Friday, December 25, 2015

“No Fear!” God Is Near!

From the mid-1990’s into the early 2000’s, “No Fear” was a popular clothing brand marketed by No Fear, Inc. through various retail and company-owned stores.  Although Americans now rarely wear this message on their outerwear, many of us wish we could express “No Fear” in response to the circumstances of today’s world.  Instead, many of us carry at least some “Fear!” 

What do you fear most?  If we are honest, here are some of the things high on the list:

1.   ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
2.   Immigration – How many terrorists are we admitting?
3.   Insolvency – Can I keep up with my bills?
4.   Infection – What microbes are lurking out there?
5.   Intolerance – Will I offend by word or action?
6.   Insecurity – Can I still hide who I really am?
7.   Invasion – Are my home and privacy secure?
8.   Impotence – When will I lose my virility?
9.   Incompetence – Will I remain effective in my work?
10. Infinite – the seeming number of other causes of fear.

Fear can be a constant companion.  We can slip into a fearful mood at any time, often without any particular reason.  The unknown, the uncertain, the invisible, and even the indefinable factors around us may cause us to be unsettled and uncomfortable.  It is part of the human DNA to have fears.  The Bible teaches that there is a place for fear.  We have been created with the ability to have fear; and then, to react in a way that preserves our lives from danger.  Fear and reverent respect are strong motivations against acting upon temptations that lead us to sin, sorrow, and possibly spiritual and physical death.

God our Creator and Sustainer not only uses fear for our good, but He also has made provision to calm and even erase our fear.  Nowhere do we see this fact more clearly than in the biblical account of the conception and birth of Jesus Christ as it unfolded to bring about that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago.  On each occasion in which God through the angel Gabriel announced a miracle about to transpire, He immediately attempted to address the fear that would be a natural response.  God in all of His great power and might came gently and lovingly to members of humanity, knowing the human tendency to react in fear.

Consider three occasions in which the angel’s glorious appearance was accompanied by a heavenly effort to assuage human fear.  First, when the angel Gabriel appeared to John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias while he was taking his turn to offer incense in the Holy of Holies, the angel said, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard…(Luke 1: 13).   Later, when Gabriel appeared to a teenage girl named Mary who would conceive miraculously to bear God’s Son, Jesus, the angel again immediately addresses the “fear factor,”  saying, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God (Luke 1: 30a).  And months later, the angels appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth, saying, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people (Luke 2: 10b).

The message of Christmas comes to us today, post marked with the words, “Fear not.”  It is not a sin (rebellion against God) to have fear. But if we reject God’s Gift Who is Jesus Christ, the “Prince of Peace,” then His intended peace is not present in our lives and fear becomes our constant companion.  Someone has said, “When fear knocks at our door, and our faith answers, there is no one there.”  On the other hand, Jesus says in Revelation 3: 20:

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

And this Jesus is the One of Whom God spoke centuries earlier through the prophet Micah who predicted that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2) when He said (emphasis mine),

And He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the LORD,
In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.
– Micah 5: 4-5a

This Jesus, the Scripture teaches, is the One Who did come that first Christmas night, and Who now offers peace to the fearful because He faced all the familiar fears we have listed above and more; and, went to the cross, died, and rose again to purchase us victory over sin, fear, and death.  And, as Micah states above, He is coming again to bring peace …to the ends of the earth—to every dark corner—when He sets up His kingdom for which Christians pray.

An estimated 100,000 Christians die for their faith annually.
What do you fear?  Which item on the “list of ten fears” above is at the top of your list?  I’ll admit it.  At times, I’m afraid of the threat of ISIS when compounded by the possibility that even one terrorist could slip through our porous borders.  But then, I realize that God has called me to faith, not fear.  He calls all of us who bear the name “Christ-ian” with these words …love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…(Matthew 5: 44b-45a).  Christ came into the world full of grace and truth (John 1: 17).  Even at the hour of His birth on that “silent night” the message was proclaimed, Fear not…!  Christ had only the earthly possessions he could carry with him.  He had no place on Earth to call His home (Matthew 8: 20).  Jesus was misunderstood, mistreated, violently seized and abused, and finally nailed to a Roman cross.  Through all of this, He displayed no fear; only gentleness and forgiveness.  Before His death on the cross, Jesus spoke these words to sinful humanity, Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23: 34).

