Saturday, January 26, 2013

Those Who Walk With the King as Kings and Queens

     The movie rendition of Prince Caspian really grieved me because Peter is such a jerk at times. The writers of the script brought him down to the current level of poor character that is typical for our generation, almost completely obliterating the noble character of Peter in the original book.
     The thing that is most wrong about this, I think, is that it so misses the point of C.S. Lewis’ stories: those who "company" with Aslan are deeply changed, and that would be especially true of those who walk with him for an extended period of time as kings and queens. Yes, Lewis himself writes of Susan’s later abandonment of some of the Narnian principles, but not in the way portrayed by those who rewrote the Caspian story. One of the main points of the Narnia Chronicles is the nobility of character of those who learn to walk as Kings and Queens with Aslan, the King of Kings.
     And I have seen that nobility in some of Jesus’ joint-heirs, those who will reign with Him and who walk with Him now as a Royal Priesthood. I know some of His royal brothers and sisters who live as He lived: confident but humble, richly generous and benevolent, noble of character and outlook, patient with the weak and gracious with the broken. They are in all walks of life, from the simple and weak to the powerful and highly sophisticated. Like their King, they don’t draw attention to themselves, but they are not uncomfortable with greatness should it come their way because they recognize where true greatness comes from. Like their King, an air of peace, concern for others and nobility emanates from them like the fragrance of a heavenly rose.
     I think specifically of kings and queens of whom I once read who died with dignity in experimental gas chambers in the prisons of North Korea, people who were at peace even as they sought to protect their children who died with them. I think of a friend’s meeting of humble, self-effacing Chinese men who were powerful overseers of millions of underground house church believers. I think of a quiet but courageous woman who has faithfully poured out love to the children in the poorest neighborhood in Las Vegas for many, many years. I think of a businessman who leads with grace and kindness as God has prospered him beyond anything he ever dreamed—I think of how he carries himself with quiet humility, freely giving away large sums as God leads without anyone knowing. I think of Nick, now in Heaven, who was one of the humblest and meekest of men I have ever met. He quietly served our family business as janitor and had a quiet but rock solid faith in Jesus. I think of his gentleness and meekness and realize now, years later, that he also carried the mark of a King, a nobility of character and grace. I think of a humble, but courageous man in Papua New Guinea who has raised the dead but speaks of it with joyful meekness. And I think of many more royal souls, some of them loud and outgoing, some of them quiet and almost invisible. My life is rich with many kings and queens who have companied with the King of Kings.
     And it is this last thing, I think, that is the common thread in all of their lives and the reason that nobility hangs on them like a heavenly robe. Whereas some people may settle for a “get-out-of-hell free” ticket, for these remarkable souls “companying with their King” is the pulsating center of their lives. And in hanging out with their King, the fragrance of their King somehow permeates their lives. Make it so in me, in all of us, my King!

Hanging out with Royalty,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Grace of Parenting

     God has blessed me with two amazing sons. Jon and Josh are remarkable men of God, wonderful husbands, patient and wise fathers and capable men and ministers. It is very much by the grace of God (and a good partner in parenting) that this is so, but a recent coaching conversation arrived at a commitment on my part to write down some of the key principles that God's grace provided my wife and me for parenting. I am still reflecting on some of these, but perhaps they will help some of you parents and/or grandparents discover fresh grace for parenting.
     "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up (nurture them) with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4 NLT). I didn't realize until I started making this list how much this verse has influenced my parenting over the years. See if you can see the many ways it influenced me (starting with the fact that Paul placed upon fathers the primary responsibility for parenting!). The principles are below. None of them were practiced to perfection--more than once my parenting flowed more from fear than principle--but there was a consistency that God graced us with, and it seems to have been what God wanted.

