Encouragement From The Word

Grunt Work

Our nation is in mourning after a number of people on the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan were stabbed to death this past weekend.  The whole matter came to a tragic end with the arrest, and subsequent death, of the alleged perpetrator, Myles Sanderson.

It’s a heartbreaking story with many, many facets.  Mr. Sanderson was a young man in his 30s with a long rap sheet.  What could have made him a career criminal?  Again, there are many facets even to this aspect of the story, and I want us to consider just one of them.

I know nothing of his childhood and nothing of his family, so I won’t speculate.  But something we can learn from this tragedy is the value of raising children with intentionality and care.

Parenting is hard; it’s the hardest job known to the human race.  It has not been my privilege to parent.  I have served parents, though, throughout my many years of ministry, and those who have done well have parented intentionally and carefully.

It’s one of those tasks that never seems to end, at least when one is in the thick of it.  It’s especially challenging for Christian parents, because they are constantly fighting against a world (with much media in its arsenal) that seeks to suck children into its vortex.  Christian parents are always having to hold their kids by the ankles to keep them from being taken in by the world and its ways.

Some might say the answer is to shelter them completely, but I suspect that does them few favours as they grow up and see what’s going on around them.

Parents must talk to their kids, and equip them for the world they will face.  They need to help their kids develop profound discernment skills so they can make decisions well – not just how to cook and clean and buy a car, but how to have a strong sexual ethic, a deep value for life, a profound respect for all people – and countless other skills.  

And it’s the church’s job to help parents with this.

Traditional models for Christian education largely assumed that parents had all the tools they needed to raise their kids not only to be good citizens, but to know and follow Jesus.  Those traditional models – still employed in some churches today – worked in the Christendom age, when most western nations were still considered Christian countries, but they don’t work today.

That’s why it’s important for churches to stand by parents, and to equip them, so that children are ready to face the world.  Most of the work parents need to do cannot be farmed out to others, the way we employ someone to teach our kids how to play the piano.  Parents must do this work themselves.  And some feel ill-equipped to do it.

The church exists to make disciples of Jesus; that’s our mission.  And it’s not just about getting more professions of faith, as important as that is; it’s also about equipping God’s people for life’s most basic and most profound tasks.

Perhaps your church, like ours, invests in family ministry for that purpose.  If it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?  It’s an investment that pays off not only in the Kingdom of God as we envision it in the future; it’s an investment that affects the world we live in for today and tomorrow.

It’s grunt work.  It can be painful.  It can be heart-wrenching.  But when it is done well, I also understand it is very satisfying, not only for parents, but for everybody else.

Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

We can ‘be’ change

The mass shooting in Las Vegas last weekend is a terrible tragedy.  Many lives were lost, many more people were injured, and emotionally, a lot of people are going to need help to resume some semblance of normality – not just the injured and the families of those who died, but also the bystanders and the people who work at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooting took place.  Long after the news stops talking about it (news channels always find something new and shiny on which to focus), people will still be struggling.

Of course, in this era of social media where everyone seeks to share an opinion, lots of folks are talking about the need for greater gun control, tighter immigration policies, or tougher screening to weed out terrorists.  But there is something else that can be done.

Parents can raise their children.

That might sound like an incongruous non sequitur, but think about it:  if parents raise their children – not just give birth to them, not just feed them, not just provide for their wants and needs, but raise them – we will have a generation of people who become adults who don’t have a hankering to kill people.  That sounds simplistic, but I know too many moms and dads who have engaged in the hard work of raising their kids whose children turn out to be kind, loving adults to believe it can’t be done.

To be sure, there are countless outside influences that work against what conscientious parents are doing, but that only raises the level of the challenge.

It seems like an insurmountable job, and it is.  Parents can’t do it on their own.

Parents need God’s help, and they need God’s agents to help them: the church.

When parents acknowledge that the job is too difficult for them to do alone, and they submit themselves to the Lord who knew their children before they were formed in the womb (Psalm 139.16), they give their children to God, recognizing that even parenthood is a form of stewardship; children are ours to raise on God’s behalf.

Then, the community of faith can partner with the parents to help kids grow up to be good, law-abiding citizens, yes, but also to love and serve the Lord.  When we introduce God into the lives of children, the Holy Spirit becomes an invisible player in the game of child-rearing – that unpredictable, love-engendering, tongues-of-fire-giving Spirit supports the work of diligent parents and churches.  And the result is a generation of adults who in turn raise their children the same way.

