Posts Tagged ‘family’
Several years ago I had the privilege of preaching in Denmark at the Reformation-Resurrection Conference. The invitation came out of the blue, hanging upon the absence of another brother whose health prevented him from serving. I went a little tentatively, not knowing what I would find, not least because Denmark is hardly known as an epicentre of biblical faith and life.
You can imagine my delight when I discovered a conference organised by a small but vigorous Reformed Baptist church, gathering together saints of like mind – many of them in far-from-ideal spiritual circumstances themselves – for a week of concentrated scriptural Bible teaching and warm fellowship among believers of the same spirit. People had gathered not only from Denmark but also from Norway, Sweden, Germany and even further afield to worship God together and enjoy a time of spiritual refreshment. Unfortunately, when they all arrived they discovered that the man they had hoped to hear was absent, and yours truly was the sorry substitute. Nevertheless, the Lord undertook for us, and it was his truth that went forth to the glory of his name.
All of which to say that the brothers in Denmark have been kind enough to invite me back again this summer when, God willing, my topic will be The Christian Family: God’s Grace in the Heart and in the Home. The conference is due to be held in mid-July at a school in Mariager, between Aarhus and Aalborg in the north of Denmark. They have asked me to draw this to the attention of interested friends, who can find out more at the conference website (Danish/English). Perhaps I will see you there?
I distinctly remember it. I was sitting among a group of young people, some of whom were professing Christianity, some of whom were wrestling with God, and some of whom were neither. We were, most of us, in our mid-teens, and many of us had come from homes in which we heard and saw the gospel more or less clearly, more or less often. I cannot remember how the conversation turned as it did, but at one point a clear consensus quickly arose. Pretty much everyone who had been brought up under some degree of genuine Christian influence was wishing that they had lived utterly apart from God. A lot of this had to do with assurance: I think that the feeling was that when you have lived under a degree of restraint, knowing the truth by intellectual instruction if not by spiritual apprehension, there was a felt reduction in the degree of conviction of sin and a corresponding difficulty in discerning the transition from darkness to light. So far, so fascinating (perhaps).
I have learned some things, I hope, over the years since. Among them is the fact that outward restraint is no measure of heart sin, and that there is more than enough iniquity in the heart of the child trained up in a Christian home under the gospel to breed more than enough conviction of sin. The person who thinks otherwise merely needs a more accurate, Spirit-wrought sense of sin: the problem here is not so much reality as perception. I have also learned that the reason why some of us were confused is because not all of us who spoke were genuinely converted: some of those present were discussing the validity and reality of what they had never actually experienced or still needed to experience, as subsequent history has revealed.
But the point I wish to make runs along a different track. There we were, possessed of the incalculable blessings of growing up with parents who sought to teach us of Christ, who trained us and restrained us, holding back some of the worst excesses of our unregenerate hearts, who sat week by week under the faithful preaching of the gospel of Christ Jesus, who had pastors and other mature saints who taught and demonstrated the truth as it is in Jesus . . . and we were complaining that we wished we had been utterly destitute of any such influences, allowed to run in our own way absolutely, given over to sin.
Honestly, I understand the wish, but it is misguided. As I say, there is no need for us to live an outwardly, utterly Godless life in order to know ourselves sinners. Furthermore, I now thank God for the fact that I was so restrained, that my personal history is not more littered with extravagant external sins (there are more than enough), that the Lord removed at various times either the inclination or the opportunity, and laid upon my heart some of those constraints which – though substantially external in themselves – nevertheless were the means of keeping me from greater wickedness.
Then, another, more recent and positive memory: as I read books and blogs and watch videos and attend conferences and so on, I am sometimes struck by the apparent simplicity of a point being made (and subsequently applauded as profound), by the apparent confusion that reigns about points of doctrine which seem to me to be obvious, by the sense of novelty that surrounds material that I consider to be eminently familiar. Error may be no less enticing and engaging, but at least the truth is already in place by means of which to identify and expose the errors. These benefits hit me forcibly a few weeks ago, for example, during a discussion on the Trinity. It was not that it seemed ‘old hat’ to me; rather, as the speaker progressed, I had the sense of being on ground both common and familiar, and – when the time for discussion came – I found myself slightly ahead of the game, my point of departure different from at least some of the others participating. Or, more recently, I was left staggered at the theological naïveté of some of those participating in conversations to do with the Elephant Room. Were the issues not clear? Was the truth not known?
Does this mean that I am unusually brilliant? Am I blowing my own trumpet? Should I thank God that I am not like other men? Not a bit of it. I wish, rather, to record my gratitude to God for three particular blessings which were a means of laying such a foundation, and to encourage others to value and extend them.
