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July 1, 2016

Overture 43 from General Assembly:

Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10); and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of past failures to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures in accordance with what the Gospel requires, as well as failures to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters concerning racial sins and personal bigotry, and failing to “learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17);” and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly praises and recommits itself to the gospel task of racial reconciliation, diligently seeking effective courses of action to further that goal, with humility, sincerity and zeal, for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it further resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America to make this resolution known to their members in order that they may prayerfully confess their own racial sins as led by the Spirit and strive towards racial reconciliation for the advancement of the gospel, the love of Christ, and the glory of God.

Be it further resolved, that the 44th General Assembly call the attention of churches and presbyteries to the pastoral letter contained in Overture 55 as an example of how a presbytery might provide shepherding leadership for its churches toward racial reconciliation; and

Be it finally resolved, that the 44th General Assembly remind the churches and presbyteries of the PCA that BCO 31-2 and 38-1 provide potent and readily available means for dealing with ones who have sinned or continue to sin in these areas.

 

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January 10th, 2016 

The Missional Church, by Tim Keller.
Follow this link to download the full paper by Tim Keller, from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.  We will have printed copies available in the Narthex and in the church office. 

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July 16, 2015

Turning the hearts of fathers and mothers to their children   (Malachi 4:17-18)

As a father of three adult children, it strikes me that parenting may be a good bit like the skill of writing, about which Ernest Hemmingway once remarked, “We are all apprentices in a craft that has no masters.” The feeling that quality parenting is elusive is compounded by the fact that just when you feel you might be getting the hang of it, your children are grown and gone. Parenting is just not a skill that you get a ton of time to improve, much less perfect. It may then be well worth the time and effort to explore a few things early rather than throwing lots of noodles against the wall hoping something sticks.

Significantly, the Holy Spirit seems reluctant to provide us with a clear and concise plan in the scriptures for nurturing healthy children. Perhaps the Lord wants us to come to his Word curious rather than competent, full of questions and eager to discover clues and hints that might instruct us. Perhaps a “handbook for parents” approach with several classic texts would make us lazy and unimaginative. What’s more, there are precious few examples in scripture of what good parenting looked like in real households. Perhaps Amram and Jochebed, who parented Moses, Aaron and Miriam, stand out as an example of a healthy household. They must have done something right as three of their children went on to important leadership roles in a critical chapter of the redemptive story. In the New Testament the godly Zachariah and Elizabeth apparently raised a spiritually and emotionally healthy son late in their lives. John would be secure enough to call out Herod for his illicit marriage to Herodias, a choice John would ultimately pay for with his life. Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois apparently nurtured in him in his formative years with something of their deep confidence in God’s faithfulness. (II Timothy 1:5) Beyond this, there are mostly examples of households in which disobedience, strife, abuse, competition, and other human dysfunctions were all too common. While the negative examples of Jacob, Eli, Samuel, Gilead, (Judges 11) David and Solomon might tempt us to despair, they actually form the backdrop for enormous hope. In nearly all these households, God worked his work of covenant lovingkindness despite the notorious failings of parents and children alike.

This said, there is certainly no shortage of help in understanding human relationships in scripture: there is the paralyzing role of shame in human souls, the destructive power of betrayal, havoc created in families by a failure to protect, reconciliation and healing, and dozens of other realities that influence us as we move from infancy through childhood to adulthood. With this in mind we can surely discern the basic contours of God’s intentions for families. It should be noted that some of the more prominent clues are downright intriguing, the stuff of wild and wonderful visions of just how rich a place God wants our households to be. In parenting, as in all things, there is much redemption needed, offered, and accomplished! My intentions here are to simply describe what our Father in heaven seemed to use in the lives of our three children. In most of these things our theory was better than our practice. And in some cases it is only in hindsight that we recognized the importance of certain gifts that God was giving us. But if our fumbling along can be of help to others, well then…………..

