Monday, April 24, 2017

Homeschool Wisdom

Jake and Scott, ready to throw Al with his "coat of many colors" into a pit.

We started homeschooling in 1998, not knowing what we were doing or where it would lead.  Now, with one year left until my youngest son is finished, I offer some thoughts on homeschooling:

1.  If you teach nothing else, if you give your kids nothing else, give them your Christian faith.  On the last day, that's the only thing that will matter.

2.   Teach values, especially the value of hard work, so that your kids can support themselves and serve others.

3.   Realize that education happens over years, not days, not weeks.  The "5-year old who can't tie his shoe" won't have that problem when he's 15.  All learning takes time.

4.   Don't be a slave to curriculum, to worksheets, to schedules, to getting it all done.  Adapt and do what works.  Let the curriculum serve you, and don't be afraid to change it.  Buy sparingly at the beginning and fill-in the gaps as needed.

5.   Teach logic; teach your children to think and to reason. Have them read books on different subjects, and challenge their thinking by delving into "unsafe" topics.

6.   Homeschooling allows people of different ages to enjoy and learn from each other.  Let your children work and learn with both older and younger kids, and with adults.

7.    Teach household skills - cooking, washing clothes, cleaning.  Teach your kids how to treat colds and other viruses and how to use over-the-counter items and prescription medications.  

8.   Be active in your local church.  God gave us the church; it's your community.

9.  Do your own thing.  Don't try to replicate a public school classroom in your kitchen.  And don't copy that "perfect" homeschool family.  

10.  Relax.  Enjoy your kids and enjoy teaching Let your kids have school in their pajamas!   You won't regret the fun and silly times.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Seriously...the Earth is Flat?

Recently, I've seen numerous posts regarding flat earth theories.  These articles are on Christian sites, written by Christians.  

My initial reaction - "This is silly."  Then, I watched a message by a Lutheran pastor, Five Reasons Why the Bible Does Not Teach a Flat Earth, and I noted almost 150 comments.   That got my attention, as his posts normally get only a handful of comments.

For anyone not aware of the controversy, there are groups of Christians who believe the Bible teaches that the earth is flat.  By extension, they are also saying that any Christian who doesn't believe in a flat earth also doesn't believe the Bible is God's Word. 

The flat earth topic has gotten very heatedAs I read through the comments, I noted name calling and ad hominen attacks. And the commenters included other issues, such baptism and the End Times, as being relevant to the flat earth debate.

Is this foolishness?  I think so.  And why?  Because the controversy is misdirecting energy, and it's missing something.  
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2 
If you want something foolish to argue about - how about the Gospel?  
...but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles...For the foolishness of God is wiser than men...1 Corinthians 1:23 and 25
All mankind is sinful and...
...the wages of sin is death...Romans 6:23
But God provides...Jesus...
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...John 1:14 
And this is good news, because, as John the Baptist says of Jesus...
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  John 1:29
Jesus is the one...
...who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Romans 4:25 
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.  The Apostles’ Creed
Amen, come Lord Jesus.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Who is this Jesus?

In his introduction to The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson poses this question which he says is the most fundamental question of all: 
Who is the God whom we come to know in Jesus Christ (John 17:3)? What is he really like, truly like - deep down, through and through?
As I read the book, I kept thinking about that question.  

For me, spending time with someone, whether family, friends, neighbors, church members...that personal connection is my avenue for knowing what a person is really like. 

I've been intrigued lately that God was often living among us.  He walked in the garden with Adam.  He visited Abraham.  He spoke to Moses in the burning bush, and was with the exiled Israelites in cloud and fire.  He dwelt with His people in the Holy of Holies, both in the tabernacle and the temple.

And then...Jesus...God comes to us embodied in man.  Blows your mind that our Creator cares and loves us so much that He became one of us.  

But, What is He really, truly like? 
...though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8
Again, all the characteristics that make God who He is...and a man living it out...perfectly.  

And not only that, Jesus also "lived out" the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and the many aspects that entails - as a prophet, as a priest, as a king.  He was the Good Shepherd, and also the Lamb of God.

