I know this probably shocks you, but sometimes my sweet and innocent kids play me for a fool. Kids seem to come at this skill quite naturally. Daughters are especially skillful in playing such tricks on their fathers; we are such easy prey. Daughters have a way into a father’s heart that can’t be scientifically explained. Especially after dinner when all they want is “just one more dessert, Daddy?” Yeah, I’m such a sucker for that one. Every. Single. Time.
Besides, by what logic would you ever not allow your children to indulge in something sweet and sugary? And yet despite my airtight logic and Socrates-like parenting wisdom, my wife sees things differently. Obviously influenced by Marxists, she thinks dessert should be consumed in limited quantities and only once a day.
My brilliant daughters are aware of this partisan family divide and eagerly exploit it. Every night they lobby me. Their approach is calculating. After Mommy says no, the girls approach me, batting their eyelashes, heads tilted to one side, innocent smiles at just the right wattage: “Daddy, can we have dessert?” My son, also smart, just waits. He knows his sisters have much more leverage.
Now, I want you to know that I’ve become wiser over the years. I no longer make the rookie mistake of saying, “Yes” or “Well, let me see . . .” In those early days, the pleasure of seeing my daughters squeal in delight was always quickly dashed by the thundering rebuke from Angela, “I already said no. Why did you tell them yes?”
The cold cement garage floor makes such a lousy place to sleep, so I’ve developed a brilliant new counter-insurgency strategy: “Ask Mom.”
Finding angles, looking for loopholes, pitting mother against father—this is the stuff of childhood. Our kids do these things, and we played the same game with our own parents.
What’s funny is that this impulse to find creative ways to skirt the rules doesn’t leave us when we become adults. I find this instinct in my own heart most acutely as I approach the Bible. Much of what God says I like. But there are many portions of Scripture—troubling, hard-to-understand portions—I wish weren’t there. Not everything between Genesis and Revelation is fit for a coffee mug, if you know what I mean.
Thomas Jefferson solved this tension by simply making his own “Bible.” He famously cut out the parts he hated and kept the ones he liked. Though most of us wouldn’t be that brazen, we sometimes fall prey to the temptation to highlight Scripture we like and toss the rest into a “nothing to see here” pile. The most common way we do this is through a well-meaning but misguided hermeneutical device—creating a Jesus who seems passé about the uncomfortable version of God found in the Old Testament. This is increasingly common in evangelical circles. There is a new, red-letter Jesus who just seems a whole lot nicer than the God of our youth. The “red letters,” of course, are the specific words of Jesus quoted by the Gospel writers that are sometimes highlighted in modern Bible translations.
If God is the angry Old Testament deity, Jesus has become our convenient sugar daddy who conforms to our desires. So we say things like, “I’m not a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus.” I would guess that most who use that kind of language sincerely want to be free of the baggage of binding legalism and follow the simple, humble way of Jesus.
But we have to be careful about imposing a false dichotomy on Scripture. Scholar Tremper Longman writes, “We must be careful of falsely stereotyping both the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus who is presented in the New. The God of the Old Testament is not an arbitrary and purely dark figure, and Jesus is not all flowers and light and soft goodness.” Longman continues, “The God of the Old Testament is not a monolithic bully, so Jesus Christ is not totally passive or pacifist.” It sounds noble to say “I only follow the words of Jesus,” but the words of Jesus himself don’t really give us the option of isolating those red-letter words at the expense of the rest of Scripture. What’s more, I wonder if we’ve fully reckoned with all the red letters.
If we want to behold the real Jesus, not just the Jesus we shape in our own image, we have to constantly guard against this temptation to cherry-pick the parts of him we like and throw out the ones we don’t.
In a way, to submit ourselves to the entirety of Scripture is a primary way we follow Jesus. It was he who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Besides, if we were honest, we’d admit there are even statements among his red letters that we find hard to digest. Among these are uncomfortable, countercultural statements such as his affirmation of male-female marriage (Matt. 19:5); his radical call to discipleship (Luke 14:26); his predictions of future and fiery judgment (Luke 17:20–37); and his prescription of drastic measures to combat a besetting sin (Matt. 5:28–30). Judgment, sexual morality, and cutting of of limbs make for awkward hashtags.
