Why I Teach My Kids Not to Believe in Luck.

In the month of March this while our youngest child was in Kindergarten my wife knew that her class would be making crafts and setting leprerhacon traps. And in anticipation for St. Patricks day my wife talked to my youngest daughter about what she was going to write down on her paper when they asked why she is lucky. My wife asked my youngest why are you lucky? She said “Mom, we don’t believe in luck” My wife smiled and thought to ask “Baby, what do we believe?” Our youngest looked at my wife and said: “Providence..we believe in Providence.” My wife beamed and said “You just melted your father’s heart” and she did. (Disclaimer: We are not super parents. We taught her this but we also taught all the other kids this and they never said this at five it’s just who our youngest is.)

In Greek mythology the Greek goddess of luck is Tyche. She gave people who served her good fortune and when things didn’t go your way she is to blame. The Romans referred to her as Fortuna “fortune”. The difference between these understandings of their gods and the one true God is the Greek and Roman gods handed out good and not so good fortune but they did so indiscriminately or in response to human action. The God of the Bible the one true God isn’t caprcious or trite he doesn’t just hand out blessings or punishment based on a whim rather he does what he does according to the preordained plan of God.

Luck is a resignation to fate. Fate is very different than providence. I love the way Spurgeon explains the difference between the two.

“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,

“What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man.”

Charles Spurgeon

Luck says whatever is…is. Providence says whatever God ordains must be. When kids understand the providence of God when bad things happen they know it wasn’t by chance and it wasn’t random like with the Greeks and Romans it is a personal God working everything out for our good and His Glory. When things go well we don’t say we are lucky but God did what we can not explain or understand he fought for us and because this is true we are filled with huimily rather than pride. Luck says things happen randomly providence says that every particle that floats in space is where it is because we have a caring loving thoughtful creator who knows that for our world to work best that particle must be exactly where it is.

Providence gives us confidence in difficulties and humility in our triumphs. Because the outcome of our lives is not ultimate because of our effort or cosmic randomness it is the result our plans but ultimately God’s direction. Kids need the assurance providence gives. In a world that is increasingly chaotic kids need to know that whatever God ordains is right.

A song I listen to often that talks abut God’s providental care is called “Whateer My God Ordains is right” I hope it ministers to you as you read it as it does to me when I sing it.

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Holy His will abideth.
I will be still whate’er He does,
And follow where He guideth.
He is my God,
Though dark my road.
He holds me that I shall not fall
Wherefore to Him I leave it all

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path,
I know He will not leave me
I take, content,
What He hath sent
His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true,
Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’’s care
Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all

Fellow Christian you are what you are where you by the grace and mercy of a providential God who is working everything in your life for your good and His Glory. We have no need for Luck we have the unceasing providential care of a loving God.

Sampson, Harris, and Trampling the Fumie

A couple of years ago I read the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo, I think of it often. There was something about it that was historical as it was based on historical events but yet profoundly modern.

The story is of two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to find a Priest who had gone to Japan as a missionary and was feared that he had apostatized. Father Garrpe and Rodrigues arrive in Japan and start to preach and administer the sacraments in secret. Father Rodrigues believes that he and Father Garrpe are planting seeds of the gospel in the soil of Japan. They are grateful.

Not long after their arrival the town and the priests are betrayed and two of the men of the town are tortured. Father Rodrigues tries to reconcile what he has read about martyrs and his first experience with martyrdom. “They were martyred. But what a martyrdom! I had long read about martyrdom in the lives of the saints – how the souls of the martyrs had gone home to Heaven, how they had been filled with glory in Paradise, how the angels had blown trumpets. This was the splendid martyrdom I had often seen in my dreams.” Yet what he experienced was far different instead of trumpets there was Silence. Father Rodrigues never fully recovers from this perceived silence of God in the face of human suffering.

