Tag Archives: radical Christianity

Draw Swords!

My family loves the “Lord of the Rings” movies. We watched them in the IMAX theater on opening nights. We bought the DVDs and watched them repeatedly. We still constantly quote lines from the movies to one another, and we even enjoyed the special features so much that we still quote lines from them to each other. Yes, we are total geeks. But as interesting as my readers may find these facts of my family life, that’s not the point of this blog entry.

One of the stories the actors told in the special features particularly caught my interest. The actor who played Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen, felt it important to stay in character as much as possible. And in his mind, Aragorn’s sword was what defined the character. So, Mr. Mortensen carried his sword everywhere he went. He put it in the back seat of his car where ever he drove. He carried it into restaurants and leaned it against the wall close at hand. He took it with him into his hotel room and slept with it near. His sword was always either in his hand or so close to him he could grasp it at a moments notice. He spent many hours learning how to use it with the guidance of an expert swordsman. He spent many more hours practicing what he had learned. He told a story about one time while on his way down the street from the sound stage to his car, still dressed in his costume and practicing his riposte and parry with his weapon, he was stopped and questioned by the police. Apparently this “desperate, Rasputin character,” as he put it, had alarmed the neighbors and they had called 911.

The point is, because he dedicated so much time to learning about his sword, constantly practicing and handling it, he became intimately familiar with it. Although he had never touched a sword before beginning the filming of “Lord of the Rings”, he became an expert swordsman in a matter of months. Such dedication for something as ephemeral as a movie.

I know you can see the obvious connection coming. We as the People of the Book should learn a lesson from Mr. Mortensen. Our Sword, the Sword of the Spirit, deserves at least as much attention from us. We should let it define our character. We should practice and study it constantly. We should carry it with us everywhere we go. We might actually frighten a few people, too! But that’s all right; the important thing is to become so intimately familiar with it that we become experts in the Word. Then we can go on to help others learn more about this Sword. Most importantly, we can teach our children how to wield it effectively.

Ephesians chapter six outlines the “armor of God” that we are commanded to put on. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith: these are all :defensive. Our only weapon against the enemy is the Sword of Spirit. Only the Word of God; not human knowledge, not our own thoughts or logic. His word alone. But it is powerful enough to defeat the devil and all his followers, if we use it properly. I’m afraid some of us, with only a weak grip on the sword or sketchy knowledge of its character, only harm ourselves with it. It is, after all, a two-edged Sword.

We parents and teachers owe it to our children to be as intimately familiar with the Word of God as we possibly can. That takes time, dedication, attention, practice, determination, and help from those who have more experience that we have. The more we know, the more our Sword will define our characters. The more we practice, the more our children will see the importance of studying God’s Word. The more we allowed God’s Word to permeate our beings, the better equipped we become to do God’s work in the world, including our most important job: raising our kids in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.


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Teaching Our Children to Doubt Effectively

I’ve reached an interesting age. I am not so old that I cannot remember what it was like to be a teen-ager and young woman; I am old enough that my own children have now all either reached or passed that stage of development of character. Talking to my kids is enlightening, for I’ve discovered that the spiritual journey that each of us believes to be unique is actually fairly universal for every child raised by believing parents. It looks different in each person, but basically it is the same. Each of us reaches a time in our lives when we must examine the beliefs of our parents and decide for ourselves whether we accept them.

And I’ve found that most of us react in one of two ways: either after a struggle, whether lengthy or brief, we accept our parents’ beliefs as true; or after this struggle, we reject the teachings of our parents with varying degrees of hostility or regret. What makes the difference between these two opposite conclusions? I believe we as parents must equip our children to deal with the normal doubts and questions about faith from an early age. After all, we have been through this ourselves. We have, one hopes, acquired the tools necessary to doubt effectively.

Doubt. Such a frightening word. Many Christians are raised to believe that doubting is sinful. It’s true that Jesus gently rebukes His disciples on occasion for doubting Him. I can imagine it was a disappointment to Him for those who lived with Him and witnessed His miracles and heard His teachings on a daily basis to doubt Him. But He never said they were sinning. Doubting is one of the most human ways we have of processing information and experiences in order categorize and quantify them. God knows this: He made us this way! Denying the need to work through our faith on an intellectual level is to deny our humanness. It’s a path we must all walk down, some of us for a short time, some for far longer. Some of us leave the path and wander off into trackless wastelands. But it’s a process that is necessary for each of us to endure in order to make the faith of our parents real in our own lives.

