Friday, March 28, 2014

The Great God

I have been reading/ praying through a book of Puritan prayers, called Valley of Vision. Here is one that really hit me. I have highlighted several lines in particular that meant a lot to me.


The Great God

O Fountain of All Good

Destroy in me every lofty thought,
     Break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds,
Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness,
Implant in me true lowliness of spirit,
Abase me to self-loathing and self-abhorrence,
Open in me a found of penitential tears,
Break me, then bind me up;
Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling 
     for my God;
     Then can the Father take up his abode in me,
     Then can the blessed Jesus come with healing in his touch,
     Then can the Holy Spirit descend in sanctifying grace;
O Holy Trinity, three Persons and one God,
     inhabit me, a temple consecrated to thy glory.
When though are present, evil cannot abide;
In they fellowship is fullness of joy,
Beneath thy smile is peace of conscience,
By the side no fears disturb,
     no apprehension banish rest of mind,
With thee my heart shall bloom with fragrance;
Make me meet, through repentance,
     for thine indwelling.
Nothing exceeds thy power,
Nothing is too great for thee to do,
Nothing too good for thee to give.
     Infinite is thy might, boundless thy love,
     limitless thy grace, glorious they saving name.
Let angels sing for
     sinners repenting,
     prodigals restored,
     backsliders reclaimed,
     Satan’s captives released,
     blind eyes opened,
     broken hearts bound up,
     the despondent cheered,
     the self-righteous stripped,
     the formalist driven from a refuge of lies,
     the ignorant enlightened,
     and saints built up in their holy faith.
I ask great things of a great God.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sim Gospel

In the computer game Sim City along with many role playing games you can create a second identity and fake world that fits the way you think things should be. I believe that many people want a Sim Gospel. They want to have all the benefits that they think God can give them, such as love, security, meaning, and hope for the future without the perceived negatives such as sin, submission, wrath, repentance, obedience,  etc.

This creates a real danger when sharing with others about Jesus that we fail to share the whole gospel, because some of the gospel is going to make people feel uncomfortable and that in turn makes us feel uncomfortable. Most people do not want to hear about their sin problem and the need for them to repent before a holy God. I know repentance does not make me feel good initially. It is generally easier to believe that the problems in my life and the world around me are the fault of circumstances beyond my control or are cause primarily by someone else's wrong doing.

Also God's wrath and eternal judgment are hard ideas to discuss, but they are true parts of the gospel because that is how serious sin is. We really have rejected God and the good, and unless we repent we will face God's wrath. Now the gospel is good news in that God does not want us to face this wrath and does want the best for us, which means coming into relationship with Him, but we have to understand the negative about ourselves and our condition to truly understand what God is offering.

I have been guilty of sharing a Sim gospel with people and I believe I know some people who have accepted a Sim gospel. These people's lives tend not to be transformed and they fail to become like Jesus because they have never truly repented and submitted their lives to Him. They liked the idea that Jesus loves them unconditionally, but they have never really recognized that their condition without Jesus is truly awful, so they have never wept over their own sin and come to the cross in true repentance.

Recently as I have tried to be more careful in sharing the complete gospel with people I am noticing the resistance to the negative parts. I am getting push back but I have noticed it is not intellectual doubts that are the problem, rather there seems to be an emotional/spiritual barrier. I think this is what scripture means when it talks about the eyes of unbelievers having scales on them. It is not a problem of intelligence or information, rather it is a problem of the will.

My response is to continue to love people so that they can see God's love in action, continue to share the whole gospel, and then pray that the Holy Spirit will break down the barrier so that they can see that God truly is good.

Have you accepted the true gospel or do have you rejected the parts that seem uncomfortable to you? If you have accepted the true gospel, do you share it with others or perhaps do you only share those parts that seem good to others? In the long run we are not doing anyone any good if we let them think that they can have a relationship with God without repenting of their sin and submitting to God.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Faith

Here are two quotes from Joni Erickson Tada's book,  Glorious Intruder.

"Faith, as the a Bible defines it, is a present-tense action. It's taking God's promises and acting on them today. "

" Great faith isn't the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It's simply taking God at His word and taking the next step."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lessons for fathers

I do not claim to have fathering figured out, and I cannot yet be considered fully successful as a Dad because the oldest of my kids is just 12, so how they might turn out is still in question. That being said, I have studied parenting a lot, and I have a great Dad as well, so I wanted to share some lessons for Dads that I have learned and that I try to live out.

