, in themselves, nevertheless, I want to maintain their “innocence” as long as possible. They don’t need to know about crack houses, child-beaters, homosexuals, and pornography. That doesn’t make them ignorant either. They do know about spouses who failed to keep their promises. They know that some children disobey all the time, and that some mommies and daddies don’t obey God and punish their disobedient children. They do know about death. They do know that some mommies kill their babies, that many people worship false gods, and that often those who love Jesus are sent to prison or killed. In short, they know the Bible, and they know what it teaches, that the world is full of sin, as are we.

I shelter my children. I would sooner have my children left out in a tornado, than placed in the hands of a professional priest of the religion of the state, a government school teacher. When are they ready to go out and win the lost for Jesus? Here’s a good rule of thumb. Winning souls, and protecting your own soul, is far more difficult, and important than making a living. If they can’t do the latter, don’t send them out to do the former. If you wouldn’t send them out to fight a grown teacher with fists, why do it with wits, especially when the teacher has the whole world cheering him on?

Shelter is good, and not something for which we should be ashamed. There are things children don’t need to know, and keeping them from that knowledge is service to the King. If gay means happy, and queer means odd to your children, you are doing a good thing. Stand firm against the wolves who growl at you that you are sheltering your children. Tell them what one little girl learned the hard way, that there’s no place like home.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ask RC: What is a “Family-integrated church?”

Though it sounds rather complicated and perhaps a smidge experimental, the concept is both simple and ancient. A family integrated church is one that encourages keeping families together by keeping them together. It is a church where families together study the Bible, where families together worship the living God, where families together serve both the church and the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

We fight against a Devil that desperately fights against the family. While we are on guard, as we ought to be, against assaults on the family in the political sphere, we often miss the serpent’s subtleties. The broader culture attacks our families by dividing them. It constructs demographic groups to replace family identity. Each group has its own language, its own clothing, its own music, its own events, its own identity. Our homes, once symbols of togetherness, have now become little more than apartment complexes, designed to keep us apart. Each family member not only has his own room, but in many homes his own phone, television, music system, gaming system. We don’t even share dinner together as Mom rushes off to her book club, Dad heads back to the office, Junior catches a ride to little league practice, and Princess heads off to the youth group meeting. Messages taped to the refrigerator are the apex of our togetherness.

It’s bad enough that such happens six days a week, but we have, in the last fifty or so years, added a new tradition to the church, and imported this same mindset there. Sunday morning we might all share a ride to the church but when we get there Dad goes to his Wild at Heart meeting, Mom to her Women In the Church gathering, Junior is shuttled off to his Little Crusaders class and Princess is hanging out with her friends in the youth building. The result- we end up identifying with our peers rather than our families, just like in the world.

The Bible does actually talk about demographic groups. It addresses the issue. It, however, commands not that we separate from each other based on our stage in life, but that we come together (see Titus 2). The Bible’s pattern, and that which the church followed for over 1900 years, is that the family together is taught and encouraged by the church, and that parents raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Divided Sunday Schools and youth groups were designed with the best of intentions, to reach out to the lost. What they have become, however, is a new tradition, and worse still, a ready excuse for parents to fail in their calling. God calls me, not the Sunday school teachers, not the youth leaders, to speak to my children of the things of God when they lie down, when they walk by the way, and when they rise up (Deuteronomy 6).

My friends, the LeClerc brothers, in association with my friends at the National Center for Family Integrated Churches, have created a brief but insightful documentary, Divided, that deals with this very issue. They have made it possible to watch this video, free of charge, for the next month and a half. I’d encourage you to take a look at It might make you mad. But it will surely make you think.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ask RC: What are we to make of the Casey Anthony decision?

Nothing. A little girl died. She might have been murdered. It might have been an accident. It might have been somewhere in between. Her mother may be a murderer, or she may merely be a slightly more dramatic sinner than most of us. She came by her sin naturally, inheriting it from her parents, just like the rest of us. Her verdict may have been a mistake, a travesty of justice, a regrettable inevitability, or the right thing. I don’t know, and I suspect, neither do any of you.