But God isn’t silent. He never was. Fear and sin had closed Father Rodrigues’ eyes and stopped his ears. Ultimately for Rodrigues is the sound of suffering and the voice of his captures telling him his faith was worthless was louder to him than the voice of God. Father Rodrigues finally trampled the Fumie (The face of Christ pictured and placed on a wooden plaque) because he failed to see the transcendent in the imminent. He chose to step on the face of Jesus that was in front of him to stop the suffering of those next to him because he could not hear or see the God that was all around him.

In their tale of de-conversion, both Josh Harris and Marty Sampson talk about the injustice, both questioned the foundation of truth. In their own way in light of relentless waves of cultural pressures have trampled the Fumie.

In recent weeks a former celebrity pastor Josh Harris openly announced his apostasy on Instagram and current celebrity worship artist Marty Sampson announced his faith was failing and he’s ok with that. How did Sampson and Harris get to this place?

They believed the post-modern lie that there is a fundamental problem with Christianity.

Father Rodrigues first believed that the soil of Japan accepting of the gospel and saw early fruit. He said “Yes, the seed had been sown; it sprouted forth with vigor; and now it was the great mission of Garrpe and myself to tend it lest it wither and die” In captivity, he saw that same soil stained with the blood of Christians at the hands of their captors. The officer who was breaking Father Rodrigues down told him the soil of Japan rejects the Europen faith of Christianity.  This is the same problem we see in our culture both Harris and Sampson each identify the problem as being a soil problem. That Christianity is not true because the soil of our culture rejects what the scripture says about your sin and my sin.

The problem is not a seed issue the problem is a root issue.
The church influenced by culture has believed the lie that we need fame for Jesus to be famous. So we turned Harris and Sampson into Christian Celebrities before their root system had developed before the depth of the scriptures had revealed their sin and tethered them to Christ. The problem here isn’t the soil it is the reveling in premature fruit of a rootless tree.

They want the benefits of grace and yet trample the face of Grace

The pathway of modern apostasy in unfortunately well worn path. One of the things that they usually mention is that they believe in love and grace, but what they don’t realize is that the idea of love and grace is on their own terms. Once Father Rodrigues trampled the Fumie he was released from prison was given a new life, a new wife a new name. He had not only trampled the face of grace but was absorbed into a new identity that was unrecognizable. Many say they love Jesus but not his people and that they have found another path that leads to joy and happiness. Harris, unfortunately, is walking this familiar path.

We turned Harris and Sampson into Christian Celebrities before their root system had developed before the depth of the scriptures had revealed their sin and tethered them to Christ. The problem here isn’t the soil it is the revealing of the premature fruit of a rootless tree.

We turned Harris and Sampson into Christian Celebrities before their root system had developed before the depth of the scriptures had revealed their sin and tethered them to Christ.

Harris asked for forgiveness from the LGBTQ community and to the Christian community he said “I can’t join you in your morning, I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful.” He has trampled the Fumie and has taken a new identity. For this we should morn without him and pray that God will have mercy on him.

In their desire for a God who is close the were offended by a God who is powerful and in the end, lost both.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire paints a picture of God that is both vivid and penetrating. He says:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

He is saying God reveals himself to us in ten thousand places. The beauty that captures our hearts is because of what it points to. We all want transcendence we want to experience something beyond this life but so often we forfeit transcendence for what is in front of us. Because our minds can not hold immanence and transcendence in the same space. How can God be real if there is suffering? How can a transcendent God look down and judge a kind person who is living in what the Bible defines as sin? How can people suffer and God is silent.

“Hopkins’s diction conveys the vigor and spark and spontaneity that is inherent in all of life. The focused conviction expressed here is that it is Christ, the God-revealing Christ, who is behind and in all of this living.”
Eugene Peterson

They trade transcendence for imminence – failing to realize that Christianity is the only religion that offers both. A transcendent God who came close. Into the silence of this world, the transcendent God came close he made himself small. We will inevitably deconvert when we fail to Christ as both transcendent and immanent at the same time. Harris saw Christ as Big but not close this will always lead to spiritual pride and looking down on others as he has admitted. Likewise Sampson saw Christ as close but not big this leads to overwhelming dispair and as a result, he was able to see God as a close friend who is powerless to save.