So what tools do we give our children in order to help them get through this process successfully? The first and most important tool is truth. We must admit to our children that faith is hard; that Christianity is sometimes unbelievable; that the world is a mess and hard to understand; that God is unfathomable and that there are questions we will have about Him and how He works that will never be answered in this lifetime; that it’s okay to have questions and to feel angry and resentful about how horrible the world is and to wonder why God lets things go on when it would seem more humane to put a stop to the pain and suffering and ugliness once and for all.

How do we know that it’s okay to doubt and to question God? Because so many of the writers of the Scriptures we turn to for truth did so. The writers of the hard passages, that we often pass over when teaching the Bible to our children, and all too often avoid reading ourselves. When is the last time you taught the book of Habakkuk to your young child? Now there’s a man who could express dismay about how God was handling the world! Or the book of Lamentations? Jeremiah could express depression and disappointment with unsurpassed eloquence! Do you pick through the Psalms and avoid the ones that rant bloodthirstily against the enemy or question God’s involvement in human events? Read through these Scriptures and remember as you read that these words are inspired by God Himself! II Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

Does God understand our questions and our doubts? Looks like He does. Read Habakkuk 1:1-3: ‘The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received: How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.’ Notice that this the oracle Habakkuk received from God; Habakkuk did not come up with this himself. God not only is okay with our questions and our doubt, He apparently encourages it! Read Lamentations 3:1-20: ‘I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.’ This is not some rebellious sinner speaking, one who deserves such treatment: this is the prophet Jeremiah, who obeyed God all of his life and suffered for it. This is the Jeremiah who was warned from the beginning of his ministry that no one would ever listen to him and that he would be persecuted for speaking God’s Word to the people. God not only is not angry at Jeremiah for all this self-pity, He records it in His Holy Scriptures for all believers to read and empathize with. God is not threatened by our doubts and our questions. He understands that we are dust and that we can’t see the whole picture that He sees.

This leads me to the other tool with which we should equip our children: a safe place to take our doubts and questions. Hopefully, we as parents can be a safe place for our children to come and talk things out. I admit, I am not good at this. It is a terrifying thing, watching your child walk along the brink of the high cliff and not want to snatch him back from the edge of doom! I tend to panic too quickly. My husband is much better at this than I, and so I have tried to let him handle this important spiritual responsibility without sabotaging his expert efforts!

But the very best place for anyone to go with doubts and questions is to God Himself. If we can steer our children to the throne at an early age with their easier, more childish questions, they may automatically go to Him as adolescents and adults with their weightier, more difficult matters. That’s where Habakkuk and Jeremiah went with their rants and depression. Read Habakkuk’s prayer in his book, chapter 3: ‘LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. “Selah” His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.’ (verse 2-4) And his conclusion in verses 17-19: ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.’ Read Jeremiah’s declaration in Lamentations 3:21-33: ‘Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust– there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.’

As it turns out, when we bring our doubts and questions, our anger and grief to the throne of God and place it all before Him, we find that the answer is not intellectual after all. Faith is a matter of trusting Him in spite of circumstances and in the face of adversity, and this faith comes from knowing His heart, not His mind. We can never fathom the mind of God and can never hope to understand why the world He created works the way it does. But we can know His heart. He has written it on every page of His Word; He pours it out on us whenever we come to Him in humility and need. It can’t be grasped by the intellect. But only in intellectually understanding this can we intelligently set aside the need to understand everything and accept our own inadequacy and His superiority.

It is absolutely necessary for every child of believing parents to struggle with God in order to come to a strong, personal faith of our own. Doubt is often the route by which we come to peace with God and with faith. But it can also be the vehicle that speeds us away from God, often forever. This happens when we do not take our doubts and questions to the Source of all knowledge and depend only on our own intellect and the words and opinions of others. Our minds are limited and fallible, and so is every other humans’. It’s good to talk to others during a crisis of faith and it’s good to think things through on our own. But in order to come to the truth, one must ultimately come to the Truth. The Heart of Truth is greater than anything our little human minds can conjure.


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Raising Radically Christian Kids

I recently read the book entitled Radical by David Platt. Kudos to Mr. Platt for writing a truthful book that has become quite popular in the church of late. However, as I finished the book I just felt on overwhelming sense of sadness; why should the concepts in this book be considered radical? What the author proposes is that we as Christians live according to the Word of God. To live as Radical Christians, he urges us to first actually believe that God means what He says in His Word and then to obey Him. Um, isn’t that just being a Christian? Isn’t it really just that simple and does it really require an entire book to explain?

Simple, I say. I don’t say it’s easy. It requires studying Scriptures to find out what they say, praying without ceasing, and then doing what God tells us to do in our daily lives. It requires constant diligent thought about our actions and words. It requires discipline. But if we call ourselves Christians, this is the way we must live. After all, we are bought with a price; we do not belong to ourselves but to Christ.