1. Give your kids to God, because they do not belong to you anyway.
  • I once heard Dennis Rainey, a family life specialist, say that his goal for his kids was that they become independently dependent on God. I adopted this as my goal as well. This starts with a recognition that while I have a responsibility to love, discipline and teach my kids, they are not really mine in the first place. They were created by God and should be pointed toward him, not me. So this idea helps me to recognize that I cannot keep them and also helps me understand where they should be pointed.
  • Your kids were made by God for God, so point them in his direction, so that they have the best chance to become who he made them to be.
2. Let God change you into the man you should be. 
  • One of the best things you can give your kids is a good example. More than any other person your kids are going to look to you for their priorities in life. If you are consistent, honest, and growing, it is much more likely that your kids will be too. If you love Jesus, it is much more likely that your kids will too. In fact, kids take their first (and sometimes lasting) image of God from their father. If he is loving, kind, and consistent, that is how they will view God. If he is distant, absent, or demanding, that is how they will see God.
  • This is a scary one for me because I know how much I still need to grow, but I am encouraged by my own father who at 77 is still learning and growing and being an example for me.
3. Love their mother.
  • Guys get married and stay married. A loving and long lasting marriage has great benefits for you and your kids. It takes work, but it is worth it. Loving and prioritizing your spouse even over your children is the best thing for your kids. (Ladies this is true for you too.)
  • Even before Traci and I had our 10th anniversary (we have now had our 15th), we were making plans for a trip on our 25th. It is not a question for either of us whether that will happen as long as we both stay healthy and living (and we save enough money!). For us marriage is for life. It has not always been easy and I know it will not always be easy in the future. But for us and for our family, the security of knowing that that person can be trusted to be their when we get home helps our kids have a safe place to develop.
  • I know that for some of you this ideal is not now possible, but we should at least know the right goals toward which we strive.
4. Discipline your kids in love.
  • There are two parts to this one. First, we need to understand that correcting kids is not the opposite of loving them, as much as they may protest and as hard as it is sometimes. Kids need to learn boundaries and if you do not discipline them then they will not learn self-discipline.
  • Second, discipline is not about you. It should not be done out of anger or frustration, but rather out of love and thinking out their needs. For instance, when one of my kids disrespects their mother it drives me crazy and makes me mad, but those emotions should not be my motivation for discipline. The motivation is that it is bad for my child to selfishly disrespect one in authority over them, and so my discipline should focus on helping them see their sin and the harm it is causing. Now that may mean some temporary discomfort for them, but I also talk to them about why it is necessary and what they have done wrong specifically. 
  • If I discipline out of anger, all they see is my anger. What they learn is not how wrong their actions or motives were, but how to avoid Dad's anger. 
  • Admittedly this is a lesson I have failed at a number of times, but God has helped me over the years to be more intentional in my discipline.
5. Be present with your kids.
  • Spend time with your family. Your kids need you more than stuff. If work does not allow you to spend time with your family, change shifts or get another job. If that means you take less pay and have to do with less, then take less pay. It is that important.
  • If you don't like spending time with your kids, do it anyway. You will find that the more you do it the more you will enjoy it.
  • Also, you don't always have to spend time doing their activities. Let them come along with you in your activities. If you have to change a tire or replace a window, let them help. Yes it will take longer, but you will get more accomplished then just changing a tire. You will be building character for yourself and your child.
6. Pray with and for them.
  • This goes back to my first point. Even if you did everything perfect your kids would still make mistakes and get hurt by others in this hard world. Pray for their hearts and character. Life will bring problems, and my prayer is not that my kids will be saved from all problems, but that through them they will learn to trust Jesus more and become more like Him all the time.
  • Your kids will go away and be independent someday (if you have trained them right!), so learn to pray for them because eventually you have to give them into God's hands anyway.
Final thoughts.
  •  If you have gotten this far in this post then you probably know my recent history, namely that my oldest son Micah died of illness last year when he was 11. God recently gave me some comfort in the fact that his life was not a failure nor was my parenting. Micah was a talented, smart, funny young man, who knew Jesus as his savior, and was very loving toward his mother and I and toward others. We miss him terribly, but I know that he lived a life that was more and more being oriented toward Jesus. Finally, I know that the end of this life was not the end of his life. I literally got to be there when Micah went to be with Jesus, so in all the times before when I had prayed to give him to Jesus, I saw the successful conclusion of his young life here. It was successful because the point of this life is not to make something of yourself or to live a long life, but to give yourself to Jesus and Micah had done that. My prayer for my other 4 kids is the same. That they will as long as they have breath give themselves to the God who loves them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Asking in faith

Today I was reading this,

Matthew 21:18-22 HCSB

Early in the morning,  as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again! ” At once the fig tree withered. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed and said, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly? ” Jesus answered them, “I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.   And if you believe, you will receive  whatever you ask for in prayer.”