When I am fearful, I try to picture my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who daily face persecution and even death for claiming faith in Jesus Christ.  Over the past 10 years, an estimated 100,000 Christians die for their faith each year!  Thousands of Christians endure forced displacement from their homes, brutal persecution, and even death as a testimony of their love for Jesus.  Would my faith in and love for God be this strong?  Would I have “no fear?” Or, would I deny Christ and refuse the call to join the millions of Christian martyrs over the centuries who follow in the holy procession beginning with Christ’s own procession to Calvary?

"Fear not, for I bring you good news...." (Luke 2: 10)
May God help us to be fearless in these troubling days so that we might glorify Him in the routines of our lives.  May we be faithful to pray for those who stand on the front lines for Christ today.  And if we are threatened with severe persecution, may we too remember that Christ has come and suffered persecution while giving back nothing but love and compassion for the many He saw as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9: 36).  This is the Savior of Whom we sing this Christmas, the first verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem:”

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight

Those who claim faith and obedience to God, can claim this slogan:  “No fear!  God is near!”

Family Christmas Letter (click to read)
Here is our family Christmas letter if you’d care to read a brief summary of our year, 2015.  In truth, our family faces many of the same causes of fear that confront you.  If you are a believer, know God personally, and have put your faith in Him for your daily walk, we covet your prayers that each of us will remain true to our responsibilities and commitments as we enter the New Year, 2016.

How About You?  You may have read this article and are left with a sense of confusion, uncertainty, and even fear.  If you have never encountered the “Good News” or Gospel, let me help.   The “Good News” is summarized in an outline called “
Steps to Peace with God” which explains God’s love, our predicament (sin and separation from God), what Jesus has done to address our predicament, and what you can do by faith to receive God’s righteousness (right standing with a Holy God).  If you have additional questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

God's Not Fixin', He's Transformin'

In the 1960’s, rapid societal transformations, assassinations, race riots, and other factors caused many people to ask, “Is God Dead?”  Some answered, “Yes.”  Others reacted defensively in ways that showed little Christian gentleness toward their neighbor and little reverence for God.  Still others did nothing to defend their faith, nor did they encourage those who were seeking meaning and purpose in life.  Meanwhile, on April 15, 1965, the song by Jackie DeShannon, "What the World Needs Now Is Love," was released with music composed by Burt Bacharach.  The lyrics by Hal David resembled the message of many in the 1960’s who perhaps could not voice their need as well:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of…

As time passed, what some called the "moral majority" was replaced by a "secular majority."  Today, America appears to be moving toward an "immoral" or "agnostic/atheistic majority." More and more Americans support the removal of prayer and all vestiges of God and Jesus Christ from our schools, colleges, and communities.  After all, why pray to a God Who either doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist?  Or why turn to a God that would allow so many to experience personal and environmental tragedies?

This morning, following the tragic attack on the social services center in San Bernardino, CA, the NY Daily News used its front cover to mock presidential candidates who encouraged Americans to pray for loved ones of those killed or injured by the attackers.  The headline, “God Isn’t Fixing This,” allows that God may still be alive, but implies He should be blamed for “not fixing the problem.”  I suggest that another headline might be more appropriate—“Americans Are Not Listening to God.”

Many Christians have been quick to point fingers at those we deem responsible for the moral decline in America.   Our standard lines have been much like the ones I used above-- lines like: “Well what do you expect? They’ve taken God and prayer out of our schools.”  Christians also point to the courts of our land which have disregarded the sanctity of human life and the institution of marriage as defined in the Bible.  Throw in our access to social media, and some, including this writer at times, can be anything but “gentle and reverent” when we enter into “discussions” about political and social issues.  Pointing our fingers or trying to win arguments may give our conscience a sense of relief, but it does little to solve the problems.  Nor does it encourage those who wonder if God exists, and if so, what their responsibility is toward Him.

Lately, I have been thinking much about my own spiritual life, my values and priorities, and my responsibilities toward my wife, family, neighbor, church, and community.   Some of this thinking has been reflected in Oikonimia and is included in the following blog articles:

Individual Accountability and Spiritual Awakening
Local Churches and Spiritual Awakening
Christianity Shines in Dark Places
Do You Reckon God Is Real?
Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority
How Do You P-R-A-Y This Thanksgiving?

