Live For The Moment: 5 Moments That Every Father Should Live For

Last year we went on a family vacation to one of our favorite beaches.  We stayed at a quiet place way down the beach, away from where all the action is.  It’s more family friendly that way, but sometimes we venture down where the action is for dinner.  We happened to be there last year during spring break, and it was very crowded where the action was. One particular thing caught my attention; everywhere I looked there were t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and various other items with the letters YOLO plastered on them.  I asked a kid I saw what it meant, and he laughed at me.  So I did what any self-respecting man in his mid thirties does when trying to figure out what the kids are up to these days…I Googled it.  Turns out that YOLO means, “You Only Live Once”.  A predictably popular slogan for spring breakers grasping for a justification to do whatever they wanted.  I saw the appeal, but here’s the problem:

YOLO is a lie.

You don’t only live once.  You live everyday.  True, we aren’t promised tomorrow, so we should make the most of today.  But it’s probably a good idea to make the most of today in a way that doesn’t put tomorrow in serious jeopardy.  Just a thought.

Everyday is composed of moments that come and go.  It’s true that Jesus has called us to live  life to the fullest.  Life in Christ is rich and meaningful.  The Bible describes it as abundant life.  But this is not a justification to make as many reckless choices as possible in the shortest amount of time.  This is a call to find lasting joy in living for the deeper things in life, not to seek fleeting entertainment the shallow things.

As a Dad, part of my God given responsibility is to help my family find joy in the more significant moments of life.  Sometimes that means recognizing and seizing certain moments and making them significant.  We must not just “take life as it comes”, we must come to life and take it for the glory of God and the benefit of our families.

Here are 5 moments that every Father should live for:

Teaching Moments

Teaching moments come all the time.  Rarely do they come with a 2 minute warning so that you can be ready.  Taking advantage of teaching moments requires thoughtful preparation.  If you haven’t thought through what you want to teach your family, you won’t recognize the moments when opportunity strikes.  Spend time in the scriptures and reading books that inspire intentional parenting and discipleship.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will make you sensitive to teaching moments.  Often, dads miss out on teaching opportunities because they look a lot like hard work.  Pouring your heart into your family on a daily basis isn’t easy, but things that are eternally meaningful rarely are.

Serving Moments

Being a man of God doesn’t mean having a family that serves and worships you.  It means sacrificially serving them.  In a display of God’s grace, often sacrificial service will inspire your family to honor you, but that’s not the point.  Jesus set the example for us as a sacrificial servant; not only washing his disciple’s feet (he considered anyone who did the will of God to be family: Mark 3), but by serving them all the way to the cross.  Look for moments when you can display Christ’s sacrificial love to your family by putting their needs and joys first.  Model it, then humbly teach it.  Create a culture of selflessness and others-centeredness in your home, not a culture of selfishness.

Comforting Moments

There will be moments in your family’s life when the brokenness of the world crashes in, and the people you love are hurting.  The Bible teaches us that God is near to the brokenhearted.  We model our Heavenly Father’s love when we compassionately care for our families in times of pain.  If there are people in your house who are hurting and you are not making your presence felt as a comforter, stop reading this article and go do what needs to be done.  Ask God to help you see the hurts of your family with His compassionate eyes, and show his strength by being there for them.

Worship Moments

clouds

Yesterday I was walking into the grocery store and I was struck by the beauty of the evening sky and an approaching thunderstorm.  I stood there for a while and worshiped in quiet appreciation.  Then I took a picture, found this scripture and went home to share my experience with my family.  “He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” Psalm 135:7 Perhaps the moment will come as God miraculously meets a need in your life.  Perhaps the worship moment comes through a song on the radio, or a word of wisdom from a friend.  Marvel at God in your heart, but share the wonder with your family… make the most of it.

