On Sin and Quiet Times

July 26th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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I have always noticed that the surest remedy to creeping sin in my life is to come into God’s presence regularly in prayer and the study of his Word. A colleague and friend used to joke that when we miss our daily quiet times, God notices the first day, I notice the second day, and by the third day everyone notices. There is a lot of truth in that. Whatever the sin—dishonesty, fear, lust, discontentment—it diminishes in the splendor of his holiness, but grows in his absence. These are rare plants that thrive in the dark. In his light, however, new fruit quickly grows to take its place, the fruit of a sanctified life.


Of course, our time with God does not function like a magic charm warding off evil. It is not as though this is simply a superstitious ritual that gives us power against sin. Instead, we lose our taste for sin in his presence. It takes just a short while kneeling before him, hearing his voice, seeing his beauty, before we find our thirst slaked at his “river of delights” (Psalm 34:8). “The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace,” as the old chorus has it.


The real problem comes when we attack our sin when we are not spending regular time in the presence of his majesty. When we are cut off from the Vine and out of step with the Spirit, sin produces guilt rather than conviction, repentance, and transformation. When we do not hear the Spirit’s voice, we listen to Satan’s instead—and he is the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). He whispers menacingly to us that we are not good enough, that God will not love us unless we change. And here is his great trick. If Satan can get us to pursue holiness in our own strength—to fight sin in the flesh until our knuckles are white, our spirits frail, and our hearts hardened with pride—then he will have separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Satan has no problem with our growing in “holiness,” so long as it comes about through unholy means: legalistic, temporary, human efforts. When we forget God’s grace, we doubt his love. Then we try to earn his love, rather than basking in it, growing resentful, bitter, discouraged, and fearful when our legalistic efforts fail. This produces a cycle of guilt, despair, striving (in the flesh), pride, and failure.


Grace overcomes the whole of the cycle and each component part. To remember grace and see real, lasting, Spirit-worked change, we must come and rest in his loving presence. Every day.

The Goal of Parenting (Part Two)

November 15th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The goal of parenting is not to be the perfect parent.


The goal of parenting is that your children know God as the perfect Father.


Parents devote too much energy to the idolatrous pursuit of perfection in parenting: choosing the best method of discipline, sleep training, nutritional habits, devotional activities. While working through the possibilities and choosing the wisest course for your family is important, it is not the most important.


What happens when the cracks in the façade begin to show (and they surely will, as we are all steeped in sin and self)? Pursuing perfection means papering over the cracks, so that our children, our spouse, our neighbors, our Bible-study group can worship us in the splendor of our holiness. Pursuing grace means embracing our failures as a God-given reminder that we need Jesus—and he is more than enough for us.


And he is more than enough for our children. In the moment of our weakness, they can see his strength; in the moment of our sin, they can understand his grace.


Do not strive for perfection. Strive for the display of his goodness and grace in your life—even when you mess up. That’s good news. That’s news your children need to hear.


(For The Goal of Parenting: Part One, see here.)

The Goal of Parenting

November 7th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The goal of parenting is not to raise children who are good.


The goal of parenting is to raise children who know God.


We must be wary of any parenting philosophy that assumes, however implicitly, that we hold sovereign sway in our children’s lives—as if we could rear children so perfect they are not in need of God’s grace. This is heresy of the very worst sort.


Too many parenting approaches, even those offered by Christian authors, prove behavior-centered and discipline-driven. For those who have been redeemed solely by the substitutionary work of Christ, however, our approach must always be Christ-centered and gospel-driven. The difference is more than semantic; it is revolutionary.


What do we do when our children sin and disobey? If behavior-centered, we will insist on obedience and teach it as effectively as we can. But if we are Christ-centered, we will make the most of this opportunity by sharing the gospel fully—to show that Christ is the remedy for our sin, and not mere discipline. Obviously, parents who love their children will discipline them and will teach them to obey (Hebrews 12:7-8). But we will do more than this. We will love them enough to share the good news of God’s grace with them every time they sin. We will love them enough to ensure they do not become whitewashed tombs, perfectly obedient and painfully faithless, neither loving nor being loved by God.


Surely this is Paul’s point in his famous address to fathers: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Behavior-centered, discipline-driven parenting is palpably exasperating. We are called to a higher standard, to bring them up in the training (which surely includes, but is not limited to discipline) and instruction of the Lord. We are to teach them all that we know of God and his goodness. Do they learn about him only from the rod we apply to them? That would be a perversely distorted picture. Or do they learn it from our worship, prayer, humility, confession of sin—especially when we sin against them—seeking forgiveness, sharing the gospel once more? Do they see the cross stamped upon our lives, or only the law? Could we say to them, “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14)—and trust that they would immediately think of the gospel, taught and lived by their parents? Or would we shudder to think of the picture we have painted of him?


The goal of parenting is to ensure our children know God as fully as possible when they leave our temporary care. What has your parenting style preached to your children?