If you are one of the few Americans who don’t watch football or baseball in October, you may not be aware that it is National Breast Cancer Awareness month (which tends to overshadow the other commemoratives, including the all-important National Pizza Month). Ever since 1991, the pink ribbon has been the symbol of seeking the cure for breast cancer. Recently, you can’t turn on a ball game without seeing athletes wearing pink wristbands, gloves, and even shoes in support of a cure for this terrible disease. As I watched football games this past weekend, even some numbers on the field and other parts of the stadium were painted pink. This color certainly stands out, especially when it surrounds and adorns grizzly, grimy male athletes.
Displaying or wearing colored ribbons to communicate a message is nothing new. I remember seeing yellow ribbons tied around trees as a teenager during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981. Even before that, there is significant American folklore about colored ribbons tied to remembering those who were at war or even for convicts as a message that they were welcomed home. Today, we have “awareness” ribbons of all virtually colors symbolizing various cancers, autism, diabetes, mental health issues, etc. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all of their meanings. Color certainly has a way of provoking our memories.
When I see all of the pink ribbons proudly displayed in October, I can’t help but think of the story of Rahab in Joshua 2:18-21.
18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down,and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
I know, Rahab tied a red cord or rope in her window, not a pink ribbon–but it still works. If you recall, Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who hid the men that Joshua sent to spy out the land. She hid them because she believed that their God would certainly destroy Jericho–and she wanted to be saved! So her act of saving the spies was out of her young faith in a God who is Almighty, and a God who saves. The spies then gave her that famous red cord to display in her window to send the message that everyone in her house would be saved. Only because of the red cord would they be rescued from destruction!
Now some of those more cynical around us may believe that the red color of the cord meant nothing–it’s just what the spies had available at the time. Well, it really doesn’t matter if the spies recognized or believed in the symbolism of the red cord. It doesn’t really matter if they didn’t think about how it connected to the Passover and the red blood painted on the doors in Egypt to save Israel from the tenth plague. But we can see the picture as we read the entirety of God’s Word. It is only by the red blood of Jesus that we are saved. We must have the blood of Jesus applied to our souls in order to be rescued from the only “disease” that will send us to eternal damnation–our sin. Only the red blood of Christ will bring us the healing of our souls!
So when you see all of the pink during October, you will inevitably and rightly think of the victims of breast cancer. Hopefully, as Christians, it will provoke us to pray for God’s mercy and a cure for this disease. Yet it is also proper and fitting that when you see pink, or any other colored commemorative ribbon, to “think red” and recall that red is the very REAL color we need in to save our lives. Praise God for the blood of Christ, shed for us!
God’s people had been suffering in captivity for about 90 years. A new generation was given the opportunity to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the LORD. It was an awesome task that would take great strength and courage. The Promised Land was infested with their enemies, adding to the difficulty. Look at just a bit of the story in Ezra 4.
1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” 4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the heads of the families of Israel were not being unkind to the pagans who wanted to help them. They wisely recognized that these interlopers were simply troublemakers, looking to frustrate their plans for the second temple. So their biggest challenge was not the work itself, but the people who were trying to DISCOURAGE them. These discouraging people were seeking to turn their hearts from the fear of God to the fear of man.
Isn’t that much of our problem as Christians living in this world today? Sure, we have our own internal struggles, weaknesses, and sins which keep us from serving the LORD and building His Kingdom. But we also have people in our lives who discourage us in our efforts to do the LORD’s work. So who are these discouraging people? Here are just a few examples…
A member of your family, or even many members of your family may be discouraging you. They may think that your faith is too radical, or your choices make you seem sort of odd. Maybe they question your choice to homeschool, or spend all that money on a Christian school for your children. Or, you have been discouraged to go to seminary or to the mission field. To make matters worse, some of these discouraging people may even be Christians themselves.
Or maybe you have some discouraging people on your committee or ministry team or even your church leadership. These folks would rather critique what is wrong rather than participate in doing what’s right. They question everything, and sometimes just show up to vote “no.” They frustrate plans and work against what would bring spiritual growth to the church. These sorts of discouraging people make you just want to quit.
Or these discouraging people may be your peers or so-called friends. While you desire to grow in Christ and strive for holiness, they seem to be pulling you more and more into worldliness. But this isn’t just obvious sin or rebellion–more like frivolous, time-wasting sorts of things. They get busier and busier with things that build their own temporal kingdoms rather than God’s kingdom. So their very presence in your life discourages you to live a different sort of life.