  • Absolute commitment to living God-centered lives in every context. Maybe it was some bias in me, more likely it was a gift from Papa, but there was never any question in my life that we would "practice what we preached" and that God would indeed be the center of our lives as evidenced by our actions and not just our words. It didn't take me long after Jon's birth to realize that he was watching (and soon imitating) my every move, and from the moment of that realization there sprung a fresh commitment to live with integrity the Jesus life. More than once my sons saw me on my knees asking for their forgiveness (or me asking their mom for the same), and we tried to be consistent in modeling everything related to healthy relationships and the fruit of the Spirit. (Again, not with perfection but with growing consistency).
  • Intentional prioritization of parenting. Jettie and I viewed the raising of our children as a sacred trust and the most important thing in our lives, something that eclipsed all other goals and destinies. I had seen far too many children marginalized in the name of "serving God" to want to go down that path, so my sons knew that they were valued above my personal ambitions even while they also learned to make room for Daddy's sometimes busy life. One of the many ways I lived this out was to have "Daddy time" with my sons every single night I was home. Every night we would go back to the master bedroom, lay on the bed and read a story (Chronicles of Narnia were favorites), talk about life and things and then pray. That practice continued even through college days for Jon until we finally moved away from him!
  • Discipline early that set clear boundaries that enabled us to start coaching them early on. Danny Silk's book, Loving Our Kids on Purpose, does a better job of describing the coaching process and purpose for it, so I recommend you get it and read it! The early use of clear boundaries, lovingly but firmly enforced seems to have made room for instruction.
  • United parenting. By sheer grace, Jettie and I were united in our approach to parenting. Our sons never had a sense of division between Jettie or me so they were never confused nor were they tempted often to try to play one of us against the other. This is probably more important than I realized at the time.
  • Living responsively more than reactively. My experience with my own dad wasn't always positive, but early on Papa God made it clear that it would be counter-productive to raise my sons in reaction to what my own dad did or didn't do. I chose instead to listen a lot to Papa for how to live proactively and positively, seeking to encourage my sons, spend time with my sons, listen to my sons, etc. 
  • Listening to God helped more than I can describe. One incident early on comes to mind. I had come home from a tense church meeting (yes, those do exist!) and the boys (very young) were being rowdy or something. I exploded in anger at them almost as soon as I entered the door, striking the wall with hand hard enough to hurt myself. My sons were surprised and terrified. Immediately God spoke to me and asked me, "Do you remember that look? Do you want to pass that along to them?" My repentance was instant and deep. There we also many times of just sitting with Papa and listening (usually after worrying a while and trying to figure things out on my own!). I cannot tell you how many times God was faithful to give wisdom that could not be gained through human means.
     I am sure that I will think of other things later, but these are some of the big rocks, I think. Please, please note, too, that all along the journey Papa was healing me up so that I could live the Jesus life from a place of increasing wholeness. If you are terribly broken and trying to parent, you need to pursue healing and nurturing from a loving community of believers.
     Did these things work? Josh wrote a tribute to me several years ago which is too glowing for me to include, but one of his closing lines drills me to the heart and describes for me what the Grace of Parenting looks like: "From God's hand this man received the Christ-like heart that he needed, and though at the time he did not know it, his boys, on that large island, met God in him." (Thanks, son!)

Marveling at God's grace,

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

p.s. Wayne Jacobsen's last two blogs are amazing! Check them out here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

God-colored Glasses

     I was struck this week by how often I read the Bible through me-colored glasses rather than God-colored ones. I noticed in me this persistent tendency to read everything in terms of something for me to do (a principle to apply, an action to take, a promise to claim, etc.).    
    The passage I was reading when this epiphany hit me is one that is familiar to many: Matthew 6:24-34 ("Don't worry, seek first the Kingdom," etc.). As I was reflecting on Jesus' words it dawned on me that in reading this passage in terms of something for me to do I was almost entirely missing what Jesus was saying. His purpose in this passage (and in much of the Sermon on the Mount) is to reveal the Father. The things He tells His hearers to "do" are in response to the revelation of how amazing, loving and caring Father God is!
    Perhaps I can illustrate this by looking at a few verses from Matthew 6. Look at verses 1-4 where Jesus tells His hearers to be careful about doing "acts of righteousness" in a way that avoids drawing attention to oneself. But how many of us get stuck on the behavior here instead of the reason behind it: We have a gracious and generous Father who will reward us far better than any human could ever do. 
     And Jesus continues this "Father focus" in the rest of His teaching here. In teaching about prayer and fasting (verses 5-18), He reveals a Father who rewards us, who knows (and cares deeply about) our needs before we even ask Him, whose Kingdom and will are infinitely important, who will grant us daily provision and lead us away from temptation, who is unseen but rewards us openly, etc. 
     Jesus continues His Father focus throughout the rest of chapter 6. We have a Father who offers eternal, imperishable treasure that He reserves in Heaven, who is willing to care for our physical needs in generous ways so that we can be free from worry, and who adds all that we need to our lives as we choose to make Him and His righteous Kingdom our focus.
     I trust you get my point here. What would it be like to read familiar passages of Scripture with God-colored glasses on? My sense is that the stunningly powerful vision of our loving Father would make the actions described in the passage a grateful and natural response rather than a list of to dos. But more than that, it will pull us into such deepening intimacy with Father that we finally grasp that it's all about relationship.
     Just thinking. Why don't you join me in trying this out? I, for one, am choosing to take off my me-focused glasses now and asking Papa to capture my heart with increasing revelation of who He is.

Lost in His love and glad of it,

Tom, one of His little children