Blessing Moments

Determine in your heart that you will regularly, and often, communicate to your family how they are a blessing from God to you.  Thoughtfully express to each person, individually, how they bless your life.  Let them feel the joy they bring you.  It may take some effort and courage, but the alternative is having a family that never knows how much they mean to you.  Young people treat themselves carelessly because they don’t feel valuable.  Wives struggle to feel confident because husbands don’t make the effort to show them their great worth.  I try to tell my children on a regular basis that they are my treasures.  I treat them with thoughtful care because they are worth so much to me.  My hope and belief is that they will grow to see themselves as people of great worth and value, and make life choices accordingly.  Interestingly, the more we teach our families what a blessing they are to us, the more of a blessing we are to them.  Parents should strive to be a blessing to their children at all stages of life, and children should likewise always seek to honor their parents.  Be a blessing, and leave it to God to inspire them to honor you as you have honored your Heavenly Father.

Missing the Point of Marriage

As I have read articles outlining the current debates about marriage, and seen my friends’ comments on Facebook and Twitter I have felt a growing concern that we are all missing the point. I’m certainly not saying that I get the point and no one else does, but I am saying that I feel burdened that there is a deeper, more meaningful discussion about marriage that hasn’t happened yet. My goal here is to share a few of the thoughts that are on my heart in such a way that a respectful, and more meaningful dialogue might be encouraged.

As a minister, I have been privileged to officiate in a few weddings. In each, I have been reminded that there are two sides to the coin of marriage. A great deal of time and energy is invested in the ceremony itself. The minister shares a word about the importance of marriage. Vows are made before God and witnesses. Rings are exchanged. All are physical expressions and symbols of spiritual significance. And at some point after the service the couple will sign the marriage license. This however is not of spiritual significance. It’s of legal significance, and even though the wedding may be over, the couple will not be married in the eyes of the law without it.

One of the problems in our public dialogue about marriage is that we are not all talking about the same issue. We’re talking about the same coin, but some are concerned about the legal side and others are motivated by the spiritual. In many cases neither side understands the other. Some are trying to argue for the legal side by using spiritual language. Some argue for the spiritual side using legal language. Neither approach is very effective and both sides end up feeling misunderstood and threatened.

Too often, Christians appear more calloused, narrow-minded, and judgmental than anything else. The motivation is to defend the spiritual significance of a sacred institution, but the problem is that most don’t understand that spiritual significance enough to be persuasive; and so they default to attempts at legal logic. Pride gets involved, people feel threatened, and pretty soon more people are hurt than heard. It’s hard work to dig into God’s Word and discipline ourselves to thoughtfully and compassionately engage people with love. Instead, we abandon the value of any spiritual perspective, and allow the issue to be reduced to one of legal and logical reasoning. It’s like a doctor trying to talk his patient into getting heart surgery by discussing his insurance coverage, rather than his physical concerns.

I am not going to attempt to make a legal/logical case for traditional or biblical marriage. There is plenty to be read on that perspective in other places. I am concerned with the spiritual significance of marriage. Marriage is a complex and compelling display of God’s nature and love for mankind.

Christians ought to advocate a biblical understanding of the gospel more than anything else. The truth is that if we understood marriage correctly, our public debate about marriage would be more about the beauty of the gospel than anything else.

I truly believe that Christians ought to advocate a biblical understanding of the gospel more than anything else. Too often we fancy ourselves making forays into the world of law and politics, driven by morals and values alone. Of course Christians have a place in politics, law, and in every field of work. However we must remember that there is no such thing as moral or ethical issue apart from the gospel. For the Christian, everything is about the gospel. If I am passionate about an issue because of moral and ethical concerns, it should be because I am persuaded that by expressing my position I can show a broken and hurting world the grace of God. I might also aspire to offer solutions that display God’s priority of justice or that solve problems which individuals cannot solve for themselves. In this way the love of Jesus is the solution which we apply to the problems of the world. Such is the case with the issue of marriage. If we fail to make the case for a biblical understanding of marriage by telling the world about how much Jesus loves people, then we have lost sight of our most precious priority.

