Wandering the savage garden…

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Thoughts for being leaders for our families

The men’s study for Monday nights has started back up. This week, the fellow speaking (one of my church’s pastors) asked for a more interactive session, where men contributed some of their ideas for being “lead learners” for their families.

The text was the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

In English, from the ESV:

4“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

This particular pastor was a teaching pastor at his church years ago, and had this position despite being a “pioneer Christian,” meaning a Christian whose family was not Christian, and who had no family support or education in the faith. A mentor told him that he should become the “lead learner” for his church, meaning one who learns first and teaches as he learns.

It’s worth pointing out that this pastor is a fine man, a strong Christian, an honest person who is a wonderful example of an overseer in the tradition of 1 Timothy 3:1-7. He blesses those around him.

So he went into the Shema as a source text, showing us that this core statement of Judaism (and thus Christianity, being echoed by Jesus as the “Greatest Commandment” in Matthew 22:35-40) tells us, as leaders of our families, to be the same “lead learners,” to focus on our own lives in Christ such that we can help others in our families as well.

It was interesting feedback. From memory, and thus poorly quoted and incomplete to boot:

  • Find a mentor.
  • Love the Bible, and study it.
  • Study with your family.
  • Discipline yourself to make study a regular occurrence.

I wanted to add “be willing to fail” to the list – because one of the things I want my sons to know is that the attempt is the thing, not success. That isn’t to say that I want to try to fail, because I don’t.

But I want my sons to see me picking myself up, returning to the task until it’s finished or I have an alternative solution. I want them to see my dedication to accomplishment; I don’t want them to think any failure is the same as all failure.

One thing I’ve started doing recently: I’ve started praying with my family. I started taking time to pray for my family a few months ago, but they don’t see me praying for them; it’s something I can say that I do, without actually doing it.

But if I pray with them, they see the evidence of me taking the time, instead of thinking I’m spending some abstract moment perhaps in prayer for them – they know, without a doubt, that I’m committing time and energy to prayer, they see how I pray and when I pray.

They may not follow my example. They may not even believe my sincerity; that’s all right. Time will heal every issue there, by the grace of God. I just want them to see real evidence of someone taking time to pray for and with them, so that some day they might remember that old, grey, broken-down fellow who took the time to care, and lead the best he could.

And who knows? My sincere hope is that some day they exceed me in every way – and they now see the bar I’m trying to set in my own life.

A Prayer

Father, I do not believe it is your Will that my desire be fulfilled.

If that fulfillment is Your Will, and I am misunderstanding it, then please give me confidence through correction, and create the circumstances by which your Will might be fulfilled, even in this small thing, because I have no faith in this matter and I will resist its completion with every fiber of my being.

If my assumption and conviction is correct, then I beg of You that You show me some way to endure my own selfishness and pride.

I feel like I am at war with myself, that the edict of the body is a contrast with the edict of the Spirit, and I only desire what is good and right in Your eyes, not mine.

If it is Your Will that I attempt to endure as best I am able, and You do not desire to grant me some relief from my burden, so be it; Your Will supercedes my desires, and I only choose to serve You in any way I am able to.

Where should we be willing to go?

I was having a short discussion with someone this morning when I was warned that a group of people were not real Christians, but claimed to be; the assertion was that they were “wicked.”

Fair enough. I don’t have enough observation under my belt to determine if that’s true or not, but the statement made me think about where it was proper for us, as Christians, to go.

After all, one imagines good Christians to be unwilling to ride with Hell’s Angels; good Christians don’t listen to rock and roll, good Christians do this, good Christians don’t do that.

I find this view of Christian life to be limited and ineffective. It’s not as simple as “Christians act like…”

Paul said, in Philippians 1:27, that we are to live in such a way that those who do not know God can see Him in us.

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (NASV)

How can those who don’t know Christ see us if we are not where they are? They’re not coming to church to observe us; they’re living their lives where they are.

We’re to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14, another set of verses I had to look up). How can we enrich those around us if we declare ourselves separate in all things?

To me, I see the following groups:

  • Those who do not believe and act accordingly.
  • Those who claim to be believers, yet are not and do not act like Christians.
  • Those who are believers, yet do not act accordingly.
  • Those who are believers, and act appropriately.

I definitely try to be in the last group, because I find those people inspirational to be around, but realistically, I think nearly all Christians are in the third group (those who believe yet do not always do right), and those who aren’t are probably in the second group (those who claim to believe but do not.)

We should never sin deliberately. Romans 6:15 says:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (NASV)

Yet 1 Corinthians 8 has a lot to say about what is and is not sin for those who are under grace. Paul is using the analogy of food … well, okay, he was talking about food, but it’s more broadly applicable as well, when looking at Hebrews and Romans as well.

The point he was trying to make was this: sin is not “obeying the rules.” Sin is “disobeying the Holy Spirit,” separating oneself from God. What is sin for you may not be sin for me. It probably is, but you don’t know that, nor do I know if what is sin for me is sin for you.

So, then. Where should we be willing to go?

Depending on the strength of our faith and our relationship with Christ: anywhere.

That means I can go to a skate park and hang – and be fully within the will of Christ, because there’s nothing there that separates me from God. I can obey Philippians 1:27 there, and act such that those who do not know Christ can see Him in me.

I can ride motorcycles with the Hell’s Angels, and be fully within the will of Christ. I can obey Philippians 1:27 there, and act such that those who do not know Christ can see Him in me.

I can listen to Tool, and be fully within the will of Christ (although Tool’s anti-religious stance makes it harder than it could be sometimes; I don’t listen to some of their music because I cannot edify Christ through it.)

I suppose some Christians could go to a strip club and be within the will of Christ, if their faith and will is strong enough to enter and not sin; I don’t think I’m that strong. (Plus, let’s be honest: those are some of the saddest places on the face of the earth.) If they were able to go and stand as witnesses for Christ – a very tall order, but within the realm of possibility – then yes, I’d say even a strip club might be appropriate for Christians. Not me – I have no idea how I would be able to act in such a way that those in a strip club would be able to see Christ in me there. But I can’t say it can’t be done – all things are possible in Christ.

So should I avoid people or situations because I think that the people there aren’t always edifying Christ? No. I should not. I should examine the circumstances and try to act in such a way that those who do not know Christ can see His effect on me, and maybe God through that can call them to Himself.

This isn’t to say that those who do avoid situations are wrong – remember, it’s about what they can and cannot endure. It’s not wrong for me to avoid strip clubs, because such places would strain my ability to not sin. (Plus, my wife would have a cow.)

But I should go where Christ leads me, wherever that may be. If that’s a bar, then so be it; I should try to follow Christ in all things. (He hasn’t asked me to go to any bars, thank you.) If that’s a foreign country to witness for Him as a missionary, so be it. (Again, I have not been so called.)

God is greater than everything in His creation, good and bad. I should always try to bring the good to everything around me, including those things that need His touch most.


Originally published on December 28, 2011.