The goal of parenting deserves attention. It seems to me that a major goal of parenting is to nurture children in the direction of becoming secure and authentic disciples in a dangerous world, but a world created for and through our beautiful Savior, Jesus. This discipleship is preoccupied with a passionate enjoyment of an infinitely good God, a passion that is to engage every nook and cranny of a child’s humanity. This goal is predicated upon fundamental human needs. In the hearts of our children are deep longings for beauty, truth, justice and love, things that can only be satisfied in the enjoyment of a God who dazzles the heart as well as the mind and even the senses.

From a love for God flows the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. We want to encourage in our children an emotional maturity that enables them to become curious and genuinely engaged in their relationships with others. If we are to foster an environment where the passionate pursuit of the living God and one’s neighbor can flourish, we must be clear about our resources.

The two greatest resources at every parent’s disposal are the access we have to the heart of God through listening with care to his Word and responding to him in our prayers. Period!

The Word of God- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the
Word was God….without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3) These words of John provide the most intriguing and satisfying knowledge on the planet! The saving presence of the living Word of God, the risen Christ, is always our greatest asset, bar none. This is true in the church and in our households. This living Word spent many years as a child in Nazareth, so he not only perfected the plan we call “family” in the beginning, but himself was part of one. Jesus knows family!

Sooner or later you have to face the hard stuff with your child. In the scriptures there are many things revealed that are clear, unequivocal, and life transforming. About them we can be bold and unapologetic. But even some of these things have a hard side to them. What about the Trinity? The incarnation? The coming restoration? These things are mindboggling! If we are really paying attention, the Christian story at critical junctures can be nearly unbelievable. Beyond not treating these foundational wonders casually, we need to be sensitive to other things in scripture that are really difficult, especially things we find to be in tension with each other, or at least seem so to the honest student. For instance, the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is a major tension. There is the teaching regarding the infinite goodness of God and eternal punishment, both clearly taught but so difficult to reconcile. There is the absolute and wonderful equality of male and female in the same book in which many of us believe male headship (accountability) is taught. There is the goodness of marriage in the very same letter in which Paul argues that “…those who have wives should live as if they had none.” (I Cor. 7:29) The tensions are many and they can be extremely perplexing to our children the more they read and the deeper they go in “what is written.” Trying to make difficult teachings easy is a mistake. Let them remain difficult even while seeking some kind of understanding.  

Jesus tells Phillip, “…if you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) God can be known and loved! But wasn’t St. Augustine right too when he said somewhat famously, “We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you understand, then it is not God.” The more we recognize the hard things like this with our children the better able they will be to feel comfortable asking questions and facing the tensions and complexities of human nature, politics, ethics and so forth. After all, even physical reality is not simple and without its perplexing anomalies. As a rule, liquids expand when heated but water expands when cooled. Go figure! And what about the amazing mammals that live in the sea or meat eating plants?

Prayer- not the pious kind, but the desperate kind. Desperate people pray. If you know you are broken parents raising broken children in a terribly broken world, you are, by definition, desperate. Often Susan and I blundered our way through as parents. We had many blind spots. At times we failed miserably. One thing we knew was how inadequate we were. This drove us into the arms of God our Father. We prayed for our children. Susan was so strong on this! We knew from the scriptures that at the heart of the Covenant of Grace is a promise: “I will be God to you and to your seed after you.” We lived by this promise and not by our parenting techniques, which were so often not very good. The importance of this cannot be overstated, and not just in our case. Hannah prayed for her son (I Sam 1) and demonstrated by her prayers that she had a firm grasp of who God is and his central role in all human affairs. (I Sam. 2) Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed and God formed boldness and passion in the life of their son John. (Luke 1:13, 67-80)

 

So what did I learn about being a father to Heidi, Jeffrey and Carrie over all these years?

  1. Man was made for joy! What’s more, this has incredibly deep roots. As delight without end exists between the three persons of the Trinity, so man, made in God’s image, is designed for the mutual enjoyment of him and each other. This wild, wonderful and creative reality can first be known in our households. I have come to believe that within our households, God’s chief concern may be that we know how to enjoy our children! This seems to be assumed in texts like Proverbs 3:12 where delight in our children is considered the basis for their discipline. Other texts, such as Jeremiah 31:20 surprise us with how central this is for God himself. Our kids have a genuine, divinely given need to be enjoyed by their parents and siblings, to be delighted in even on their worst day. It is a huge part of their emotional health to know that God not only loves them-he enjoys loving them! The same is true of their parents. Whether you are reading Green Eggs and Ham together or crawling through holes in a chain link fence on your way to a cost cutting “Buc night” to watch Pirate baseball, do enjoy your children!

