3 Bad Things Happen When We Oversimplify Scripture

I am obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton.”

I’m late to this bandwagon – I know.  Even Miranda has cut his ponytail and moved on, but too bad.  I am struck anew at phrases from his musical that come at me as biblical life lessons.  Like George Washington’s reply to Hamilton’s idea of dying like a martyr, “Dying is easy, young man.  Living is harder.”

We get it.  Not the dying part, which we know is hard, but the living part, which is regularly more than most of us can get our heads around.

Believers have been known to tackle the complicated task of living life by tossing everybody’s thoughts to later.  Heaven!  Just you wait!

The problem is, “just you wait” is a bit of an oversimplification & not really how the story of Scripture goes.  The afterlife does have a big storyline in Scripture, but it is set against a backdrop of a lot to do and think and see and experience about God while living right now.

Oversimplifying the Bible is nothing new.  However, I’ve noticed, it makes the hard task of living life just a little bit…worse.

PROBLEM #1 WITH OVERSIMPLIFYING SCRIPTURE: IT SWITCHES A SCRIPTURE THAT IS DIRECTED AT BELIEVERS TO A RUNNING DIATRIBE DIRECTED AT A NEBULOUS CULPRIT CALLED “THE WORLD.”

That is not to say we are to conform to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2).  The God of Scripture endorses righteous behavior, but that often looks funny.  Like forefather Judah, who got his comeuppance when his daughter-in-law, Tamar, was brave and shoved it in his face that he’d been a narcissistic hypocrite and she wasn’t going to take it lying down.

Judah’s response?

 

*this article was written for a new site called “The Rising.” See the rest of the article here!

3 Reasons Christians Must Engage the World (Not Run From It)

Once upon a time, someone, somewhere, started a rumor among Christian church circles that sounded like this: separate from other people. After that, separate more. Then, pull back a little bit further.

Rumors are problematic like that. Even if they start from a nugget of truth, (like Paul paraphrasing Isaiah’s call to “depart, depart!” 2 Cor 6:17, Is 52:11), rumors flatten a 3-dimensional message of meaning into a one-dimensional message of…not the same meaning.

Scripture don’t play that way.

Sure, sure, we know that walking (and sometimes running, and sometimes hurling) ourselves away from a bad situation is a good thing to do (Eze 18:31).

Paul and Isaiah would have known that too, since at the time that Isaiah was calling for believers to “depart” he was facing a disaster. Believers were breaking up with God and following not-God substitutes. However, the “depart” part of that equation was cloaked in another long-term assignment from God called: engage.

Engage with believers and unbelievers both. Engage with like-minded and unlike-minded. Engage the culture and this current generation (Gal 2:11-13, Jer 29:1-9, Gal 6:10, 1 Cor 9:20-22).

Why? Because disengaging isn’t the same as “departing.” Also, engaging allows God to do something we didn’t expect.

Reason #1 Christians can’t quit the real world: It doesn’t show loyalty to God. Not like we think.

True loyalty to God manifests as loyalty to His creation, not least of which: humans. He doesn’t give up on them. He asks us to do the same.

Just as He did with Isaiah and after Isaiah, Jeremiah, who said, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…for in its welfare you will have welfare.” (Jer 29:7) At that time, the nation of Israel represented everybody who believed in Yahweh; a rich faith cultivated through a motley crew of forbearers like Jacob and also those who were not ancestors of Jacob, like Moabite hero Ruth.

It wasn’t a lineage of blood. It was a lineage of belief. They made up the nation of Israel for one reason: they believed God was who He said He was.

Enter Jeremiah and the nation of Israel was in a world of hurt for one reason: they had stopped believing. Kinda. Sometimes they still believed and then again not and sometimes they threw in faux gods for good measure. They were a mess. Meanwhile, bad-guy kings were capturing them, yanking them out of their homes and transplanting them to far away non-believing lands.

That’s where God lobbed it on them. Engage. “Build houses and live in them…multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city…and pray to the Lord on its behalf…” (Jer 29:5-8)

Famous Bible favorite, Daniel, lived out this idea by taking Jeremiah’s words to heart. He learned the stuff of the city and joined their ranks (Dan 1:20, Dan 5:29). He negotiated one step at a time to stay true to God, even while deeply engaging the culture around him (Dan 1:8, Dan 6:4).

That, my friends, is known as not going to be easy!

Engaging sounds beautiful, but let’s do get real here and I particularly shall because I have a 14-year-old daughter whom I pray engagingly believes, but I pray too that that girl engagingly behaves. At 14, life gets real real and I’m not afraid to erect a fortress of only-think-like-me people around her.

Except. In a world where we Christians are reminding the culture that they cannot rewrite Scripture to fit their whims, neither can I. God’s directive is that the church protect and build a loyalty to Him even while engaging the world, otherwise we miss growing into the selves that God calls us to be – which brings us to reason #2.