The Apostle Pauls explains in Ephesians 5,

22-24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

29-33 No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.” The Message

The message of marriage is that in ordaining this mysterious bond between a man and a woman, God is teaching us something about how much Jesus loves people. In living out the sacrificial service of the husband, and experiencing the paradox of strength and submission in a wife; we become intimately aware of the nature of God and the radical love of our Savior. What is more, when men and women live out this mandate faithfully, we demonstrate the love of Jesus to the world. This is not political activism or legal maneuvering. It is not even promoting Christian culture. It is nothing short of evangelism.

Marriage does not matter because it is an ancient tradition to be honored. The significance of marriage between a man and woman is not a that it is a notion the Bible puts forth to oppose gay people. Such simplified suggestions are indeed narrow minded and calloused. The Biblical model of marriage matters because it is a beautiful display of the love of Jesus Christ.

Tim Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage, writes “It is the message that what husbands should do for their wives is what Jesus did to bring us into union with himself. And what was that? Jesus gave himself up for us. Jesus the Son, though equal with the Father, gave up his glory and took on our human nature (Philippians 2:5). But further, he willingly went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, removing our guilt and condemnation, so that we could be united with him (Romans 6:5) and take on his nature (2 Peter 1:4). He gave up his glory and power and became a servant. He died to his own interests and looked to our needs and interests instead (Romans 15:1-3). Jesus’ sacrificial service to us has brought us into a deep union with him, and he with us. And that, Paul says, is the key not only to understanding marriage, but to living it.” (p.46)

If one is only concerned with the legal side of the marriage coin then this spiritual reasoning will make little sense. But I believe that the message of the gospel is compelling and that through it God speaks to the hearts of mankind. Like Jesus, it can be denied or embraced but it cannot be ignored. As Christians, we can afford to let the beauty of the gospel, on display in marriage, speak for itself. What we cannot afford, is to make a case for marriage that leaves the gospel out entirely.

It’s OK to talk to these strangers, they’re Wisemen.

Bible illustration c.1900

Image via Wikipedia

Some parental instructions are pretty obvious. “Don’t talk to strangers!”  It’s a common sense warning.  Our kids have picked up on that one pretty quick.  Then there are those variations on the obvious instructions that may not occur to you unless circumstances dictate.  The stranger isn’t talking to your child, their trying to give them food.  That’s right, food.  So you repeat the obvious instructions, and add the new variation.  “And of all things, don’t EVER take CANDY from a stranger!”  It would be funny if it didn’t really happen.  A few days ago we were leaving church, and a friendly man my daughter did not know came up to her and offered a candy cane.  Like all 3 year olds who have been taught well, she hesitated to take the candy.  She shied away from the harmless gentlemen and looked at us with that “I don’t know this dude but I sure would like that candy cane.  Is it OK?”  look.  We nodded permission, and she happily received the gift.  Some principles of parenting transcend time, place, and culture.  I bet “Don’t talk to strangers!” is one of them.

I want to call your attention to what I imagine was a profound moment in the life of baby Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph.

Church tradition, and a careful reading of the scriptures lead us to believe that The Magi, or the wise men were not present at the manger that night when the shepherds arrived to see the newly born Jesus.  Most scholars and church historians believe Jesus may have been as old as 2 when the Magi arrived with their extravagant gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  We tend to refer to “3” wise men because 3 gifts are specifically mentioned in scripture.  The Eastern Orthodox church tradition is that there were twelve distinguished foreigners.  These were also not simply “wise” men, or philosophers.  They were royalty.  They were kings from the east, most likely Babylon, or modern-day Iraq.  Kings don’t travel alone.  They were most likely a part of a large caravan, and the gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, were more than likely not given in small quantities either.  After all, they traveled to Bethlehem following a singularly spectacular astronomical event, which they believed was a sign that the King of the Jews had been born.

Using your scripture enhanced imagination, envision this moment unfolding.  The toddler Jesus is at home, playing outside in the warm sun.  His mother Mary, not far away keeps a watchful eye over her precious son.  Perhaps Joseph is away at work building something to provide for his family’s needs.  Or perhaps he is there, sitting in the grass, talking with Mary and enjoying the sound of his son’s laughter.  In either case, it becomes impossible to ignore the sounds of the large caravan drawing near to their residence.  It becomes clear that the distinguished looking foreigners are not passing by, they have come to Joseph and Mary’s home.  Their faces filled with wonder, the visitors move toward the small family bearing precious gifts which are intended as offerings to a King.

