Saturday, August 19, 2017

Modern Christians are Not Witnesses

One of the most unfortunate church-isms is the term "witnessing." It is usually used to refer to telling other people about Jesus or living a good life that makes people want to ask about our faith. You might, for example, hear a Christian say to another that they have been "witnessing" to their neighbors and inviting them to church.

The reason I say it's an unfortunate usage is not only because it's Christian jargon, and thus confusing to anyone who didn't grow up in church, but because no Christian living today is a witness. The original disciples of Christ who saw Him on earth and were there for His life, death, and resurrection were the witnesses. They actually saw those events. They witnessed them. We didn't.

We sometimes forget that not everything written in the Bible was said to us. We read the Bible looking for a special message to us, because that's what we were taught to do, when it's really an account of God's work throughout history, not necessarily a letter to us. It's for us, but it's not about us. So because of the misguided focus on ourselves, we often read a passage like Acts 1:7-8 and think it's talking about us when it's really Jesus speaking specifically to His disciples. Acts 1:7-8 "He [Jesus] said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Like witnesses at a crime scene, the apostles and earliest believers saw the events of Jesus' ministry on earth and were instructed to tell others what they had seen. They wrote down their testimony in the gospels and the other books of the New Testament and they told their stories far and wide. They then died horrific deaths for that testimony, without recanting it. They were the witnesses, and it was their testimony that made it possible for us to know what happened and to believe in Jesus.

When we tell someone about the gospel, we aren't "witnessing" to them. We're telling them what the actual witnesses said about the events they saw. We should also tell them about the evidence we have that indicates those witnesses were not making up their story, but were willing to die for it. Their deaths were not in vain, but are an important evidence of the truth of their claims. We didn't see what they saw. So, while our lives are certainly important, we aren't witnesses to the truth of Christianity because we didn't see the crucifixion or the resurrection.

We Christians today are believers. We are case-makers. We believe the witnesses who told us what happened and we believe in Christ who came to earth, died, and was resurrected to prove that He is God and can forgive our sins. We must make an evidential case to others for the reliability of the eyewitness accounts handed down to us. We also invite others to examine the testimony of those witnesses and believe as well.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Purpose of Children

The number one reason Christian couples do not want children (or want very few children) is because they do not understand the purpose of children according to the Bible.

Our culture tells us children are for self-actualization. They're what you have when you're settled, financially secure, and need something to care for in order to give you purpose and also increase your social status or to make you feel good about yourself. But if children are for self-actualization, then you wouldn't want to have one when it might be difficult or get in the way of other types of self-actualization like having money for vacations or a big house or having freedom to travel or having time to yourself now and then. You certainly wouldn't need very many of them. A single child or maybe two is plenty and having more than that would result in diminishing returns or even negative returns as the workload and expense from multiple children mounts and people start to look at you funny due to your excessive procreation.

Because of this view of children, they are often seen as burdens when they cause us stress or expense or limit our freedom, but also as commodities to be obtained when we want one. People obtain children by surrogacy or sperm donation or IVF because they feel entitled to have one as part of their pursuit of self-actualization. Their life feels incomplete without a child, so they deserve to have one by any means necessary. So even when children are wanted, it is often for selfish reasons of the parents, not because they understand the purpose of children. And when children show up when they aren't wanted, they are seen as invaders or parasites and discarded through abortion or neglected. It's all part of the same false view of children as a means to the end of parental happiness.

Even in Christian circles, we repeat the mantra that children are a blessing, but we don't always understand what that means. We adopt the culture's attitude, but Christianize it. So we're still thinking that children being a blessing means a blessing to us. When you've got a crying baby at 2:00am or you're sitting in the emergency room with your child after they took a flying leap and broke a bone or you're dealing with a difficult teenager or you're doing your 4th load of laundry for the day and your toddler wets their pants yet again, there are a lot of things on your mind, but "This is such a blessing" is probably not one of them. Children are a lot of work and a lot of expense and even a lot of heartache at times.

So what does the Bible mean when it says children are a blessing? Yes, they are certainly a blessing to their parents in many ways, but it's much more than that. Children are meant to be a blessing to the whole world. Even from an earthly perspective, a child is a future worker, innovator, consumer, and contributor to society in many ways. We need children to keep the economy and our culture thriving and to pass it on to the next generation. Having a child is an investment in the future, not just for ourselves, but for the world. More importantly, a child raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a light in a dark world, to lead others to Jesus and influence their culture for Christ. A child is a legacy to pass down a heritage of serving Christ to future generations. And perhaps most importantly, a child is an immortal soul who will live forever and is meant to praise and worship God and bring glory to our Creator. 