The weak, sometimes failed characters of Silence “expose our true selves.” Endo had harsh words for readers quick to judge the failure of Rodrigues: “How can anyone who has never experianced the horrific tortues of the Christian persecution era have any right to say anything about the depth or shallowness of the believers then? …First that personhas no imagination. It shows not the shallow faith of thosw who end up apostatizing, but it reveals the lack of compassion in the ones making such a judgment.” Too often, in our tendency to ake heroes out of faith leaders, “we fall into a false dichotomy of seeing faith only in terms of victory or failure, which leads us to dismiss and discard the weak,”

Karen Swallow Prior

De-conversion stories should cause us to morn and make us look at our own hearts exposed and see our own frailties and our need for a God. What is our only comfort in life and death? That we are not our own but belong body, soul, and spirit to our faithful savior Jesus Christ.

How do we avoid de-conversion?

  1. We must trust Jesus alone for salvation
  2. We must allow our roots to go deep and we must be strengthened not by the praise and expectations of others but by the winds of joy and pain.
  3. We must know about God we must think right thoughts about God. We must be grounded in historic doctrines of the church. – (transcendence)
  4. We must have an authentic experience with God. (immanence)
  5. We must remember that if not for the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit of God we could profess true things about God and not believe them. We could profess them and be unchanged by them. We need new mercies every morning.
  6. Pray for grace in the face of Christ.

Why I Don’t Tell My Kids They Can Be Anything They Want To Be.

Parents who say that their kids can be anything they want to be to are trying to build into their kids I think in many ways a right desire to think about the possibilities for the future. However, the values of our culture in many ways have subtly infiltrated the church and the homes of those who attend our churches. We believe that the Christian life is about the pursuit of happiness more than the conformity to Christ.

As Americans freedom is our highest good and greatest goal. Freedom to choose freedom to live and freedom be whatever we want to be. We pass this ideal on to our kids by saying they are free to do our be anything they can dream of. Romans tells us the opposite is true we are slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. Yet in our desire to live our lives on our own terms in our own way we value freedom as the greatest of all virtues. What we fail to realize is the freedom is the byproduct of constraint. Raw unabashed freedom always produces license. Os Guinness says it this way in his book A Free People’s Suicide.

Americans today are heedlessly pursuing a vision of freedom that is short-lived and suicidal. Once again, freedom without virtue, leadership without character, business without trust, law without customs, education without meaning and medicine, science and technology without human considerations can end only in disaster.

When exported abroad, the same rampant American freedom often undermines the traditional ways of life in other countries through its licentiousness, permissiveness and passion to transgress.

Os Guinness

Why shouldn’t we tell our kids they can be whatever they want to be?

1. It presupposes man as the center of all things.
As Christians, the Bible tells us the story of God and his love for us. It starts with God, not man. “In the beginning, God created…” The Bible is all about God and what he has done for us in Christ. God is the Author and Jesus is the Hero. The tendency we have is to read the story of the Bible with ourselves in mind. We use the Bible as a tool to find our purpose in life. This is dangerous because when we presuppose that the primary purpose for us is to find personal fulfillment and personal success we become disillusioned when our dreams are not fulfilled. The first question of the Westminster Catechism asks: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Our purpose is giving God the glory and we, as a result, get the joy. The first question of the Westminster Catechism clarifies first and foremost our purpose is only found in God. The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: What is our only comfort in life and death? Answer: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. We are not the captains of our our souls or the masters of our fate. We belong to God.

2. It teaches them that what you like matters more than who you are becoming.
The Bible teaches us that God is very interested in who we are becoming. Are we and our desires being formed into the image of Christ? Being like Christ in his suffering is far weightier than what our petty preferences are. Questions that are based around what you prefer or how much money you can make. While those may be aspects of what you choose to do you need to ask better questions like:
1. What do I enjoy doing?
2. How has God uniquely gifted me to do something that will bring God glory and those around me joy?
3. What do my friends, family, and leaders see in me that I don’t see in myself?
4. In the ways, God has uniquely gifted me how can I point people to Jesus?