This is where the universal principle of “Don’t talk to strangers!” may have kicked in.  And this is the moment I want to point you to.  The child Jesus may have shied away from the strangers with extravagant gifts, bowing down before him.  Perhaps the entire caravan dismounted and knelt to the ground as their masters paid homage to the child.  Mary and Joseph knew who their son was.  They knew He was more than just the King of the Jews.  They remembered the angel’s pronouncements that this was God’s Son.  Mary adds another moment to her heart’s treasury which she would ponder over the years.

And so as the din of the caravan grows reverently silent, and the dignitaries have extended their beautiful gifts, the child Jesus looks to his parents for guidance and permission as to what to do.   In awe, Mary and Joseph nod their blessing.  “Go ahead Jesus, you deserve these gifts and their worship.  Go ahead baby.  You deserve all this and more.”  In the still, a smile plays across the face of the little boy.  A smile plays across the face of God.

The Black Cloth

To me, one of the most beautiful expressions of the resurrection is a simple piece of cloth draped on a cross.  The sight of it, if we slow down long enough to see it, displays a deep truth that our souls long to know.

Timothy Keller gives a brilliant lecture on J.R.R. Tolkien sharing his faith by discussing  how the Gospel speaks to men’s deepest longings.  In it, he argues that the kinds of stories mankind returns to over and over again are stories which depict a love that is eternal,  a love without parting,  a love that overcomes death, and good utterly destroying evil.  All the great stories we love are stories about victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, and sacrificial heroism that brings life out of certain death. Tolkien points out that these are deep human longings.  These longings are woven into the fabric of our souls.  He says that human beings know at the fact level that people do have to die.  That evil often triumphs.  We know that, no matter how much you love someone, eventually you’re going to have to lose them, or that they’re going to lose you.  This is realism.  This is what modern thought tells us is the only reasonable way to look at the world.  We live, we hurt more than we’re happy, and we die.  End of story.  And yet underneath, all human beings feel that there shouldn’t be death.  We feel that we’re not meant to die.  We’re not meant to lose our loved ones.  Good should be triumphing over evil.  

Mankind was created in the image of God, and though marred by sin, we long for the things of God.  We long for reality to be what God intended it to be without the destructive presence of sin.  We long for perfect fellowship with God, unbroken by rebellion and without struggle.  We long to love and fear no loss or parting.  We long to wake up to the reality of life and find that death was only a bad dream.  We long for justice. 

And then, there it is.  That purple cloth draped on a cross for some weeks leading up to Easter.  It’s actually the liturgical color of violet that represents expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Then, on “Good Friday” the violet cloth comes down, and it is replaced by a cloth which represents death.  A black cloth. 

This is the moment when the realist points out the unreasonableness of hope.  Jesus did, after all, die.  His body was broken and did not withstand the punishment of the cross. He was taken from the cross and laid in a borrowed grave.  The religious leaders convinced the Romans to place a massive boulder at the tomb’s entrance.  His disciples cowered in fear and gave up hope.  The wisdom of the world would say that this is inevitably where all stories end.  The blackness of death. 

But then, no one cares for that kind of story.  This isn’t the kind of tale we tell ourselves in order to be touched down deep where inspiration happens.  There is that pesky longing again.  We long for what seems impossible.

I was privileged last year to preach an Easter sunrise service.  In the darkness of early morning I drove past our church, with its cross shrouded in black, and my head and heart were full of resurrection hope.  And then a thought occurred to me.  That black cloth needs to come down.  He’s alive and a black cloth is entirely wrong and inappropriate.  I pulled over, and walked back to the cross.  I was surprised by the surge of emotion I felt.  My eyes filled with tears as I ripped the black cloth of death from the cross.  It was my solemn pleasure.  Where there certainly had been death, there now is life.  Later that morning a white cloth of victory and new life found its place on the cross.

