The Resurrection and Marriage

Having Teckla as my worship leader is, and has been, one of my greatest joys. It has also given me a glimpse of something difficult to grasp: the relationship of a husband and wife after the resurrection.

It has always bothered me that Jesus said that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” The longer I am married, the more this bothers me—the less I want to be like an angel.

Every sappy and cloying thing a couple could say about their love, we say with all sincerity. It feels like we have an eternal love. We have been married almost 40 years and would still rather be with each other than anyone else. Start the syrupy Hallmark movie music; we have undying, everlasting love for each other. Not being married seems terrible and unimaginable—nothing heavenly.

I blame this on my parents who were crazy in love for over fifty years. Last year when my mother was bedridden and dying, I mentioned something Dad used to do. Because of her stroke, she couldn’t talk, but I saw a tear slide down her cheek. I asked, “Why are you crying? Are you hurting?” She nodded no. When I asked if she was missing Dad, she nodded yes and shed a few more tears. It had been twenty years since Dad died. I know she looked forward to being reunited with Dad, but what does that look like if there is no marriage in the resurrection?

Several times I have gotten a glimpse of this while Teckla leads worship. When I see her face alive with joy and love for God and watch her pour out her heart to God in love and celebration, I fall more in love with her. I also rejoice that God has blessed me with a wife that loves Jesus with wild abandon.

But quickly there is a shift in my thoughts and spirit as I follow her example and give all my attention to God. As I fling all my adoration Godward and sense God’s presence in our midst, I realize that Teckla and I are brother and sister in Christ. Our love for each other is flooded with God’s love for us and our love for Him. Just as the rising of the sun makes stars grow dim, our love is submerged in a greater love. In that moment, it feels like nothing is lost—every good thing is found. It feels like eternity—all joy. Teckla and I are the Bride rejoicing in Jesus, the Bridegroom.

It is biblical, of course, that being married gives us glimpses of eternity. I will be okay not being married in the resurrection; Teckla and I have an invitation to the wedding that matters most.

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How Individualism Destroys the Pursuit of Wisdom and Ruins Everything

Recently our pastor preached an excellent sermon from Proverbs 4 entitled “Get Wisdom.” Together we looked at some of the ways we get wisdom: praying, reading the Bible, listening carefully to the Holy Spirit—that Inner Voice and Light that leads us. I was okay with all those, but the next two I was not enthusiastic about: tradition and wise counsel.

Emotionally I share my culture’s assumption that what is old is wrong and what is new, good. On cue I can trot out examples of church traditions that have been wrong, even unbiblical. Also, I am of that generation that declared we shouldn’t trust anyone over thirty. My graying generation still worships the youth culture no matter how silly or profane it becomes, and regrets we don’t have the energy to stay hip. We break with tradition; we don’t look to it for wisdom.

Here in Myrtle Point we also have a lot of good-ol’-boy individualism—western rugged individualism. We are quick to help, but often too proud and independent to ask for help. We make our own decisions and take responsibility for them no matter how stupid. We stubbornly insist on going it alone—without considering what wisdom, tradition, or others can offer. It is rebellion rooted in pride.

Cowboy individualism and Sixties rebellion are now a permanent part of our culture—even church culture. It may be most virulent in congregations that seek to engage our culture by making Jesus relevant. To a postmodern hipster generation, we preach Jesus as rebel—one who justifies our individualism and rejection of authority. We spiritualize this individualism as a refusal to conform to the world.  One of the great ironies of American culture is that non-conformity is now a mainstream value. The posture of the religious rebel and nonconformist is just another way we seek the world’s approval.

To the redneck or cowboy, we may preach a salvation that is just about them and God—and fail to mention that they were baptized into the church and are now part of the Body of Christ. The call to be dependent on other believers and receive from others is not a message we westerners want to hear. We rebel.

True rebellion against the world means valuing tradition and forsaking the tyranny of the temporary. Looking to tradition for wisdom runs counter to both the practice and spirit of our culture. We are a people who color outside the lines, march to our own drummer, and believe rules are made to be broken. Worldly individualism and rebellion blind us to the corporate character of biblical Christianity.  Many Christians can’t imagine submission and obedience as spiritual virtues.