The first is the blessing of godly parents. The value of the instruction and example of godly parents is too easily overlooked by those who are growing up under that influence, and who are often inclined to kick against the goads. Parental government may feel oppressive, aggressive, restrictive, excessive. Family worship, reading the Bible, prayer, catechesis, responsibilities required and restraints imposed, facing sin and resolving tensions – all may seem utterly burdensome and unnecessary. Nevertheless, if the Lord God is pleased to work salvation and apply the blood of Christ to the heart of such a child, the perspective ought to shift. All of a sudden, that framework of knowledge is imbued with a genuine (though incomplete) understanding. Those heavy chains of restraint are perceived in time to be God’s gracious means of keeping us from wickedness and even death. That drip-drip-drip of accurate and faithful instruction has laid a foundation all unnoticed, and provided a basis for further study and deeper appreciation which is hard to replicate except by the most eager latecomers to the gospel (sadly, there are many such who quickly outstrip those whose privileges ought to provide for their fast and straight progress in godliness, both doctrinal and practical).
The second is the blessing of faithful churches. Notice that they are not perfect churches. How I used to buck at some of the hypocrisy and shallowness that I saw growing up in a faithful church! How I used to wonder at the gravitas some people assumed in public and around “grown-ups”! Those people would often forget a child was watching and listening, and could see what they were really like in the attitudes, actions, antics and allowed life of their homes (I still know people whose boast of high standards of conviction and behaviour practiced in their homes, when I remember something very different, is grievous). But such – although they provide much fuel to the cynical fires of jaded youth – are not all that the church is. Again, we should not underestimate what is taking place as the Word of God is faithfully expounded Lord’s day by Lord’s day, morning and evening, in a particular place; as truehearted believers welcome children into their homes and hearts, and love them and care for them and teach them; as various workers labour to communicate something of Christ’s saving excellence to those under their care. Again, that inheritance – which may lie fallow for years or even decades – provides a phenomenal head-start if the Lord God is pleased to bring it to life by his Spirit. A bedrock is in place upon which future building can immediately take place.
The third is the blessing of good books. You do not need to be a great reader to benefit from the availability of the rich resources of good Christian publishing. Recognising that not everything is good, and that a sifting and selecting process has gone on even in providing that which is good, nevertheless the wealth of instruction and admonition and exhortation and correction to be obtained in reading is unimaginable. The man or woman who reads – and particularly who reads faithful old books – has an advantage, for there is nothing new under the sun, and the experience and understanding of those who have gone before is made readily available to anyone with the inclination to find or make the time and expend the energy on obtaining it. Why learn all your own lessons all over again when you can take a shortcut and learn them from wise men who walked the same paths in previous generations? This is not an argument for unthinking assimilation, but for aggressive engagement and interaction with the best of the past as a way of understanding and navigating the present. As Samuel Davies said, “I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me; the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me, and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.” To have walked these ways in the company of faithful guides equips the saint today to serve God with a readiness and insight not available to those who have been deprived of the riches of a library.
Are there dangers here? To be sure. It is all too easy to be like a crown prince who has become accustomed by long exposure to the beauties and glories of the palace royal, but who has thereby lost his appreciation of the excellence of its galleries and the effectiveness of its armouries, and has so failed to value them accordingly. When he comes of age, he is all too inclined to cast away what his forefathers won with blood, sweat and tears. This is a travesty. We ought to be appreciative inheritors, not losing our sense of joy and the stimulating freshness of discoveries of fresh depth, but neither confusing that with an obsession with novelty.
But are there lessons here? I hope so! First, to parents: invest in your children. Do not make them little Pharisees, by any means, but model God’s grace in Christ and pour into them those truths and train them in that conduct which, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, will equip them for godly life in a fallen world. Second, to churches: keep preaching and teaching. Do not fall prey to all the fads and fashions that sweep the evangelical world, but go on drip-feeding and praying for those who may, under God, provide the future membership and leadership of faithful churches. Hammer home saving and sanctifying truth week by week and day by day: never underestimate the deposit that is being built up in the hearts even of your youngest hearers. Thirdly, to all: get some good books and read them. Read them in family devotions, at the bedside, in an armchair. Read them in the mornings and evenings, alongside and with your Bible to illuminate and explain and apply. Read them on the train. Read them (carefully) in the bath. Provide them and recommend them to others. Start libraries. Lend them and give them. Read them together and alone. Read them with pencil in hand. Read them actively: engage and argue with them, and learn from them. Mine the past in order to provide for the present.
These are not, for the most part, blessings which we get for ourselves. We do not appoint the families into which we are born, the churches in which we might grow up, or the books made available to us in our youth. We only realise in later life the blessings that our heavenly Father intended for us. That is why we cannot boast: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1Cor 4.7).
So, we cannot get them for ourselves, and we do not merit them by our own efforts, but we can give them, and we can – with hindsight – learn to appreciate what we ourselves were given before, and how to pass them on to others.
How glorious is the thought that there is a family even upon earth of which the Son of God holds Himself a part; a family, the loving bond and reigning principle of which is subjection to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so embracing high and low, rude and refined, bond and free, of every kindred and every age that have tasted that the Lord is gracious; a family whose members can at once understand each other and take sweetest counsel together, though meeting for the first time from the ends of the earth – while with their nearest relatives, who are but the children of this world, they have no sympathy in such things; a family which death cannot break up, but only transfer to their Father’s house! Did Christians but habitually realize and act upon this, as did their blessed Master, what would be the effect upon the Church and upon the world?