It is a sad and sordid tale, whatever happened. No one should and I, as the father of five of them, never would want to diminish the horror of the death of a little girl. That said, the thing that most interests me in this whole media event is what it tells us about us that it has become such an event. Little children have died for millennia. In our own day thirty five hundred of them die every day, on purpose through the evil of abortion. In both instances there is no flotilla of satellite trucks beaming images into millions of living rooms. In both instances the wire services have not filled our newspapers with the latest information. What’s the difference?

What has changed is technology. Neil Postman, in his classic work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, argued that before the advent of the telegraph there was no such thing as “the news of the day.” There was no category for this form of information- descriptions of events, unlikely to ever directly impact us, in distant lands. The information we sought in times past was information that intersected with our own lives.

Now some might argue that this is a rather narrow and selfish perspective on things. Doesn’t opening the windows of the world onto the suffering of others encourage the virtues of empathy and compassion? Our second instance proves otherwise. It is not a mistake that we are called to love our neighbor. Empathetic feelings about a tragedy far, far away, whether it be a little girl’s death, or an earthquake in Japan, can’t run that deep, given that we aren’t in the least jolted to see the coverage we are watching be interrupted by a pitch to switch which brand of dish soap we use. It is faux empathy, faux compassion, just enough to persuade us that in feeling bad we have actually done something.

Real empathy requires real relationships with real people, with real neighbors. Were we invested in those closest to us, our families, our neighbors, our pew neighbors we would live real lives. Maybe, just maybe, if Casey Antony’s neighbor had not been too busy tuning into whatever captured the nation’s attention three years ago, maybe things might have turned out differently. Maybe we should all take up our cross, follow Jesus, and let the dead bury the dead. Our neighbors, and their unborn children are dying. That it’s not being covered on the news is how you can tell it’s where you’re supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Poppies, From Every Thought Captive, Vol 4, Issue 3

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is one of those books that changed my life. Now run your eyes down to the bottom of the page. This is RC talking, not Laurence. Laurence has a tendency, an endearing tendency to be rather free with superlatives. I’m stingy, but not about this book. The first thing about the book is its title. Though I have just recently re-read it for one of our Academy classes, I don’t remember whether he makes this point, or someone else does, about the term, “amusing.” We have a tendency to think of amusement as synonymous with entertainment. But its root reveals a more sinister element. “Muse” is Latin meaning to think. The prefix a means to not. An a- theist is one who says there is no God. A person who is a-moral has no morals. And to be a-mused is not to be entertained, but to not think.

We often speak about the idiot box this way. After a long and tiring day we just want to sit and look, to “veg-out.” We don’t want to think, and our friends in Hollywood are happy to oblige. We stop thinking for a few hours, and take a mental nap, the kind you can be awake enough to enjoy.

Then Postman begins the book with a powerful analogy that has, on more than one occasion, made its way into these pages. He notes that while conservatives around the world have manned the ramparts against tyranny, against Orwell’s vision of 1984, too few of us have sounded the alarm about a less well-known, but more chilling dystopian future, that laid out by Alduous Huxley in Brave New World. Orwell, you remember, gave us the terror of Big Brother, that all-seeing totalitarian monster. Huxley gave us the more benign vision of a populace lulled to sleep and complacency through the twin evils of perpetual amusement, and soma, the euphoric, sleep-inducing drug of the masses. Like the poppies placed by the Wicked Witch, as Dorothy and her companions had almost reached their goal of Oz, soma calls us to sleep, to forget, to rest. It calls us to a black sabbath.

And so, Postman argues, has television lulled us asleep. Of course, as with all the devil’s ploys, television not only carries a deadly downside, but it doesn’t even provide the thing promised. That is, not only do you lose your soul, but you don’t ever really get what you bargained for either. The television may give a rest to our bodies and minds, but it only agitates our souls. The constant shifting of the camera angle, the incessant flow of disjointed images can give no rest. To be sure our guard is down. Our rational faculties are not engaged, television being an image and not proposition based medium. But those images stick with us, and as we sleep, turn themselves into propositions, straight from the source, the father of lies.

