Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm Officially the Worst Dad Ever

So this morning I became the Worst Dad Ever. It's official. No need to recount the votes or anything, it's a done deal. Here's how I earned this title.
My daughter loves to read. She doesn't read books, she devours them. This is a good thing. What's not a good thing is that when I looked at the book she was reading this morning I noticed the title was "The Necromancer." Necromancy is the art of black magic and/or talking with & conjuring up the dead. In other words, it's not something that is smiled on in polite society. 
But more to the point, it's not something that is smiled on by God. Leviticus 19:26 & Deuteronomy 18:10 both expressly forbade God's people from involvement in this. "But that Old Testament and we're under grace now", you might say. True enough. But Galatians 5:19-20 speak to the same topic. Point is, it's hard to figure how it's a good idea for a follower of Jesus to entertain themselves with something that is strictly forbidden in the Bible, right? 
So I told my daughter this, told her this wasn't the best choice of reading material and we need to find something else. And that, my friends, is when it got fun. She didn't yell, because she isn't a yell-er. She started sniffling, then silently cried for a while. She was upset because the book is part of a series and if she couldn't finish the book she wouldn't know how it would end and it was a cliffhanger and she'd already read the first two and it just isn't a big deal and she knows it isn't real so why can't I just finish it and you're the WORST DAD EVER! 
OK, she didn't actually say that last part. But she was thinking it. So I had a great start to my morning.
As much as I like giving my kids a hard time, I didn't enjoy this at all. I don't like knowing she's upset with me. I don't like knowing I upset her. So why stick to my guns? Couple reasons.
1, her happiness is not my primary concern. I want her to be happy. I want her to have the most wonderful childhood imaginable and have lots of happy memories and one day, when I'm old and gray, have her sit with me and we can laugh together about all the fun times we had while she was growing up. 
But her happiness isn't my primary concern. My primary concern is that I raise her in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I'm charged by God to teach her what it means to serve Him. And part of that means I teach her about boundaries, and then enforce those boundaries. I want her to be happy. But more than that, I want her to be holy.
2, she doesn't always need what she thinks she needs. Children are convinced they know what's best for them, right? Ice cream at every meal, no bed time, and never, not ever, should they go to school. Just ask them. As parents we know that's not the case. They don't always know what they need. They don't always need what they think they need. And sometimes, the most loving thing I can do as a parent is to deny my children what they think they need to be happy. Even when it makes me the Worst Dad Ever.

Now here's the point of all this. This experience this morning was a great theology lesson for me. Because I usually react exactly like my daughter. And I react that way towards my heavenly father. There are times when I get upset with God. I get frustrated with him. I'll feel anger towards him when things aren't going the way I think they should. When that happens there are a couple things I have to learn to keep in mind.
1, my happiness is not God's primary concern. If you check the Christian best seller list you'll probably get the idea that what matters more than anything else to God is that you're happy and your life is perfect. That's just not a biblical idea.  God's primary concern for my life is that I'm conformed to the image of Christ. The greatest problem that mankind faces isn't that we're unhappy, it's that we're unholy. Sadness doesn't keep us from God-sin does. That's why Jesus didn't die to make me happy. He died to make me holy. At the moment of salvation I'm declared holy before God and then God spends the rest of my life making me who he's declared me to be. That means that sometimes I'll be unhappy to the glory of God. Now the end result of holiness is happiness. Actually it's something greater than happiness-it's unending joy. Ps. 16:11, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Holiness leads to eternal happiness. But God will never sacrifice the end result--holiness--to give us temporal happiness. He loves us too much.
2, I don't always need what I think I need. Just as my kids think they know what's best for them, I tend to think I know what's best for me. The reality is that I don't always know what's best for me. But God does. And often, the most loving thing God can do is deny me what I think I need be happy. Again, happiness isn't what I need most. It's holiness. And God knows precisely what I need to be made more like Christ. He always has my best interests at heart. I don't always have my best interests at heart, even though I think I do. The tension, then, is to learn to trust him instead of my own instincts.
One other interesting thing I noticed. My daughter didn't say, "Dad, I don't like this. But I trust you. I know you have my best interests at heart and so I'll accept this. Thanks for loving me enough to do something I don't like." No, she huffed her way to school and I'm sure she's telling all her friends what a jack wagon her dad is. That's fine. The opinion of children who can't properly match socks doesn't much concern me. But wouldn't that have been the right response? 
Shouldn't that be my response to God? When he does things for the sake of my holiness rather than my happiness, when he withholds the things I think I need because I don't actually need them, shouldn't I thank him for it? Even if I don't like it, shouldn't I be able to look back at his faithfulness? Not just to me, but throughout scripture. Shouldn't I be able to see how he's worked in the past and let that guide me to trust him with my present and my future?
I may be the Worst Dad Ever. But I'm so thankful that God is the best father, and will do whatever is necessary to finish the work he's begun in me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Good Enough Even When I'm Not

I finished this morning's run at one of the best paces I've ever managed. I'm not posting the pace because, A) I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, and B) It's not a pace that will win me any races. I was happy with the time but I've got friends who can run circles around me. Even though that's the case, I'm not discouraged. I don't want to burn my running shoes. I don't want to sleep in until at least 5 on running days. OK, I actually do want to do that. Point is, I don't let the accomplishments of others cause me discouragement. I don't even let my own failures get me down. I know there's another day to run and another road to run on.
What's interesting is that my mindset towards my walk with Christ is often the complete opposite of my mindset towards running. As I try to serve Jesus I fail often. I fail miserably. I fail as a dad, I fail as a husband, I fail as a pastor & I fail as a man. I lose my temper. I'm not loving. I'm selfish. I don't put my wife first. I complain about doing things I have to do. I covet. I'm not content. I worry and fret about the future. And like so many of my fellow believers I get discouraged. I look at all my failures and often I just want to give up. The thought process goes something like, "If I can't do any better than that then why bother at all? I'm a disappointment to Jesus and myself." Or maybe it's something like, "God must be so sick of hearing me confess this failure to him again. I must be such a disappointment to him."
Why is it that when I fail as a runner I'm really not that discouraged but when I fail as a believer I'm ready to throw in the towel? Why is it that I don't beat myself up over a slow time but I will wallow in guilt over sin? I don't know the answers to those questions but here's what I do know.

I know that I don't have to be good enough--Jesus was good enough for me. (2 Cor. 5:21)

I know that I don't have to meet a standard to be accepted by God--Jesus met the standard for me. (I Cor. 1:30)

I know that I don't have to pay for my sins--Jesus paid for them in my place. (I John 4:10)

In other words, I don't have to waste my time wallowing in guilt over my failures. I experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I confess my sins to God and I receive His forgiveness through the perfect life and substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. I don't have the spend my days worrying about my sin. I'm free to run the race that is set before me with joy. I'm free to rest in the finished work of Christ as I strive to be further conformed to His image. I'm free of the burden of comparing myself with my fellow believers and can instead encourage them in their walk with Christ and be encouraged by them in mine.
Because of Jesus--His life, death, resurrection & ascension--I'm good enough. Even when I'm not. Because my goodness didn't come from me. It came from Christ. As the old hymn says, "Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!"

May we rest in the incredible work of Christ today, and live by his grace and for his glory.