Reason #2 Christians can’t quit the real world: We need them. The unbelievers. The not-like-us. “…In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27) They bear an image of God and if God’s church heads for the hills, we’ll miss it.

Elijah got this. He headed for the hills. Literally. (1 Kings 19:3) But God told Elijah to stop crying about being the only believer left in all the land, and told him that God still had plans and recommended unbelieving pagan King Hazael to Elijah’s attention because that guy could help.

Abraham understood this concept too, like when God made it clear to Abraham that selling Sarah like his sister was a problem and enlisted the help of unbelieving Pharaoh to get Abraham out of it. Then, three pages later, God enlisted the help of unbelieving Abimelech when Abraham decided to sell Sarah like his sister again.

In order to do what God wants done, we need everybody, believers and unbelievers both.

That sounds nuanced. That sounds precise and agile at the same time. Mainly, that sounds like a lot of work to figure out, especially for someone like me who is looking for one-dimensional answers because I’m fearful and overwhelmed and would’ve definitely written this script another, safer way. Which is a good segue to reason #3.

Reason #3 Christians can’t quit the real world: The real world is not “out there.” The real world is us. We tend to forget that we are our own biggest hurdle to overcome. We play a recurring toddler tune of, “I do it myself! I do it my way!”

It’s what got Adam and Eve so fixated on a piece of fruit after God introduced all the garden’s wondrous wonderful then threw in a “P.S., Don’t touch that one thing over there.”

After which, that’s all we want. That stupid piece of fruit is all we see. We are four year-olds in search of a loophole on how we can boss with abandon. Even though being left to run our lives on our own is the saddest thing, really.

We need God so much. We need all of Him. He reports in Scripture that we see Him in each other. True, also in the Word. True, also in our personal experience a la the Holy Spirit. True, also with clear boundaries and running away from revelry. True, we need all that truth to buttress the not-Him happening all around us.

We especially need truth to buttress the not-Him we nourish within ourselves, which is really what Paul was paraphrasing from Isaiah with his, “Depart, depart!” God was calling Isaiah’s crew to depart from…themselves.

“Return to me,” He said. Over and over and over. Depart from yourself and return to the Creator who knows you most, wants you most, loves you most (Zechariah 1:3, Malachi 3:7, Hos 14:1-2).

He wishes we would.

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Janelle Alberts writes pithy pieces that usually feature a bit of Scripture you’ve never heard, but wish you had. Knowing things like even Noah got tipsy & embarrassed his kids can help a girl rally to the end of the day. Find out more about Alberts here.

 

Two Reasons Jesus Made Water Into Wine For MOMS

 

You don’t have to watch many Real Housewives reunions to know that too much of a good thing can be a problem. Case in point: wine, and the fact that these women might fight less if they all stopped drinking so much.

That revelation puts panic in my system because I love me a good Chardonnay.

All of which has me reconsidering Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine. It’s a curious first move, no?

If my fifth grade son were writing a book report on the matter, he’d have to mention that the very substantive Jesus character puts His first miracle muscle behind…a party. Isn’t that odd? My 11 year-old dodges these book report chats with me by using this line, “We don’t have to get it mom; we just have to report it.”

For moms, therein lies the rub.

We are not reporters. Our job is to actually get stuff, so we can pass it on to our littles. Isn’t it just like God to throw in a miracle that a mom first has to get and then pass on to…herself.

Reason #1 Jesus’ first miracle was for MOMS: Too much of a good thing was always a problem; Jesus made wine anyway.

We moms stink at nuance. If one thing needs ousting, we tend to toss…it all! If one thing needs reconsideration, we tend to reevaluate…it all!

“It all” is a problem for us.

We often function less like free-in-Jesus believers and more like moral lawyers who wrestle a good gift from God down to formulaic submission. Then along comes Jesus who shoves a miracle like this right in our faces. He leaves us no choice but to break up a bit with the legalism in all of us.

Like a pal of mine, who once said to me, as a way to play down the actual winemaking in Jesus’ first miracle, “You know they drank wine only because water back then was so bad.”

Okaaaay, but Jesus didn’t decide then to turn water into better water. The wine? It was on purpose. Jesus was not a guy known for imprecision.

True, it wasn’t for everybody, like John the Baptist who never “took wine or strong drink,” (advice Real Housewives cast members could take to heart).

However, wine was for some, like Timothy, whom Paul told to “Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illness.” (Luke 1:15, 1 Timothy 5:23). Beyond that, it was for lots of wonderful times to be had by all. Like at a wedding.

Reason #2 Jesus’ first miracle was for MOMS: It wasn’t to numb a problem; it was to continue a celebration.

Jesus’ first miracle applauds celebration – laughter, love, saved-the-best-for-last kind of celebration and joy.

Which should be an easy thing for moms to wrap our heads around since what got us the title of “Momma” in the first place starts with “bundle of” and concludes with joy, joy, JOY.