At the end of his gospel, John says:
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.           John 21:25  
Ferguson's book dealt mostly with aspects of salvation, so I started making notes to answer the question, "Who is this Jesus?"  Then I remembered that passage from John.  As John suggests, I don't think I can ever grasp it all or that books could ever contain it all. 

This I do Jesus, is the One who has "searched me and known me" (Psalm 139:1).  He "satisfies the longing soul" (Psalm 107:9 ).   He is the "lover of my soul" who died for me.  And...remarkably...still wanting to "live among us" He sent His Spirit to live within me.  And, what all that conveys...I'll just have to keep finding out and "getting to know" from Him and His Word.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Leading and Serving - Not So Easy

Last week, James Webb, a decorated Marine veteran, was to receive the Distinguished Graduate Award from the United States Naval Academy.  Alumni from the Naval Academy, many from my class, protested his selection; in the end, Mr. Webb declined the award. 

Mr. Webb is well-known, by the first women who graduated from the Academy, for his 1979 article Women Can't Fight.  In the article, he calls the Naval Academy a "horny woman's dream."  The harm and hurt from that article fueled a lot of the protest against Mr. Webb receiving the award.

But that's not my big memory of him.  I remember that, in 1987, Mr. Webb became Secretary of the Navy.  And then, ten months later, he quit.

In Webb's defense, one of my classmates said that senior leaders often use the "threat to resign" as leverage, and that Webb was called on it. 

I responded:
Military leadership and life throw lots of stuff, lots of impossibles at us. A leader's job is to make it work somehow, do the best he can, remembering that he's also leading, influencing, and caring for those under him. People are looking up to him, he's in charge - what's he going to do? It's not easy "not to quit" when a situation is difficult, but that's what leaders do - persist and figure it out.
And the above was really easy for me to write.  But being that type of leader, responding with truth and honor in all situations, not looking back, no matter the cost...not so easy. 

But, Jesus... 

He had presence and spoke with truth.
And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.  Mark 1:22
He came to serve and to die
...the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:28
He was often burdened and lonely.  As He struggled in the garden, His disciples fell asleep; one of them betrayed Him; Peter denied Him; and, in the end, they deserted Him and ran away.
And they all left him and fled. Mark 14:50
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.           Isaiah 53:5 
Despite the hardship, the loneliness, the burden, despite the cost, Jesus didn't quit. He didn't look back.  His face was to the cross.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
For me...He did it for me... 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Why I'm not a Calvinist...

"No LIP!"  That's my son Al's answer to the Lutheran position on the Five Points of Calvinism.  
I first heard Calvinist teaching in my mid-30s.  I'd read the Bible many times, but, up to that point, my Christian faith was greatly influenced by popular books and Christian radio. 

Popular Christian teaching is "all over the place" with way too many ideas and concepts to grasp and bring together.

So, in 1999, after watching a Calvinist series on Predestination and Election, I was hooked.   

The Five Points of Calvinism, using the acrostic TULIP, explain salvation in a reasonable fashion that is also intellectually satisfying.  "Finally," I thought, "I understand God and salvation.  I have answers that make sense."  

And, icing on the cake, Reformed teachers said that Luther was in agreement with them.

Life was good...

The crack came when my oldest son Jake, 17 at the time, started worrying about his own salvation.  You can read his journey at:              OCD and the Lutheran Confessions.

Jake's question was, "What if, at some point, I'm going to leave my faith?  According to Calvinism, leaving my faith would mean that I never really believed.  So, how do I know that I really believe now?"  

Jake was looking for assurance.  In researching his question, I found that many other Calvinists, some with OCD, but many not, also had the same question, which boiled down to, "How do I know I'm saved?  Where's my assurance?"  

My journey away from Calvinism took a long time.  But, it came down to two points.

First, I recognized that Calvinism requires a lot of "mental gymnastics" to explain Bible verses that are inconsistent with the Five Points.  For instance, the Bible says that God...
...desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4 
The Calvinist explains this by taking "all people" to mean all people groups, or people from various nations.  Calvinism does the same type of "explaining" with many other problematic verses.

In not following Calvinism, I'm now free to let God's Word speak for itself.  My faith doesn't depend on man's logic; I'm free from trying to "figure it all out."
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Second, Calvinism satisfies the intellect, but misses the human heart.  
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
When we're honest with ourselves, we know the hardness and darkness of our hearts.  
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 
God's Word affects and works on our hearts.   At some point, not sure how or when, my faith moved from my head and pierced my heart.  

