Growing In Godliness Blog
Are We Giving Our Children Cut Flowers?
By Tom Rose
Followers of Jesus Christ don’t have children merely for companionship or to avoid loneliness in their later years or so they can pass on property and the family name. They view parenting as an opportunity to invest themselves fully in the life of a child who will someday become an irresistible manifestation of God’s grace. A child who will grow up to make a difference by exercising his or her unique talents and gifts, and thereby leave his corner of the world more kind and gentle, more spiritual and righteous. That’s our motivation for bearing and raising children – and our challenge.
However, when images of the whole world’s cruelest realities – war, abuse, violence of all kinds – are instantly accessible at the touch of a button or the flip of a page, it’s hard for parents to remain idealistic, hopeful and positive. When the dark side of human nature – the stormy, troubled side – is the pervasive picture of former heroes and heroines of politics, entertainment, and sports, it’s hard to feel supportive and trustful of our fellow human beings. And when our media makes sure nothing is left to the imagination, it’s hard to share the beauty of love and faithfulness within a marriage to the fresh, untouched territory of a teenager’s mind. All these problems seem so big, the people in charge so far away, so powerful, so wealthy, so far removed from our living rooms, our offices, and our schools, one might be tempted to exclaim, “Why even try?”
Feelings of helplessness plague us as parents when we see our younger children – even toddlers – being taught the very lessons that we don’t want them to learn from their peers, the media, and fallen heroes. Yet we know from daily living that the only thing to do when there’s a mess is to clean it up. This cleaning-up must be an everyday task in the way we treat ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, indeed, everybody.
That is precisely why God’s divine plan has parents in charge of preventing and/or cleaning-up the mess of our character-starved, immorally littered world and sees children as honoring and obeying their parents (see Eph 6:1-4).
Although the home is the primary place for establishing virtues as well as a good understanding of God’s Word, parents often look to the church for assistance in teaching and instilling spiritual values. Therefore, Bible classes must be perceived by children and young people as preparation for life as they really experience it and for developing a faith that has personal meaning. Unfortunately, sometimes teaching – both at home and in church - falls short of these goals. Thus, it is important to ask, are we giving our young people ‘cut flowers,’ when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants? The result may be that we are training another generation to be keepers of the aquarium, rather than educating fishers of men.
I once knew of a teacher who invited a whole group of people to study the Bible. He told them that he had discovered the most marvelous Truths from God’s Word, and he wanted to share them. He began to describe in minute detail the delights of the Scriptures without ever letting class members ask questions or participate in any way. He told and told and told. Although some teachers (and parents) believe that one will listen to what is being taught and automatically assume responsibility for a desired behavior or virtue, we really know better because “telling” – or handing out ‘cut flowers’ is not “teaching.”
Consider, for example, Susan, a third grader, completing in Bible study class her illustration of the good Samaritan (see Lk. 10:25-37). Her face suddenly takes on a reflective look as she turns toward her teacher and asks, “Does this story mean that I am supposed to help Judy with her math? She always comes to school dirty and wearing a torn dress and nobody wants to be with her.” “Yes, Susan,” the teacher replies, “If you are going to be the kind of neighbor Jesus wants you to be, you need to care for those who are less fortunate than you are.” Susan considered what her teacher had said, then responded, “I don’t want to, but I guess nobody in my class wants to either, so I’ll be a good Samaritan.”
Learners need to sort out and try on their ideas in a safe setting with a caring parent or teacher. That’s really what Susan was doing in the conversation with her teacher. She was actually questioning her understanding of what was required to being a “good Samaritan” and then determining a course of action by seeking the affirmation of the adult. When one realizes, after studying this parable, that there are personal applications for these ideas, they are usually ready to make some changes in their own behavior toward others.
In the above case, Susan learned that this lesson was for her and that there were some things she could do to apply it to her life. This example shows Susan is searching for ways to act on her learning and to do so she must do more than simply talk to her teacher about her discovery. Moreover, she is beginning to assume responsibility for her own learning by living it out on the playground, the classroom, and the neighborhood. Indeed, Susan will find that there are several ways in which she can be a good Samaritan to Judy. She could give her some of her clothes, she could talk to her about brushing her hair and washing her face before coming to school, she could tutor her in math, she could defend Judy when others put her down, and she could work at becoming a friend to Judy.
To write meaningfully on tablets of the human heart, Christians need to allow students both to discover and to internalize Biblical truths - for herein lies the long-term power for committed servanthood. If our instruction fails to excite and to involve our learners, it will likely yield a people trained to be passive observers rather than active participants in learning and in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). As young people develop, if structured opportunities for practice and application of one’s faith are weak or non-existent, any commitment to the Christian life may be only superficially formed, and devoid of the pleasure and enthusiasm found in sharing their faith with others.