Right?

Kinda.

The fact of the matter is that the needs and wants of our cherubs can be mind numbingly repetitive and heart seizing erratic at the same time. Also, there are breakfast dishes. Also, client meetings conflict with track meets, and contemporaries run businesses better than us and run marathons more than us and also, bake.

We’re told the “joy of the Lord is our strength.” If joy is what reinforces our strength, then the source from whence joy originates better not be another something we moms need to drum up ourselves. A girl can only do so much through act of will.

Nobody gets that clearer than Jesus. So much so that when He started His whole ministry with a nod towards celebration, He took it upon Himself to bring to the table a concrete contribution to make that happen.

So, if the Real Housewives franchise shines a light on over imbibing as the enemy of civil discourse, so too does an inaugural wine miracle shine a light on the importance of celebration to the God of Scriptures – and His willingness to do something about it.

We moms are soldiering through best as we can. It’s nice to know from Jesus’ first miracle that we need not wear a refrain-from-fun face (since, turns out, stoicism does not solve what we think). At the same time, we are not pressured to fake happiness. Life with God is not for sissies. We get it.

Despite that, maybe in light of that, celebration matters to this God. So much so, that He kicked off His ministry on earth letting the world know He’s the kind of God who brings to the table something worth celebrating.

That’s a book report character that a mom can get behind. That, plus, when invited to a wedding at 30ish years on, who did Jesus ask to come with Him?

His momma. Good on you, Jesus. Good on you.

 

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Two Ways “Hamilton” Rattled My Faith

I’m late to jump on the Hamilton bandwagon.

Even Lin-Manuel Miranda has cut his ponytail and moved on.  I’m only now obsessively memorizing the musical’s every word – several of which have surprised me by, oddly, confronting my perception of the Old Testament God.

Hamilton Faith Hit #1: Its depiction of King George, whom I want no one ever to compare to the Old Testament God, because, well… I did.

In the musical, King George croons to his rebelling revolutionaries that, “You’ll be back.  Soon you’ll see. You’ll remember you belong to me.”

After that, King George takes it up a notch with, “’Cause when push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family…to remind you of my love.”

I hate to admit how many folks think this pretty much sums up the vengeful pre-Jesus God that is depicted in Hebrew Scripture, known as the Old Testament.

So some say.  So some think.

So…do I?

I would have to say a sheepish, “Kinda,” except that recently, with a crew of clever pals, I dug into the Hebrew Scriptures anew, where what to my wondering eyes should appear but a different God than I thought lived in those chapters.

What fills the many pages before baby Jesus was found lying in a manger?

Turns out, forgiveness.  Affection.  A God who wanted humans to receive His love, hear His voice.

Christians get the impression that everything that came before Jesus was heavy on law, light on personal affection and without individual interaction with God.

Wrong.

In Hamilton, Miranda created a caricature of King George, grounded in sound evidence that he had copiously read.

Many of us create a caricature of the Old Testament God, by reading – what’s the opposite of copiously?  Actually, what’s the opposite of read?

The Hebrew Scripture God behaved in ways that are hard to read, wherein we tend to just…not.  However, if we’re trying to paint the Old Testament God with a King George brush, that will be a problem too, since we’ll stumble over statements like God telling Jeremiah, “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” (Jer 31:34)

Forgiveness?  Reconciliation?

Yes.  It happens over and over with the God of the Hebrew Scriptures who said, “I have more than enough burnt offerings…” (Isaiah 1:11&13) and longed for a relationship with a human race that He loves very, very much.

Put like that, it sounds simple.

Alas, it isn’t.

Nothing real ever is.  We are complex beings.  What we desire vs. what actually nourishes us is often at odds, and the God whose image we bear can likewise appear a mass of contradictions.  It’s hard to resolutely keep hope in a contradictory cause alive.

However, Hamilton managed to.

Hamilton Faith Hit #2: Hamilton’s high view of independence.

A trendy church phrase these days is to have a “high view of Scripture.”  What I’m noticing is that that will have to come with a high tolerance for the tension between what is and what we wish would be.

Miranda’s Hamilton grasped this “high view” concept, at least applied to democracy, when he asked Aaron Burr to defend the baby brand new American Constitution.

Burr: “The Constitution’s a mess.”

Hamilton: “So it needs Amendments.”

Burr: “It’s full of contradictions.”

Hamilton: “So is independence.”

Is it ever.  However, Miranda’s Hamilton carried a high enough view of independence to slog though the emotionalism of what one wishes about a thing to stay and stand and see what is true about a thing.

What is true about the Hebrew Scripture God is His reaction to people breaking up with Him.  He holds them accountable and simultaneously longs to reconcile with them through – and this is the kicker –His own expense.

Let’s face it, the Scriptures are one ego blow after another to God.  When God created humans with free will and in His image, what He wished for must have looked different than what is.

