Growing up in the 80’s MTV used to be music videos all day long. I have always had a fascination with music videos. I could watch them for hours the combination of music and story is utterly compelling to me. I haven’t watched that many recently but yesterday I stumbled upon Coldplay’s newest music video. I was sitting in the Airport in Dallas I nearly missed my flight home because the video was so emotionally compelling. It’s a single called Daddy from their forthcoming album and is probably the most moving music video I have ever seen.
The music video is shot in a stop-motion cartoon style and tells the story of a small girl whose dad has left her. It is utterly heartbreaking. I scrolled through the comments and wept because the song hits a nerve we don’t address often enough. Fatherlessness.
Fatherlessness is an epidemic in our country we often don’t have the courage to discuss. Gun control is more politically satisfying yet every mass shooter with only one or two exceptions grew up without a dad. The chances of kids dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental illness skyrockets when dad isn’t there. We ignore it because it is too pervasive too painful, and we feel powerless to change it.
In two decades of pastoral ministry to kids and families, there are few things more painful I have had to do than to sit in a living room with a mom and her kids and tell them their dad is never coming home. The pain in their eyes is beyond description. The wake that event created in the lives of those kids is so pervasive that everything is marked by it.
Divorce is a painful reality that is often thrust upon women by men who leave. Dads who think they deserve something better than what life has given them. Divorce in scripture is not an unpardonable sin. It is, however, something that should be entered into rarely and after every path to reconciliation has been exhausted.
One of the biggest lies people believe is that kids are better off with parents divorcing rather than fighting. This is a lie adults tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Every kid I have ever talked to from divorced families cry themselves to sleep at night praying their dad will come home. No dad is always worse than an angry distant dad. If you are a dad who is divorced fight to be there for your kids. I know you want to move on but don’t leave your kids.
Dads hold your kids close. Put down your phone. Show up when they don’t ask you to be there. If they ask you to be there make sure you do your best to be present. Love your kids enough to show them a love that isn’t perfect but a love that perseveres a love that is faithful because God in Christ loved you when you were unfaithful. Model to your kids the love God has for them by imperfectly loving them the best you can and at the same time point them to a perfect father who is never far away. The gospel doesn’t demand perfection it models it and provides forgiveness. Something every dad needs to hear.
Dads the cards are stacked against you in many ways. I beg of you please stay. Please stay. Pray that God will help you to be faithful when you feel like running. When everything in your head is screaming run. Stay.
I came across a video the other day that as a parent of four digital natives shook me. It was an ad where three generations of a family were asked: “When you were a kid what did you do for fun?” The resulting answers are sobering, to say the least. Watch the video below and we will talk after.
Smartphones are a gift in that they allow us to present with those we love. They are no longer a gift when they isolate and separate us from those who God has entrusted into our care. They make life easier but rather than provide more time to love those God has placed us with the very device that frees us and our time turns on us and devours the very time it freed for us.
Technology is not evil when it serves us. It becomes devastating when we serve it. The single most devastating element of Technology is it isolates us and creates for us a virtual community of people who we can only know casually and never know intimately. We call people who share the same political ideals on twitter friends and go months without driving across town for a barbeque with the best man from your wedding.
We were made for presence, but so often our phones are the cause of our absence. To be two places at a time is to be no place at all. Turning off our phone for an hour a day is a way to turn our gaze up to each other, whether that be children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our habits of attention are habits of love. To resist absence is to love neighbor
– Justin Early The Common Rule
Parents this is something we have to get right. Yet it is something that is so difficult because the very devices choking our children have a stranglehold on us as well. We have become so pleasure focused and pain averse we don’t even see the fact that we are numbing ourselves and making ourselves unable to feel unable to love the very people God has placed us in community with. We are unable to be present because we have forgotten who we are.
When we can’t answer the question of who we are in silence, we can’t answer it in public either, and our insecurities spill out into the world in the form of manipulations. We hide our confusion behind a posture of perpetual offense. If we are opposed to someone or something, that’s enough to create our identity for the day, which is to say we use others so that we can get the temporary identity we need. We don’t know who we are, so we make others feel the pain of our insecurity.
– Justin Early The Common Rule
Parents if we want our kids to answer the question of what did you do for fun as a kid differently we have to give them a different example. We have to give them a better story. Rather than teaching our kids to numb their pain electronically teach them, they were made for the love of God and love of neighbor. Kids remember what they see far more than what you tell them.
“Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told”.
– J.C. Ryle
If we want our kids to live a different story we have to practice the gospel and preach the gospel. To apply the gospel to the lives or your kids you need to know what they are facing so you can point your kids to Jesus. The problem in so many families is parents are too distracted scrolling Instagram to listen to their kids and kids are to distracted by games to talk. We need to give our kids the gift of boredom. When you are bored you eventually create a creative way of escape. This is how kids develop critical life skills. When you as a family put down your devices your kids will get bored they will eventually start talking to you and you will actually listen because you are bored too.
Our electronic addiction is not the worst problem our world has faced because there have been many others that are far worse. It is, however, one of the more sinister problems because so many of us don’t see it as a problem. We were meant to be more than the amount of like we can manufacture with just the right angle of our selfie. We were meant for real lasting eternal connections with the family God has placed us in.
At the end of his book challenging families to rethink how they use technology, Andy Crouch ends with this sober challenge to be present.
We are meant to build this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. We are meant to be family—not just marriages bound by vows and the children that come from them, but a wider family that invites others into our lives and even to the threshold of our very last breath, to experience vulnerability and grace, sorrow and hope, singing our way homeward. We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life. We are meant to die in one another’s arms, surrounded by prayer and song, knowing beyond knowing that we are loved.
We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us—above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along on the way to a better life, the life that really is life. Why not begin living that life, together, now?
So how do we change our kid’s story? Here are a few practical suggestions.
1. Filter your internet – Our family uses Circle by Disney it is a game-changer. 2. Limit your time – decide how much time is appropriate for adults and kids and keep each other accountable. – We don’t use screens at all on the Lord’s Day and when we come home from school and work we put our phones in a box still on so we can have undistracted availability. 3. Turn off all notifications – I did this a while back and it has been a game-changer for me. I only get notifications of text messages that’s it. 4. Delete apps that take up lots of your time. – I enjoy social media but when I look at my screen time report on my phone and see that I am spending more time than is wise for me to spend or am in a season I need to focus, rather than deleting the social media accounts I just delete the apps on my phone that make them so easy to access. 5. Remind yourself that restraint and control create freedom, not oppression. – You are free to use your phone for its many good purposes when your phone isn’t using you. The control allows you to love God and love neighbor. It allows you to treat your phone as a good gift rather than as a poor functional savior.
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
“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.”
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.
Whateer my God ordains is right, Holy His will abideth. I will be still whateer 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
Whateer 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
Whateer 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
Whateer 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.
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.
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?
We must trust Jesus alone for salvation
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.
We must know about God we must think right thoughts about God. We must be grounded in historic doctrines of the church. – (transcendence)
We must have an authentic experience with God. (immanence)
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.
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.
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.