Regarding tradition (the wisdom of the past), many of us are spiritually illiterate. We approach every problem or spiritual issue as though we are the first believers to ever be in this situation. We ignore the truths thousands of believers from the past have discovered. Attention to tradition gives the past a vote regarding what is wise and good, but too often this is one group whose voting rights we don’t defened.

Obviously, we can’t truly be Christians and completely avoid the disciplines of obedience, but we often stipulate that it is only Jesus or God’s Word that we will obey. We are each our own denomination. We can even elevate this into something spiritual: “I only listen to Jesus” or “I just read my Bible and do what God says to do.” We baptize our individualism and pass it off as single-minded devotion to God. Too often, however, the spirit behind this is simple rebellion and willfulness.

Again and again, I have seen people withdraw from church when they are about to make an unwise life decision. Or if they keep coming, they do not bring up or ask anyone in the church about the decision they face: getting married, taking a job, moving, etc. Others are told about the decision only after it is irreversible. Foolish decisions can devastate the lives of believers and thereby cripple our outreach to the community.

People sometimes withdraw from the church and avoid wise counsel because they already know what they want to do is foolish or even sinful. It is also possible that they have had negative experiences with meddling and controlling believers. Pastors and elders have sometimes sought to go beyond wise counsel into outright control and manipulation. So let me be clear, I am not advocating any type of control by the elders of the church, but simple take-or-leave-it advice that skillfully applies God’s Word to specific situations and decisions.

We shoiuld seek wise counsel because we can all have blind spots. Our own desires or the voices of our culture can blind us to what God’s Word says is right and good. When I strongly desire something, I can easily mistake my desire for God’s leading. I can’t always trust my heart. My emotions are a tangle of dreams of the future and nightmares of the past. In this clamor, I often need that victory that comes from many counselors (Proverbs 11:14).

But it is hard to admit I don’t have all the answers and all the wisdom. Actively seeking the wisdom of others not only requires that we forsake the idol of self-sufficiency and individualism, it means we must embrace something rare in our culture: humility.

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God is About To . . .

Thus begins the spiritual meth, the prophetic word, that hooks us on hope, but then brings us crashing down into spiritual depression and disillusionment. The scope of the prophecy can range from personal to global. God is about to pour out his Holy Spirit upon the church, city, nation, or world. God is about to restore, reform, refresh, renew, or revive.

These words may not even come from people with prophetic gifts or offices. It may be what we speak to ourselves as we meditate on God’s Word, petition God, and intercede for others. We may feel the warm presence of God and the clean wind of the Spirit whispering that we are on the edge of a break through, a visitation of God.

But then we wait. And pray. Hammer away day after day in intercession. And nothing happens. Or things get worse.

I have been in congregations where we flew high on prophetic visions of a move of God that was about to happen: first in the 80’s, then the 90’s. I think after the 90’s came and went prophets may have quit announcing times. These words drew people to the church, but after a while a few fell away, but more drifted away and settled for a more present tense approach to serving God.

I first prayed for a move of God here in Myrtle Point when I was seventeen. I was leading Bible studies at the high school and at a coffee house on Highway 42. I am almost 64. Since moving back here from Kansas City, Teckla and I have been praying for city-wide revival for the last 23 years. A year ago, Teckla and I and few others in our church felt we were on the edge of a breakthrough in our congregation, but it now seems like the church has shifted into park—or even reverse.

This is discouraging. It is tempting to drag my disappointed soul into a 12-step program, find a Calvinist sponsor, and abstain from prophecies (especially my own). Why focus on what God is about to do? Let’s just sing about the wonderful things Jesus has already done for us on the cross. Isn’t this enough? Should we really expect God to be doing stuff now and in the future? He has done enough. Be grateful.

Or perhaps we can allow God the freedom to do stuff, but not expect answers to specific prayers for revival and restoration. God is sovereign and omnipotent. He will do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. Prayer changes us, not God or his sovereign will or timing. (Doesn’t this sound spiritual?)