3. It sets kids up to see failure as fatal.
I have seen it over and over again kids believe their parents (after they recover from being lied to about Santa Clause). Kids think they can do whatever they want to do sometimes it works out, but oftentimes it doesn’t and when it doesn’t work out kids are devastated and disillusioned. To have a dream your whole life and then it doesn’t work out and you question everyone who promised success is yours for the taking. Often times our success is a process and if kids think it is a birthright they won’t do the hard work and won’t trust God in the hard and those failures will not have the intended effect on our kids.

If you have been in a bookstore (go now while they still exist) you will find the self-help section is massive because we all want to be a better version of ourselves. This to a limit is ok. Parents who tell their kids they can be whatever they want to be are doing so for very kind reasons they want their child to have good self-esteem and self-awareness. The problem is when we are so self-aware but not God-conscious we tend to gloss over things God doesn’t gloss over. Saying to our kids they can be whatever they want to be will set our kids up for disappointment or make them self absorbed. Telling them they should pursue the gifts that God has given them and they should explore the dreams God has given them is a far better way to say the same thing .

So what’s the difference? It’s very subtle yet very important. By saying how has God made you? What dreams has God placed in your heart? God is primary and we are secondary. Our kids are growing up where this is never explained to them nor enforced in them. Our kids need to see their lives are more than the fulfillment of their wish dream but rather in light of God’s unique and particular design of them

In sum, parents be far more worried about how God has designed your child and think more about how we can make our kids more God-conscience and less self-absorbed.

3 Ways to be a Better Dad

Today is the start of my twenty-third year of doing ministry for kids and youth in the same church. One of the things I have come to realize is the reality that no family is perfect that marriage is hard work and parenting does not always come easy. Kids today face greater challenges than kids did twenty years ago there has been extensive studies as to why that is a reality some credit technology, others environmental concerns what few people mention and I have found to be the most profound issues is the dissolution of the family. The family in America is under attack.

The breakdown in the family is now into multiple generations and so many dads I talk to want to be better dads they have no idea what that looks like. They only know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a father who failed them. They feel powerless and so they turn to pop culture that either tells them it’s hopeless and to live your life for your own happiness or the other side saying you need to take the power back. I think there is a better option for dads. Here are three ways to be a better dad.

1. Show up –
This one is difficult because when we feel that we are not wanted, needed, or respected the natural reflex is to run. You may have been on the receiving end of a dad who ran and are tempted to do the same. Don’t do it. Show up. Not to everything. Show up to the important things and the small things. I was recently talking to a woman whose dad recently passed she said that even though her mom and dad got divorced he always took them on vacations and was there for the small things like teaching her how to ride a bike. He showed up in the small things and important things.

So often dads are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. In my experience with families saying nothing and doing nothing is far worse than saying the wrong thing. Sending money and giving gifts don’t replace you and they don’t represent you. Show up. Step into the pain. Step into the awkard. When your kids have questions about life and sex and gender don’t send them to your wife step into the awkward and answer their questions as best as you can and point your kids to Jesus. Your kids want you dad, even when they say they don’t. Every little girl wants her dad to say she is beautiful and ever little boy wants to know his dad is proud of him. Dad only you can say those words to your kids. You want to be a better dad. Don’t text them those things show up in person and tell them yourself.

2. Shut up –
This one is hard. Because dads measure their effectiveness by how many things they can fix in a lifetime. Somethings can’t be fixed by actions some things are fixed by just showing up then shutting up. When your kids are frustrated or disappointed with you the temptation for you is to defend yourself. Instead of doing that shut up and listen. When your kids are at home come sit next to them ask them about their day and then shut up and listen. When your kids are crying because their heart is hurt don’t always try to fix everything just shut up and listen.