What is, is a God who repeatedly puts Himself in a position in which He is vulnerable to people rejecting Him.

What is, is a several millennia-long storyline in which lots and lots and lots of people…did.  Still do.

Wherein, Miranda’s King George and Scripture’s King of Kings part ways.  Because God keeps coming for the human race anyway, persisting such that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9), devising ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him (2 Sam 14:14).

It’s up to believers to get to know the Old Testament God just a little bit better than we have been doing in recent days.  Misunderstanding the early pages of Scripture undermines keeping it real in later pages of Scripture.

Miranda mastered this when serving up to us a brilliantly simple understanding of Alexander Hamilton without flattening a three dimensional, complex man into a one-dimensional, oversimplified one.  Miranda kept it real.

We can do the same for the God of Hebrew Scriptures by cleanly bearing witness to a complex, three-dimensional God.

After all, what kind of God can bear up under that kind of honest evaluation?

One that’s real.

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Janelle Alberts writes pithy pieces that usually feature a bit of Scripture you’ve never heard, but wish you had. Knowing things like even Noah got tipsy & embarrassed his kids can help a girl rally to the end of the day. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership. Find out more about Alberts here.

Two Boosts for Really Bad Moms

Not long ago, I made a bad decision bringing my good daughter to a scary movie.

My daughter’s 14 and I thought she could handle it. She could not. At least, she should not. I mean, just, no.

I am a woman of faith, so one would think I’d be a better mom. There’s the rub, because, full confession, this was kinda my best effort.

I actually read the reviews on this thing. It was based on a book that I didn’t read, but I thought the premise dissed the stuff I want my daughter to reject and deployed some girl power, so, good on that. Plus I asked a friend (who’s discerning, protective, you know – a good mom) her thoughts and she said, “Yes, go.” In fact, she came along! And brought her daughter!

Alas. The whole experience taught me an important lesson about my faith. It is not for my worst days (although, yeah, it is); it’s primarily for my best days, because running full throttle at my best self, scores about a B-. That’s an average. That means that any given day my best is just bad.

Wherein a woman of faith grabs that faith by the neck and, embarrassed, squeezes it for answers.

Mine came in the form of Noah. He’s a good guy from Scriptures who builds a boat when he’s supposed to, then sails that boat when he’s supposed to, then docks that boat when he’s supposed to.

Then, he gets drunk.

We all know Jesus’ first miracle is turning water into wine so no problem on a bit of imbibing of course, but Noah became an embarrassment to – this makes me cringe – his kids.

I get it. I was an embarrassment to my daughter that night at the movie. I tried bumbling her off to our car quick before anyone saw us (which did not work at all). My throat was tight with “If this is my best my kids are in trouble.”

My face is red now just thinking about it.

Noah’s story, however, has a different finale. In Noah’s story, his kids covered for him. Well, one kid made fun of him, but the other two actually literally covered him (naked wasted did not originate this century, turns out).

My daughter’s too young to cover for me. That’s fine, Noah’s finale was less about a kid cover and more about bearing witness to raw questions like, in the face of embarrassment, what good is a faith anyway? In fact, what good is a parent anyway?

Turns out, a cover.

Bad Mom Boost #1: Faith is not for shame. It is for covering our vulnerable places until we can shake off the shame and get back to doing a job well done.

Of course, that’s not an invitation to excuse sloppy behavior. The Author of Noah’s story does not excuse Noah.

The Author covers for Noah.

How? In Noah’s case, it was through two good kids. In my case, it was through a few quite healing conversations that I don’t have to write about because I’m lucky enough not to have all my personal business splashed across chapter nine of the first book of the Bible like Noah did.

The “how” will be a personal, concrete kindness from the God of our faith, just as it was personal between Noah and the God of the Scriptures. This will only ultimately be helpful to our kiddos if we, in fact, receive it.

Bad Mom Boost #2: We parents can allow ourselves permission to receive personal, concrete covers. In fact, we better receive them, because we’re teaching our kids how to receive them when they feel embarrassed, behave embarrassingly, etc. etc. etc.

We are teaching them how to respond to shame.

They can count on us to be parents who know: shame happens. Sometimes it happens when you’ve actually put your very best foot forward. In fact, it’ll keep happening so gird your loins on getting used to dealing with it in a healthy way.

While our kids’ faith is still under construction, they can look to us to cover as parents can, which, we admit, will be about a B-, on a good day.

Embarrassing.

However, our embarrassments are training ground to show our kids how to get on with our best, even among our bad. Our embarrassments also force us to dig into our own faith, and catch salty finales like Noah’s cover story. These rarely make the mainstream sermon circuit and yet they balm our embarrassed hearts in the most loving way.

That makes a bad mom think she just might stand a chance, since at her very worst best, Someone’s still got her back.

 

Easter: Good for the Neighborhood

For 33 years, Mr. Fred McFeely Rogers sweetly sang about being a good neighbor.