Postman, who is not a believer, does not argue that such is the result of some sort of conspiracy. The overlords of Hollywood are interested in two things. They want to make a lot of money first, and second, want us to think like they do. But they are not self-consciously trying to put us to sleep. But for all his wisdom, Postman’s worldview does not allow for conspiracies so well buried that they reach down into the very pit of hell. He is right. The moguls do not know what they are doing. But the serpent who pulls their strings knows exactly what he is doing.

What makes the Huxleyan view most chilling is perhaps this. We do not need to be cowed to be put to sleep. Instead we ask for our dose, and take it happily. Big Brother does not threaten that he is watching us, but we watch him because we want to. And like soma, we need a stronger and stronger dose each time to get the same non-rush, whether it be more time in front of the machine, or more action, comedy, or melodrama while we’re there.

But that’s also the good news. I’ve made an amazing discovery in my own journey away from the poppy fields. When you turn off the TV, there are no flying moneys that come to get you. Big Brother doesn’t send the local gendarmes down to teach you a lesson. There are no jealous bureaucrats that tell the King that we’re not bowing down to the proper idol, and we need a serious sauna. All we have to do is turn it off.

And then came another blessing. I discovered, once I got out of the poppy field, that poppies stink. I didn’t want to go back, not because I knew it was wrong or dangerous, but because it wasn’t any fun anymore. Professional TV bashers, including Postman and Ken Myers always shy away from the big application. Having decimated the legitimacy of television, they stop short of telling us to never watch. And so we go on the way we were. I too will not tell you to never watch the television. But I have a suggestion as to how you can judge is too much. If you find that you want to watch it, then you’re still at least half-asleep. You’ll know you’ve cut back enough when you don’t want to watch at all. That’s a joyous thing, like discovering that ice cream is good for you, and zucchini stunts your growth. For what we do with out time should be joyful. Play cards with your family. Read a good book, like Neil Postman. Write a letter to the editor of Every Thought Captive. Try raising chickens, well, don’t do that. Start musing, and you just might find it entertaining.

You’ll discover, if you can just gut it out until the withdrawal symptoms go away, that better than Central Perk, better than Springfield, better than Providence, that there’s no place like home.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

For Whom the Bells Toll

Because the serpent is so crafty he has taught us to overlook his craftiness. His feints are those blustering and obvious assaults he makes on God and His Word. His real work, however, happens in the hand we are not watching. Consider for a moment the government’s schools. You can count on one group of Christians at the local state school to get in a dither over the propagation of Darwinist dogma, to get hot and bothered over sundry sexual curricula. You can also count on other Christians to get rather defensive about what so upsets the first group of Christians.

What both sides miss are the potent subtleties that are built right into the system. Far more damaging than whatever New Age heresy that might be spoken in this classroom or that is what is not spoken in any classroom- that Jesus Christ is Lord. Now my beef here isn’t that the public schools aren’t holding classes on theology. My concern is they miss the one unifying truth that binds together every other truth. Because the ground of all truth cannot even be mentioned, the truth has no grounding, and, in the words of TS Eliot, the center cannot hold.

That faux reality, that reality has no unity, is further subtly communicated in the very structure of our schools. We do not give these children wisdom. Instead we instruct them in a string of disjointed “subjects.” The study of these subjects is further divided by a rather peculiar technology, the school bell. When this bell rings we talk about math, until the next bell rings. Then we stop talking about math and start talking about history. Eventually another bell will ring, and we will forget about history long enough to talk about chemistry. And when the next bell rings the children start to salivate like Pavlov’s dogs, because it’s lunchtime.

Just as we ought, when considering the power of pop culture, ask just who is controlled by the remote control, so we should be asking for whom these bells toll. Who is pulling the bell strings? It is the state. It is in their interest to create citizens whose world lacks unity. It is in their interest to create citizens who are willing to be herded this way and that by the ringing of bells. It would be bad enough were the state raising our children for us. Instead they are raising our children for them.