 

  1. Learn to enjoy God with your children in a thousand settings- Family worship for most families feels like a daunting task. But if we take a clue from brother Moses, we can seize all times and places as the stuff of worship. (Deut. 6:5-9) Learn to sing the doxology (so to speak) at the Zoo, reading “Ranger Rick”, around a roaring campfire, and eventually, when your job is actually complete, over a beer. There is surely a place to read and sing and pray around the dinner table. And this is worth fighting for. At the same time, many opportunities for parents to enjoy the Holy One with their children are lost if we forget to see him active in the thunderstorm (Psalms 29 and 97) working in the hearts of politicians (Prov. 21:1) or rescuing the oppressed. (Ps 103:6, 68:5,6) The rewards for creativity here are immense. Over time, what may have begun as a duty will morph into something to delight in. The Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Ps. 24:1) This means that everything has value as a potential stimulus to worship God!
  2. God’s mission to restore everything begins in our households--One of the most neglected portions of scripture is found in that fascinating portion of the God and Abraham story that Moses tells. God is on his way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their hardhearted treatment of the poor and their idolatrous sexual sin. With justice on his mind and in his bones, the Lord thinks to himself,

 

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:17-19)

These words are crammed with possibilities! Here we have the clearest expression in scripture of God’s vision for our households! The Covenant of Grace established with our father Abraham (Gal. 3:7) is designed to lead the way into a revolution. The sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah are called to be about the work of doing justice and righteousness in a world marked by fear, self-centeredness and oppression. Any study of the Hebrew words for justice and righteousness will show that these terms are almost universally paired and used in the OT in reference to how the poor, the marginalized, and the alienated are to be treated. Consider such passages as Psalm 72 and 112, Isaiah 1:12-17, Jeremiah 7:1-8, 22:11-17 and Daniel 4:26-27 to name just a few. Families are created and redeemed in large part to be co-conspirators with God in a massive and ultimately successful resistance movement to evil. Not however, through rants and denunciations about all that is wrong. But primarily through the immensely constructive alternative whereby God equips our homes to be places of refuge, first for our children, and also for the stranger, the widow, the imprisoned, the rejected and the betrayed. These are the people that Jesus instructs us to invite in for a feast of shalom. (Luke 14:12-14) God will bring opportunities to each household to welcome in a colorful assortment of suffering people who need non-patronizing care and a taste of the grace that we ourselves have experienced. Happily, each household will look very different because God is endlessly creative. Families are designed to be resourceful, unique, and even quirky! But the result in each case will be active involvement with what God is doing in the world before his Son ushers in the final restoration. The last thing we are after is to create well educated, well behaved children who then, as someone has put it, “…sleep through the revolution.”

We do not want is to raise children whose view of the Christian faith is limited to personal salvation. The biblical concept of “salvation” is big, really big! The Kingdom of God encompasses every aspect of the created order. So our children need to see the possibilities of advancing that Kingdom as family court judges, teachers of children, hairdressers, graphic artists, medical assistants, urban designers, janitors and security guards.

  1. Hospitality –Hospitality is typically conceived of as service to others and hence is part of God’s vision spelled out in Genesis 18. But I believe that it was enormously healthy for us and our children to be exposed to all kinds of people, up close and personal. Sometimes it was a meal shared. But mostly it was just having people around, followers of Christ and those who were not, people who brought many gifts to the table and folks who brought mostly their need. There were people like the song writing, trumpet playing, multi-language speaking follower of Jesus, John Dolan. There was Yvonne Graves, a single mom who had suffered all kinds of heartache and loss with an abiding confidence that God is good. There were needy men and women who made us laugh a lot.

 

There were times when I failed to consider whether certain situations were appropriate for each child. I once took our children to visit someone at a maximum security prison in Trenton, New Jersey, without much consideration of their feelings, limits, or even their interest in going.