He encouraged kids that a good neighbor meant being true to their special little selves and also that they should be nice.

A lovely sentiment.

However, in real life, neighborly “nice” isn’t always reciprocated, and also being ourselves by living out a me, myself and I, can have the bad ripple effect of crushing you, yourself and yours, in the process.

Take Steve Jobs for example. His self-drive is the reason we can order takeout, check the news and listen to music a la the same personal, charmingly sleek, handheld device.

Inarguably good for the neighborhood. But. Some feelings were hurt along the way.

One of the team members who spent gruelingly long hours helping Jobs build the first Macintosh computer said, “I lost my wife in that process. I lost my children.” Of Jobs, he said, “His was a life well and fully lived, even if it was a bit expensive for those of us who were close…”

Good for the neighborhood? Depends on the neighbor.

Therein lies the rub. Mister Rogers and Steve Jobs cared about personal individuality contributing to the good of the neighborhood – one through decency and one through drive – two seemingly opposing sentiments that force us to choose.

Except, say Christians, for God.

Christians tell the world that God can marry neighborly decency and drive both, because it was God who planted the drive in your created self and also God who calls for decency to the neighbors whom He loves as much as He loves yourself.

Find that hard to reconcile? You’re in good company. So did David.

David was an Old Testament superstar whose drive saved lives and whose decency built lifelong friendships.

But, feelings were hurt along the way.

David started out with an ironclad sense of neighborliness. How do we know? Goliath. Enormous and shouting daily from a hilltop that he was coming for the Israelites, Goliath was decidedly not good for the neighborhood.

David, while professing the Lord would handle everything, picked up a stone. In fact, he picked up five. In fact, he first had to refuse the king’s offer for a bronze helmet and armor and whatnot. David handled Goliath his own way.

He embodied Mister Rogers’ decency and Steve Jobs’ drive and both of their mantras of “I gotta be me!”

David also knew God would have to do the heavy lifting. Every step that David took against Goliath was influenced by his trust in something outside of him.

 

Which is a little more Steve Jobs than you might think. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward…,” Jobs said. “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

 

Today’s generation faces lots of options on who and how to trust what’s best for the neighborhood. David’s life reflects a simple message: choose carefully.

 

Because David is a great character study in choosing God until he really, really, really…didn’t want to. In which case, David chose his own gut instead, to the tune of adultery, betrayal, murder.

Philosophers have passed down an idea that nothing is absolute, but in a neighborhood there is at least one: hurt. We know when something absolutely hurts. And we know when it is because of somebody else’s gut choice that feeds the self, but not the neighborhood.

Which circles us back to where we began.

Our “gotta be me!” better be a “me” that runs its moral plumb line, well, along an actual plumb line. And here the record scratches. Because what neighborhood is going to all together agree on what that plumb line should be?

There is a little-known saying that reads, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.”

It is referring to love.

It would have to be. It couldn’t be talking about most excellent self-decency or excellent self-drive or excellent self anything. As Mister Rogers’ decency and Steve Jobs’ drive and King David’s waffling between the two exhibits, being a contribute-to-the-neighborhood kind of excellent self is a moving target.

Sometimes our drive knocks down our decency. Other times, we use decency as an excuse to abandon our drive.

Sometimes we just pick the wrong five smooth stones.

It’s hard to be good for the neighborhood. It is contingent on our expression of self being buttressed against something solid.

Like love.

How do the Scriptures say that you can uniquely love your neighbor as yourself in a most excellent way?

We can’t. Unless, while we imperfectly navigate the expression of the very drive and decency that keep a neighborhood going, we can somehow pay the expense for inevitable hurt feelings along the way. Somebody’s got to absorb that cost.

We don’t have that power.

However, Scriptures claim that we and the whole neighborhood are loved by a God who does.

How can we know if that’s true? Even for Bible elites like David, the answer was little more than, “You’re about to find out.” He knows you might doubt, might deny, might have been hurt and do not plan to try it His about-to-find-out way again.

But, this Easter season, He wishes you would.

3 Easter Basics Most Kids Don’t Know (But Should)

 

Easter is about Jesus. No doubt about it.

The idea of God breaking Himself into pieces in order to reunite people to Him is, well, rather radical. It’s a lot to take in. However, the process of patching things up with people started a lot earlier in the Scriptures than most of our kiddos realize.

Our question this chocolate-bunnies-in-the-basket season is: have we actually covered the Easter basics with our shorties?

Basic #1 – God has always been bridging the gap to reunite people to Him.

The mindset of, “I would like to be boss of myself – um, except when I need a hand,” kicked off in the Bible around page two. And which of the Bible heroes were guilty of it after that?

Most of the big ones. A lot of the minor ones. Actually, pretty much everybody.

That’s not how God wanted things to go. People rejecting or separating from God? “That is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him.” (2 Sam 14:14)

Redemption has been going on for a long, long time. So has the problem it faces.