Will this work perfectly?  Undoubtedly not; because of sin, there will always be challenges to God’s plan for families.  But while we pray for those affected, while we work to bring change where change is needed in society, let’s start with our own families.  We can bring change; we can be change.

If you love me, obey my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (Jesus, John 15.16, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Parenthood: The Parent’s Priority

This series, inspired by Craig Groeschel of Life.Church, will take a look at some aspects of the crucial responsibility that befalls parents in our day to raise their kids to love and serve the Lord.  Today, we looked at Deuteronomy 6.1-9 and Proverbs 22.6 as we delved into the parent’s priority.  Have a listen, or check out the link to Facebook Live below.

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Encouragement From The Word

Want a solution to gun violence? Choose life.

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, or get news from southern Ontario, it’s been hard to miss that there has been a tremendous amount of gun violence lately.  In a city the size of Toronto, it is hard not to have some, and there always is some – but this summer, it seems to have become nearly virulent.  From the tragedy in the Eaton Centre food court to the street party gone amok on Danzig Street, we have been eyewitnesses, through the news, to a growing loss in our society:  the loss of the value of human life itself.

We are used to hearing about gun violence in the United States, even though it saddens us greatly; the most recent occurred last evening at a movie theatre in the Denver, Colorado area.  But in Toronto the Good?  No, thanks.

Of course, the politicians all weigh in with their assessments, right and left:  Mayor Ford says, ‘Catch the thugs and put them in jail, and don’t let them back in the city when they get out’; Councillor Vaughan says, ‘Ban the sale of guns and/or ammunition.’  But the root of the problem is deeper than that; it’s deeper than any politician alone can solve.

The problem with gun violence, I think, has much more to do with how we view human life, and how we are parented – and these are related.

One of the things that is common among many of the violent criminals in Toronto (and perhaps anywhere) is that they often have not had their fathers active in their lives.  (This leads to a long tangent on which I could ride with respect to an aberrant view of sexual activity from which I will refrain for now.)  As politically incorrect as it is to say, kids need both an active mom and an active dad in their lives to grow up well; or, at least, they need both an active female and male figure in their lives to be well-rounded.  Many of these young people with guns in hand have never been taught to respect the weapon for what it is and what it can do.

When I was a child, there were two guns hanging on a gun rack in our spare room.  A .22 and a .303 were just hanging there – long before there was any registry or any lock-up rules – and I knew where the bullets were kept.  Those guns were hardly ever used.  I remember Dad taking me out to an old sand dune to teach me how to use the .22.  I don’t ever remember being especially a good shot, but one thing Dad did in taking me out to learn how to use the gun, and that is that he taught me to respect the weapon.  I’m not sure a lot of people who get guns in their hands and are charged with crimes have ever been taught respect for the weapon.

However, even those who respect the weapon can still willfully misuse it if they have not been taught respect for life.  It seems we have some in our society today who would rather just kill someone with whom they disagree than have an adult conversation that might lead either to mutual disagreement or (gasp) reconciliation.  Why?  Because life doesn’t matter to them.

This is where parents play key roles.  There are some of you, I know, who are pulling your hair out trying to be the best mom or dad that you can be for your children, to help them follow God’s way and live as disciples of Jesus.  It’s the hardest job with which you could ever be charged.  God is for you, and God is with you, as you seek to raise your children not to be criminals, or victims, like we hear about in the news.   Your church community will support you as you do all you can in God’s grace to raise godly children.

Others of you, I know, wrestle with the fact that you did your best with your kids, and they have not turned out as you had hoped.  Outside influences ended up having more of an influence than you did.  Maybe they’re not in prison, but they’re not following Jesus, either.  God hears your heart’s cry for your kids, and maybe your grandkids.  He knows your pain.  He longs to comfort you.

Pray for families.  They are the nucleus of God’s plan for creation and society, and the Enemy will use the dissolution of families to try to break down the church.  Pray that families will engender a respect for life, and a love for Jesus.

Pray for those who take out their pain and frustration on others violently.  Pray that the Lord will grab hold of their hearts and replace their anger with love.

Pray for churches to reach out to parents who struggle to raise their kids, under varieties of sometimes unimaginable circumstances.  Pray that congregations will let God’s love spill over into those who need it most.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20a, NIV).