What was I thinking? Regrettably, failures like this sometimes took years to recognize and confess.   Nevertheless, I would encourage every parent to welcome a wide array of people into your household. Our children need to see and know men and women from all kinds of professions, histories, personalities, and cultures who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ sent from God. They especially need to know people who have suffered! Particularly at various junctures through their teen years, watching the lives of others can far outweigh many of our words as parents. It is much harder to roll your eyes with outsiders whom you have come to respect and enjoy!

 

  1. Confession and forgiveness-Cultivating the habit of confession and forgiveness in our marriage and household took longer than it should have. But in time it became a more central part of living out the gospel in daily life. Talking about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was certainly central and fitting. But sin and grace needed “skin”. It had to be lived out lest it become empty talk. This sometimes meant confessing our parenting sins to our children and asking them to forgive us. It was not done for show. We really needed each others mercy!

 

  1. “Table Talk” Judgment kills curiosity and promotes fear. So how we talk about other people in our households is a huge part of creating a safe place for our children to live. Do we bash others for their sins and weaknesses? Do we engage in name calling and lump people into convenient boxes in our dinner conversation? Are we sarcastic and cynical when we talk about politicians? If so, we will unknowingly foster anxiety and insecurity in our children. Judgment is toxic. Our households will become places where the air is choked with judgment and our children will be breathing the stuff in. It will make them more cautious about being open regarding their own struggles and weaknesses lest they also be judged. Instead, we have the marvelous opportunity to model to our children not just loving our neighbors but even our enemies. One way that we do this is to cultivate a climate of curiosity rather than one of judgment. When a poor decision is made, a sinful course of action chosen, part of what we can foster is a desire to understand instead of condemn. For instance, we should teach our children to value human life in the womb. But we might also ask our teenage child, “What overwhelming temptation may have been behind Samantha’s decision to have an abortion?” Or in the arena of culture we might ask our kids, “Why do you think ‘not offending’ has become such a core value in American society?” Creating a safe place where these kinds of questions can be asked will not foster indifference to sin. It actually stands a good chance of fostering compassion for fellow sinners.

 

The dinner table and other gathered settings may not only be the place of greatest joy, acceptance and rest for our households. It can also be the place where healthy questioning and is encouraged and modeled. We want our kids to learn how to ask good questions. We don’t have to be afraid of not having good answers. This is part of being human. There are perplexing problems and scenarios that deeply trouble us and we will have no answers. We can say so and our children will respect this, if not at first, certainly in the long run. Here again is where scripture is so helpful, especially the wisdom books like Job and Ecclesiastes. Lots of tough questions there don’t get answered, at least not directly. And speaking of Job, didn’t God call his friends to task for shooting off their mouths in off the cuff judgments when questions would have been much more fitting and loving?

 

  1. Escalating responsibilities and freedoms- As our children aged and matured it seemed good to Susan and me to be sure that they were given growing levels of responsibility and freedom. Somehow, some way, our parent/child relationships need to promote authenticity, integrity, and freedom rather than domination and control. Our job was not to live for them or through them but to enable them with instruction and encouragement, to make decisions, take on tasks and even risks. For example, it seemed good to us to encourage our children early to begin earning their own money when they were old enough to babysit and mow lawns. We gave them all kinds of freedom to do with their money what they wanted. Experience is a great teacher! If the money was spent on candy and comic books, it would soon be apparent that the baseball glove was now out of reach. Why try to control with excessive rules or guidelines when reality does a fairly effective job with considerably less angst? This approach had the added benefit of giving us more energy and creativity for the places that required more hands on parenting.

 

It’s not rocket science, but the more our children demonstrated they were capable of making good choices and taking responsibility for their poor ones, the more freedoms we gave them. They had earned our trust. In one case, when that trust was seriously betrayed, it seemed more encouraging and respectful to issue a stiff grounding punishment in the short run, rather than drop the child back to some level of minimal trust that they had long since grown out of. After all, this seems to be more nearly the way that God our Father treats all of his children. He disciplines us along the path of maturity and freedom rather than subjecting us to humiliating and frequent setbacks. Is there risk here? Certainly. A child may use our respect and trust as a cover for repeated breaches of trust. But I have found it to be a law that human beings respond positively to love and respect. Your kids will too!