Basic #2 – You are a glorious, wonderful, beautiful, bit of a problem.

Our kiddos should regularly hear from us refrains like this: you are great! You’re wonderful!

But, like your ancestors of yore, you want to be boss of yourself.

That stands to reason because our kids are made in the image of a Creator who expresses unreservedly and lives under no one’s authority but His own.

But nobody on earth is any good at living that way. Our kiddos mistake that for freedom, but it isn’t. It is independence, maybe, but it is a certain kind of independence that blocks intimacy. An absence of intimacy is not free living. In fact, that throws a wrench into…just about everything.

Just ask Abraham.

In the midst of Abraham’s life trajectory in which he was responding wonderfully to God and then even more wonderfully to God and then even more wonderfully still, Abraham erratically yanked back control over his life and tried to pawn off Sarah as his sister in order to save his own hide.

No judgment, because, you know, tough times and all, but baaaaaaaaad decision, brother Abraham. (Genesis 12:10-20)

God’s response was to make a covenant that set in motion Easter in ways our kids rarely hear told through pastel pictorials.

The story is weird, but it goes like this. Abraham fell asleep (kinda) after laying out pieces of animal flesh (gross, but he was making a deal with God. Actually God was making a deal with him, as in, let me be your God and watch what happens next). The animal flesh was the ritual of the day in which the weaker party would walk through the pieces, agreeing, “If I break my promise to you, I’ll get broken to bits like these pieces right here.”

Yet, instead of Abraham walking through the pieces, God shot his lightning bolt through on Abraham’s behalf. (Genesis 15:9-21)

Which is to say, if Abraham disloyally took the place of God in his own life again, God would break Himself up over reconciling the cost of such a thing.

Nice. Who would do anything to untether from that kind of monumentally intimate demonstration of true love?

Actually, Abraham, since the next page he tried to pawn off Sarah as his sister again.

So, yes, kids! Amazing. Look, look, look at amazing you! Go forth and be you. The world awaits and will be all the better because of you!

Except for the times when it isn’t. Who is going to cover for that?

According to the Scriptures, I AM. (John 8: 56-59)

Basic #3 – “I AM” still is and always will be.

What started with Abraham’s God saying let me cut myself into pieces to cover when YOU break covenant with ME, comes to fruition in Jesus.

How?

The Jesus portion of the show includes a lot of extra bits, but the biggest of all is this: if being broken on our behalf was a big deal in Abraham’s Act 1, then just wait until our kiddos get a glimpse of the explosive Jesus finale after that called: resurrection.

Resurrection.

This God, willing to break to pieces on our kiddos’ behalf, likewise has the juice to defeat what’s causing all that breaking into pieces in the first place.

Wherein, we exit the basics.

We are moving into territory here that needs explanations, most of which we struggle with precisely, but we do have some. It is in walking this out, thinking it through and, oddly, messing it up that we get a grip on the gap, the bridge and the rolled away stone that takes the sting out of the worst of the worst of the worst possible things.

Breaking pieces is horrible. The other side is resurrection. Who is making such an odd system work together for good?

The God of Scripture says, “I Am,” if you give Him a chance.

He wishes you would.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

 

Regaining Trust in…Trust

*originally appeared in Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership

Sometimes when my family should be Norman Rockwell-ing it over an old-fashioned board game, we are instead hovered around an Apple TV episode of “Dance Moms: Season Two.”

It is a car-crash-esque pileup of five moms watching their seven daughters cower before one dance teacher named Abby Lee Miller, who yells sporadically at everyone.

The moms are at the mercy of the not-so-benevolent dictatorship of Abby Lee for one reason: She wins. A lot. She turns their daughters into winning dancers. Who cry. Who stuff their feelings and wear confused fake smiles. Who feel the whiplash of love then wrath of Abby Lee at every dance competition.

Latching on to a leader whose affection unpredictably comes and goes is confusing.

Just ask Gideon.

Gideon hit the Bible scene after the Israelites had been sprung from Egypt (with the help of God), survived a stiff-necked wandering in the desert (with the help of God), dispossessed the bad guys and finally scored the Promised Land (with the help of God), and enjoyed years of peace, glorious peace (thanks to God)!

Then they blew off God.

Their world came crashing in, and seven years into a crushingly oppressed and lonely time, God visited Gideon. An angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6).

And Gideon, in one of the most under-excited-to-see-God moments in Bible history, wondered aloud: God? Where have you been?

Gideon takes some hits in church circles for this seemingly whiny response. I mean, God’s here! Be glad!

But God didn’t treat him that way. Here was a man who had heard stories about God’s benevolent leadership and love, but where had God been all this time when Gideon needed him?

Absent.

If you have read the backstory, you know it was not God who left the Israelites, but the Israelites who had left God. God said, “You have not listened to me” (Judges 6:10).