Sorry, I can’t stop. I can only say, “Hi, I’m Mark and I am addicted to hope.” I refuse recovery and the only meeting I am going to is a prayer meeting. I simply can’t pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” and not expect his kingdom to come—come here on earth as it is heaven. James declared that faith without works is dead. I think faith without hope isn’t faith at all. And without faith, at least a mustard seed of faith, no mountains move.

Reading God’s Word only enables my addiction. There are too many stories about those like Joseph who were faithful to God when everything seemed to be going the absolute other direction. Or like Joshua and Caleb who entered the promised land even after a whole generation of Israelites perished in the wilderness of unbelief and despair. Or even prophets who died before they got to see the promises of God they had declared to Israel.

In his parables Jesus taught that we should live as servants who expect the master to return at any moment. We are told to live a life alert to what God is getting ready to do. He tells us to be aware of the times and seasons. I want to have the hope and faithfulness of Anna and Simeon who in their last years prayed, fasted, and kept believing in the prophetic promise that they would see Jesus, the consolation of Israel, before they died (Luke 2:25—38).

I am haunted by the 400 some years between Malachi and Matthew. How many Annas and Simeons prayed and looked for the Messiah in these years? Sometimes we kneel in the darkness and fling our prayers into the night—trusting in God’s goodness, not our wisdom or revelation. I fully understand that God’s people have often been wrong about when and how God will move. But I also know that many of God’s prophetic promises are invitations, not proclamations. That first generation out of Egypt refused God’s invitation into the promised land, but God did not lie.

Thankfully, I have also learned not to crash amid disappointment and perplexity, but instead lean into God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for renewed hope. However, I will also be utterly transparent and honest about mistakes I make about what I think God is about to do. Because of perfect confidence in God’s love for me, I can bring my questions and confusion to Him. I can say without too much whine, “But God, I thought you said . . . What’s up?” We can talk.

And yes, God is sovereign. He will move when and where he chooses. The Holy Spirit is like a mighty wind. However, on this hill in Myrtle Point, I can stand in the storm, lift my hands to God, and pray revival strikes here.

 

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F-Bombs, Harvey Weinstein, and Jesus

If we are serious about the brick-by-brick dismantling of the rape culture, we need to get rid of the f-bomb. I am no delicate-eared prude shrinking in horror at a naughty word. I have worked happily in mills, fields, and onion warehouses where f-words flowed freely. Nor am I a bigot wanting censorship. I am an English teacher. However, it seems clear to me, startlingly obvious, that the f-bomb joins violence and sex, violation and sexual intercourse.

I know that we now use the word in many non-sexual ways, but there is no denying that saying f-you is a way of joining sex with power and humiliation. We can add many variations of this: f-off, over, and up. Our culture uses this word for actual sex when we want to emphasize the purely animal or physical act of intercourse.  It is sex done to someone, not with someone. It avoids the connotations of the phrase “making love” and linguistically avoids the entangling associations of commitment, covenant, and consent.

My argument isn’t that the word magically creates a rape culture, but that it normalizes a view of sex robbed of respect and relationship. It is by no means the biggest brick in the rape culture. It is, however, a blind spot in many who are vocal against sexual harassment. All the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and the many others accused of harassment make clear we need a change in our whole culture. But cultures are made of the words we use and the meaning they carry.

We have all become aware that battling racism means ridding our language of ethnic slurs. We do not say of the n-word, “It is just a word. Get over it!” The f-bomb is a slur against what should always be regarded as something sacred: the union of a man and a woman. In the Christian narrative all of history ends with the Church-–the Bride of Christ being united with Jesus—the Bridegroom. It is called the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.  Paul says that the relationship between a husband and wife is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. It makes sense that the filthiest word we have is a defilement of one the holiest things God offers.

Christians, therefore, should not use the f-bomb to prove they are edgy, relevant, or liberated from legalism. We certainly don’t want to be caught quibbling over words while ignoring real acts of sexual assault and violence. Nor do we want to whine about someone using the n-word and ignore a young black man being shot in the street. We can and should do both: reject the language of violence and the acts of violence.