Our Lord, however, rings the bell of liberty. He came to set the captives free. He is the truth, the very truth that sets us free. Which is why any education that excludes Him is the education of a slave. It is not legalism that calls us to speak to our children of Jesus when they lie down, when they rise up and when they walk by the way, but rather the perfect law of liberty. May He be pleased to give us children more free than we, and may they raise up children who are free indeed. May He let freedom ring.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ask RC: Are my sins remembered by God?

It was a moment over which I remain deeply ashamed. The office meeting was getting pretty intense. Arguments were getting rather heated. I found myself, in the argument, opposing the perspective of the president of the organization, who was also the chairman of the board. He made a suggestion of some sort, and I replied, while the half a dozen others in the room stared in shock, “Are you out of your mind?”

To his credit the chairman remained calm in reply, explaining to me that no, he was quite sane. I knew I had done badly as soon as the words left my mouth. When the meeting was over I went to him and apologized. He forgave me right away. I wasn’t surprised by that, since he had been forgiving me as long as I can remember. The chairman was my father.

Ten years later the two of us were having another conversation, this one perfectly peaceful. Wishing to illustrate my point I asked him, “Do you remember that time, at that meeting, when I said that really shameful thing, about you being out of your mind?” “No son,” my father replied, “I have no memory of that.” I didn’t push the question. I didn’t probe to find out whether he was speaking metaphorically or not. Either way I was astonished at his character.

Now the Bible regularly uses language about the depth of God’s forgiveness for our sins. He forgets them; He washes us thoroughly from them; He removes them as far from us as the east is from the west. Does this mean He has no knowledge of these sins? Of course not. God knows all things. He knows all things immediately. That is, God never has to compute an answer, nor recall one. All information is immediately before Him.

That we ask this question, however, gets at precisely why God uses this kind of language. We want to know if He really does remember because we are really ashamed and wish He didn’t. We want to be really, really sure we are really, really forgiven. We know that when some humans says after we confess our sins, “I’ve already forgotten it” that they have instead filed it away for later use. Not so with God. There is no later use. There is no secret, hidden grudge.

The glory of the gospel is not that God, just because He’s a nice guy, decides not to hold our sins against us. The glory of the gospel is that my sins are already dealt with, already punished. There is no grudge not because He has forgotten, but because He remembered our sins at Calvary. Our sins are not forgotten but forgiven, because Jesus received their due punishment. Our Father in heaven loves us as if we had never sinned at all. Our sins have no part in the equation. They simply don’t count because they were cancelled on the cross.

My father is a loving and gracious man, who can literally forget. My heavenly Father is a loving and gracious omniscient God who cannot forget. Both of them, praise God, can and do forgive.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Children's Church

It was Mark Twain who quipped, “In the beginning God made man in His image. And man has been returning the favor ever since.” It was John Calvin who argued in the opening pages of his Institutes that if we would know God well, we must understand man, and if we would understand man well, we must know God. There is a necessary correlation between creature and Creator. The principle holds, however, even when the creature affirms a false creator. That is, though the God of heaven and earth, the God of the Bible is the creator of Muslims, we ought not be surprised that Muslims tend to look an awful lot like Allah. We ought not be surprised that the Greek pantheon looked rather like the Greek culture. It goes both ways of course. We form our vision of God by starting with ourselves, and we form our vision of ourselves by looking at the god we have created. Which is why it makes perfect sense that the evangelical church has rushed headlong into worshipping a baby Jesus.

As always, we justify our betrayal of Jesus on the grounds that we are only trying to win more people. We set aside prophet and king, and present Jesus as a limp-wristed priest. The dreamy, distant looking eyes, the silky soft skin, the gentlemanly behavior of knocking on doors and waiting for an invitation, the pleading, pleading, pleading, that won’t you please let Him in, all match our character perfectly. We too are weak-kneed sissies, little boys in knickers. If we make Jesus inviting and inoffensive, just like us, then maybe the lost will come in. All of which is actually designed to make Jesus safe and inoffensive to us. Where once men thundered from pulpits across the land, in our day we have boys, dressed like Mr. Rogers, sharing behind Lucite lecterns. We have replaced the proclamation of the potent Word of God with Show and Tell.