We are supposed to have faith and to ask in faith, but can we simply ask for anything and expect to receive it? That does not appear to be the case in the rest of scripture.

First faith must transform us, and then our desires will be in line with what the a Lord desires. We will be then asking not based on simple human desires, but desires transformed by the Lord. Further when our request is not met exactly as we expected we will then be able to accept the answer and also to be better able to apprehend what God really had in mind.

The whole idea that we can simply believe hard enough for something that we want and it will be done simply does not square with the hardship faced by people of great faith in the rest of the Bible.

This is confirmed by James who also talks about asking in faith (James 1:5-7, 4:3-4). Here James explains that we do need to ask in faith but that if we ask with the wrong motives we should not expect to receive from the Lord. The more we pray in faith the more we are transformed to be the people God created us to be.

Jesus could have cursed all bad plants that he saw, and he could have healed everyone in the world. Why didn't he? Because he knew this was not the will of his Father in that moment. He also knew that in the end he was going to redeem the earth, so he could allow temporary suffering and temporary fallenness to affect the earth because he knew that greater glory for His father would come in the long run.

When we pray we do not know the whole plan in detail, but we do know that in the end God wins. Therefore as our faith in Him grows we learn to pray with His purposes in mind. For example when we pray for someone who is sick, we want that person not to feel the effects of pain but we do not know the whole picture. So we pray out of the knowledge we have but perhaps God is using that pain to help them trust Him more, or perhaps to also help those around to grow in their faith.

Therefore, I am learning to pray always that God will be glorified in and through the circumstance. I then pray my desire that I think will bring more joy and less pain in the moment. But if God chooses a different path I learn to trust Him that He knows best.

This does not mean that I do not believe He is capable doing what I asked for, but rather that I know ultimately He knows best. God promises not to give us a snake when we ask for fish (Luke 11:11), but this does not mean we always get the fish. At least not right away.

Our faith rests not in getting what we think we need, but in God who gives us what we need!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Parenting : What is your goal?

Recently a friend of mine sent me a link to a story that he called the best thing he had read in a long time. After reading the article I was left with the question, I wonder what the author's goal was in parenting her children? I have 5 kids (one in heaven now), and I know that I do not have it all figured out. Therefore, Traci and I have done quite a bit of research on parenting, both from a Christian perspective and from a secular perspective. We have done this not just as a clinical exercise but because at times we just do not know what to do next. Therefore this article intrigued me because I am always trying to examine parenting ideas and techniques for myself and for others who ask me for advice.

The article is titled "How Machiavelli Saved My Family," and it tells the story of a mom who took principles from the Italian statesman and philosopher, Machiavelli, and applied them to raising her kids. Machiavelli had a philosophy that emphasizes the use of power to accomplish goals. He wrote primarily to give advice to help the ruling class be more effective.

Some of the principles from Machiavelli's book, The Prince, she applied to raising her kids are: (I summarized the points.)
  1. Do not let your kids have everything they want, because in the long run it will not be good for you or them. She recommends giving them some money of their own to spend so that they can learn how to be more responsible and not nag you for stuff.
  2. Encourage your kids to compete with one another to spur them to accomplish more.
  3. Provide consistent discipline to help your kids learn how to behave.
  4. It is okay to be a little immoral if the goal is good enough to justify it. The example she used was lying to her kids about what she and her husband were doing one weekend so that they could have some much needed away time.
  5. To maintain good control it is okay to use power even against your spouse. The example she gave was withholding sex for the purpose of getting him to agree to her plans for the family.
Now, I have not read Machiavelli myself, so I cannot say whether Ms. Evans, accurately interpreted  him, but I believe my summaries accurately reflect what her ideas. Furthermore, I agree that consistent discipline and teaching about not getting everything you want are great lessons that we all should learn.