Besides thinking and writing, I have been “listening” to what God is saying in His Word.  Rather than be surprised to read a headline like “God Isn’t Fixing This” or condemning those who think it is true, I’ve been learning more about how God has already done His part to “fix it.”  The Apostle John tells us how much God has done, sending His only Son to do more than “fix it.”  Jesus came so that anyone, by faith in His death, burial, and resurrection, could have the gift of new Life—to be “born again” as  a“new creature” so that the old passes away, and all things are new in us (John 3; 2 Corinthians 5: 17). 

As God’s children, we have the privilege of daily communion with our Heavenly Father, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit to walk along side us as our Helper (John 14: 26).  If we are reborn spiritually and walking in communion with God, His Spirit speaks to our souls,“Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4: 6).  And in response to the Spirit within us, we join Him in exclaiming with warm, endearing affection and worship, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8: 15).  In this loving resonance between the Father God and His child, love, faith, and eternal hope are affirmed.

Having God’s nearness to us; yes, even His presence within our hearts ought to encourage us to praise and thank Him for not only “fixing us,” but transforming us.  We are, or can, by faith (see Romans 10: 8-11), be new creatures in Christ.  We can have a new internal disposition toward our neighbor and the world around us.   Living such transformed lives anytime, especially during this season of Advent and Christmas ought to be such that Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:14-15 describe what God can do through us:

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness,
you are blessed.
And do not fear their intimidation,
and do not be troubled,
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always being ready to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give an account
for the hope that is in you,
yet with gentleness and reverence…

God is not dead.  Nor is He hard of hearing.  He has done His part to “fix it” and then some!  Now it’s our turn as God’s children by faith, and as members of God’s Church, the “body of Christ,” to live so that Peter’s command applies to us--being ready to suffer fearlessly when God’s righteousness is offensive; and yet, being ready to answer others who ask why we are hopeful when so many people are hopeless, yet with “gentleness and reverence.”

But how can we give an answer for the hope that is within us in a culture that is increasingly dark, defensive, and even dangerous as many fellow Christians can testify if they haven’t been martyred already?  I like the example provided in Acts 17 by the Apostle Paul when he addressed the Greek philosophers and teachers of his day.  When Paul observed stone statues in Athens erected in honor of many different Greek gods but not to the God of Christianity, He chose not to insult them.  Instead, he acknowledged that they were very religious because they worshipped many gods in hopes of appeasing all the gods that exist.  But Paul then said to them while pointing to the statue erected “'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD:'

The Apostle Paul introduces Greeks to the "Unknown God"
Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;  nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we also are His children.” Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.  Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17: 23-31).

In response to this oration from Paul, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this (Acts 17: 32)." Later, Paul’s epistles to the churches referenced many among the Greeks who had put their faith in God and had become leaders in the movement that would soon  sweep across the Roman Empire and northern Europe, and lay the foundation for the positive influence of Christianity in the Western Hemisphere.  

If God could “turn the world upside down” through the lives of the few followers of Christ in the first century, can he not bring revival to our whole troubled world?  Maybe it is already beginning.  Jesus has already given the call (Luke 9: 23):  If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

The world may ask, “Is God, ‘fixing this,’ or isn’t He?”  We who know Christ should ask, “Am I a faithful steward where God has placed me, or not?”

Comment if you please:  What do you find most difficult to bear in today’s world?  How have you found help through your faith?   What particular helps or suggestions can you offer to those of us who want to grow in faith and stewardship of time, material resources, and abilities?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How Do You P-R-A-Y This Thanksgiving?

Christian workers are among the persecuted
in the war-torn Middle East.
Another Thanksgiving season is here.  But this one seems different.  World and national news of this past year has reported that thousands of people have been abused, martyred, or driven from their homes.  It seems that God has begun to act on a global scale in an unusual way.  But this is not the first time.  Recall that God touched the tongues of those building the tower of Babel, diversified their language, and caused them to disperse across the globe (Genesis 11).  

The “forced migration” from Babel is only one of many instances in which God has caused or allowed mass migrations.  Recall the exodus of at over one million Jews from Egypt as recorded in the biblical Book of Exodus.  Centuries later, God judged the decadent nation of Israel by allowing a 70-year exile of many of the Jews in the territories of Syria, Babylon (modern Iraq) and in Persia (modern Iran).  Now, the same God is working, in 2015, to move thousands of people from one continent, or even from one hemisphere, to another.

