As a church this past Sunday, commemorating Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we meditated on God’s character revealed in Exodus 34:6-7 and thought on how we as God’s image bearers should reflect God’s image in a culture that celebrates the destruction of unborn image bearers in the name of choice and convenience.

As we considered how we might reflect the heart of a God who is merciful, gracious, patient, loving, faithful and forgiving, I was reminded of the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Here’s the long and short of it: In their unbelief, Abram and Sarai decided to help along God’s promise of giving them a son, concluding that it would be best to not wait for God to provide the child through Sarai, but rather to have Abram bring a child into the world through Sarai’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar. However, when their plans went as planned and Hagar became pregnant, everything fell apart. Hagar became filled with pride, exulting herself over barren Sarai, and Sarai became so filled with anger and jealousy that, under Abram’s passive eye, she treated Hagar so harshly that she was driven to the point of fleeing into the desert.

Can you see Hagar in that desert place? She is an unmarried woman who has just been driven from the only home she knows by the people who created her current situation. She is alone and cast off and now probably despising the child in her womb that seems to have created all of these problems. She didn’t ask for this, but now she has to deal with the life situation she has been thrust into. Do you see her? Scared, alone, helpless, and hopeless?

What is God’s heart towards her? How does he come to Hagar? In the words of Genesis 16:7-12, the angel of the LORD tells Hagar God’s heart, and it is this: “I see you Hagar, and I hear you.” They are words of compassion that fill the heart of this lonely and distressed woman with hope – “God? You see me? You care for me? You are going to bless me and my child? Truly I have seen him who looks after me” (v. 13).

So often we as followers of God treat people like Hagar as Sarai did – we are so harsh that we drive them away to a place of despair. But what if we came to them in tenderness, saying, “I see this terrible situation you are in. My heart breaks with you. Sit here and I will listen to your cries of distress.” It’s in so speaking and acting that we reflect the heart of our God. It is in valuing the image-of-God-bearing-mother that we can help her celebrate the image-of-God-bearing-child she is carrying. And in all of this, it is God who is seen for who he is:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

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The most significant relationships in my life are my relationship with my wife and the relationships I have with each of my children. They are significant because of their depth, but also because of the God-given responsibility tied to each of them. As a husband, I am called to love my wife as Christ has loved His Bride and to wash her with the water of the Word, so that I might present her to Christ as pure and spotless (Eph. 5:25-27). And as a father, I am called to bring my children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4); to put before them the mighty deeds of God and point them to Jesus. Beyond my own personal responsibility to my family, as a pastor I am called to be a godly example in these realms and to call husbands and fathers to rise to the challenge given us in Scripture. There is joy but also soberness tied to all of these roles in my life, and I am constantly seeking to grow in my understanding of God’s calling on my life as a man.

I recently read through Mark Driscoll’s
Pastor Dad with a member of our church and found it to be a good resource in reminding me of these responsibilities I have been given, calling me to something beyond “surviving” fatherhood. For those familiar with Driscoll’s preaching style, the book follows the same vein of blunt and pithy commentary centered on God’s Word, which makes sense, given that it is the edited transcript of a message he preached at his church. The way he teaches is not for everyone, but I usually appreciate a timely bare-knuckled gut check, and Driscoll consistently delivers that. His almost patented rebuke of young men is also present and needed. And while he leaves little room for argument, his words provide significant fodder for discussion and much encouragement towards godly fatherhood.

As I reflect on Pastor Dad, which can easily be read in one or two sittings, certain encouragements that I needed come immediately to mind:

  • Focus on the future. Scripture points us as fathers to think beyond on own children to our grandchildren, and calls us to be an example in the present so that future generations will worship the God we do. My focus is often on getting through each day, or maybe the week, but I am called to consider how what I do now will cause my grandchildren to love Jesus.
  • Read and Memorize the Proverbs. Of the Scriptures cited in this small book, I’d estimate that 90% of them are from the book of Proverbs, and there is so much wisdom to be found there! I am encouraged afresh to read and memorize portions of this book of wisdom.
  • Delight in and Enjoy Your Kids. This is the lesson that rings most clearly in my ears. Before I can correct, protect, or lead my children, I must first find joy in them. I learned during the summer that I was a camp counselor that my personality will most often err on the side of discipline rather than grace. There is certainly a place for correction, and the book is clear on that, but I recognized in reading this book that I need to intentionally enjoy the time I spend with my kids. They are a blessing, not a burden, and I need to cultivate a spirit of joy and laughter in my home.
  • Bear the Name of Father Well. Driscoll sums this up well: “One of the highest compliments anyone has ever paid me came from my daughter Ashley, who at the age of four told me, ‘I’m very lucky to have two daddies. You are my daddy and God is my daddy.’ When she said that, I was struck by the incredible privilege of sharing the very honorable title of ‘father’ with God in the mind of my little girl. When God shares his name with us, it is a sacred matter that we must take very seriously.”