Lest we wake the giant of the glory of our Maker, we likewise play lullabies when we gather together to worship. Of course worship looks rather more like the nursery. We sing dreamy, distant-sounding songs that evoke the memory of His silky soft skin, and His gentlemanly behavior of knocking on doors and waiting for an invitation, the pleading, pleading, pleading won’t you please let Him in. There are any number of objections that could be raised against the insipid dreck we have the gall to call both worship and music. But the greatest is right here—whatever the words may say, the music itself says God is safe. We want safe, because we are children.

We want to come as we are. We refuse to dress like grownups. We want to be on our way back home soon. After all, little minds have little attention spans. Because we insist on comfortable seats and soft lighting, we insist on getting our bottles of Starbucks in the lobby on the way in. There we sit, laughing at the drama team and sucking down our sweet caffeine. And all of it is stunting our growth.

The statics are damning proof. The church growth movement does not bring the lost into the kingdom. The membership rolls of mega-churches consist of what was the membership rolls of bitty churches. We aren’t winning the lost; we are dumbing down the found. We are pandering to Christians in Pampers and leaving them sitting in their own stink.

It is time to grow up, to mature, to become complete, to be men. This will only happen when we learn to meet with the true and living God, the God of our fathers, the Ancient of Days. Some have argued that contemporary worship emphasizes the immanence of God, while Puritan-style worship emphasizes His transcendence. But when we renew covenant we are blessed with both. As we draw near to the King, as we lift up our hearts, as we are confronted by God in His nearness, His immanence, what we discover is that we do so not so much because he has condescended to us, but because He has lifted us up. We meet Him, the One Who burns and smokes, Who causes mountains and men to tremble, not on our level, but on His, “But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:25-27).

We ought not to have children’s church, because we are the children’s church. We are the spirits of children deemed just, being perfected, who on the Lord’s Day join with our fathers in the faith. We are the church militant joined together with the church triumphant, a noble army of men and boys who aspire to be men. Nothing will mature us faster than we would behold His glory. Men are made of such things.

The God we worship is from everlasting to everlasting. Before Abraham was, He is. His calling to us is that we would be like Him, that we would grow in grace and in wisdom. We are indeed His children, but we are likewise judges over all the earth. We are the very elders at the gate. May our Father, in His grace, drive with the rod of His wrath, folly far from us, for it is bound up in our hearts. May our Father, in His grace, and through His Spirit, lead us into all things, maturing us, making of us workmen who need not be ashamed. May He take us from our diapers and gift us with the mantle of a prophet, that we might, with the very voices of men and angels, proclaim the glories of His name. May He teach we who are the Sons of God, to be men of God.

From the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of Every Thought Captive magazine.
by RC Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Face of Evil

There are any number of dangers of a steady pop culture diet. To catch our attention Hollywood must increase the tension. The struggle must get more and more dramatic, the stakes must increase. We don’t merely hope the good guys catch the bank robber. Now they are chasing down a serial killer. It is no longer the cavalry taking on a rogue band of Indians. Now cowboys do battle with aliens intent on world conquest. In order for our heroes to be more heroic than the last hero he must face a nemesis more evil, more deadly, more grasping than the old nemesis.

Some fear that as we watch these increasingly global battles that we are increasingly desensitized to mayhem. A constant stream of explosions and stabbings and gun battles, some say, will make us blind to the horror of violence. They may be right.

My fear, however, is rather different. I’m afraid all our celluloid enemies will cause us to miss the genuine evil in our midst. I’m afraid that the monsters that are all too real miss how monstrous they are, because they so little resemble the monsters on TV. Universe colonizing aliens are not real. Serial killers are exceedingly rare. If we looked at the world through the lens of the Bible we would know how to spot real monsters- they are men who leave their wives and children. Real heroes put their pants on one leg at a time. Real villains take their pants off one leg at a time.