Leaders like it when you listen to them. Even in the “Dance Moms” scenario, Abby Lee Miller is constantly hollering, “Listen to me!”

And really, they should, if they want to win.

In Gideon’s case, he didn’t know how to win. He had heard about God; now he was seeing something he thought might be God. But life had been rough. He did not trust what was right in front of him.

“Don’t go away…” Gideon said to God, as Gideon prepped an offering for him (Judges 6:18).

God had already told Gideon he was mighty. He had already told Gideon he had a job to do. He had already told Gideon, “I will be with you” and the Midianites were going down.

But still, Gideon did not know what he could trust God would do.

God could have justifiably gotten smoking mad at Gideon with an accusing “You’re not listening to me!” However, it’s one thing to be obstinate, but another thing altogether to be unsure.

This is a God who cares about that difference.

Gideon was hearing God say great things, but Gideon did not know if God would actually do the greatest thing of all.

Stay.

Wherein we register that the God of this Bible has a much greater mission than demonstrating his greatness. His mission is demonstrating his love. His greatest challenge was getting the people of the Bible to buy that.

In Gideon’s case, that was about to change.

“Don’t go away…” Gideon said to God. “And the Lord said, ‘I will stay here until you return’” (Judges 6:18).

Then he did a lot more than that.

So commenced a bit of fire that lit up a little meat and unleavened bread. There was later a bit of fleece and then later a big barley loaf in the middle of someone else’s dream.

Over and over, God reinforced Gideon’s confidence in the predictability of God’s love. His leadership. His commitment. His plans to stay. His personal affection for Gideon as a person and for people as a whole.

For a God who had already demonstrated his character all the way over to owing not one more kind gesture, he…did a lot of them anyway.

So Gideon could see how great God was?

So Gideon could see how trustworthy God was.

If the Israelites hadn’t listened before, Gideon was listening now. Intently. What transpired was a monumentally triumphant turn of events for Gideon and his people. Also, Gideon came to believe that the hiding place of God’s word was a place he could trust.

Trust is a funny thing. It is a fleeting thing. It is fragile, unimaginably personal, and the constant rebirthing of its integrity is a reinforcing joist upon which a relationship is borne. You want predictable?

In the face of unsureness, Abby Lee Miller predictably and consistently tells her dancers and their moms the same thing: “Save your tears for your pillow in your room.”

God’s predictable refrain? Bring your tears to me. God says it over and over and over. “Return to me and I will return to you.”

He wishes you would.

Two Boundaries That Build a Better Kid

Some lines from the Bible are just sad.

One line that gets me every time is buried in a little-read section of 1 Kings and it’s about King David being a bad dad.

King David’s grown son, Adonijah, was acting up. He started pulling lowball moves in a cocky effort to thwart David’s wishes about the throne.

The reader reasonably dislikes this Adonijah character right away, except for one thing. The Author includes this line, “His father had never interfered with him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’” (1 Kings 1:6).

That word “interfered” is from the Hebrew word `atsab. It means to fashion, to form, to grieve.

Grieve? Nobody wants to be grieved – unless it’s a grief that leads to formation, which connotes more than what once was.

Not so for Adonijah. No fashioning. No forming or grieving for him. Without that, how does a kid stand a chance?

Which brings us to boundary number one.

Boundary #1: “Interfere” with your kids’ freedom.

Our kids like the idea of freedom.

Of course they would. They were born in the image of a Creator who expresses unreservedly and designs elaborately and loves with abandon and lives under no one’s authority but His own.

But nobody on earth is any good at living that way.

That’s what the reader is left to presume about the character Adonijah. The absence of authority served him less like freedom and more like an absence of love. He grew into an underdeveloped, unkind adult whose lack of boundaries hurt him and everybody else. These behaviors were his to own, but the Author makes a point about a parent who neglected to do what needed to be done at the time it bore doing.

That’s sad.

It also seems obvious. We’re the parents. We have to discipline our kids. We get it.

Yet, the word `atsab is richer than mere discipline. The context of the line suggests a grief that grows a kid into the good stuff. It sounds great! It also sounds like we should know how to do that.

Most of us do not know how to do that.

We have read (skimmed) gobs of books and blogs on disciplining our kids. Still, most of us manage little more than running trial and error plays on our kiddos, as we figure things out along the way.

We so longingly do not want to get this wrong.

Wherein the Bible delivers its repeating not-in-the-business-of-perfect-but-rather-in-the-business-of-personal theme. Trial and error was not the chastised part of David and Adonijah’s storyline – the neglecting part was. And if the Author thought David, neglectful though he was, was capable of parenting, then so are we.

As we progress through our trial and erring, we can lift a line straight from that Adonijah story to use in our own. Which takes us to boundary number two.

Boundary #2: Ask your kid, “Why are you doing that?”

Our kiddos need not be their own “Why do I do what I do?” sort of 1-800 answer hotlines. How could they anyway? Even we parents who have been at this for decades barely know why we do most of what we do.