Destroying a rape-culture involves much more than banning the F-bomb. It means ridding ourselves of double-standards of conduct for men and women. It means never blaming the victim, enabling a bully, or turning a blind eye to harassment. But to change a culture, we need to change the language—we need to make our language about sex sacred. Or at the very least we need language that places sex in the context of love, consent, and respect. We need to ban the bomb.

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Moths and a Curious Gift

A full bladder when one is camping in a tent a long walk from the bathroom is never welcome. It meant a roll and wallow to get out of the sleeping bag and slip on sandals and then a hunt in the dark for the tent’s zipper. Maybe that is why most people my age camp in RVs. Or maybe they didn’t choose teaching as a career. I, however, did not curse my weak bladder as I traipsed up the trail to the bathroom last month. I shot the flashlight into the trees to catch eyes of the owl I had been hearing while in my sleeping bag. I also wondered how many species of moth I would find pasted to the wall of the bathroom. And I gave thanks for one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me—insatiable curiosity about the world.

No matter how big the bug or creepy the spider, my parents’ response was never “eek” or “yuck”, but “What species is it?” Mom let her boys bring home snakes, lizards, and spiders and keep them in our rooms. But it was not just about the natural world we were curious. Mom and Dad always had their noses in a book, so we grew up bookish and curious about history and literature. At the table, Dad eagerly entertained questions about metaphysics, epistemology, and theology.

I have found something healing and redemptive about all this knowledge for its own sake. Curiosity takes us outside ourselves and frees us from incessant self-concern. It carries us into a quiet world that exists apart from us and with no interest in us. When our questions lift us into the vast universe of what we don’t know, we see our smallness, the boundaries of self. Once small, we are often free from the afflictions of our pride and ambition.

Even as a boy camping at Cape Perpetua and trekking across the bridge and up the road to the bathroom, I was often too curious to be afraid of night’s sounds and shadows. I thought I might see the raccoons, skunks, or pack rats that raided camps. Delight in discovering and knowing made my fears an after-thought instead of my first thought. Curiosity and courage strengthen us to face the new and the unknown.

I am also grateful for curiosity because it has made knowing more important than having. It has saved me from the wild American scramble after more and more stuff. The trails I haven’t hiked and books I haven’t read are the best retirement package I can imagine. And perhaps the next time Teckla and I camp in our duct tape and nylon tent, I will discover several new species of moths spread like a constellation against the dark brown of the bathroom wall. I may also discover the effects of uric acid on the growth of salmonberry, alder, and spruce.

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Let the Circle Remain Unbroken

My church sat us in rows staring at a platform with a pulpit, but in 1970 I found myself in a circle in the back room of a Jesus freak coffeehouse on Sherman Avenue in North Bend, Oregon. We tore pieces from a loaf of bread passed hand to hand and drank grape juice from a big cup.

I looked around the room and saw tears in some eyes, but joy in every eye. After communion, we stood, joined hands, and sang “We are one in the Spirit . . . They will know we are Christians by our love.” They were a ragged bunch; several had long hair and scraggly beards. Jim had spent most of high school skipping class and drinking Annie Green Springs cherry wine in Mingus Park. John had been a heroin addict.  Jesus had saved bpth and genuine love radiated from their faces.

I was 17 and had been in church all my life, but I had never seen the joy of salvation dancing in the eyes and smiles of believers until that day. Of course, I had heard old-timers give teary-eyed testimonies about God’s goodness. However, turning around in the pew to actually see their faces would have been odd or rude. We weren’t, after all, in a circle.

Probably 95% of my time with believers has been spent staring at the platform and the backs of those in front of me. The other day during worship I worked my way to the side of all the chairs so I could look back across the congregation and see the faces of those worshiping. I know worship is all about God—not those around us, but I was surprised at how much I was encouraged and blessed by seeing the love for Jesus on all those faces. I wished we could be in a circle.

I know there are many practical reasons for meeting in rows facing the front. There are also theological reasons. For Catholics it expresses the centrality of the Eucharist; for the Protestants the centrality of the Word of God being proclaimed from the pulpit. It does, however, work against the idea of the priesthood of all believers. It most certainly undermines the idea that the Holy Spirit has distributed gifts to all the believers to be used to build each other up when we come together. Our arrangement says loudly, “The gifts are on the platform.”