I’ve been to their crime scenes. I’ve seen the tear stained faces of their victims. I have listened to the heaving sobs of abandoned women. Those who are called to the role of hero here are not white-hatted cowboys. They are not grizzled detectives. They are not spandex wearing supers. They are the elders of the local church. And I have watched countless such men of Ephraim turn back in the day of battle. At best they ring their hands, wishing there were something they could do. At worst they baptize the evil in their midst with blasphemous talk of a “grace” that is not at the expense of Christ, but the expense of the wife and children.

Christ has given the church the power of the keys not because it is less potent than the sword, but because it is more potent. That virtually every “church” in America refuses to wield this great weapon isn’t mere theological folly. It isn’t merely another alarming trend toward worldliness to write learned articles about. It is silence in the face of evil, which is evil in itself. Boys were made to protect girls, and elders were made to protect families.

Rise up o men of God. The day of battle is here. Selfish evil men, who know all the right answers to all the trendy theological debates of the day, are dropping bombs on their own homes. Women and children are being torn to pieces. Man your stations. Play the man. No army, not even the Lord’s, can survive without discipline.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ask RC: Is it right to tell my child that Jesus loves them?

Yes, no, no and yes. First, we rightly affirm that there is a form of love that God has for each and every living human. We all bear His image and that is sufficient to elicit His love in a certain sense. Sometimes called His love of benevolence, the Bible teaches that God has a general good will toward men, such as was announced to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14).

This does not mean, however, that we ought to embrace a bland universal brotherhood of man and universal fatherhood of God perspective. This love of benevolence, while real, does not undo the reality of the wrath of God on those who sin against Him. That, we should understand, includes our own children. The love of benevolence does not keep the judgment of God from descending on His creatures, including the very young. So while we can safely affirm that God loves them benevolently, this doesn’t mean by itself that our children are safe from His just wrath. Their youth does not shield them from the wrath of God for their sins (Psalm 51).

Which brings us to our second “no.” Though I would argue and will momentarily, that God looks at the children of believers and the children of unbelievers differently, this does not mean that all children of all believers are safe from the wrath of God. Though one could argue that later in life he came to saving faith, Esau was the child of believers, toward whom the Bible clearly says God felt hatred (Romans 9: 13). Having a true believer in one’s family tree is not a ticket out of the wrath of God. Neither is my faith as a parent sufficient to gain the work of Christ on behalf of my children. My Baptist friends are absolutely right when they affirm that God has no grandchildren.

When, however, I encourage my children to rest in the love that Jesus has for them I do so not merely because of His love of benevolence. Neither am I denying the “no’s” listed above. Instead I encourage my children to believe that Jesus loves them because of what theologians call the judgment of charity. I treat as believers those that I have some reason to believe believe. Some of them, of course, are tares. That could even be the case about my own children. When we speak of the promises of God, however, we rightly affirm that they are for those who have trusted in the finished work of Christ alone. What we don’t do is look skeptically at those God says are His own. His promise is to be a God to me and to my children, and the only way that can happen is when me and my children trust in Him alone.

There is, of course, an opposite danger. I certainly don’t want my children to be given a false sense of assurance. I don’t either want that for any sheep, young or old, under my care. That is why, while we rejoice in worshipping together over God’s good promises, we in turn call one another to faith and repentance. We do not say to those that we credibly believe believe, as far as we can tell, “Turn from your evil ways and enter into the kingdom.” We do, however, tell the assembled congregation, “Repent and believe” for repenting and believing is not something we do only once. It is something both wheat and tares are called to do, the former always, the latter for the first time. And henceforth always. And so I do warn my children, and my wife, and myself against presuming upon God’s grace. We are to make your calling and election sure (II Peter 2:10). We also, on the other hand, all of us, rejoice to proclaim, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God (I John 3:1).

Remember that we cannot know for certain the state of anyone else’s soul. We are not required to see perfectly into the souls of others. We do, however, have to treat believers one way and unbelievers another. A judgment of charity has its dangers, but so does a judgment lacking in charity.