Kids like all of us sometimes just need to be herd. So listen, empathize, and affirm your kids. Tell them the truth. Don’t tell them they can do anything they put their minds to do tell them you are going to get through this together and stick with them. Remind them they need God’s help and after you have listened to them pray for them. If you want to be a better dad that isn’t always measured by number of problems solved it’s measured by how well you heard your child’s heart and how often you showed them God’s heart.

3. Give up –
There is something about powerlessness that we forget when we grow older. The more power we have the more control we maintain the less we can relate to a child and the harder it is to know God. I have seen people that speak powerfully to a stadium of adults but who are terrified in a room of 50 kids. Why because they have become more powerful and less dependent. They no longer relate to kids because they have forgotten how to be weak and what dependence looks like.

“You should have a fifty-year plan—a vision for growth over a long period of time as you embrace your weakness.”

J.I. Packer

We are drawn to power and strength we desire autonomy. One of the many idols in American culture is the self-made man. We think that if we achieve a certain level of success we will be happy. Packer is saying give up but don’t quit. He is saying slow growth is the best kind of growth. He is saying that weakness is the key to dependence and dependence is the key to growth. Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says it this way.

The child is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins is saying the same thing Jesus says “you want to be great remember what it was like to be dependent and overlooked?” Do that be depended and deflect glory to God. Matthew 18 Jesus described greatness not in terms of material success but in utter dependence. “You want to be great” Jesus said “become like a little child.” Dad, you want to be a better dad? Learn how to give up your power, give up your lust for success and learn to be as dependant on God as your newborn baby is dependant on you for everything.

Kids need fewer powerful parents and more dependent ones. You want to be a better dad? Show up, shut up and give up.

How to Leave Your Kids Something of Value.

Two Years ago I started a legacy project for my kids. That will take me eight years to complete. I partnered with Crossway books to use an Heirloom ESV Journaling Bible that is made of genuine leather and will stand the test of time. My hope is that my kids will have at least two years worth of insights message notes and quotes that reflect what I was thinking in the two year period I was using the Bible that is really theirs. I know that what I say today will be forgotten that even when I give them the Bible at graduation I’m not sure it will mean as much as it will one day when I am no longer here. My hope is that they will read my words and remember that their dad loved them and prayed for them. That their dad love the Bible more than any other book. I hope my words point them to God’s word his perfect revelation of himself.

Here is what I ended up doing:
– I used one color pen to underline verses that stood out to me for an entire year then next year I changed pen colors so that my kids would know when I read that particular verse
– I wrote thoughts, notes, and quotes in the sides with a micron black heirloom pen and ended each section with that day’s date at the bottom.
– I wrote much of the comments in light of the fact that my kids would more than likely not read this Bible at all until one day I am no longer here.

Here is what I learned
– I wish I had a Bible like this from each of my grandfathers. I would read it to this day. I am sometimes so curious as to what they thought about a certain passage. To have sermon notes from my grandfather who was Presbyterian Minister would be priceless. I hope my grandkids will feel the same way.
– Knowing I have only two years and this is going to keep in the family for a long time created accountability to daily read.
– I also read and commented in the Bible while they were eating breakfast so they would one day connect the dots that I was writing to them in front of them.
– I learned that disciplines are modeled more than they are commanded. Your kids need to see you read, they need to hear you pray.
– I found I was more engaged with what I read because I wasn’t just checking off a box in a reading plan I was writing down thoughts my grandchildren will one day read. That is a crazy sobering thought.

I want to encourage you to do something similar. It is an excellent exercise for you to grow in your faith to journal but it is even more important for your kids to hear your heart and know your thoughts long after you are gone is a priceless gift. How do you start? Find a journaling Bible there are lots available I loved the ESV Journaling Bible from Crossway it was both beautiful and functional. You also need some good pens that won’t smudge and have archival ink. Lastly, you need to set aside time each day to grow in your faith and leave a legacy of faith for your kids and their kids. I hope you start today.