Those simple pieces of cloth had told the story.  Not just any story, but THE story.  Jesus’ story.  My story. 

Tolkien says so truthfully that, “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true [than the story of Jesus], and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.  To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.”  On Fairy Stories

There is a reason Jesus’ story moves us on so many levels.  It’s true.  It’s everything we hope for and need to be true.  When I pulled that black cloth off of the cross, I pulled it off of my heart as well. 

This Easter morning, the cloth of death will be pulled from crosses all over the world.  My prayer is that it will fall from your heart as well.  May the story of Jesus also become your story.  Doesn’t your soul long for it?

“The War on Christmas”

In the car on the way to a large retail store you hear on the radio that there seems to be a trend this holiday season that has many Christians unsettled.  It appears that there are numerous stores and communities which are removing the phrase “Merry Christmas” from their signage and customer greetings this…Christmas.  You roll your eyes and mumble something about political correctness…but in your heart there rises a tremor of indignation.  They can’t take Christ out of Christmas.  How dare they.

You shop for a while and, because you heard the news report, notice that there are indeed no signs that say “Merry Christmas”, but the “Happy Holidays” phrase is everywhere.  That tremor of indignation evolves into a rumble of self-righteousness.  This pagan culture is trying to ignore the baby in the manger, or so the thoughts go.  As you check out you’ve been simmering for a while.  Your pulse is quick and for the moment you feel that you are on the front lines of a culture war, the lone defender of the true meaning of Christmas.  As the 19-year-old cashier hands you your receipt she utters the words you have been bracing yourself against, as if they were a personal threat.  “Happy Holidays”, she says with what you are sure is a patronizing smile.  And you react.  “Merry Christmas”, you spit at her.  Take that!  I will not be robbed of the significance of my savior’s birth!

While this may seem funny, it’s real.  It is happening every day.  Pastors are mounting crusades to publicly shame retailers who “leave Christ out of Christmas”.  Sunday School teachers warn of the culture’s threatening intentions regarding this sacred holiday.  From pulpits, articles, and pamphlets to Fox News, the finger has been pointed.  Conspiracy theorist Christians are all up in arms.  We have all been warned, there is a war against Christmas.

And when Christians decide that they will take up arms and fight this war, they make a mistake far worse than those few who really might want to leave Christ out of the holiday.

We are not loyal to Christ by being rude and mean to those who would leave Him out of Christmas.

Sometimes I wonder if those who seem most threatened by this trend feel more of a fierce loyalty to Christmas or to Christ.  In “setting the pagans straight” for leaving Christ out of Christmas, some are leaving the love out of Christ.

For those of you keeping score at home, that is a whole lot worse than someone who is far away from God acting like someone who is far away from God.

It is always fascinating to me how shocked and offended Christians can be when people who don’t know God act like people who don’t know God.  What did you expect?  The kid whose parents are divorced and is working at that retail store to help pay the light bill because her now single mother has cancer…the one who just checked your $200 worth of stocking stuffers out and is wondering how she might buy her baby brother a new pair of shoes…the one who constantly gets judged by Christians like you instead of loved and helped…did you expect her to cherish that baby in the manger you just used as a weapon against her?

1 Corinthians 13 has a nice reminder for us, ” If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

So the next time we get tempted to be culture warriors defending Christmas, may we remember that graciousness is more loyal to Christ than gracelessness.

Jesus never shamed anyone into following himself.  Why should we?

Happy Holidays.

Never forget that you’re unique…just like everyone else.

 

We had fries the other day for dinner.  That wasn’t all we had, but I ate a lot of them.  We also had chicken fingers from Zaxby’s. (Yay Zaxby’s!)  At some point during the meal I decided to try and convince my 6-year-old son who hates ketchup to try it with his fries.  This hasn’t worked in the past, but I’m the kind of father that loves to share good things with his children and I am committed to expanding his horizons.  It’s my job.  My 2-year-old is a real ketchup enthusiast.  She dips all kinds of things in it, pancakes, biscuits, chips at the mexican restraunt.  She’s not picky. 

