Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The God Who Wants Your Children

The people of God have always struggled with building a multi-generational faith on the experiences of a few people.

"Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt ..." (Deut 11:2-3).

To our knowledge, Jacob's sons saw nothing like Jacob's vision. That was it until Moses. The generation of the Exodus saw many mighty works of God; their children less so. And their children saw few if any miracles until the time of Christ.

So how were the children of Israel to pass on their faith?

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth" (Deut 11:18-21).

Fix these words ... in your heart and mind
This chapter, like the whole book of Deuteronomy, says again and again "carefully observe all these commands I am giving you." First and foremost, your children need to see you following the word of God. Let them see it in action, see how it permeates your life.

Some Jews literally tie symbols on their hands and foreheads to remind them of the Law. Like the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets so popular twenty years ago, the idea is to be reminded to live out what you believe. People say that character is caught more than taught; the Bible agrees. Your children will believe what you say only when it is also what you do.

Teach them to your children
But don't assume they'll "catch" the faith. Teach it to them, too. Surround them with it. Talk about what we believe and why. Often.

This particular passage doesn't mention telling them the stories of days gone by explicitly (though "these words" may include Genesis and Exodus and surely includes the beginning of Deuteronomy which recounts some of God's mighty acts). However Jewish society was built around the great feasts that remembered God's works (eg, Deut 16), and there were other reminders as well (eg, Josh 4).

For Christians, our "Passover" is obviously the cross and the resurrection. Our kids need to know that it really happened and why it matters. And then they need to know what difference it's supposed to make in our lives.

If your kids are like mine, this will be both easy and hard. Kids ask lots of questions. Sometimes it seems like they'll never stop. But Christianity can get lost in all the noise in their heads and lives. Some of their friends aren't Christians; some are "Christians" in name only. This seems unimportant at times; it seems mean at times. It can get crowded out by sports and friends and by Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. And they may wonder why the stories about Moses and Jesus are true but the stories about Hercules and Harry Potter are not. And we have to be able to steer them through that.

If we completely give up, Christianity will march on because God will always have his people. But I really believe God wants your children. And you want him to have them, too. So make sure they see and hear the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Easter: No Fooling

This year Easter will fall on April 1. I can't wait to hear the skeptics cluck about how appropriate it is for Easter to be April Fools' Day. Those ancient rubes thought miracles were everywhere, so of course it was easy to convince them a guy rose from the dead, but we're smarter, more discerning. There's no reason for us to believe some silly story made up to fake a religion.

Unless all of that is wrong.

Dead People Don't Do That
Ancient people did believe in miracles. They did believe the gods could act upon the world. Except for this: They didn't believe in resurrection (ie, someone being permanently returned from the dead).

As NT Wright has ably shown, ancient pagans universally believed that resurrection did not happen. Not only that, they thought it was a heinous idea. They didn't want to be resurrected. Matter (and therefore the body) was evil, and people were lucky that death could free them from that.

Some ancient Jews did believe in a bodily resurrection but with one caveat: There would be one mass resurrection at the end of time. The idea of one person being resurrected was a nonsense.

The Christian idea of a special resurrection for Christ was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles," if I may borrow a phrase.

It was even nonsense to the first Christians. Jesus first appeared to a group of his female followers who reported to the Twelve. "But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Luke 24:11).

Even after the other Apostles had seen the Lord, Thomas wouldn't believe until he saw it with his own eyes, nay, touched it with his own hands (John 20:24-28).

After the Twelve and even a great mass of disciples had seen the risen Christ, some still doubted (Matt 28:17). Even though they'd seen it with their own eyes, it was hard to believe something so contrary to everything they'd been taught, everything they knew.

Eye Witnesses
When they spread this story around the world, they did so with a very clear, "I was there, I saw it."

"For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1).

If people didn't believe, they were told "he appeared to more than five hundred ... most of whom are still living" (1 Cor 15:6), feel free to check it out.

Not Simple Rubes
They were certainly less educated people than we are today, but they were not idiots. They knew the resurrection was too fantastic. But then they saw it with their own eyes, touched it with their own hands. And they told their stories to people who judged them trustworthy and left their stories to us.

It is an incredible story. But it is a story no one would make up.

Because this incredible story is true, we can have hope. Hope for forgiveness, for peace, for life everlasting in the house of a God who loves us as his own children.