Bad Biblical Dads

Why were so many of God’s chosen men such terrible fathers?

Abraham, earthly father of three world faiths, banished his firstborn out into the desert with the unwanted concubine (Genesis 21:14).

Isaac, long-awaited & much-favored child of promise, couldn’t tell the difference between his own sons (Genesis 27:21-40).

Jacob, whose very name (Israel) represents God’s chosen nation, totally played favorites with Joseph (Genesis 37:3-4); he also let his trigger-happy sons annihilate an entire town for revenge (Genesis 34).

Moses, extraordinary leader of the most defining event of the Jewish people (the exodus) apparently didn’t circumcise his son, the most basic act of declaring who he was as a Hebrew (Exodus 4:24-25).

Eli, who raised the amazing last prophet Samuel, also raised sons so corrupt as priests that the Lord killed them (1 Samuel 2:12, 27-36).

Saul, Israel’s very first king, hated his son Jonathan’s excellent choice of friend (David) (1 Samuel 20:30-33); he also raised a snooty daughter (Michal) (2 Samuel 6:20).

David, the much-vaunted “man after God’s heart” and greatest king of Israel ever – oh, man, where do you even start??? With how he favored the child of adultery (2 Samuel 12:15-23)? With one of his children raping another (2 Samuel 13:1-21)? With turning a blind eye to sin upon rebellion upon sin on the part of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 14-18)?

Geez Louise. What gives?

On the one hand, it makes me scratch my head. These were God’s chosen men of Old Testament times, these losers? You could give a TED talk: “Don’t parent like an Old Testament Dad.”

On the other hand, I find I’m relieved. These were God’s chosen people? Aw, man, apparently I’m in good company, with my legion of sins and flaws and stupid moves. Apparently the point here is not how great God’s people are, but how amazing God himself is, that he can work in, through, and in spite of them…& us.

I am also grateful for holy Scriptures that are unvarnished, honest about the greatness and the depravity of even the chosen leaders. Such stories remind me first that there is only One worthy of worship, and second that he loves even we frail and fallen children of his.

Though I do hope to be a better parent than these guys. Please Jesus.

Advertisements
Published in: on February 23, 2017 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Grownups slow down

A sermon to myself…and whoever else needs it

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a gazillion times – every parent of an infant, toddler, or preschooler has: “Enjoy every minute.” “It goes so fast.” “Oh, don’t miss a thing, they grow up so fast.”

“They grow up so fast.”blur

“They grow up so fast.”

And I believe them, especially now that mine are the ripe old ages of 9 and 7. It IS true. They DO grow up like weeds, before your very eyes. They are swaddled in swaddles one day and sporting a varsity jacket the next, yes. They are toddling into your bed entirely too early one morning, then off on a honeymoon the next morning, it seems.

I get it.

I also get what an eye-roll this causes to the sleep-deprived parent, the one who can’t remember the last time they showered before 2 p.m. Or the mom with one child in the shopping cart, one in the papoose, and one over there next to the cash register, peeing on the floor. Or the terribly gray father who just hopes his little girl (who hasn’t been little since puberty struck three years ago) is safe with “those” friends, or that pimple-faced teenage boy with the weird t-shirts. Those folks are ready for this phase to be done already, for the love.

It’s both/and, as usual. The years go by so fast – even when the days are going by so slow. Both/and.

But I have a thought:

Maybe it’s the grownups who need to slow down.

Shrug. Sure, of course, we all know we’re just about all too rushed, and we all casually throw around the pat, expected phrases: “I just need to simplify my life.” “Oh, I’m just too busy.” “Well, I’m just slammed these days.” Blah blah blah.

But – and much has been written about this elsewhere, far more articulately than I could put it, and even with that all-important thing, DATA – we have elevated busyness to a most aspirational idol. We worship it. If you have time to sit and watch the river go by, you’re obviously not a very important person.

(Please hear the sarcasm in that last sentence. Ye gads.)

Here’s my point: I strongly suspect one of the reasons “they grow up so fast” is because we are simply moving so fast we don’t notice that time is passing.