So on this particular evening I brought it up very casually.  “This ketchup really is good tonight.  I don’t think I’ve ever had it taste this good with my fries.”  Nice and subtle.  “What do you think bud, wanna try one with some ketchup?”  His reply came without hesitation.  He lifted his eyes to meet mine and with a mouth full of imperfect fries he said thickly, “Nope.”  Denial.  He didn’t even think about it.  This kind of narrow-mindedness bothers me, and I responded rather childishly, I admit.  “C’mon man, everybody in the world eats fries and ketchup!”  Not my finest moment.

But his response earned my respect.  He took a sip of his juice box and washed down the dry fries, looking at me thoughtfully.  (I was inclined to argue how easily one can swallow fries that have been baptized in ketchup, but I digressed.)  His serious look had me intrigued.  “Well”, he said “that would make them all very ordinary.  Who wants to be ordinary?” 

“Well.”, was all I could manage for a few moments.  I had not anticipated this line of argument.  What could I say?  He was right.  I had led him down the “everybody else is doing it” path, and he saw straight through it.  I almost expected him to ask me “if the rest of the world jumped off the roof into a pool of ketchup would you do it too?”  (an interesting idea)  But he didn’t.  (Thank goodness.)

I will never seek to influence him in the area of ketchup and fries again.  I yield to his sense of confidence and independence.  I am actually very proud of him for thinking of things in this way. He is certainly not an ordinary 6-year-old.

The truth is that none of us is ordinary, even though we may see ourselves as such.  We may choose to behave in ordinary ways, turn in ordinary work, treat others with ordinary consideration, etc.  But we are all unique.  We all have qualities about us that separate us from anyone else.  I believe, and the scriptures teach, that God created each of us with value and distinction that is entirely our own.  I have value to God that no one else shares.  You have value to God that no one else shares.  That’s why it means so much to believe that God loves us.  Not only the plural “us”, but the singular “you”.  God loves you.  God loves you deeply and uniquely, because there is no one else like you.  So why consider yourself  ordinary?  Why act ordinary?  Why turn in ordinary work?  Why treat others as ordinary? 

Indeed, why eat food in an ordinary way?  (Though I cringe at where that might lead some of you.)  I’ve decided to take the advice of my son and avoid the ordinary.   God has loved us with an extraordinary love, and it is my prayer that we respond by reflecting his creativity and passion in the way we live our lives.

deep thoughts from the shallow end

Last Sunday evening I preached a sermon on The Fairness and Mercy of God.  Books and books have been written on this subject, and nuances of the issue have been floating around in my head all week.  I felt I needed to work some more of it out in writing so I made the following notes and thought I would post them.  Even added to my comments of last week, I don’t touch the complexity of God’s sovereignty and human sin.  But the conversation continues…

God does discipline those He loves.  But He disciplines in fair ways that are just and not vindictive.  I don’t believe He would break your car axle to teach you patience.  He may give you grace to become more patient as you deal with a broken axle, but that’s different than Him breaking it because you prayed to become more patient.  I don’t believe God gives people cancer because they were rude and abusive in years past or something like that.  The result of all sin is ultimately death.  We all live in a fallen world that is suffering the effects of sin, and diseases such as cancer are evidence of that.  But people who love Jesus and have repented of their sin get cancer too.  We suffer the effects of sin in that today we live in a broken world.  But God is at work in this broken world redeeming us and our circumstances.  So someone who loves Jesus may get cancer and their body may die, but eternal life with Jesus is theirs. Their future victory and resurrection body which will be impervious to disease is secure.  But when someone who doesn’t know Jesus gets cancer and dies, this is the saddest of all scenarios.  Death from cancer for this individual is a consequence of  having lived in a fallen world.  The death of their soul in separation from God is their judgment for rejecting Christ.  This breaks the heart of God and should be one of the factors that drive the Christian’s passion for evangelism.