So read it online or print the pdf or order a copy and be challenged by this short book. May we fathers who name the name of Christ represent our heavenly Father well in the way we lead our families.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach from Colossians 1:21-23. Paul describes who we were before Christ (v. 21) and what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Christ (v. 22). He then offers a warning in verse 23 – a warning to stay grounded in the hope of the gospel, not moved away into finding security or salvation in anything but Christ. It being Father’s Day, I sought to make a special application of verse 23 to dads, calling us as fathers to not simply look at our own sanctification and rootedness but to ask how we are striving to keep our families rooted and grounded in the truth, not moved away from the hope of the gospel. I tried to be blunt and forthright, because I think we as men like things to be as straightforward as possible, and so I said something like, “Just having children doesn’t make you a father; grounding our children in the truth of the gospel and making sure they do not drift does.”

As we sang the closing song at the end of the first service, I found myself thinking, “I gave the problem, but I offered no solutions.” Granted, we did talk about the role of faith and the active work of God in keeping us holy, blameless, and grounded, but to beat dads over the head with a rebuke and offer no concrete solutions seemed, at the very least, incomplete. With those thoughts and some feedback from my wife, I moved on to the second service and strived to keep the force of the application, but to be a little more encouraging and to offer some practical solutions.

If you, like me, feel called to be a father who grounds his children in the hope of the gospel but aren’t sure where to start, here are some ideas for both fathers and mothers. I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject, nor do I want to communicate legalism (i.e. you and your children should never watch television or listen to non-Christian music, the only book you are allowed to enjoy is the Bible, etc.), but I just want us to be proactive. If we don’t ground the next generation, they will drift. Taking Paul’s warning in Colossians 1:23 seriously means we will do something; here are my thoughts:

  1. Read God’s Word together as a family

    Maybe at the dinner table, maybe in the morning, maybe before bed – whatever works for your family’s schedule, but everyone should be present. Yes, easier said than done, but worth the effort. And this isn’t an in-depth Bible study – just read!

  2. Pray together

    At meals, before bed, before leaving for work, before going on any car trip. Make it a routine to praise God and seek his help and guidance. Pray for your kids, pray for others, pray for the church.

  3. Listen to gospel-centered music

    Some of this is surely preference, but I love Passion and Sovereign Grace. I’ve heard great stuff about Seeds as well – that’s more kid-focused.

  4. Memorize Scripture

    (Simply imagine me looking guilty – I don’t do this like I should!)

  5. Read God-centered books to your kids

    I’ll take suggestions!

  6. Be the driving force behind your family’s church attendance

    Make it your goal, barring extreme circumstances, to never send your family to church while you stay at home – consider the message it sends

  7. Follow up on their Sunday School lesson

    Ask them what they learned. Look at their take-home paper, and take some of the suggestions for parents if they are offered on the paper.

  8. Have them serve others with you

    In the church, outside of the church, and in every area of life. Show them how being a Christian is something that takes over every aspect of life.

  9. Monitor what they watch and listen to and how much media they take in

    We are to ground our kids in the truth, and also keep them from being drawn away from the truth. What is shaking the foundation of God’s truth in your child’s life? What contrary messages are they hearing? What are you doing to correct false messages or guard them from them? Surely there is a tension between sheltering them and allowing them too much freedom… still learning!

  10. Model

    Surely this is the key, and probably the backdrop to everything listed above. If I let my children see how the hope of the gospel has changed me, how it influences everything I do, how I am striving to be grounded in it, then they will see its value and hold to it. What do our kids see us doing? Are we in God’s Word? Are we devoted to prayer? What’s on the radio and in the stereo? What do our kids find us watching on TV? What books are on our shelves? How do we respond to the stresses of life? What is our attitude towards church? Do we love others as a result of our love for God, or is it just legalism.

These are far from earth-shattering suggestions, and doing them without modeling a heart transformed by such practices will have the opposite effect. Kids will sniff out our hypocrisy. But are we as parents doing these things and others? Are we being transformed by the gospel? If not, how can we be sure our children are being grounded in the truth and not drawn away?

So, what are your ideas? These are from the perspective of a father of a toddler and an infant – the list is far from exhaustive or creative!

A few days ago my wife pointed out that we have been married with children longer than without – Elaine turned three yesterday, and our 6th wedding anniversary won’t be until September 1st. I have vague recollections of those days of virtually carefree living before children. For the first 3 months of our marriage I was the only one working, and at Starbucks for that matter. Our entire relationship had been long-distance, so we soaked in the time together. When Andrea began work in January, life got a little busier, and when I started Seminary in the fall, we learned to value our downtime together even more. Having a child wasn’t on our radar screen – how could we make time for that amidst our busy lives? We knew we wanted kids, but not until things slowed down. Then, amidst the start of my second year of schooling, we found out we were having a baby.