We’re up at dawn so we can get in a workout before we have to take the kids to daycare/preschool/school. We rush to work, rush through lunch (eating it at our desk, if at all), rush to get the kids, rush home, rush to band or dance or karate or soccer or church or after-school job or the grocery store or out to eat or to “run a few errands.” We rush back home for dinner (maybe), homework, a little veggie-ing in front of Hulu or Netflix, a little laundry or yard work or straightening up the room formerly known as the dining room, and collapse, dear Lord, collapse into bed hoping we can carry it all off again tomorrow.

Throw a little grad school in for fun.

Or a crisis of any size – car in the shop, kid with a cast, teenager with mono, aging parents who can’t figure out how to operate the Tivo, a friend who’s child’s just been diagnosed.

The result?

We don’t have time to snuggle with the toddler – unless he’s going to sit still long enough for an Instagram photo.

We don’t have time to play with plastic horses and dollhouses – here, let’s invite a friend over to do that with you, honey.

We don’t have time to screw up the science fair project, so just let me do all the typing for you and the Internet research (because I don’t have time to teach you how to be safe online).

We don’t have time to watch her stumble through the dance steps – show me when you’ve learned it a little better, sweetie.

We don’t have time to sit and speculate on the “elevator to space” idea – well, we have about three minutes for that, no more.

We don’t have time to read his favorite parts of Robinson Crusoe again.

You’ve watched this movie before? Well, then enjoy, but I don’t have time to sit down and watch it with you again.

We certainly, we most certainly do not have more than one minute to sit outside and watch squirrels.

Or, when we do take those moments, the phone is in hand to capture it on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/whatever. Must have proof that we sat on the couch playing with yarn; the memory of it is insufficient. (But is it possible what she remembers is that I spent most of our “yarn” time trying to get a good photo??)

Or, and this is the hardest: the phone is down, we’re physically engaged, but our minds are elsewhere: dinner. What we need from Lowe’s. That strained conversation at work. How much the car repair will cost. Whether or not the clothes dryer has been emptied. When to go visit Mom again.

Yikes and zoiks, Scooby-Doo.

We slow down enough to binge on Netflix. And we slow down enough to linger over the wine after supper. We slow down enough, maybe, to stay up a little longer reading a book.

But maybe part of the reason our children “grow up so fast” is because we are living our lives in an absolute whirlwind, a blur of tasks and trivialities. Our children are our little planets, and we are comets who complain that we never get to see the landscape – we fly high and fast and burning, but rarely land.

The solution?slow-down

Probably, actually slow down. Sit on the couch with the kids. Set down the phone at practice, at rehearsal, for God’s sake set it down during the game or performance. Forgo movie night; sit around the table and play games together. Take a road trip and leave all the handhelds (including yours!!) in the trunk, at least for the first half of the trip, right? Go on a walk and talk. Shell butterbeans or shovel snow together. Fold clothes together. Cook together. Eat together. Sit in the same room reading books. Look through old photos together. Build something together that won’t be graded.

What’s the common word there? Together.

Drop as much hurry as you can, widen the margins as much as you can, buy less presents but offer more presence.

Maybe if we slow down, the years will seem less frantic, more reasonable, more noticed, more enjoyed.

They do grow up too fast.

Don’t compound the speed by moving so fast yourself.

Published in: on February 16, 2017 at 2:26 am  Leave a Comment  

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

“The Faith of Christopher Hitchens,” by Larry Taunton

A review

hitchensFew biographies are bona fide page-turners. This one is. Hitchens had a faith?? Really? Must read….

Confession: I never read the late celebrated atheist’s 2007 bestseller, god Is Not Great, much less his memoir, Hitch-22, which was published three years later.

More significant confession: It’s super-hard for me to pray for the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins (bad hombres known as the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism). Like, it’s easier for me to pray for the militants of ISIS, because, you know, everybody outside of ISIS knows that ISIS is nuts. Pure-tee evil. They’re horrid, but they’re hardly subtle, and they’re not exactly winning hundreds of thousands to their cause. Whereas these “Four Horsemen” and their ilk use more formidable weapons against the cause of Christ – words, intellectualism (okay, pseudo, usually), bestselling books, debates and lectures to sold-out venues. They swing their sword of militant unbelief at any shadow of faith from any follower of any religion, but they do it behind shields of warped data and philosophical argument and sophisticated debate skills – and this makes them subtly appealing. They sound so….reasonable, often, and therein lies their danger.