Parents who truly understand this goal of parenting – to draw out the spiritual potential of each child – will become fully engaged in the challenge. They no longer just live to advance their career and their material possessions. Rather, they seek to build character, value, and vision into young lives. They no longer treat their children as inconveniences to be handed off to anyone who will tend them. Instead, these leaders of the home see the “season of parenting” as the ultimate spiritual challenge, worthy of their best efforts, most fervent prayers, and largest investments of time. In essence, they are parents who will do anything they can to encourage authentic Christian growth in their children. And in so doing, these parents choose to develop a garden with ever-renewing blossoms, instead of handing their child a vase of cut flowers. They know that molding a runny-nosed little bandit into a God-honoring difference-maker is the most stretching, demanding, and, ultimately, fulfilling challenge they face. So they earnestly devote themselves to it.
If we at the Douglass Hills church of Christ can be of help or encouragement to you in such an endeavor, please take the time to reach out and ask us. As God’s Word ever reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old - he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
By Mark McCrary
Last week in parts of the Southeast there was a cellphone outage that lasted for several hours. It wasn’t uncommon to see people staring at their phones in disbelief, fighting that growing feeling of disconnection from information and relationships. What if someone can’t reach me? What if I can’t reach someone? What’s happening in the world while I can’t access the internet? I can’t Tweet or even post about this in real time on Facebook and Instagram! A sigh of relief went out when cellphone service went back up and phones stirred with life once more.
Would to God we were so distraught when disconnected from God. Sin has in fact disconnected all of us from God—“But your sins have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you” (Isaiah 59:2). When man first fell in the Garden, the Holy God could not have fellowship with an unholy people. The same happens when you and I sin today. At some point (which varies from person to person) we are disconnected from God, cut off from information from God and how to live a meaningful life; cut off from the only One who blesses us; cut off from a relationship with the One who loves us more than we could ever imagine; and given wholly over to sin and all its destructive power. Ultimately, cut off from real life given only by Jesus (John 10:10). We desperately need that connection.
But Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Jesus came to give us information about the Father and—importantly—to reestablish that relationship disconnected by sin through His sacrifice.
Forget about the phone; have you been disconnected from God? You need that connection—and it is there! If you aren’t His child and would come to Him in faith, ready to cast aside the very thing that separates you from God, you may be baptized and have all your sins washed away (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Gal. 3:27)—you can be reconnected with God. If you are His child but you have wandered away, like the father of the prodigal, He still waits for you if you will only come back.
Who Can Be Against Us?
By Mark McCrary
It seems that a lot of Christians are down and out right now, discouraged by recent events in our country. Let’s find a few words of encouragement from God’s word—Romans 8:31-39…
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Christian, have hope! Trust in God in difficult days!
By Mark McCrary
Interpersonal relationships are crucial to us as human beings. One of the first statements of God regarding us was, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). But, sometimes relationships, as important as they are, are challenging to maintain—even among Christians. There are times when brothers and sisters in Christ don’t get along with one another.
One of the greatest skills necessary in those moments is the very one that is often not found: the ability to actually listen to others in conflict. So often, we formulate preconceived ideas about what someone thinks, what their motivations are, what they are really getting at; then, our reactions are based not on what they are saying or doing, but on our preconceptions of what they are thinking and meaning. As a result, communication stops, and conflict arises. This happens in homes, in churches, in businesses—everywhere there are people.
What can we do about this?
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
Within the context, James is likely addressing our need to listen to God and His instructions to us, but it certainly also has great application in our relationships with one another. How much we would be helped if we slowed down and just listened! Not formulate a rebuttal! Not vent all my frustrations! Not psychoanalyze my opponent at the moment! Not even view the one with whom I am in conflict as my opponent! Saber rattling really does little good in such moment other than encourage the one with whom we disagree to rattle their back at us. Here’s a crazy idea: simply listen. Take it in. Seek to understand. Not necessarily agree; just understand.
Something radical might happen if we would only do this. We might find we don’t disagree. At the least, perhaps we would find we are a lot closer to than we think. God urged Israel in Isaiah 1:18, “Come, let us reason together.” May God help us to have the same attitudes as husband and wives, parents and children, elders and congregations, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
What a wonderful resolution it would be to listen and think about what others are saying more. What a wonderful resolution it would be to stop shaking our fists so much and open our ears more. We would likely find that God’s ways are actually better than man’s wrath at bringing about peace.
Trust and Faith in Hard Times
By Mark McCrary
Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others. Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”
The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44. In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.
But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn. The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied. And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).
Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.
There is no answer. There is only trust and faith.
Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26). Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to. It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by and by.” Then we will know that, though we didn’t understand our problems at the moment, God got us through—and that will be enough.