It’s funny how children define your life even before they are born. The budget finally became something to seriously stick to, and our once spacious apartment began to feel slightly cramped. Even our definition of what it meant for life to be busy was shattered.

Marriage and children are gifts from God and have probably been the greatest means of making me more like Christ, second only to Scripture. Joining my life with my wife’s was a tangible step in helping me see more clearly that the world doesn’t revolve around me, though my immature mind probably simply pulled her into the center of the universe with me. Sure, theologically and philosophically I would have said that all things are created for God’s glory, as are my wife and I, but more often than not I functionally placed myself and my wife (probably in that order) above the glory of God. Sadly, I’m still prey to the same trap. Having Elaine 3 years ago and Lena last August have both been strong pushes on my ego, sending it further from the center of the earth’s rotation.

The removal of me from the center, though, should not result in the placing of my wife or children there, causing me to simply focus on their wants or even needs. Surely I have a responsibility to provide for my family and seek their happiness, but allowing my life to be focused wholly on them is the wrong approach. My wife and children are gifts, and the danger with such immense gifts is to exalt them above the Giver. God has not blessed me with an amazing wife and two beautiful little girls so that I will exalt them, but so that I will exalt Him, the Giver of all good gifts. The point of God gracing me with such breathtaking gifts is not so I worship them, but so that I worship Him.

In fact, my family should point me toward the greatest gift: the gift of salvation through Jesus. All other gifts are the fruit of that priceless and completely undeserved gift, the greatest example of a gift that glorifies the Giver, not the totally unworthy recipient.

I mentioned in my last post that our family has begun reading the Bible together each day. My previous thought concerning “Family Devotions” was that they were something I would need to prepare a lesson for, or that I would at least need to have some deep insight to convey to the captive audience of my wife and children. I have since realized that the attention span of a two-year old is… short, and that my wife and I are able to share our own insights in a more casual manner throughout the day, as opposed to during a formal “lesson.”

So here’s how our family devotions have been going: Elaine “reads” from her Bible. (Today’s selection was as follows: “Jesus sneezed. “God bless you.'” The Trinitarian implications are mind-boggling.) After that, Andrea and I take turns reading paragraphs from one chapter of a selected book – we are currently in Luke. Elaine takes her second turn of reading, and then we all pray. It’s so simple, but I see how God can use such a simple thing to help me recognize my role as a spiritual leader in my home and the responsibility Andrea and I have to raise kids in a way that honors God. And Elaine has caught on fast; in the past two days, she has been the one reminding us that we haven’t read our Bibles yet. The other nice thing is that visitors can join in. We had Andrea’s family in town this past week, and her sister was able to jump right in with us.

All in all, family devotions have turned out to be much less daunting than I had previously conceived. I am praying that we will remain faithful to this simple yet profound practice; if Elaine has anything to do with it, we will.

In Isaiah 3:1-4, God declares that he will take away the leaders from Israel, such that the people will make children their rulers. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that God later gives the sign of a virgin having a child to be named Immanuel as the sign of the destruction of the Aram-Israel alliance (7:1). Even more ironic are Isaiah’s words in 9:6-7, stating that God himself would make a child their leader. Yet, unlike the children chosen in 3:9, this Child would accomplish everything the leaders of Israel and Judah could not. He would be a wonderful counselor to the people, their mighty God, their eternal Father, and a bringer of ultimate peace. Also unlike previous kings, even the greatly revered David, this Child’s rule would never end – this peaceful and perfect kingdom was going to last forever. Surely this promise was a comfort to the faithful remnant as they watched kings rise and fall along with their kingdoms. They had hope that One was coming to finally bring peace, justice, and righteousness forever.

My take-aways:

  1. God is the master of turning apparently horrible and foolish things into good. In the incarnation of Christ, He would take a child born amidst scandal and make Him the ruler all had been waiting for. The world, of course, rejected Him and only mocked Him as a king, but God would use even His death to accomplish salvation for His children. I can trust Him when things are ugly or just confusing, knowing that he makes all things new and good.
  2. Peace, justice, and righteousness will never come through an earthly government. We may get glimpses of such things in current kingdoms, but until Christ returns, we will never know them fully and for all eternity. And when such a kingdom does arise, it will not be through our own working (politics, grassroots campaigns, democracy, etc.); Isaiah says, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” In other words, the promise of this perfect rule is completely contingent upon God Himself, so when it happens, He alone will receive the glory. Such thoughts should bring comfort, confidence, peace, and joy to my life, as it surely did to the faithful of Isaiah’s day. When those attitudes are part of my life, I am living out kingdom principles until the ultimate establishment of the kingdom. Surely more could be said about how peace, justice, and righteousness have been brought about through Jesus’ first advent, and will be seen worldwide in His second, but I’m getting in over my head now…. I need to think some more. Help is welcomed.