Paul describes the result of the gathering of believers in I Corinthians 14:26:

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (NASB)

Despite the clarity and directness of Paul’s description, this is seldom the outcome at most of our assemblies. Most of the body of Christ doesn’t participate in any kind of ministry to others in our gatherings.

Many large churches have recognized this problem and addressed it through small groups, but years in pews have given low expectations for our small groups. We are tempted to passively let the group leader take charge and do all the ministry. It is easy to show up for a small group with no expectation that God will use us to encourage, heal, exhort, or us instruct others. Most the data on large churches with many small groups shows that only 30—40 per cent of the congregation gets hooked into a small group no matter how energetically the pastor proclaims their importance.

Many have researched and written eloquently about the many benefits of small groups. I think early Quakers tried to arrange their meeting houses with more of the believers seeing and facing each other, but I think even Quakers now have rows of pews facing the front.

I do not have a solution to this for large meetings. Some have gone almost entirely to house churches and have a large corporate meeting monthly, quarterly, or annually. I don’t know what out there may be working well.

I do know that seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those with whom I worship is life-giving. I need a circle. I should add that I love hearing my pastor preach, and I am always delighted and spiritually nourished by the love for God I see in the face of our worship leader. I just need the rest of the folks in my circle.

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I Should Have Danced

Last night Teckla and I found ourselves sitting at a table in the Port Orford Community Building watching a bunch of people dance to excellent Cajun music. Peter’s band, Bone Mountain Brothers, had opened for the Etouffee Band, so we stuck around and listened. Some people were drinking beer, but no one to excess—at least at that point. Eventually the little dance floor in front of the stage filled with people.

But this is what was cool. They were mostly ugly people, many my age—some even older. It was nothing like Dancing with the Stars—this was dancing with the local yokels. A lot of the folks seem to know each other. Not only were these ordinary folks; they danced badly. And yet they had genuine fun. I even had fun watching them have fun. This wasn’t a crude mating or rutting ritual; it was just feet moving and hips swinging to some happy Cajun music.

Teckla asked me if I wanted to dance. I quickly said, “No.” She did not persist because she knew I have never danced—except a few bounces and two-steps in church. Teckla hasn’t danced since high school, so she was not overflowing with confidence either. So we sat and watched and felt ourselves more and more mere spectators.

Perhaps I should explain that I grew-up a pastor’s kid in a denomination that taught against dancing, movies, smoking, and alcohol. Although I have long been free (I hope) of legalism, I believe most of those teachings are probably wise. This is, however, part of why I have never danced.

I have worshiped in churches where people danced unto the Lord. I have no problem with that. But this wasn’t church, it was some people enjoying some wonderful Cajun fiddling. Is there a place for this in the life of a Christian?

So here is where it gets weird. After I told Teckla I wouldn’t dance, I felt terrible. Perhaps only evangelicals will understand this, but I felt something like conviction. It was like sitting through an altar call at church while everyone sang “Just As I Am.” I didn’t have a white-knuckle grip on the pew in front of me, but it was the same feeling.

I felt small, hard, and stupidly religious. I should have danced.

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Heavy Dew

These are the dog days of summer in Myrtle Point. The golden grasses have gone to seed, and it has been weeks since the last rain. South of here, near Brookings, a forest fire has burned over 100,000 acres. Smoke has turned the sky brown.  Yet, a morning walk through the high grasses will leave your shoes and pant legs soaked. These are also the mornings of heavy dew.

The other morning the dew and fog was so heavy that even the streets were wet despite no rain during the night. These dews are beginning to green the lawn. They give life.

Lizards and beetles of the desert have learned to sustain themselves on morning dew. Before dawn they climb to the top of a dune in Namibia and face the Atlantic. They let the morning dew and coastal fog condense on their bodies. They soak in the precious moisture before the rising sun scorches the earth once again.

After being shot down over Bosnia, jet pilot Scott O’Grady sustained himself on dew as he hid from Serbian patrols. He climbed into the heart of a thicket and awaited rescue. He could not get out to search for water, so he used the two sponges from his flight suit to soak up the dew. He squeezed the water from the sponges into his mouth.

