Children (Part 2)

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15 ESV). I like the meme I found recently that says, “Don’t raise your kids to have more than you had, raise them to be more than you were.” Positive expectations bring out the best in your child! It works like this: Whatever you focus on, you’ll get! It’s almost like a natural law! So if you have positive expectations of your child, he or she will do his or her best to live up to them. However, it also goes the other way around. If you expect your child to disobey you, your clever kid will sense this lack of trust and ‘obey’ your unsaid intentions: You’ll get what you expect! So in a way this about choice! Your choice as to what you want! Here are more some practical things you can do to develop these positive expectations. First, expect your child to manage a moderately challenging task and show this trust to your child in an energy of confidence and patience. I find parents often do not communicate their belief that their children can do something. Often we are so unwilling for them to fail that we will do the task for them. This robs them of both the encouragement to succeed and the feeling of success when they do. Second, we should positively prepare our children for upcoming events by talking about them in terms of possibilities and positive expectations. I find the beginning of the school year especially good for this action. Often the newness of the school year brings anxiety. Use this experience with your younger children and adolescents to inspire them with your confidence in their abilities; and, reassure them of your willingness to help. Third, plan for and expect your evenings to be calm, joyful and full of deep presence. It is often so difficult to provide for a calm evening in the home. There are so many tasks we think we must accomplish before bedtime. Some of these anxieties can be eased with the simple implementation of a schedule. Help your children learn the secret of future planning. Train them to understand the pressing nature of future fears. Show them how to overcome the future with a firm anchor in the present and a clear plan for the future. I know I have spoken to “parents” in these last few days. Some of you are single parents, or grandparents raising your grandchildren. These principles, though more difficult still work. Don’t quit on your children. You can do...

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Children (Part 1)

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:1-5 ESV). When Faith and Logan were born, nearly fourteen years ago, I started writing letters to them. I stopped until recently when I decided to start writing again. This round of letter will go to them along with my other grandchildren. Now that Maggie is two and the twins, Lucy and Harris, have been born, it is time to begin to write again. Part of that desire is that there are some things I really believe are essential for them to hear from a grandpa; the other reason is much more selfish, since I did not have any opportunity to talk with my own grandfather since he was deceased long before I was born. I would have liked very much to have been able to have known him. It is always good for children to personally know as much as possible about their family. It helps to cement the relationship of love and care within that essential unit of life. Unfortunately, America is becoming a country that loves children less and less. Too many people see them as a burden that slows them down in their pursuit of the American dream. Even in the church, Christian couples get strange looks when they say they want to have a lot of kids. Some will even discourage them with the retort, “That will change after you’ve had a kid or two.” This response shouldn’t be. The Bible is overwhelmingly positive in its language about children. Our reading today declares that “Children are a heritage from the Lord” (v. 3). When teaching his disciples, Jesus uses an illustration of the joy of a mother delivering her baby (cf. John 16:21). Our words and actions should reflect the heart and values of Scripture. After all, the Bible is the heart and values of God. I am not naïve. I know that some children are difficult. They present challenges to us in many different ways. However, all Christians should be known as people who love children because we have been graciously loved by a Father. Our love for and joy in children should be evident and contagious, winsomely put on display for the whole world to witness and, Lord willing, want for themselves. There are a few things we will look at in the coming days to practically help us as parents and grandparents. Today, commit yourself to love your...

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Renewing Your Mind (Part 3)

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 ESV). Today we come to a very practical part of this renewal of our mind. First, before we can do anything, a double action of the Holy Spirit is required. And then we join him in these two actions. The reason I say the Holy Spirit is required is because this word “renewal” is only used one other place in all the Greek Bible, Titus 3:5, where Paul says, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” There’s the word “renewal” which we’ve seen is so necessary. And it is renewal “of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit renews the mind. It is first and always his work. Our reading helps us understand this work. The Holy Spirit enables us to “behold the glory of the Lord.” This is how the mind is renewed. It is by steadfastly gazing at the glories of Christ for what they really are. But to enable us to do that, the Spirit must do a double work. He must work in two directions: from the outside in and from the inside out. He must work from the outside in by exposing the mind to Christ-exalting truth. That is, he must lead us to hear the gospel, to read the Bible, to study Christ-exalting writings of great, spiritual men, and to meditate on the perfections of Christ. This is exactly what the world, the flesh, and the devil do (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4). To see that truth for what it really is, Paul says, will renew the mind and transform the life and produce unending worship. “The Spirit renews the mind. It is first and decisively his work.” And the Spirit must work from the inside out, breaking the hard heart that blinds and corrupts the mind. The Spirit must work from the outside in, through Christ-exalting truth, and from the inside out, through truth-embracing humility. If he only worked from the outside in, by presenting Christ-exalting truth to our minds but not breaking the hard heart and making it humble, then the truth would be despised and rejected. And if he only humbled the hard heart, but put no Christ-exalting truth before the mind, there would be no Christ to embrace and no worship would happen. So, what do we do? We join the Holy Spirit in his precious and all-important work. We pursue Christ-exalting truth and we pray for truth-embracing humility. Listen to rich expositions of the “gospel of the glory of Christ.” Read your Bible from cover to cover always in search of the revelation of the glory of Christ. Read and ponder the Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting writings of great, spiritual men and women. And form the habit of meditating on the perfections of Christ. And in it all pray that the Holy Spirit will renew your mind, that you may desire and approve the will of God, so that all of life will become worship to the glory of...