Today, when thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ, young and old, are being martyred, imprisoned, or driven from their homes because of their faith in Christ, what is God asking His people, who profess faith in Christ, to do?  I believe He calls us to become involved, beginning with prayer.  After all, the death by stoning of the first martyr named Stephen in the first century was only the first in a long continuous line of Christians being persecuted and martyred because they refused to renounce faith in Christ.

hat is God asking of me?  I find His answer in the commands recorded in the New Testament during the first century on behalf of those who suffered persecution:

Remember those in prison,
as if you were there yourself.
Remember also those being mistreated,
as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.
                                         --  Hebrews 13: 3

Ouch!  This command is very clear!  Downright penetrating!  It declares that we are to IDENTIFY with the imprisonment and mistreatment of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  But why do I so often forget to remember?  And, how can I be more faithful and fervent in prayer for those under persecution?  Think along with me as I try to answer these two questions.

Why do I so often forget to pray earnestly for the many innocent children and adults who are suffering persecution for their faith?  For one reason, I have a good “forgetter.”  I can forget anything--from taking out the garbage to just being sensitive toward Abby in times she needs me.  Truth is, I tend to think of myself and my goals before others. 

There is another reason that I forget to pray for those under persecution:  I am blessed and surrounded with conveniences, but these can become distractions.  It is often hard for me to maintain focus in “prayer communication” in the midst of other forms of communication so much a part of my day--telephone, e-mail, text messages, and social media.  Nothing wrong with any of these as long as I don’t let them fragment my time line and interrupt concentration on a given task, especially prayer, reading, and reflection.

Please don’t get the idea that I’m already a saint of all saints.  I’m still working on how to be more faithful and fervent in prayer.  Here are some essentials that I’ve begun to incorporate into my prayer ministry on behalf of the persecuted as well as those in positions of power to make a difference:
1.   I try to be informed through daily TV and online news/commentary and websites of Christian ministries serving on behalf of the persecuted (see websites below)
2.   I am encouraged by weekly prayer with fellow believers, a time to share both new requests and answers to prayer.
3.   I am blessed with a brother in Christ who regularly keeps me accountable in spiritual disciplines including prayer.
4.   I try to maintain an up-to-date prayer list that includes particular needs of those under persecution.  For example, many have been praying for Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for his faith in Iran since 2012.
5.  Abby and I financially support responsible Christian ministries because we believe that where [our] treasure is, there will [our] heart be also (Matthew 6: 21).

Notice that my list includes WHAT I try to DO to maintain a disciplined prayer ministry for the persecuted Christians.  However, it doesn’t directly address the more basic issue of WHO I am in my DOING of prayer.  Does God really hear my prayers?  This concern brings us to my second question:  How can I be more faithful and fervent in prayer for those under persecution?   My short answer is this-- I must develop an intimacy with God in order to share His heart and compassion toward those for whom I should pray.  But how can I do this in the midst of my world so full of good things, and the inevitable distractions?   I’ll begin my answer with a story.

Sr. Pastor Dan Wingate participates in community prayer vigil.
Abby and I are blessed to be a part of a community in which local churches are committed to praying for those suffering persecution.  The pastors of approximately a dozen churches in Wooster, including our church, West Hill Baptist Church, have worked together, in 2015, to plan and lead two community prayer vigils.  The first prayer vigil was held on August 2.  The second one was held on November 22 and was attended by approximately 300 in spite of the near-freezing temperatures and wind.
As we left our warm car and walked with together to the shelter of a nearby pavilion, I felt unprepared for joining in corporate prayer--especially to pray for brothers and sisters under such great duress while mourning the death of family members or friends at the hands of ISIS; others having been displaced from their homes; and, still others fearing for their lives in the Middle East and Africa where Islamic extremist threats are most common.

Since Sunday’s prayer vigil, I’ve been reflecting on what God would have me do to be a more effective prayer warrior on behalf of the suffering.  This effort is “a work in progress” and I will share it briefly so that perhaps readers can add helpful insights from your wrestling with the same challenges.  Although I know there are no “easy formulas,” I am using the acronym P-R-A-Y in my effort to be more disciplined and fervent in prayer:

First, I must decide by an act of my will to give P--Priority to prayer.  I must submit my will to the commands of Scripture (e.g. Ephesians 6: 18 and context), the example of Jesus, and the power of His Spirit.  I begin by setting aside a good PLACE and TIME as Jesus did by habit according to Mark 1: 35.