God fed Israel manna that came with the morning dew. We sometimes glorify manna, but the Israelites tired of it. It was after-all, desert food. Just enough to keep you going. Just enough to keep you dependent on God. It was no promised land. It was daily love.

Honestly, I feel spiritually arid. In my heart is the silence of a hot August day when even grasshoppers stop moving. I am weary, and it seems I have been praying for revival for centuries. Yet in the morning when I turn my heart toward God, I am refreshed slightly, gently. It is no downpour. It is just a heavy dew, my heart a softening sponge.

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Tense Shift

Tense shift is an error I often mark in student papers. In church yesterday it occurred to me that it is also an error we make in our walk with God. In a paper, tense shift happens when a student tells a story in the past tense and without warning or reason shifts to present tense. Sometimes a student will shift back and forth throughout their narrative. It creates confusion and incoherence.

Spiritually, Christians are tempted to confuse past and present tense. We need both tenses for healthy spirituality, but each in the right way. For instance, I need to know what has been done for me on the cross: forgiveness, cleansing of my sin, freedom from guilt and shame, death to my old self-centered identity. I need this foundational past tense.

But I also need to fully embrace my present tense in Christ. I am a new creation, child of God, heir of Christ, and temple of the Holy Spirit. We were once children of darkness, but are now children of light. We sing a new song now.

However, many things muddle our tenses and keep us singing the same old song. Looking at our present tense failures and struggles, we are tempted to forget what Christ has done on the cross for us. Satan, the accuser of the brethren, is always trying to define us by our past sins and present failures instead of what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection.

It is tempting to let our past define our present and future. Although I understand the reason behind the practice, I still object to alcoholics having to say, “ Hi, my name is Mark. I am an alcoholic.” I want that “am” to be “was.” Recovery from addiction is an important step in the journey of many believers, but should never be a stopping place or become central to our identity.

Trauma can also work powerfully to define us according to our past. A person’s identity can be wrapped up in being a veteran or being a victim. Healing is needed, and until the healing comes, victims of trauma should never be told, “Just get over it.” We should patiently help victims receive and give forgiveness. The grace and love of Christ can free believers from the destructive forces of past trauma.

However, past trauma should not define who we are in Christ Jesus. Continually picking at old wounds and rehearsing the narrative of our trauma doesn’t bring healing—it stops it. Our wounds must not become our hobby. And our need for help must not become the basis of our all our relationships. What was broken is made whole, what was wounded is healed. Of course we are scars, but our scars now testify to the grace of God that heals us and calls us His children. We need to live in the present tense goodness and power of God so that past wounds don’t bring present tense injury to others.

As I age, I am also aware of the danger of defining ourselves according to the good things from the past—our glory days. This is not quite like the 1975 high school quarterback who threw the pass that won the state championship and has never let anyone forget it, but it is similar. Even pastors can be so locked-in on how the glory fell at a past revival or visitation of God that they are blind to what God wants to do now. We can be so intent on seeing God move the same way he did in the past that we miss the new thing God desires to do today. Even having been effective in the kingdom in the past can work against God’s purposes if it is an excuse for us to climb into the grandstand and become a spectator.

And, of course, only God can say, “I Am.” All the rest of us must use a present progressive, “I am becoming”—becoming who God made us to be.

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Not Betrayed

This last week I have been haunted by some Bible verses that warn against betraying our children.  In Psalm 73 Asaph speaks candidly about how he almost stumbled because he envied the prosperity of the wicked. He describes how they mock God and boast that God doesn’t see anything they do while he is stricken “all day long.” He wonders (v. 13) if it was for nothing that he kept his heart pure.

However, in verse 15 the psalmist steps back and looks as what he has been saying:

If I had said, “I will speak thus,” behold, I should have betrayed the generation of  Thy children. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of the God; then I perceived their end. (NASB)

When he contemplates the final judgment of the wicked by God, the psalmist realizes how foolish it is to envy the wicked. However, what has dogged me is word “betrayed” and the possibility that I could speak in ways that betray the next generation of God’s children.