Read the Psalms and then read them again.  God made us into emotional and passionate beings.  The Five Points of Calvinism don't address and don't comfort the human heart.
My son Al is right.  We don't need any "LIP" (pun intended) to understand our faith.  It's really rather simple, and all of God's Word testifies to it:

I sin.  Jesus died for my sins, and He rose again.  I'm baptized. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Don't Kill the Goat

Last week on Survivor, one of the tribes managed to catch a wild goat, which turned out to be a mother goat and her small kid.  Surprisingly, the tribe, though hungry, didn't kill and eat the female; they let mother and baby go free, saying they didn't want to "kill Bambi's mother."  

Perhaps their reason was to save "Bambi's mother" or maybe it was to avoid charges of animal crueltyBut I also think the reality of killing a large animal likely "turned their stomachs."   
The Old Testament frequently instructs on and records instances of animal sacrifices. 
Then the goats for the sin offering were brought to the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them, and the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel.                  2 Chronicles 29:23-24
When I read those "matter-of-fact" verses, I picture the priests having a clean, well-planned system for killing animals. 

But the actual killing of an animal is ugly, bloody, messy.  And those Bible sacrifices were performed for the forgiveness of sins, sins that are also ugly and messy.

Even kids, when they sin, do something wrong, they try to hide it, and lie about it, because they know that payment is required for sins, that punishment is coming.

And the punishment for childish misbehavior is just a foretaste of the ultimate punishment for sin - death.
For the wages of sin is death...Romans 6:23a
Just like those Survivors, the reality of death can "turn our stomachs."  And like that punishment for sins, it's coming...

But Jesus...a sacrifice was provided for our sins...and it was not pretty...
...he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:5
...but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23b
I'm still surprised that, for whatever their reason, the Survivors didn't kill and eat the goat, that they showed compassion.  But I'm more grateful for and in awe of Jesus, who has compassion and love for us, who gave His life, who took our punishment, so that we have life, life eternal, with Him.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Remember Your Baptism**

Lutherans like to say, Remember your baptism meaning, When you doubt, look to your baptism for your assurance of salvation.

But, to many American Christians,
Remember your baptism seems antiquated.  Salvation couldn't possibly have anything to do with getting wet. 

Today's Christian repents of sins, and decides or chooses to follow Jesus, to live a good Christian life.  Assurance is based on a decision and a desire of the heart.  Right?

I recently heard a young woman ask a well-known Christian, How do I know if I'm saved, if I [still] have blasphemous thoughts?  He said that the condition of her heart was to be her evidence - to look in her heart for her love for God and desire for Him. 
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
For anyone who's seriously doubted his own salvation, who's honestly examined his own heart - looking inward for that assurance, to a choice one makes, to how one feels...that's no comfort at all.

To look for assurance in my own heart - I see two perspectives.  I can have pride and confidence in my own ability to believe and to live as a good Christian.  Or, like the woman who questioned her salvation, I can despair, recognizing my heart's darkness and duplicity.

According to the Bible, God uses means to assure His people and to save them.

- To assure Abraham that he would possess the land, God passed through a blood path, making a type of blood oath.

- To mark the people for salvation at Passover, a lamb's blood was smeared on the doorpost.

- To seal the covenant at Mt. Sinai, Moses sprinkled blood on the Israelites. 

- To assure Gideon of victory, God used fleece.

And on and on...God's Word is filled with God using the physical to assure and to save.  We are physical beings, and we understand the physical.  

But grace is hard to grasp; grace isn't physical - and we get stuck.

The question becomes,
How do I get forgiveness?  How can I be assured that I'm saved, that I'm a Christian?

I often ask people, How do you know you're married?  And the answer is always, I had a wedding.
So, to the question
How do I know I'm a Christian? the answer is, I'm baptized.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.   Mark 16:16
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Acts 2:38
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 3:21
...he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit...Titus 3:5
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word...Ephesians 5:25-26 

** I actually remember my baptism.  I was baptized in a Baptist church when I was 11.