Second, my time with God must be centered on R—Reading and meditating on His Word.  I must remember that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” and intended for me (2 Timothy 3: 16-17) and as I read and meditate (Joshua 1: 8) on them, my mind and spirit are engaged so that I can “speak back” to my Heavenly Father in prayer in line with His will.  The man and woman of faith must have this communion with God regularly, and desire to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Third, when we read and meditate on God’s Word in which He reveals Himself personally to us, A—Adoration and confession should be our response.  I need to get better at discovering the character and heart of God in Scripture.  He reveals Himself most obviously in the many names He uses—e.g. Jehovah, Elohim, Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Good Shepherd….and dozens more.  How rich our communion can be as we reflect on the “Great I Am” Whose breath arouses our spirit and speaks into our mind and soul.  And, my response is adoration, but also confession of sin as I recognize the blessedness of being poor in my spirit (Matthew 5: 3) in the face of God’s holiness.

Finally, as my prioritized time/place in prayer allows for my reading/meditation in the Word and my response of adoration/confession, my mind and spirit will Y—Yield in submission to God. Now, my supplication and intercession on behalf of others can be expressed in the prayer of faith (Hebrews 11: 6; Romans 8: 26-27 and context).  Jesus taught us what it means to “yield.” He said, …if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9: 23).

The “Yielding” part when we P-R-A-Y may be the hardest, perhaps because it depends so much on the prior three parts—priority, reading/meditation, and adoration of God.  But as much as I must depend on God’s Spirit for all parts of P-R-A-Y, I am encouraged to realize how very much my Helper wants to produce in me the fruit of yielding—of “denying self.”  Paul teaches that the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…(Galatians 5: 22-23).  Perhaps we can say that yielding or denying self, especially self-control, is both a fruit of the Spirit and the kind of obedience that provides more fruit (John 15: 5), including love, joy, and peace.

I feel like a first grader in the “classroom of yielding” or of denying self.  My flesh cries, “how morbid; how boring! Why not do this instead?  It’s much more fun and fulfilling.” Therefore, as a result of the teaching of our pastor, Dan Wingate, I am now considering how fasting, the commitment to denying myself for a time those things I most enjoy in order to P-R-A-Y with greater mental and spiritual focus for needs like the persecuted church of God.  This fasting is not of the kind Jesus chose as recorded in Luke 4, although there is a time and place for that, too.  See for examples, Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 9. 

If the Bible records instances in which individuals enter periods of extended praying and fasting as noted above, there are also instances where short prayers, sometimes called “arrow prayers” (e.g. Nehemiah 2: 1-5) are offered to God.  Likewise, I believe fasting can be practiced for days with very limited water and food.  But, fasting, like the practice of “arrow prayers”, can be incorporated into a disciplined lifestyle of private denial of things we normally partake of including certain food, beverages, entertainment, or activities.  In such fasting, we would determine under the direction of God’s Spirit to surrender something for a time as a “sacrifice.” The nature of biblical fasting is not to enter into an extreme ascetic denial without a God-honoring goal.  Rather, such fasting can be part of reinforcing the “denial of self” so that we can each more effectively complete Jesus’ command: denying himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9: 23).  

To the extent that I follow “P-R-A” to Y—Yield, I have experienced a sweet communion with God.  Some of you will have to share your experience with fasting because, as I said, I have not consciously applied fasting with the purposes I have outlined above.  I am aiming to try this in the days ahead, being careful not to violate Jesus’ other teaching in Matthew 6: 17-18 of not making a public show of it.

Yes, another Thanksgiving season is here.  But, this one seems different.  The world has changed much in the past year, and much for the worse it seems.  On this Thanksgiving, God may be calling His blood-bought children to dig deeper than "thankfulness" as a driving force for fervent prayer.  I believe God is calling us to P-R-A-Y as I have described with a focus including thanksgiving for what God has done; but then, moving beyond thanksgiving to adoration of God for Who He is.  Prayers of adoration to Almighty God invite His Spirit to lead us willingly to Yield in submission, to deny self, and take up our cross, willing to follow as an obedient disciple of Christ.  Many of our brothers and sisters are already facing life-threatening spiritual warfare, and it seems to be headed our way.  I hope my thoughts on prayer will make us better-prepared disciples.

