Archive for July, 2009

Ouch!

Gardner Spring, a Presbyterian minster in New York from the 1800’s wrote the following convicting words about parenting.

“’Be what you wish your child to be,’ the saying goes. So much is accomplished by example. It influences children long before instruction can inform, or authority can bind. ‘Rules constrain; example is alluring. Rules compel; example persuades. Rules are dead law, example a living law.’ Next to the law of conscience, example is the first law with which children are acquainted, and it often remains their strongest motive to action after all others are forgotten.

“Children are imitative beings, and they quickly understand what they see and hear. The example of an affectionate and watchful parent is a powerful influence. No child is too young to be the accurate observer of its parent’s conduct, and to be purified or contaminated, by that example. However unwittingly, we are constantly molding our children’s minds, habit, and character by the power of our example.

“Who among us desires for our children to be unyielding, overbearing, contemptuous, unkind, unfriendly, or discourteous? But if they discover these in us our example will govern their conduct.

“Perhaps most to the point in this very affluent society: We do not want our children to be afraid of work or hardship, so why do we ourselves pursue fashion and leisure? The message quickly forms in their minds: My parents do not consider hard work, or diligence, or ‘redeeming the time,’ to be reputable or pleasurable. They are satisfied with an easy life. With such a message, is it likely that our children will aspire to energy, usefulness and accomplishment?

“We want our children to be honorable and completely truthful. We want them to be punctual and thorough. But if they hear us extolling these virtues and know that instead we bend the truth and are disorganized and careless, will not our conduct rump our preaching?

“We want our children to carefully choose their friends and conversation. But what I we are careless in this regard? What are the pleasures of modern society? Judging from the reality of the popular market today, they lie somewhere on a spectrum that stretches from popular entertainment to gambling, to drunkenness to pornography to prostitution. And now, perhaps more than ever, all of these lie in some form waiting to entice our children. Must we give them an easy opening – right into our own live and homes?

“Example rules. Do we express careless doubts about the truth of God’s word and the power of the gospel? Do we not reverence the Sabbath? Do we neglect regular worship? Are we ‘conformed to this world?’ Are we careless about tying ourselves to the body of believers? Is our object to be rich, splendid, and honored by all? If so, will we have any ground for disappointment if our example defeats our instructions?

“We are always acting in the presence of our children, so let us do it in such a righteous way that they are tempted to imitate us.”

From: Hints for Parents, Gardner Spring and Tedd Tripp, Shepherd Press, 2004.

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The Death of an Idol

New York Representative Peter King recently responded to the death of Michael Jackson with a whole string of rebukes for Jackson, the media, and those who cared that MJ died. King said, “He was a child molester. He was a pedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country?” King was correct in assuming that our infatuation with the death of Michael Jackson says something about us as a country; however, he was naïve to be surprised. In order to make sense of our lives we often look for a tragically flawed hero that allows for assumed self-justification, but what we need is a Redeemer.

Michael Jackson was an icon of music and youth. Through his music and life, Jackson put forth the ideals of hope, love, and youth in spite of the drivel that filled his life. We can identify with that whole picture all too well. We have followed Jackson’s every move, at times with horror and at times with absolute delight. Michael’s life has been a decades long reality show from which we have taken our queues. Our grandest pursuits of youth, self, and innocence were always played out in Technicolor by MJ – as were our failures. When Michael Jackson died, the preeminent figurehead of all of us who are trying to merge the ideals and foolishness of our lives into a comprehensible whole also died. His pursuit of youth, love, and hope failed before he even reached old age. What are we to do? We have to keep our idol alive, or the vanity of our similar pursuits will be uncovered.

It seems that what we are looking for is someone who is greater than we are, while at the same time at least as flawed as we are. We want someone who inspires but with whose dirt we can identify. A hero without a tragic flaw is inaccessible and therefore useless. We cannot identify with the good our heroes accomplish if that good is not accomplished in the context of their own corruption. If we cannot identify with the good they do, then we cannot presume the same righteousness. If there is no tragic flaw then holding out a great hope for ourselves and humanity as our hero does is just vanity. We know the depths of the sin of which we are capable, and we know that the only identification with righteousness that we have is by analogy and redefinition. We might not be as good as they are, but we are not as bad either. This is our form of self-justification – justification through identification with depravity and redefinition of righteousness.

Jackson inspired with his vision of love, racial reconciliation, eternal youth, and hope for the future, yet his dirt was as comforting as a warm blanket. If he could have such a grandiose vision for life in spite of the reality of his life, then so can we. If he could glimpse righteousness from the trash heap, then so can we. Our ability to identify with the sin of our idols legitimizes our grandiose visions for the love, hope, joy, and change we can bring about despite the clear evidence to the contrary.

Jackson’s death, however, upsets our apple cart. His death forces us to deal with reality beyond life. As long as MJ lived he served us as a tragically flawed hero that made sense of the stark dichotomy that exists between the reality of our crooked hearts and the glorious hope that we hold out for ourselves and others. Jackson’s death betrays the hope that he allowed us to hold onto. We try our best to keep it all before us, but in the end we quietly move on to the next tragically flawed hero.

The justification available through our idols depends on our ability to identify with them in their failures, and in this way, it is pointless. It is at this juncture that Christ is profoundly different from any other person to whom we may look for justification. The justification available through Christ depends on his identifying with us in our flesh, taking our sin on himself, receiving the penalty due for our sin, and making us to identify with him in his righteousness.

Jesus Christ is not a tragically flawed hero that allows for self-justification, which we think is enough; he is the Redeemer, whom we actually need. Christ took on our tragic flaw, sin, in order that we could take on the glory of his righteousness by faith. The justification that comes through idols is our saying, “I may not be a great as they are, but I am not as bad either.” It is a law-of-averages type of justification. The justification that comes through Christ is one in which by God’s grace he pardons our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight on account of the righteousness of Christ being ascribed to us. Justification through Christ, our Redeemer, is by faith, not analogy, and the righteousness that is imputed to us is alien not redefined.

May we examine our hearts that the source of our justification may be revealed, and may we be found redeemed by Jesus Christ.

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