David Brown, The Four Gospels (Banner of Truth), 76.
Kevin DeYoung suggests that we may have overcomplicated our parenting, focusing too much on the minutiae of what we do (on the basis of having read that book or heard that sermon series or found that system – you know, the one that really works) and overlooking the vital significance of who we are. It is encouraging and yet demanding stuff. He also records the gospel-rich communication that many parents wish might be the standard of their interaction with their children alongside the conversation that most of us have, which is worth reading in itself.
Could it be we’ve made parenting too complicated? Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents? They will see our character before they remember our exact rules regarding television and twinkies.
I could be wrong. My kids are still young. Maybe this no-theory is a theory of its own. I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.” Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.
Read it all.
Conrad Mbewe gives us some cultural insights into family life in Zambia (and Africa more widely), using it as a springboard for recommendations about approaching adoption in Africa:
My Western friends should consider empowering homes where younger or older “fathers” and younger or older “mothers” are looking after children of their deceased siblings as a viable way to care for orphans. It may be totally foreign to the Western mind, but it is the most natural way for us as Africans to look after orphans. It is not either-or but both-and.
It’s worth reading, not just for the thoughts on adoption, but also for some cross-cultural insights and challenges into family life, both for blood relatives and in the kingdom of heaven.
The point has been made before on this blog about the limitations of Facebook and other social networking sites as a means of gaining and keeping true friends (see here and here, or Carl Trueman here). I am also aware of the countless exceptions to this general rule, whereby existing friendships are maintained and strengthened, and some genuine new ones formed, by means of these media, not least for some who would have little access to these relationships normally.
Nevertheless, a new study reported by the BBC suggests that loneliness is an increasing problem in the modern West. While new technology may at times be a blessing, it can also be a curse:
. . . there are also concerns that technology is being used as a replacement for genuine human interaction.
Nearly a third of young people questioned for the report said they spent too much time communicating with friends and families online when they should see them in person.
One charity states:
The young people we work with tell us that talking to hundreds of people on social networks is not like having a real relationship and when they are using these sites they are often alone in their bedrooms.
The issue here is not so much pro or con social networking, but rather the gospel opportunity that such alienation creates. Multitudes are alienated both from God and from other humans: they are part of no people (compare 1Pt 2.10), and there is a natural need and desire that Christians – in doing good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith – can use as a means of bringing the good news to those seeking true friendship. Jesus was accused of being the Friend of sinners (Mt 11.19), and Matthew reminds us there that “wisdom is justified by her children.” Are not these ideal circumstances for us to communicate to the lost and wandering by both words and deeds that there is a Friend for sinners, and that there is a family of God which warmly embraces all who belong to her?
On two occasions the apostle John emphasised that, for all the pen-work and ink-spilling, he wanted to see and speak with at least two of his correspondents – his friends – face to face, in order that his joy might be full (2Jn 12, 3Jn 13-14). One of the buzzwords in the missional movement is how ‘incarnational’ we ought to be. Is this, then, not one of the points at which the rubber must meet the road? Friendships function fully in the body, with as many of the dynamics and dimensions of full interpersonal relationships exercised and cultivated as opportunity provides. Our relationships as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ ought to be of an order that others, looking on, desire: under God, we can stir up a holy jealousy in men to be part of the family of God. Our relationship with our elder Brother and truest Friend, Christ, and with his Father and ours, ought to spark a growing desire in those who are spiritually lost and lonely to have such a Brother, such a Friend, such a Father. And, our relationships with our neighbours, colleagues, family members, and – yes – our friends, ought to be of a kind that preaches the good news in our attitudes, our words, and our deeds. “So let our lips and lives express / The holy gospel we profess,” indeed. If a man who has friends must himself be friendly (Prv 18.14), how much more the man who would win friends, to himself and through him to his great Friend and Redeemer, the Lord Christ (Mk 2.1 ff.)?
It will take time and it will cost much, but it will gain much. An incarnational ministry always does. Just ask Jesus Christ.
A few bits from around the web:
- Parents, obey your children? Al Mohler draws on and responds to an interesting article about the portrayal of parents generally, and – specifically – their relationship to their children, in popular children’s literature.
- John Piper’s call to the ministry. Justin Taylor gives the details at some length.
- English Language Day. Actually, this was yesterday (13 October). Is this an American thing? Surely not! Still, I don’t know how else I would have found out about it. Apparently, it marks the date in 1362 when a Chancellor opened Parliament with a speech in English. Neat.
- Er . . . that’s it, actually. I thought I had more interesting things in the reader than that, but it’s funny how the discipline of reading and weeding convinces one that perhaps 75% or more of the stuff that flows down the feeds is tripe to be bypassed.