However, we should try.

As the Author of Adonijah indicates, it’s important to know ourselves.
We parents see in each of our kiddos unique temperaments, special circumstances, distinct cultural favors we must train them to appreciate and disadvantages we must prepare them to compensate for.

Our kids need to see that stuff too. Getting to the “why?” of a thing is a gateway to turning that thing around. It helps kiddos wrestle through which of their predispositions must go and which should be watered, nurtured, grown.

It isn’t an exact science (we hate that). These are our kids! We don’t want to break them by pushing too hard. Meanwhile, we do not want to raise up a generation of Adonijah’s by interfering too little.

So, we proceed like every parent in the history of parents before us: one step at a time.

We fight the panic of looking like a bad parent (we’re amateurs – face it and onward anyway). We humbly evaluate the kiddo who vulnerably stands before us, and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. We then step out with caution and determination and love and a willingness to ask for forgiveness when we do it wrong.

We `atsab, with an eye on David, that wonderful king with a heart for God, a biblical hero who was still imperfectly human like any one of us.

Yes, some lines from the Bible are just sad. But we can learn from those lines to fortify our families with boundaries that show our love.

All that plus one more thing: we can be kind to the Adonijah’s of our current generation. It’s tough, soldiering on without an `atsab childhood, especially since we Bible readers know that even the best of kings get the parenting business wrong some of the time.

The Author of the Bible tells us so.

Kiddos do not stay little for long.

Even when they’re young and still ours to hold, they begin maturing away from us one small step at a time.

Boys notice girls. Girls notice boys.

We parents give them The Talk. Which, as it turns out, is the easy part.

The hard part is the talking and talking and talking after that, because while mechanics are one thing, relationships are another. We parents have been at relationships for decades, which has helped us do one thing: take the ironclad guidance we planned to pass on to our kiddos and accidentally prove most of it wrong.

Wherein, we dust off our Bibles and hope to spot somebody with more wisdom on this subject than the tried and not-so-true platitudes that we’d rather not see our kiddos repeat.

Somebody like Hannah.

Hannah was an Old Testament Jewish woman who could not conceive. However, she determined to pray and pray and pray for a child anyway.

And her husband respected her wishes.

So begins our first relationship tip a la Hannah which goes like this:

Tip #1: Expect respect.

Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, loved her. (1 Sam 1:5) He said she need not to worry about her inability to conceive, which sounds nice!

At that time, men were everything and women were second-class citizens to them. Hannah could have acquiesced, grateful Elkanah was so gracious! Mainstream culture tends to tell one so.

However, Hannah’s God, now and forevermore, does not. Elkanah’s affection, though kind and generous, was no replacement for Hannah’s pursuits. This, we must download into our kiddos.

Dear cherubs, you have a lot to do! The people you partner with should respect where you are headed. Don’t let a sweet Elkanah talk you out of it.

Indeed, Elkanah meant well. His affection could have been considered supportive. However, when said support is a suppression or a concession, that is not support. Wherein we hit tip number two.

Tip #2: Report support.

Knowing how to support one another is actually hard. You have to explain what you need.

Hannah did. She told Elkanah what she needed. Elkanah supported her in ways that he could, telling her, “Do what seems best to you.” (1 Sam 1:23)

Meanwhile, Hannah did not confuse support with laying undo responsibility on Elkanah for her dream. It was hers to do and pursue, even when the going got rough, even when a priest thought she was drunk and batty, even when the whole thing made her…cry.

Which brings us to tip number three.

Tip #3: Count on God.

You are going to need a hand.

Dear little cherubs, in this life, you are going to need a hand.

And a beloved “amore”, respectful and supportive and wonderful though they may be, will not be enough.

Only God is God. It was only God who could answer Hannah’s prayers (which He did!) or redirect her to a new dream (which He did for others in the Bible), and also it is only God who can fill in a lot of unpleasant gaps that are hard to put into words.

Yet, kiddos hitting double digits start to get the idea.

Actually, kiddos often have a good idea long before that. This is earth, not heaven, even for littles as they grow.

Therefore, our tips-list might be better turned upside down. Like this:
1. Learn how to count on God. It takes practice, experience and a God who is real.
2. Learn about yourself. Learn how to ask for what you need and how to support others who have asked for what they need.
3. Respect your journey. Believe you have a calling. Respect that others do too.

If Hannah, with no power or prestige or political clout, and Elkanah, rejecting mainstream culture in favor of his wife’s prayer could pull all that off, then so too can you.

Dear kiddos, see where we are going with this thing? Romance is sweet and adorable and by all means, let your little blossoming selves consider the delight it was created to be.

Just know, it’s a lot of work.

And if your disastrous room is any indication of your current worldview on consistent, tenacious, stick-to-it hard labor, then maybe give romance a beat or two. You’ve got time.

Sometime after grad school sounds good to us parents. Just saying.