Jesus encountered this tendency often in his earthly ministry. On one occasion, after performing the miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus began amassing a large crowd of followers. John records Jesus deconstructing their jaundiced view of his role as Messiah, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26). Jesus then shared with them the hard demands of the gospel, prompting their reply of “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Eventually, most of his original followers left him. In every way, Jesus was countercultural.
Truthfully, the way of Jesus is both hard and easy. It’s difficult because the gospel demands we give up our self-worship, our idolatry, our infatuation with our own way of life. Yet in another sense, in accepting the real Jesus, we find in him the way of freedom and release, and a return to our original, God ordained purpose (Eph. 2:10). Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). The great church father Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it’s not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”
I’ll admit, I want to accept the Jesus who conforms to my image, the Jesus whose statements fit nicely on coffee mugs and T-shirts. But this safe, sanitized Jesus looks nothing like the real one, the one who came not to give me what I want but to rescue me from the kingdom of darkness. This Jesus, the real Jesus, is dangerous and unpredictable, calling me to lay aside my life and follow him regardless of what it costs. Jesus came not to conform to our desires but to transform us into his image.
This is adapted from The Original Jesus, to be released from Baker Books on September 1st.
- 2015Aug 06
Before I became a dad, I thought I would be a pretty good dad. After all I grew up in a nice, Christian home, I read a few parenting books, and heard quite a few messages on biblical parenting. So I was set. The kids I would raise would be fortunate to have me as their father.
Then, a funny thing happened. I actually became a dad for the first time. First came Grace, then Daniel Jr., then Emma, and finally Lily. I'm now a father of four and I know much less about parenting than I did before I became a parent. I've realized that there are certain things about fatherhood you can only learn until you actually become a dad.
Here are ten:
1) You are much less patient than you think you are. Oh, you think you're a loving, patient, sweet peach of man. You'll be the guy playing catch for hours and carefully instructing your son how to ride his bike. You'll never get short with your kids and you'll always know the perfect balance between discipline and love. Right. Keep dreaming, my friend. There's nothing like a live child in your midst to bring out your selfishness, anger, and impatience.
2) Many times you'll have no clue what to do. But you still have to pretend you are in control. Like when your three-year old melts down the grocery store. The books say to do one thing, but there is a certain paralysis that takes place when it's your little child kicking, screaming, and not getting along with the shopping program. Over time, you'll figure out your child and the best method, but there will be a lot of trial and error along the way. Mostly error.
3) You'll realize that minivans are secretly awesome. Before I had kids I swore on a stack of John Wayne collector's edition DVDs that I would never be seen behind the wheel of a minivan. Then we had our 2nd child and I suddenly saw the awesomeness of minivans. I now have four children and the Chrysler Town and Country keeps getting cooler. You can go for long trips and play DVDs. You can fold the seats down into the floor and haul large pieces of furniture that your wife thinks you need. Trust me on this one. As soon as kid #2 comes, you'll find yourself wandering over to Cars.com to compare the best prices on minivans.
4) You'll probably not get six continuous hours of good sleep ever again. And if you do, you'll never admit it because it will make your wife mad for the broken-up sleep she got when she got up and took care of the teething child. Dads perfect the art of pretending like they are stone-cold sleepers who can't be easily woke. But really you're just trying to do it long enough so she'll get up and take care of the situation.
5) There are singular moments of joy so indescribable they can only be experienced. There are moments of pride and joy that make every single hard parenting experience seem easy. There are times of closeness and love that will make your heart burst with rapture. Sometimes I just sit back and look at my four children and cannot believe God allowed me to be their dad. If you're a dad, you know what I mean.
6) Your presence is more important than you know. You may not think you're a good dad. You may not think you're all that useful around the house. But your kids need your presence more than you know. God wove fatherhood into the fabric of humanity. Your consistency and faithfulness to your wife and to your children will speak volumes to your children about the consistency and faithfulness of their Heavenly Father.