Unfortunately, this is considered radical living in America today. Most people do what they want to do, whether they call themselves Christians or not. They make their decisions based on what they want or what they think society expects of them. It doesn’t seem to occur to most Christians to ask God first before making decisions about what to do, where to work, where to live, whom to marry. They do what they want to do or what they think they should do and pray afterwards for God to bless their decisions. Most Christians do not study the Scriptures or spend time listening to for the voice of God to guide them in their daily lives. American Christians are individuals first and Christian somewhere down the list. So how do we change this downward trend? How do we raise our kids to be “radical” Christians; in other words, how do we raise our children to take God’s Word seriously and live in obedience to Him? I know of only one way. We have to live our own lives before our children as examples of truly Christ-like behavior.

I was fortunate in having parents who raised me this way. God gave them jobs to do, and they did those jobs, regardless of inconvenience or expense or hardship to themselves. The jobs God gave then were many.: leading the youth, teaching classes, leading the choir, volunteering at the hospital. They included us kids in their ministries, as well. Their biggest ministry was to missionaries: they built a cottage on our property where missionaries on furlough could spend time with their families, resting and refreshing themselves in the Lord without interruption. It was a great blessing to a great many hard-working Christians who needed just such tangible encouragement. My dad would work at his “regular” job all day, and then come home and work all evening and into the night building and then maintaining this cottage. We kids were allowed to help as our capabilities allowed. Many a nail in the sub-flooring is crooked and bent because I had not yet learned how to wield a hammer properly! But it taught me a valuable and lasting lesson. Listening to God and obeying His voice is more important than anything else we might want to do with our time. We sacrificed a lot of time and energy to this ministry, but we were doing God’s work and so it was worth it.

Many years ago, when my husband and I were still young, I had a dream. I dreamed Rich and I were in a strange house, going over it to make sure it was ready to receive those for whom it was meant to serve. I had the distinct idea that it was some sort of halfway house and that Rich and I were houseparents. We inspected every room, and then Rich turned to me and said, ironically, “This is not our dream house. But I know this is what God has for us. I know we are in the center of His will.” I was agreeing with him as I woke. The next day, Rich began to tell me of a dream he had had. He and I were in a strange house, going over it to make sure it was ready to receive those for whom it was meant to serve. Well, you can guess the rest: we had both dreamed of the same house. We spent a fun hour describing it to each other as if we had actually visited it together. I don’t know if we were meant to take this as a literal prophecy or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. But the point is, this house certainly represents our life together: not at all what we would have picked out for ourselves, but definitely in the center of God’s will. If Rich and I had our own way, we would be living in the woods in utter seclusion, raising our own food and shunning society as a whole. Instead, God plunked us in the middle of a big city, gave us a house, and sent us a steady stream of people to take care of throughout the years. If you had asked Rich what he wanted to do for a living 30 years ago, he’d have told you his dream was to be a hobo and travel the open road, returning to a little cabin in the woods when he wanted to settle down. Instead, God made him a police officer, a public servant who can’t afford to travel much or very far. I always planned to be a novelist. Instead, I’ve been writing curriculum for 15 years and little else. The wondrous thing is, although we’d have never picked this life for ourselves, we clearly see that it’s the best life for us. We can see God working through us, and it’s fun! It’s hard, and it’s often frustrating and I can’t say I don’t sometimes wish for the quiet of a cabin in the woods. But this life God has given us is fulfilling in ways our dream-life could never have been. There’s nothing better than the knowledge of living in the center of God’s will.

How do we learn God’s will for our lives? Can I open the Bible and find a verse that says, “MariLynn shall marry Rich and live in Nashville?” I’ve heard people complain that it’s hard to know what God wants for their lives. But God does not want this to be hard. He wants us to know what His will is. If you have a job for your own kids to do, do you make them guess what that job it? Or do you tell them as clearly as you can? If they don’t do what you want them to do, is it because your instructions were not clear, or is it because they weren’t listening carefully, or perhaps not at all? God speaks to us all the time, in many different ways, but American Christians are unaccustomed to listening. There’s always something going on to distract us: TV, radio, news, music, things that keep us busy and unable to sit quietly and listen. It’s up to us to take the time to spend with God, studying Scripture, praying, and listening.

How does God speak to us? He can speak through His written Word. But if we need instructions specific to ourselves, we need to hear the Holy Spirit speaking directly to us. He does this in ways that are tailored to our needs. I need verbal instruction, so He speaks to me with words. Rich communicates best with symbols, so God speaks to him in dreams. We must be prepared to accept what He says to us and obey Him, though. He will not force us to listen and He will not force us to obey. When our children see us living this way, and when they hear us talking to each other about listening and obeying, they will learn how to be “radical” Christians themselves. They may even become better at it than we are!

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