The purpose for children is not self-actualization of their parents. Children don't exist to make their parents feel good about themselves (which is good, because they don't always do that). Children exist to know and serve God and to be used by Him to change the world, or at least their corner of it. Having children and raising them, for a Christian, is a way of helping to bring the world into subjection to Christ and bringing more people to heaven. It's not about the parents and what makes them happy. It's about fulfilling God's plan. 

Every Christian, whether they know it or not, is on a mission to serve God. Having children is an important way of doing that because they're a way to multiply the impact and take that impact down through the years. Even for those who can't have biological children of their own, children are still important and we are all called to foster the growth of the children around us in whatever ways we can. If you can have children, have them because they're part of your mission for God to impact the world around you for many years to come. If you can't, encourage those around you who are having children and help children who need your influence in order to know and love God.

Children are worth the pain and the work and the expense many times over, but not because they make the lives of their parents so wonderful. Sometimes they do, and that's great. But let's not overlook the bigger picture. It's not about the parents. It's about implementing God's plan here on earth and populating heaven with more people to glorify God.



Friday, July 21, 2017

The Most Important Mission Field

There is a mission field that is more important than any other and it is often neglected in Christianity today. If you thought I was going to tell you all about a distant land in need of missionaries or remind us to tell our friends, neighbors, and coworkers about the gospel, you might be a little surprised. Our children are our first mission field. Those of us who have children have a number one mission from God to train and disciple our children in the ways of the Lord. We should prioritize them over every other mission field. Both men and women alike should focus on family first because our children are specifically given to us by God for training in the Christian faith. If we lose them, we have not only failed to win them as converts, but have been poor stewards of the souls God gave into our charge.

The Bible speaks of those who gain the whole world and lose their own soul. Their priorities were wrong and they lost that which was most valuable. Something similar is true of those who gain converts out there in the world but lose their own children.

This need to teach and train our own children first is evidenced in many places in scripture. In the OT, God's people were instructed to train their children at home, when they went out, and everywhere they go and in everything they do (Deut. 6). This requires not only a lot of time and effort, but it means parents have to be with their children in order to train them in the things of God. This has always been God's model for how children are to be raised by those who follow Him.

The New Testament includes the parable of the unfaithful steward (Luke 12) who did not properly care for the things entrusted to him and also speaks in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25) about the servant who did not invest what was given to him, but hid it and did nothing to bring an increase for his master. In these and other cases, the clear teaching of the Bible is that we are most responsible for those things which have been specifically entrusted to us. Of all the precious things entrusted to our care, the greatest is our children, who are specifically said in scripture to be gifts from God. If we fail in that stewardship, other gains we may have will pale in comparison. Yes, we should save the lost out there, but only after we save the ones God gave to us to train.

The need to train one's own children is also implicitly assumed in the qualifications for church leaders, who must be men with a reputation and record of not only remaining married and being self-controlled, but raising their children correctly so that they remain in the faith and are obedient to it (I Tim. 3). How can a man lead the church if he cannot lead his own wife and children properly? The clear indication is that he can't, which tells us not only that this is important, but of primary importance. The church leader must prioritize his own family so that they are properly led, before he can lead the church. And if even the church leader must prioritize his own family over the other work of the church, how much more the ordinary church member. We are all called to make our children our first mission field, with every other mission field secondary.

On top of that, women are specifically called to make their home and family their primary mission, even more so than men. Men must ensure that their children are in submission to their authority and being trained properly, but their wives are the ones who put most of the actual time and effort involved in this mission, because women are the ones called to be in the home caring for the children.

One of the major problems we have today is that too few have their family properly prioritized and they spend their time and effort everywhere but on their family. What we need is more Christian people who are teaching and training their children and building their marriages so that they can make a difference from a place of strength - a strong family that works together for God - and also be good stewards of what God has given them. This is not just about saving individual souls, though that is important, but about the intended purpose of the family to create, equip, and send out new soldiers to change the world for God. We can literally multiply our efforts to make a difference for Christ through properly trained children who continue the mission beyond us, in generations to come.