Links to Responsible Ministries on Behalf of the Persecuted:
Samaritan’s Purse:
Voice of the Martyrs:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Campus Chaos: A Call for “Higher Education”

Some analysts are not surprised about the chaos on the campuses of University of Missouri, Yale University.  Consider the values being taught on campus and the nature of their millennial students, those born between 1980 and the early 2000’s.  But Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims claims that parents of millennials are also part of the problem.  She supports this claim in her book, How to Raise an Adult.  The subtitle expands on her thesis-- Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

I haven't read Lythcot-Haims’ book.  However, a review of the book by Paul Bonicelli in The Federalist, entitled The College Kids Are Not All Right, presents Lythcot-Haims’ thesis and adds an important context beyond simply implicating parents. Bonicelli attributes the problems of the millennial generation to the deterioration of the framework of moral and ethical teaching in the home and the lack of reinforcement of lessons of the home by the child’s elementary and secondary school, church, and community.

As readers of Oikonomia will realize, I have been emphasizing the important role of the “traditional family,” church, school, and community in the rearing of young men and women with godly character.  See “Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority and additional links below.   Knowing my thesis, you might say that I am guilty of highlighting a book with which I agree.  And you are right; but, allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs from Paul Bonicelli’s book review that, in my judgment, make it valuable in its own right.

First, Bonicelli highlights Lythcot-Haims’ indictment of the parents of today’s college students, noting that she… does a good job of reviewing the problems of millennials at the university and beyond. We all know how so many kids come to college and into the workplace needing their hands held, being sensitive to criticism, and being unable to simply function as mature and independent adults. But she does more than offer a litany of problems. She examines the roots of the problem—namely, pressure from parents and brand-plumping elite universities—and tells parents forthrightly they are hurting their own kids. Finally, she offers suggestions for how everyone can fix themselves.

Bonicelli later adds:  The book is replete with often heart-rending examples of unhappy, depressed, unnecessarily medicated kids and young adults whose entire lives have been micromanaged and dominated by parents oblivious to what their kids want or need.

But what impressed me about Bonicelli’s review of How to Raise an Adult was his criticism of the book’s lack of emphasis on the need for parents and our schools to raise good human beings.  Bonicelli attributes this void to the state of education at the elementary and secondary levels and the lack of moral training in our culture...  He makes his point by asking us baby boomers and Generation X readers to get in the time machine and go back to yesteryear when kids learned at home, in school, and at church or synagogue that the highest aim was a life well-lived.  Everywhere children turned they were encouraged to be upright, kind, self-reliant, giving, and hardworking. They were taught to abjure evil, sloth, immorality, selfishness, and idleness.  They got these lessons from their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  They heard sermons and homilies and got life instructions from whatever their religious institution taught as the moral law.

When they went to school, these lessons were reinforced through the curriculum and the standard of behavior required of them. Kids, understood implicitly as moral beings, had adults to rely upon to help them navigate life’s ups and downs as they matured.  For those rare kids who were spared much adversity in their young lives, there were lessons and examples aplenty in the things they read as a matter of course at school. No parents are perfect, but social pressure and the way things were constantly taught and reinforced living well.

Take one example: If one wants to know how human beings are supposed to face trials and overcome, how to be generous and giving toward others in need, great literature like the Bible, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Aesop’s fables offer excellent instruction with timeless examples for all ages and stations. For some kids in the past, that included Cicero and Aurelias, and Augustine and Aquinas.

For those of us tempted to dismiss Bonicelli’s point by pointing out that we cannot return to how things were before modernism and postmodernism emerged, he is quick to offer a counterargument: 

Pointing out that times have changed and that we can’t go back to yesteryear doesn’t impress me.  Right reason and experience tell us the truth about how to raise children into adults.   No amount of postmodern sophistry and relativism can overcome reality.   Our efforts should be put into fixing the problem the right way—one kid, one family, and one school at a time.

Having composed this snapshot of a great book review and a worthwhile book, I am more motivated to be a part of the solution.  Instead of bemoaning social unrest in our cities and on our campuses, and debating the causes, let’s be part of the solution to the problem by reaching out and mentoring—“one kid, one family, and one school at a time.”  As we do, let us remember to emphasize godly character more than “success,” and encouraging good stewardship of opportunities to serve others rather than simply encouraging pursuit of material wealth for personal gain. 