On the other hand, Ms. Evan's Machiavellian principles for parenting seem to reveal that she has a wrong understanding of what the goal of a parent should be, especially when compared to the biblical standard of parenting. As a Christian, my goal in parenting my kids is to encourage them to follow Jesus with their whole heart. In other words, parenting is really discipling my kids in their relationship with God. This does not just mean that I just want them to look like Christian externally, but that I want to encourage them to have a personal relationship with the true God of the universe and that their hearts would be oriented toward him. The best material I can recommend in helping understand this goal and giving practical advice toward this end is Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Ted Tripp or for teens, Age of Opportunity, by Paul David Tripp (they are brothers).

As I was reading the article, I could see Ms. Evans had some wrong parenting goals listed by the Tripp brothers in their books. For example, it is clear that Ms. Evans highly valued a controlled and orderly environment in her household and that before applying these principles she did not have those things. Now having an orderly household is not a bad thing, I would suspect that most people value this as well, but if it becomes the goal, then it can be accomplished through means of use of power while at the same time not touching the hearts of the kids.

Another example is the use of competition between the kids to get them to do better in school. Again, I have no problem with encouraging kids to live up to their potential, but the way that she was doing it shows that she had both the wrong goal and techniques that could lead to other problems. She was clearly teaching her kids that their identity and acceptance was tied to their performance in academics. Now again, I am not saying that we should not encourage our kids to succeed in school, but often the report card is a symbol of value of the individual, not just a measure of personal growth.

Furthermore, she was also teaching them their identity was measured in comparison to other people. So life is all about measuring yourself compared to others, and in particular compared to other according to specific standards of success as given by education. This mentality leads some to arrogance because they are now better than others and are rewarded for proving they are better, and it can lead others to despair because they can never measure up. Where in these measure is love for one another? How are they developing character that might encourage them to think of the other person as better than themselves or to love their enemy?

Finally, although Machiavelli never said specifically the ends justify the means, the concept is certainly in his writings and Ms. Evans article clearly shows that she agrees. You are going to teach your kids that a little immorality is fine as long as it leads to some great good, but who determines the greater good? She gives us no idea of what that is other than what she personally desires. She desires a break from the kids, so she lies to accomplish that. (As an aside, why would that require lying? Why would it not be possible to teach your kids that they are not the center of the universe and that parents need time together without deceiving them? In fact, would it not be better to help them see the goodness of their parents spending time together and help them see that a little sacrifice from them in the short run leads to a better outcome in the long run.)

She also apparently thinks that not having any more kids is better, so she uses her relational power to manipulate her husband to the goal that she apparently thinks is better. So she teachers her kids that as long as they perceive the goal to be good, it is okay to ignore the wishes of the other person and force your will on them. I would hate to be her if her kids learn this lesson well and become little Machiavellian princes themselves! As they grow older and learn to use the growing power that they have, they will either revolt and overthrow her in the home or simply leave if they cannot win.

Ms. Evans goals seem to be primarily self centered and while in the short run she may actually help her kids by providing a more stable and controlled environment, in the long run she does not seem to have their interior life in mind, which could lead to major conflict later. Would her way be better than complete chaos? Yes, but that does not mean it is the best way or even close to the best way. I believe it is completely possible to achieve a stable loving household by pointing kids to the gospel so that they can repent and become more like Jesus. This does not mean the kids will be perfect, because we are still being formed into the image of Christ too, but unless we have the right goal in mind we will never come close to the right target.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Moving the marriage fence.

I am posting here a response to a letter in our local paper, The Independent Review, written by Democratic Senator John Marty. You can read the letter here. This is the same letter that was posted to our local paper.

My response is as follows:

Letter to the editor of Independent Review:

“Moving the Marriage Fence”

An old saying goes, “Before you move a fence, you should find out why it was put their in the first place.” Senator John Marty recently wrote a letter to your paper in which he argued that it is now time for marriage equality, and by this he means that we should now allow same-sex couples to get the legal definition and privileges of marriage. He claims that we should do this because most people now support this change and because it is a matter of equality.

Most people have probably not really considered the arguments for or against traditional marriage by which I mean one man and one woman for life, but rather have simply heard sound bites. We should examine the issue a little deeper, because before we move this fence, namely change the definition of marriage, we should understand why it was put there in the first place. Furthermore, we also should consider what the consequences of changing the definition of marriage might be.

Marriage laws have never been about treating people equally. Marriage is in fact about giving privileges to one kind of relationship that we do not give to all types of relationships. There are certain financial, legal and social benefits that marriage laws give to this relationship. The claim that same-sex relationships should get equality is in fact the claim that they should also get extra benefits from the government just like traditional marriages.