So what can you do with discouraging people? I guess you could try to eliminate them all from your life and build up strong barriers around yourself. But that isn’t typically realistic, and will prevent you from learning to love the discouragers in your life. If you read the rest of Ezra, you will see a much better solution. The Israelites sought the help of King Cyrus who decreed that the work would go on, silencing the discouraging people. Then God’s people finished the work with all their hearts, deeply encouraged and thankful. Well, we have a much better King who hears our prayers and subdues our enemies! Seek King Jesus, and He will give you the strength to follow Him. Then, go do it with all your heart. Stop seeking encouragement from the people around you, and find it in Christ and in the Word of God. That may sound like the Sunday School answer, but it’s the right answer that keeps us focused on serving the LORD in the midst of frustrating people!
Hannah desperately wanted a child of her own. She received little sympathy from her husband, was persecuted by her husband’s other wife, and was even misjudged by the high priest. Her only hope to reverse her barrenness from the LORD was the LORD. So, she prayed and cried and prayed some more–and the LORD answered her prayer. She received Samuel as a gift from God and promptly re-gifted him back to God.
This seemingly insignificant woman with a very significant problem is an example to all of us of our desperate need for the LORD. But more specifically, she is greatly instructive to all who are Christian parents. Her promise to give her child to the LORD is the proper commitment for all followers of Christ. While Samuel was given to be a Nazirite who became a unique full-time prophet of the LORD, our children are gifts that also ought to be re-gifted to God. They should be raised and instructed in such a way that their lives are dedicated to Christ and His service.
But something often happens to us as parents soon after the birth of our child: We begin to forget the nature of this glorious gift. Instead of understanding our role as good stewards of our children, we see ourselves as sole proprietors of them. Sure, we acknowledge that children are a gift from God with our lips, but then act as though we are free to use these gifts according to our own good pleasure. We hold too tightly to our gifts. We seek to mold these gifts in our own in image. In the worst case, we neglect to give these gifts what they need for true life.
But if we to take Hannah’s example seriously, and we really want to re-gift our children to the LORD, what does that mean? Here are five practical challenges/thoughts about how to give our children to the LORD:
1. Remind yourself daily that your child is a gift, and you are a steward of God’s gift. This is the mindset of the Christian parent. You do not own your child; the LORD does! Reminding yourself of this fact will help you through the good times, as well as the bad!
2. Dedicate yourself to raise your child in the training and the instruction of the LORD. This is your first commitment and the primary way you give your child to God. It is your full-time job, requiring full-time dedication. This dedication takes the strength of the Spirit, and a commitment to God’s Word and what it says about raising children.
3. Seek God’s will for their future, and not your own. Now this is where it starts to get rough. As parents, we tend to have our own vision for our children: Their future job, where they will live, when/whom they will marry, grandkids, etc. It’s truly silly to think we know better than God, so why do we often act like it? We must take deep into our hearts and minds that God’s plan for our children is so much better than our weak and often sinful ideas.
4. Pray for your child to be used in God’s kingdom service. Dare I say that you plead with the LORD? Beg the LORD to take your child into His service! Unfortunately, if we’re honest, we can end up pleading that the LORD doesn’t take our child into difficult service, or service far away from us, or some service that doesn’t make that much money. Sure, we pray for our children to be saved, but we also need to pray that they will be chosen and used in God’s kingdom in a MIGHTY way!
5. Encourage and train your child to LONG to be in God’s kingdom service. Most parents are pretty good at encouraging their children in lots of other areas–good grades, sports, activities, the road to a high paying job, etc. But are you encouraging and training your children to desire to serve Christ with all of their skills, gifts, and talents? Certainly, our children need the Holy Spirit in order to have this desire and follow through with it. But they also need parents who VALUE service to the LORD and ones who PROMOTE it as a VALUABLE pursuit!
What a radical impact would the next generation of our children have on this world if we intentionally re-gifted them to the LORD and His service?
Mark Twain once quipped: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow as well.” This should be the new motto of today’s adolescent. While adulthood has many benefits to be desired, its responsibilities make it something to be put off until many days after tomorrow. The good news for teens today is that the mental health experts (at least the ones in the UK) will now officially enable young people to delay adulthood at least until the age of 25. It’s time to party in the streets for years on end, British teenagers!
Here’s the official headline from the Daily Mail (UK): “An adult at 18? Not any more: Adolescence now ends at 25 to prevent young people from getting an inferiority complex”. Anyone over 40 with some amount of common sense has observed more and more teenagers being far from responsible adults by the age of 18. Just go to your local college campus and watch the future leaders of America for a while. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, a growing amount of college students are ending up on their parents’ couches, avoiding as much adult responsibility as possible. But is this a new development in human behavior that we are to condone? Apparently so. according to the experts.