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. – 2 Timothy 2: 2

Further Reading:
Paul Bonicelli’s review of How to Raise an Adult:  See “The College Kids Are Not All Right
Related Oikonomia articles:
Dominion 101 - Spheres of Responsibility – Christian responsibility in three spheres (family, church, and government)
Jackie Robinson -- “YOU Don’t Belong Here!” – How character was developed in Jackie Robinson and Ben Carson through strong families.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority

Students at U. of Missouri caused their president to resign.
Yesterday, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned in response to increasing pressure from students over racial tensions on campus.   Racial injustice continues to be a problem in America.  Authority figures in America are not without blame whether they are university administrators, civic leaders, or local police.  However, what is most disconcerting to me is the manner in which objecting parties approach the injustice or perceived injustice.  Different opinions or philosophies are no excuse for the absence of mutual respect between authorities and their subjects.

Authority figures are responsible to govern and enforce laws or protocols on the basis of their own integrity and respect for their constituents.   Likewise, subjects of authority are obligated to show respect through polite behavior and a respectful appeal for change in cases where reformation is needed.  Otherwise, the structure that upholds our communities and our nation will be weakened and destroyed.  

The riots in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland this past summer clearly reveal what happens when the relationship between authorities and their subjects comes unraveled.   Therefore, we must ask, “How does a person learn the proper exercise of authority?” and, “How does a person learn to respect authority?”  According to the Word of God our “Ultimate Authority”, the respect that fuels healthy relationships between authority and subjects must be learned and incorporated into ones character beginning at a young age.

In Genesis, the “Book of Beginnings”, we read how God created humans, male and female (Genesis 1: 17) and ordained that a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2: 24).  This separation from the parent generation and the union of man and wife provides the foundation for distinct families in which children can be nurtured and taught to become responsible adults.  Ephesians 6 explains the fundamental commands that provide for a healthy and loving respect for authority by children (upper case lettering distinguish parts quoted from the Old Testament (Torah)): 

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.   – Ephesians 6: 1-3

Likewise, the Scriptures teach the importance of parents exercising loving authority over children:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord – Ephesians 6: 4

How many of the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri; or, the protestors on the University of Missouri campus had the privilege of being nurtured in a loving home with two parents in which respect for authority was taught?  How many were taught not only to exercise reverent respect for mom and dad, but also reverent respect for the men and women teachers in their school classrooms; or authorities dressed in the uniform of law enforcement in the community?  How many were taught American history and how our nation was founded on the basis of Christian virtues and a proper understanding of the depravity of man, how power corrupts, and hence, the need for checks and balances in government?

Surely, we live in a sin-corrupted world, and this corruption has infected all authorities—parents, teachers, church and civic leaders, and law enforcement officials.  Many of our young people have been mistreated at one or more levels of authority in the home or in the community.  Many have never been respectfully challenged to objectively consider how their own narrow experiences may inaccurately “color” their view of the world around them.  As a result, many have grown up to despise authority at all levels, and have joined the voices of those who reject God and His plan for biblical marriage, family, church, community, and America.  Biblical teaching which was fundamental to the founding and sustaining of America for nearly two and one-half centuries is being eliminated from our homes, schools, churches, and communities. 

Sons and daughters of dysfunctional families, schools, churches, and communities are encouraged to see themselves as victims by selfish or well meaning politicians who offer false hope of relief through empty promises from big government.  Paul Krugman, leading liberal economist and columnist of the New York Times, lamented yesterday, there is a darkness spreading over part of our society. And we don’t really understand why.  He seems confused about the possible causes of increased drug abuse and suicides in the face of recent government offerings that include universal health care, higher minimum wages, and aid to education.  Could it be that these achievements, instead of delivering a better quality of life, are simply reminders that outside of God’s plan for family and government, we can only expect an increasing population of “victims” existing in a culture of dependency and despair?

Welcome back to the University of Missouri campus, where student groups and boycotting football players have just caused the resignation of the president of the university.  Surely, there are more civil and respectful means of advancing racial reconciliation than this.  I can only speak from my own personal journey toward learning to respect authority and later, to exercise authority in a godly manner.

My childhood was largely free of verbal and physical abuse.  I feel great sorrow toward anyone, including one of my dearest friends, who has been abused by someone in authority.  My parents disciplined me lovingly and with “loving force” at times when necessary.  However, when I began elementary school in first grade, I quickly learned that my social interaction skills were in need of major adjustments.