And so, I’ve always had a hard time loving these particular enemies (their term for themselves, not mine).

Christian apologist Larry Taunton’s well-written, engaging, lively, and above all very personal biography of Hitchens has turned me completely around. He shares a brief background of Hitchens’ journey to atheism, his change of at least some major thinking following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and especially their growing, deepening friendship – a thing that left Hitchens’ comrades in utter disbelief and dismay.

Here is a reminder that the “evangelical” part of my evangelical faith is about sharing my personal relationship with Jesus through a personal relationship.

People matter. Even arrogant atheists. Before reading this book, I’d give easy lip service to this sentiment. Now, I mean it. Even the “Four Horsemen” are, at the end of every day, still human. Still important to God. Still able to be redeemed, however far gone from him they are, however many people they have led from him.

I found myself genuinely caring for Christopher Hitchens, Public Enemy Number One to Christians for decades…because Larry Taunton genuinely cared for him. Despite Hitchens’ arrogance, despite Hitchens’ public persona of unfiltered hatred for people of faith.

This book was a reminder to me that it always comes down to the person – the one sitting across the table from you with “enough Johnny Walker for a battalion,” the one who knows his diagnosis of esophageal cancer is “a death sentence,” the one who, after a lifetime of bashing believers, answers the question, “Believest thou this?” (re: that Jesus is the resurrection and the life) with, “I’ll admit that it is not without appeal to a dying man.”

I found myself cheering inside for this man I’d previously found it difficult even to lift up a cursory prayer for.

Thank you, Larry Taunton, for making at least this one atheistic horseman human to me again. I needed the reminder, and it will hopefully stick with me and inform my current and future relationships with those who most assuredly do not believe.

A few noteworthy passages:

“Atheism does nothing to restrain our darker impulses. It does everything to exacerbate them…One is reminded of novelist Evelyn Waugh’s famous quip, made in response to someone pointing out his all-too-obvious faults, ‘You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid, I would hardly be a human being.’” – p. 64

“[Hitchens] found himself liking evangelicals. they were eager to debate him and defend their beliefs, yes, but they were also inviting him out to dinner or a drink afterward. That’s what he really came to admire: the combination of deep and sincere convictions, which doctrine-waffling Liberal Christians had set aside, and a willingness to defend those convictions in polite debate wrapped in the warmth of ‘the justly famed tradition of Southern hospitality.’ Declared Hitchens, ‘I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing.’” – p. 88

Ouch on the waffles! Score one for the sincerely convicted!

“I cannot count the number of times that people have given me a note to pass on to Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens thinking that their argument would surely be the one to overcome their unbelief. The arrogance of this is astonishing. More than arrogant, however, this is also bad theology because it fails to understand the workings of the Holy Spirit and God’s sovereign role in salvation. It reduces evangelism to cheap Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People techniques. ‘It does not depend on us that [the Gospel] be believed,’ wrote the late theologian Etienne Gilson, ‘but there is very much we can do toward making it respected.’ Indeed.” – p. 132

“The Faith of Christopher Hitchens” on Amazon

Published in: on February 9, 2017 at 2:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Fantasies worth having

“Break my heart for what breaks yours. Everything I am for your Kingdom’s cause.” – “Hosanna,” by Hillsong

Today I fantasized at some length about that amazing unique gorgeous huge beautiful house we walked through in January, down between USC and Rosewood. So lovely, so much character and beauty and potential and spaciousness. And probably $1.2 million once the extensive renovations are complete.

$1.2 million. For a house in, to me, one of the most unappealing cities to call home. $1.2 million. And you’d still have swarms of pesky mosquitoes from May to November, 20-plus consecutive days of triple digit heat in July and/or August, a culture of fanatical devotion to all things football, a state that went handily to Donald Trump in the last presidential election, and let’s not even get started on the prevailing acceptance of obesity, racism, and violence that pervade the Palmetto State.

Really? Is this what I want to spend time fantasizing about? A “really nice” house here?

Help me, Jesus: the American dream threatens to overtake my zeal for your Kingdom.

So no.