From this Psalm, it is clear that bitterness is one way the old and gray betray the next generation. If we have grown disappointed in life and bitter about our failures or the unkindness of others, we teach the next generation God cannot be trusted. There is often no difference between anger at life and anger at God. Many who are old have had hopes dashed and hearts wounded and been infected with bitterness that poisons those around them.

However, our testimony must always be that we who hope in God will not be disappointed no matter how many ways the world and life lets us down. We can be honest about how others have wounded us, but we must have a clear testimony of how God has healed us. Every scar on our heart must testify to how God gave us grace to forgive those who hurt us.

A related way we can betray the next generation is through bitterness toward God’s people—the Church. I have seen this betrayal in action when parents criticize pastors and gossip about others in the church constantly. They then act surprised when their teens drift away from God and eventually start families where God has no place. The love and unity of God’s people is supposed to be the evidence that will convince the world that Jesus really was the Messiah sent by God (John 17:21). Complaining and criticizing others in the church is a sustained argument against the truth of the gospel. It is betrayal of our children. Like the Pharisees, not only did we not enter into the joy of God’s kingdom, we kept our children and grandchildren from entering too.

A third kind of betrayal is subtler. It is simply silence. It could be that we never mention what God has done because we have compartmentalized our life and shoved God into a religious box that has little to do with our actual life. It could be that social pressures have made mentioning God impolite or a sensitive issue. Or maybe we are silenced by the fear of sounding preachy or the knowledge that our own walk with God has been erratic and imperfect. But certainly, being silent about a source of strength, hope, love, and eternal life is just as much a betrayal as the bitter words we might speak.

The last kind of betrayal has, I think, hit epidemic proportions. It is kind of betrayal that even now is trying to seduce my heart.  It is simply settling—settling for a faith that is tame and discipleship that is safe. It is being content to talk about the great things God did in the past, but having no expectation He will do them today. It is telling stories about how we took risks for God in the past, but playing it safe today. It is shifting my focus from God’s purposes to my comfort. It is abandoning a holy discontent that cries out for more of God’s power, more of His presence, and more of his holiness.

So what should we be doing and saying to avoid betraying our children and grandchildren? Other Psalms help answer this. In Psalm 71:17 the psalmist speaks as one who is aging:

O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; and I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come. (NASB)

The psalmist asks that he not die until he can tell the next generation about the mighty things God has done. This declaring is not just what we say, but also what we allow God to do through us as we yield to him. We want God’s strength and power to be revealed in us. I want the things I choose, the risks I take, and sacrifices I make to reveal God’s power to my children and grandchildren. So I need to live full of the Holy Spirit and daily go deeper in God so that his goodness and power is revealed in me.

Psalm 78:5-7 is even more specific about how one generation should speak to the next:

For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments. (NASB)

I know the phrase “testimony in Jacob” refers to all God did for Israel, but the story of my life is also a story of God’s faithfulness. I am asking God to establish a testimony in Mark. I believe that in the story arc of my life, God and I have not yet written the climax together. I am not sure why this happens as we age, but we can easily become full of fear. Certainly, failing health can bring fear. It may be we have seen more and therefore have more to fear. Whatever the case, God calls us to continue to live fearlessly and let our life declare that God can be trusted. We are called to be the reason the next generations have confidence in God.

I have been blessed with a mother and father who did not betray me. During the summer before he died of cancer, Dad sat across the kitchen table from me and said the thing he regretted most was not seeing a genuine revival—an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He was still praying for one. Although wounded, almost mortally it seemed, by the church, Mom and Dad never poisoned their children against God’s people. They never betrayed us with any bitterness.

After Dad died, Mom lived another 23 years faithfully serving in the church, praying for her children and grandchildren, interceding for revival. I had a pastor, Wayne Harmon, who died of a heart attack before he could retire a second time. He never stopped seeking for a way to reach the city for Christ. My older brother, Larry, is still loving the church and seeking more of God’s kingdom.  I know many more, like my friends Wes Adams and John David Hicks, who are still seeking more of God and an outpouring of His Spirit on Church. Although old and gray, they have not betrayed this generation. They have not been silent. Nor have they settled. Neither will I.

 

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