Mrs. Nile Johnson
Enter Mrs. Olive Johnson, my first grade teacher.  She was a mature, godly woman who seemed very old and stern to me at the time.  I do not remember the exact nature of my infractions of her rules, but I do remember “feeling” her consistent and loving discipline whenever I stepped over the line.  In one instance, while I was being kept in detention for one offence, I was unwise enough to commit another and received a double dose of discipline.   I very much needed Mrs. Johnson’s expenditure of time and energy, sometimes physically applied to my bottom, to bring discipline, respect, and order to my wild, farm boy nature.

Mrs. Johnson was more than simply my first grade teacher.  She worshiped and served at Dundee Methodist Church where my family and I attended.  In summer, she and her husband, Nile, would invite members of our church to gather on their lovely farm for a church picnic.  And, when I graduated from her class, she continued to remember my special day each year for several decades by mailing a birthday card and a poem which she had written.  I understand that Mrs. Johnson practiced this loving ministry to many if not all of her former students until she was unable to continue.   She also gave me a book filled with short stories; and, she lovingly marked her approval in pencil those stories that best taught good character qualities.   Thank you, Mrs. Johnson, for teaching me reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But also, thank you for your example as an authority dressed in love, consistency, firmness, and fairness.

Mrs. Lloyd Gardner
Thankfully, God knew this farm boy well enough to know that one year would not be enough to straighten me out.   My second and third grade teacher was Mrs. Kathryn Gardner, a much younger lady, but no less committed to an orderly classroom and playground.  Whereas, Mrs. Johnson had to break me from some of my wild behavior, Mrs. Gardner’s approach was best suited for helping me develop my attitudes and character.  She set a high standard of achievement for me and was not reserved about putting me on the spot in front of the class when she perceived that I was being careless or lazy with my work. 

Like my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gardener’s life was also visible to me beyond the classroom and playground.  She and her husband, Lloyd, the Dundee postmaster, were friends of our family.  On Sunday mornings, my teacher demonstrated herself to be an accomplished organist as well as a good Sunday school teacher.  As I grew older, I attended Lloyd’s Sunday School class.  He was among those who first sparked my interest in the subject of politics.  Lloyd’s training and experiences as an officer in the armed services and his godly character provided a good example of what it is to be a gentleman.  Meanwhile, in Kathryn I saw a godly woman whose adornment was not merely external, but which included the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3: 3-4).  As an adolescent, I regularly remember the admiring and respectful smiles she gave me as if speaking confidence and approval into my life.

I thank God for providing many good teachers throughout the years of my formal education, some of whom deserve similar recognition here in Oikonomia.  However, Olive Johnson and Kathryn Gardner provided a critical part of my education at the beginning there in Dundee School.  It was through them that God taught me a very important lesson about honor and respect for authority.  This lesson is perhaps best articulated by Doctor Luke in his Gospel, Luke 6: 39-40  

A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he?
Will they not both fall into a pit?   
A pupil is not above his teacher;
but everyone, after he has been fully trained,
will be like his teacher.

This Scripture teaches a principle may be lost on campus these days; namely, the principle I will call the “stewardship of education.”  The teacher/professor and administrator must understand the importance of exercising authority in a loving, purposeful, consistent manner to everyone on campus.  In turn, the students (disciples) must exercise the discipline of showing honor and respect toward those in authority.  Both teacher and student ought to recognize that they are under the authority of God.  This notion is firmly based in Judeo-Christian Scripture, and to the extent that it is applied in the lives of today’s teachers and students as it was at Dundee School, America’s schools and colleges can expect a brighter future.  May God inspire and give courage particularly to Christian educators who are now the minority voice on campuses like the University of Missouri.

Dundee School Revisited:  

Mrs. (Gardner) Weber delights in a former student.
In October, Abby and I were blessed with the opportunity to attend the 100th anniversary of Dundee School.  In addition to getting reacquainted with some of my former schoolmates, we were able to sit and talk with Kathryn (Gardner) Weber, who, like Dundee School,  is also 100 years of age.  At this reunion, sixty years after I sat in her classroom, I sat again and learned from this teacher.  I learned that one can be an honored, 100-year-old teacher who has taught for 35 years, and yet masterfully deflect attention away from herself to a stream of former students in whom she took great delight.  I am privileged to have been one of those in whom she expressed delight.  When Abby asked to take our picture together, Kathryn said, “You take the picture.  I just want to look at my student.”