This is what I don’t want, I told Daniel on our afternoon-long “strategy” date. I don’t want the majority of my time, energy, effort, or even thinking devoted to such temporal meaningless things. I live in the American Southern suburban evangelical subculture. (God help me.) But I do not want to pursue what that culture urges me to chase.

Fulfillment will not be found in the next vacation…the next party…the next (newer, bigger, fancier) house…the next (higher-paying, more prestigious) job…the next vehicle…the next (coolest, fastest, trendiest) gadget.

Oh and we all say this, don’t we? We pay generous lip service to the notion that what really matters most to us is our family, our faith, our friends. And in times of crisis this generally proves to be the case: introduce cancer into our circumstance and we’ll quickly coalesce around the truly important.

I’d like to live out Matthew 6:33 a little more in my daydreams.

That is, I’d like to daydream a little more about the things I suspect God dreams of. (Does God dream? Hm.) I suspect he dreams of things related to his kingdom, his people, his glory. The sale at Kohl’s or what kind of car we rent on vacation or whether or not the Gamecocks won yesterday – I doubt he gives a rat’s behind about those things, really.

Here are the things I suspect God actually cares about, that I would like to devote a little more time, energy, thought, and effort towards:

  • who I prayed for today (or if I prayed for anyone besides myself and my own peeps)
  • my children’s knowledge and love of Scripture
  • the fate of all those Syrian children forced and wandering from their ruined homes
  • the souls of the death row inmates
  • the lost dignity of the embarrassed woman ahead of me at Bi-Lo paying with government-issued checks
  • my friends whose hearts are broken by others, and/or by their own poor decisions
  • the millions who have never heard the true gospel
  • the hungry children (nearly 2 in 5) in the five public schools within two miles of my house
  • my missionary friends and those they’re sharing Jesus with
  • whether or not I am taking good care of the one body the Lord has given me
  • my relationships with my co-workers
  • whether I am harboring unforgiveness or walking in the light grace of forgiveness such as I have received thanks to Jesus
  • my level of honesty with myself, & my teachability
  • my stewardship of every gift he’s given me (time, money, network, talent, education, experience, influence)

What are these things? Well duh: they are “the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and they are what I’d like to seek a great deal more.

So sure, I can take advantage of Amazon Prime, get the window treatment that makes me smile, practice due diligence when putting together my vacation (but please recognize I’m not entitled to a vacation; it’s a luxurious gift), watch the YouTube episode on how to install a water fountain in my yard, troll Facebook and comment on the Star Wars movie or the Sherlock episode.

Just don’t live there.

I don’t want to live there, anyway. We have to work, pay the bills, get the groceries, take the kids to the dentist, get new tires for the car, meet with the teacher, manage our money and home and calendar and daily schedule. But can my mind not be consumed with those things? Can I just do them, and move on to what matters?

Can I get the grocery shopping done, with good stewardship of my time and my budget and care of my one body, and then look forward to story time and prayer time with my children? ‘Cuz I’m pretty confident which of those activities has the most eternal impact.

Can I approach my conversations with co-workers with more of an eye to hearing and caring for their heart, and less of an eye toward grousing about whatever or making sure I get the proper credit (“annual review,” anyone?)?

Can I daydream about restored relationships – mine, and my friends’? Can I sit in the car line or in the DMV waiting area and find that my mind imagines my friend, who is new to faith, taking a major step of obedience?

Can I read the news with my Bible glasses on instead of my own opinions, fears, or desires? Can I read with a view to how Scripture says to think and respond? Oh I hope so.

I dunno, friends. This is hard. Nothing – nothing – in this world encourages this line of fantasy life. We live on Madison Avenue, next door to Walter Mitty, broadcasting our personal highlight reels on social media.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTYBut Matthew 6 tells me I’m not the hero, not the Author, not the Finisher, but only the seeker…and the only thing worth seeking, the only thing worth fantasizing about, imagining, daydreaming, longing to see fulfilled – is the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. People, not things. (And not just the people I know & love. All people.)

Or as Switchfoot put it, “I want out of this machine. It doesn’t feel like freedom. This ain’t my American dream. I want to live and die for bigger things. I’m tired of fighting for just me. This ain’t my American dream.”

Published in: on February 2, 2017 at 1:56 am  Leave a Comment