Some examples of God’s discipline or chastisement may include: suffering lack of fellowship with Him if we neglect it, broken fellowship with other believers if we are persistent in unrepentant in sin, unpleasant consequences of sin (even after repentance), physical effects of stress or depression from worry or lack of faith, struggling financially until one developes discipline and self control, etc.  Obviously this is an incomplete list, but helpful examples I hope.

(yes I am jumping around topically, but I’m just working through different aspects of the issue.)

Fact: The bible records what we would consider evils that occur as “judgments”

Fact:  God is not responsible for evil. God is sovereign.  In his infinite wisdom and foresight He uses evil that results from man’s free will and evil that results naturally from our existence in a fallen world (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc) to judge evil.  “The God of all providence uses evil to judge evil.” (Mark Driscoll, Doctrines, p.168)  But “uses” evil here does not mean that He devises evil tactics to accomplish His good purposes.  Rather He “brings redemption and resurrection into the context of judgment and death.” (Doctrines, 168)  Driscoll further adds clarity here, “evil is never outside the providential control of God.  He is at work to do His good purposes in the context of evil.” (Doctrines, 169)

I confess there are scriptural examples which I have a hard time reconciling, although I certainly accept them and celebrate their authority. These include the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, and Paul’s warning of sickness and weakness resulting from abusing The Lord’s Supper. However, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira the scriptures are clear that these two lied to God, not man, in the presence of the apostles. The establishment of the church and giving to God (as well as relating to Him) in the process was a holy effort, and God was illustrating the life and death importance of honesty and integrity in the process.  Was this a normative example of how God would judge lying in the church?  One has to weigh this incident against the rest of the New Testament and let scripture interpret scripture. The message is certainly clear that integrity matters.  And in regard to the thorn in the flesh, scripture doesn’t say that God devised an evil to afflict Paul intentionally with.  Apparently Paul was afflicted with some struggle , but God was at work using it to make him more holy.  Also in regard the the Lord’s Supper issue, Paul helpfully adds these thoughts in verse 31, 32 of 1 Corinthians 11, “But if we judged ourselves we will not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned by the world.”  We are reminded that though paranoia over judgment due to sins is not a fruit of the Spirit, it is healthy for us to examine ourselves on a regular basis in order to avoid judgment.  Judgment in this sense is best understood as discipline leading to maturity, not punishment.  J. I. Packer is helpful to me here when he says, “The safest way [in dealing with God’s sovereignty and the existence of evil] is to leave God’s permission of sin and moral [as well as natural] evil as a mystery, and to reason from the good achieved in redemption.” (Packer, Theodicy, 679)  John 9 is an example of this when Jesus responds to his disciples’ question about why a man was born blind by saying, “Don’t look for someone to blame, instead look for what God can do in this situation!” (my paraphrase)

I have been asked, “Hypothetically, could God allow a Tsunami to strike and punish a people group that was utterly sinful?” My response is that all people are utterly sinful without the righteousness of God given through Grace.  But, if God did chose to allow a Tsunami to flatten a city as judgment, He would retain all righteousness and fairness and be innocent of evil.  God is God, and while I do not see that there is overwhelming biblical precedence to believe God is selectively condemning people in this way, I do not dare presuppose to know all of His ways.  Would it be easier to simply allow that sometimes God sends cancer to punish people for wrongs in their past? Yes.  But such a belief would cause anyone who gets a bad case of the flu to be wracked with guilt for sins they have repented and been forgiven of. Is that the freedom from shame Christ died to bring us?  No! Would it be easier to simply believe that sometimes an earthquake is God punishing the wicked?  Yes.  But when the missionary who is serving faithfully loses his child in that earthquake, should he simply accept that God required the sacrifice of his child for the sins of those people?  Was the sacrifice of God’s son not enough then?  Of course it was!  God has not called us to believe what is easy and makes the most sense to our fallen views of justice.  His ways are higher than our ways. When men attempt to assign divine judgment to hurricanes that strike New Orleans or earthquakes that level Haiti as Pat Robertson did, the results are never mass repentance.  Instead it comes off as presumptuous and judgmental arrogance.  This does not bring about the godly sorrow required for repentance.

God is God, and God is good.  There is more evidence everyday…