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.

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.

Rembrandt and The Cross of Christ

One of the truths that were recovered in the Reformation was the power of the Cross of Christ. The truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was during the time leading up to the Reformation there was a focus on our works what we could do in this life and after this life to be pleasing to God. On Good Friday we are reminded of the need for the Cross of Christ. Living in light of the Cross changes how you live because it changes why you live.

David Brainerd said it this way “I found that when my people were gripped by the great doctrine of Christ and Him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality.” Living in light of the cross changes you because you see that Christ was crucified for your sin and by your sin.

The reach of the Reformation went far beyond Germany and began to shape culture. We see this in the life and work of Rembrandt (1606-1669). “Rembrandt had flaws in his life, but he was a true Christian; he believed in the death of Christ for him personally. In 1633 he painted the Raising of the Cross for Prince Frederick Henery of Orange.” Francis Schaeffer

The Raising of the Cross

In his painting, The Raising of the Cross Rembrandt painted Christ being crucified Rembrandt showed how the preaching of the Reformation had profoundly affected him. Rembrandt paints himself in his own painting. Rembrandt is the man in blue raising Christ upon the cross.

“He is stating for all the world to see that his sins had sent Christ to the cross. Rembrandt’s biblical base enabled him to excel in painting people with psychological depth. Man was great, but man was also cruel and broken, for he had revolted against God. “

Francis Schaeffer

Rembrandt saw himself as guilt. What is interesting to note is the fact that he not only painted himself as the one raising the cross in it’s place but he is also the Commander on the horse behind in charge and overseeing the death of Christ. What is striking is the commander isn’t looking at those carrying out the punishment he is staring at the person painting the picture. He is looking straight at Rembrandt as he is painting. He is looking at you and me as we are taking the painting in. He is looking to Rembrandt for orders. Rembrandt a child of the Reformation understood the weight of his sin and the power of the cross.

The last thing that stands out in this picture is the grave and the shovel in the bottom righthand corner. This grave is not for Christ because he was buried in a tomb this grave is the call to Rembrandt and to you and I to die in Christ to die with Christ and for our sinful man to be buried to await newness of life.

Good Friday is only as good as the promise of God. Rembrandt was well aware of his sinfulness. He was well aware that he was more than just “broken”. He was responsible for condemning Christ to the cross and for raising the cross in it’s place and his only hope was not to do better or try harder but to die to sin and be buried and experience a new birth new life the cross guarantees. May we this Easter season be aware of the depth of our sin and the greater depth of his grace.

Who is Responsible to Disciple my Kids?

Is it the church or me?

Discipleship is something parents and pastors need to take seriously and engage in together. When I first started in kids ministry over twenty years ago, the primary discipleship of children was the responsibility of the church. Over the past ten years or so the pendulum has swung from the church being primary to the church pushing parents to be primary in the discipleship of their kids and the church cheering them on. The result has been in my opinion less discipleship.

The answer to the discipleship of the next generation is not either or but both and. How can the church be intentional about discipline kids and how can parents make church an important aspect of their kids lives because of that. At the same time, how can parents disciple their kids more intentionally and how can the church resource and encourage that?

Why church discipleship is necessary

If you crush whatever initiative you set up for parents to do at home, you will only get at best 25% to 30% participation leaving 70% without the benefit of your discipleship resource. If we only view discipleship as parent driven and avoid things like VBS and other church driven initiatives many kids will miss out. Another issue we need to address is some kids come to church with grandparents or friends, and their parents will never be the primary disciplers of their kids. As kids grow, their friends will have more influence on them than their parents. As a community of faith, we need to provide a place where kids can grow in their faith even if it isn’t a value at home.

Why home discipleship is necessary

The modern America family is more transient than ever. People move to different states, different churches, different denominations like never before in history. We may never have them long enough to develop their kids and nurture their faith so we need resources they can take with them on the journey. Particularly early in life parents have more influence than anyone else on who their kids are becoming. Parents need encouragement and help.

Here are some things we try to do at our church to disciple kids.

  1. New City Catechism each week from preschool to college.
  2. Story-Based Discipleship class for Jr. High Kids.
  3. Small Groups
  4. Internship
  5. Worldview/Theology Immersion Week
  6. VBS

Here are some things you can try at home to disciple your kids.

  1. Family WorshipWe use this book at our house.
  2. New City Catechism Why Catechism? 
  3. Reading Classic Works with your kids – Leland Ryken has some great books to help you navigate the classics – Also Karen Swallow Prior’s new book would be helpful
  4. Spirit led conversations
  5. Student Discipleship Guide

The goal of discipleship is not what we do to be acceptable to God but rather how is our conformity into the image of God affecting our life and practice. How are we intentionally forming the loves of our kid’s hearts? James K. A. Smith says it this way

“Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”

This happens on purpose, not on accident. Not overnight but over time. May we as pastors and parents be curators of hearts rather than only informers of intellects.