But what benefits does society get from marriage that it has a privileged position in the first place? The primary benefit of traditional marriage for society is to provide the best environment for raising children and thereby creating many other societal benefits. Many studies along with our own intuitions show that the best outcomes for kids and even for the couple comes from families made up of a heterosexual couple that stays together long-term. The benefits of long-term stable families led by a Dad and a Mom are better emotional health, financial health, wealth accumulation across generations, and less crime. In the past, this intuitive truth was simply taken for granted because of the common Judeo-Christian ethics that informed western culture, but many people no longer hold to those same ethics, so we are now being asked to change our laws in accordance with new standards. But for our own benefit, we should still consider whether adding new relationships to the definition of marriage provides similar benefits to society.

At best the answer to this question is we do not know because not enough long-term same-sex relationships have been studied, and at worst the answer is no they do not provide those benefits. A recent study, called “New Family Structures Study” by University of Texas at Austin sociologist, Mark Regnerus, helps to verify that traditional marriage still clearly provides the best outcomes. He studied over 3000 adults who grew up in a variety of backgrounds including some that grew up with parents who engaged in same-sex relationships. He found that traditional marriage still clearly provides the best outcomes for children over all other types of relationships. If you doubt this evidence, I encourage you to read the study (it is available on the internet) to see whether or not the study was reasonable and leads to a fair conclusion. If we cannot say for sure that same-sex relationships provide benefit or not, should we be granting them special legal status?

This leads me to the second question we should answer, namely, what is the consequence of making this change? Senator Marty along with many same-sex marriage advocates claims that we should do this because people should be able to marry the person they love. Are they really ready to use that as the primary definition of marriage? If so, then what if someone loves more than one woman or man? Why should those relationships be denied special privileges? Or how about a brother and a sister who have romantic feelings for one another and always have? Why deny them? In fact, why should someone's private feelings of love be taken in to account in public law in the first place? Why should would we discriminate against long-term roommates who are not romantically involved? This same argument used to appeal for publicly recognizing same-sex marriage can be used to justify giving special recognition to all sorts of other relationships.

In fact, lest you think this is simply a silly argument about something that may happen in the future, polygamy advocates are already arguing that they should be able to marry multiple people because that is their desire. If marriage is primarily a public affirmation of private desires, then why limit it to desires for just one person? Either same-sex marriage advocates will need to be open to all other redefinitions of marriage or they will be engaging in the same type of prejudice that they claim others have. Namely, they will be claiming that same-sex desires are good and should be recognized but other people's desires are bad and should not be. The long-run extension of this principle means the choice is not between traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, but between traditional marriage and no definition of marriage.

Senator Marty claims that primary reason that people like me oppose is simply because we are trying to push our particular “religious” truth, with the implication that our truth is really just some old-fashioned opinion that should have no bearing on modern policy. You will notice that my entire argument rests not on my “religious” truth, but rather on testable facts about how human society works best. My primary concern is that any laws and benefits written into law should really reflect what is best for society as a whole. On a personal level, I daily deal with the kids and adults who are wounded from broken families because over the last generation we as a culture have already greatly devalued the nuclear family, and my personal passion about this issue arises out of a desire to see stronger families and fewer hurting people.

Do these facts and arguments match my particular religious beliefs? Yes, but they also match the beliefs of many other religions and societies throughout thousands of years, thus our designation of traditional marriage. Furthermore, history shows that traditional marriage provided a strong framework upon which our civilization was built, and modern social science proves that it remains the best foundation that we could have going forward. My hope is that we will think and discuss the issue rationally and with good will toward each other, because if we consider all the facts, we will see that laws encouraging traditional marriage help us continue to have a society of free, happy and healthy people.

Finally, undoubtedly simply by addressing this issue, I will be labeled as a bigot. Some people, perhaps many of those define themselves as gay or lesbian will feel like I am attacking them personally, because they think I am trying to deny them happiness simply because of a prejudiced mind. Let me state categorically that I do not hate you or anyone. I wish you the best, and although we may disagree about what is best for you, me and the world, I have no bad feelings toward you. I hope that you will give me the same benefit of the doubt that you want me to give you, so that you can consider my arguments before you dismiss me as a person. I am also open for dialogue and I have no problem having friendships with people even when we disagree on certain issues and lifestyles. Thanks for giving me a hearing.

Sincerely,
Mike Sechler