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Renewing Your Mind (Part 2)

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ESV). We need to explore the reading today very carefully. The apostle warns us that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The Christian alternative to immoral behaviors is not a new list of moral behaviors. It is the triumphant power and transformation of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ, who is our Savior, our Lord, our Treasure. “ God has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. So transformation is a profound, blood-bought, Spirit-wrought change from the inside out. I want us to understand this truth to make the point that the nonconformity to the world (cf. Romans 12:1-2) does not primarily mean the external avoidance of worldly behaviors. That’s included. But you can avoid all kinds of worldly behaviors and not be transformed. When Jesus was transfigured (transformed) the disciples recorded that “His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light!” Something like that happens to us spiritually and morally. It happens in our mind first, and then, later at the resurrection on the outside. Transformation is not switching from the to-do list of the flesh to the to-do list of the law. When Paul replaces the list, the works of the flesh, he does not replace it with the works of the law, but the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:19-22). There is a great paradox here. The Christian life, though it is utterly submitted (cf. Romans 8:7; 10:3), even enslaved (cf. Romans 6:18, 22) to the revealed will of God, is described in the New Testament as radically free. It is very difficult to put these two images beside one another in our minds. I like to think about it in terms of knowing that when I am transformed in Christ, I love to do what I ought to do. I had a lengthy conversation with a staff member of a large emerging church recently. As we were talking they asked me how I could be so patient with so many people who seemed to be so far off the mark. They remarked that I must like being around people to spend so much time with them. I told them that I didn’t like people at all. Being alone with my family is more than enough for me. However, I did love people. I find that because my Savior loves others, his example becomes very easy to follow simply because I follow him. There’s the transformation. I don’t always do it perfectly, but that is the principle I am committed to in life. That’s the change of mind I focus on in each circumstance of life. It does set you free. Try...

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Renewing Your Mind (Part 1)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV). For as long as I can remember I have relied on the truth in our reading today whenever I begin to help others through the challenges they face in their personal journey. The key word of the Apostle Paul is the challenge to “be transformed.” He further says that the means to this transformation is the “renewal of the mind.” I like to remind people that our mind is the most powerful organ of our body. It controls what we ultimately feel in life. While our emotions are utterly unreliable, our minds can be reshaped and renewed to bring control over our emotional weaknesses. I want to explore two things in our reading that will help us with this transformation. The first is the will of God. This phrase is often found in the Scripture. We use it often today though I think that sometimes, when we use it, we may not know what we are talking about. That is not spiritually healthy. If you get into the habit of using religious language without knowing what you mean by it, you will increasingly become an empty shell. And many alien affections move into empty religious minds which have language but little or wrong content. The term “the will of God” has at least two and possibly three biblical meanings. First, there is the sovereign will of God. This is that will that always comes to pass without fail. Second, there is the revealed will of God in the Bible. These are those enjoinders that God has given us to point us to his grace and love. This will often does not come to pass. And third, there is the path of wisdom and spontaneous godliness — wisdom where we consciously apply the word of God with our renewed minds to complex moral circumstances, and spontaneous godliness where we live most of our lives without conscious reflection on the hundreds of things we say and do all day. We’ll look more at this truth in the coming days. Today I want us to focus on another phrase we see in the reading. The apostle says we are not be conformed to this world, but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We are perfectly useless if all we do is conform to the world around us. And the key to not wasting our lives with this kind of success and prosperity, Paul says, is being transformed. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.” That word is used one time in all the gospels, namely, about Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration (the mountain of “transformation” — same word, metemorphōthē): “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (cf. Matthew 17:2). While we will see more detail tomorrow; today please commit yourself to transformation. This renewal will only happen as you intentional give yourself to the process. It is absolutely worth the effort. Will you do it...

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