 

 

 

  1. No more Ronnie Blankley’s! In rightly wanting to have a shaping influence in our children’s lives, we face the ever present temptation to use shaming tactics. Part of the power of these temptations is that shaming can feel so effective. My mother was, in most ways, a very good mom. But when wanting to prod me in my spiritual life she at times would say things like, “Don’t you want to be like Ronnie Blankley?” Mind you, Ronnie Blankley was a fine fellow. As a teenager he would actively share his faith and invite some of the “hoods” at Pascack Valley High School to go with him to see “The Cross and the Switchblade.” The trouble was, I was not Ronnie Blankley. So my mom’s good intentions had the terrible effect of heaping shame on me. I was too young and immature in my faith to have the tools to shed the shame. My mom may have learned this sort of thing from her mom. My grandmother used to say to us little Lutjens boys when we misbehaved, “Why can’t you be like Bob and Dick in Cleveland?” Thing was, Bob and Dick Luecke were actually very fine cousins of ours. But we weren’t them. This destructive stuff had the marks of being generational. I was prone to shaming my children when they were very young and so very formative. When something went wrong around the house I wanted to know who to blame. Sometimes during an incident, a discipline moment, I would ask Heidi or Jeffrey with an angry voice, “What’s the matter with you?” More shame. So so not good. Not good because shame sticks. Shame has a tenacity that few other emotions have. These memories are some of the most painful for me. It still makes me cry because I know I wounded them deeply. I disobeyed the one parental injunction repeated in the New Testament: “Fathers, Do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged.” (Col. 3:21 and Eph. 5:4) My sins have followed them. My only hope in this, and it is a real hope, is the evidence that the Lord is now actively “…restoring the years that the locust have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)

 

The alternative to using shame to shape is blessing our children with encouragement! To bless is to empower for success! I love what John Eldridge says in his book Waking the Dead:

 

“I daresay we’ve heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature.”

 

Encouragement seizes on the truth of original (and subsequent) glory in our children! It certainly is not flattery or pseudo esteem building. It is recognizing something glorious about our children that we fail to see and enjoy when we are focused on their sins and weaknesses. What would happen in the hearts of our children if our staple was encouragement, something that gets to the deep part of being image bearers, and correction, the necessary addition? We cannot raise children without consistent and caring discipline. (Proverbs 6:20-23, 13:24 and Hebrews 12:5-12) It is a major mistake to underestimate the extent of our child’s deep and natural antipathy to God. But neither can we raise them without caring, consistent, and genuine encouragement. Paul punctuates his letter to the disciples in Thessalonica with the comment that encouraging and comforting their little children is just what fathers do! (I Thess. 2:11-12) To avoid the pattern of nagging criticism that is so damaging to our children’s spirits, we need a healthy understanding of priorities. William James put it so very well when he observed. “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” Isn’t this what Paul means when he talks about “…bearing with one another” (Col 3:13) and part of what Peter means when he says that “love covers a multitude of sins?” (I Peter 4:8)

 

These are the things that the Lord has brought to mind as I thought about being a father to my three children. It will always be a source of joy that he paired me with a very broken and very wonderful woman and mother in Susan. Truthfully, I did not always welcome her correction. At times we clashed in our parenting. “What could a mother possibly know about being a father?” It turns out that she knew a lot. Without ever reading much that Eugene Peterson ever wrote, it was as if she was always asking herself in nearly every hard place, “How does the gospel inform me in this situation?” This was never an academic concern for her but always personal and vital. I will continue to pray, as we often did together, that our kids would far exceed us in their enjoyment of the God who first loved us. Susan is now unfettered in her own enjoyment of Jesus upon whom she leaned so hard. What’s more, she is now able to enjoy all the things she did well as a mother without anxiety, shame or regret! Be assured brothers and sisters, this is the direction we are all headed. May Jesus Christ be praised!