7) You need to repeat the same words over and over to your children. It's not enough to be a model Christian. It's not enough to provide and be present. Your kids must hear over and over again how much you love and accept them. I try every single day to tell each one of my children that I love them. There have been times I've flippantly said something to my oldest daughter and it crushed her feelings. I've had to apologize and seek forgiveness. My words matter to her.
8) You will watch less of your favorite games, play less video games, and will go out with your guy friends hardly at all. But this is good. You are called to serve your family sacrificially. This often means putting your selfish desires last. This means not whining. This means being strong when you want to be tired. This means being the brave one when everyone is scared. But if you see your kids as your God-given mission, you will gladly give up these things for something better. Your sacrifice and your presence is not an option.
9) You will embrace your cluelessness as a gift from God. The further you go into your fatherhood, the more you realize you need help being a good dad. You really don't have what it takes. This is where you lean in, heavily, on your Heavenly Father. The sooner we realize, as dads, that we don't have what it takes to succeed, the sooner we'll seek His help, both through His Word, His Spirit, and from earthly fathers who can lend wisdom. I've learned much from a program our church did called Men's Fraternity. I've learned much from other dads in my church. I've learned a lot from older dads who have gone before.
10) You will realize your ongoing need to repent, confess, apologize, and forgive. You will mess up, almost daily. And so you will need to admit to your children your mistakes and ask their forgiveness. You will learn the underrated value of an apology, how quickly it earns you respect and attention. You will have to forgive your children for their sins. You will need to practice these with your wife. In doing so, you will model to your children what the Christian life looks like. It's not a life of perfection, but of brokenness, surrender, and grace.
- 2015Jan 26
On Sunday I started a brand-new series on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) entitled, "Teach Us to Pray." Let's remember that this is not a prayer Jesus prays, but that a prayer He offers for his disciples to pray. One of the things that really strikes me about Jesus' model prayer is just how God-centered this prayer is. The Lord's Prayer contains six humble requests, the first three are God-directed and the last three involve human needs. This is very similar to the structure of the Ten Commandments, which first begin with our vertical relationship to God and then end with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. It's similar to the way Paul constructed his letters to the churches: he often began with who we are in Christ before fleshing out how that affects the way we live.
A.W. Tozer said this (and I paraphrase), "The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you." I hear a lot of Christian says things like, "I don't worry about theology." Well, yes you do. Everybody has a theology, whether flawed or otherwise. Sadly, most of our theology begins with me. We start our prayers with what we think we need and then, if we have time, throw in a few God cliques. But the most healthy theology begins where the Bible begins: with God. You will notice that the first words of the very first book of the Bible begin like this, "In the beginning, God."
It's easy to subtly devalue God by our prayers and our life. We say things like, "I don't imagine God is like this." Or "The God I worship doesn't do this." But if God is truly God--that is to say if God is sovereign, powerful, holy, compassionate, just--then it behooves us not to define God on our terms, but to bow before the God who is already there.
How does this affect our prayer life? Why did Jesus say to start our supplications with God? Because the way we view God affects the way we live. How much we reverence God informs the respect we have for our fellow man. And beginning with God in our prayers filters out the frivolous. It considers prayer as an act of worship, an acknowledgment that we are, in deed, not God. That God is God.
It means our prayers are in God's will. It keeps us from destructive theology. It prevents us from saying foolish things like, "God told me to (fill in the blank)" when really it was our own fleshly desires that spoke. I once had a person tell me, with a straight and somber face, that God was telling her to divorce her husband of 15 years and go marry a convicted felon. Um, God won't tell you to do something against His sovereign will.
Praying God-centered prayers takes some discipline and practice. I'll admit that this is a struggle for me. I often want to begin what I think are my own needs rather than letting my Father in Heaven shape my them. But there is something refreshing about beginning with God. It reminds us of the awesome miracle of access to the throne room of Heaven, purchased at great price by Christ on the cross. It reminds me that God takes great delight in hearing my prayers and meeting my needs, needs he knows well before I know them. It comforts me to realize that I do, indeed, have a Father in Heaven with a hallowed name.