The movement to officially delay the start of adulthood has been going on for quite some time in America and Britain. Much of the conversation has surrounded new research that the brain actually continues to develop well into a person’s twenties. That has led some experts to advocate for extended adolescence. So what’s laughable is not that child psychologists announced that adulthood now starts at 25, but WHY it must be this way–to prevent young people from getting inferiority complexes! Obviously teenagers have a need to be saved from the horrors of adulthood. Here’s more from the Daily Mail article:
It is hoped that the initiative will stop children being “rushed” through their childhood and feeling pressured to achieve key milestones quickly…Some adolescents may want to stay longer with their families because they need more support during these formative years and that it is important for parents to realize that all young people do not develop at the same pace.
Now I get the fact that not all adolescents develop the same way at the same pace. But what are these “key milestones” that they are felling pressured to achieve? Graduation from high school and college? Getting their first job? Marriage? Voting? And who is doing the pressuring? Parents? Society? It’s all just silly. Let’s remember that for centuries, there were only two recognized stages of human development: Childhood and adulthood. Long story short, adolescence is a hastily invented category that has a long history of being stretched an manipulated just to enable people to avoid responsibility. Of course there are teens that want to put off key milestones like a career, marriage, and family. They’re hard! They require work, commitment, and sacrifice!
So what if we also delayed other key components of adulthood for today’s teenagers. Let’s make driver’s licenses only available at 25. And cell phones. And, of course, we need to move the drinking age to 25 as well. I don’t think our mental health experts will be recommending these changes to societal norms any time soon. The reality is that our young people are just sinners like the rest of us. They want to enjoy the privileges of adulthood without the commensurate responsibilities of adulthood. Adolescents aren’t really longing for more years as children–they simply want to the spoils of adulthood much more quickly than they can handle them. Case in point for another post: Cell phones and social media.
If child psychologists were truly observant about teenagers suffering from “inferiority complexes” they would understand that the problem occurs when they aren’t challenged and “pressured” to grow up and become adults. Allowing our children to languish in extended adolescence only enables and encourages them to become fools (in the Book of Proverbs sense of the term). With the requisite love, compassion, and patience, adults are responsible to press teenagers to grow up, mature, and become full-fledged adults. And, as Christians, we should be leading in this area and fighting against the cultural trend–preparing our young people to become responsible, Jesus-loving, people loving, young adults. Our children need to be challenged to avoid the pitfall of extended adolescence and embrace the calling of adulthood!
It had been at least five years since we did a major expired food clean-up out of what we call the “deep freeze” in these parts. All sorts of unidentifiable food encased in ice had to be chiseled out of the bottom shelf. My son and I enjoyed chipping out Zip-lock bag after Zip-lock bag, tossing them into Hefty bags and then the garage garbage cans. We were very proud of ourselves and our “battle wounds” from flying shards of ice–until the next morning. As we opened the garage door to go to Sunday worship, our nostrils were filled with stench like they have rarely experienced. Our eyes saw multiple rivulets of animal blood traversing from the garbage cans all over the garage floor. It was an unholy spoilage of deer meat and other unknown animals that greeted us that morning. And it was a perfect unplanned illustration for my Adult Sunday School class studying the Book of Leviticus. Sorry honey, my bad!
Many of us have become stranded in the third book of the Old Testament when we have attempted to read through the Bible in a year. Just saying the word LEVITICUS can cause people’s eyelids to start sagging. Who really cares about the work of priests and outdated animal sacrifices, cleanliness codes, and sundry holiness laws? Well. hopefully Christians do–if we see how accurately it pictures our sin, our need for redemption and forgiveness, and our great Savior. So Leviticus is a book that should be preached from our pulpits and taught in our Sunday School classes much more often than it is, to give us a stronger and deeper view of the gospel.
But the title of this post is not “Leviticus is for Adult Christians,” but rather “Leviticus is for First Graders!” Yes, you guessed it: In our Children’s “Investigating God’s Word…” Sunday School curriculum, we teach Leviticus to First Graders. You can see it for yourself on our storefront website by clicking on this link: http://www.onestoryministries.org/SearchResults.asp?Cat=106. Really? Isn’t that way over their heads? Certainly, the Book of Leviticus contains some ceremonial laws and life situations that are beyond children. But this book has so much a child (especially boys ) can enjoy: Blood, more blood, dead animals, unclean things, lots of visuals, and more blood, etc.
Now, before you quickly object, let me support my position by informing you that Leviticus used to be the first book taught to Jewish children in the synagogue. Clearly, it was important to the Jews for their youngest children to understand the important roles of the priests as well as the ceremonial laws and practices. But more than that, Leviticus so clearly teaches that we are an UNHOLY people in need of help to be able to live before a HOLY God. And the central feature of that “help” is the mediation of someone who bridges that impossible gap to bring us to the Father.
So think about just some of the specifics we find in Leviticus. The sights and awful smells of blood flowing and splashing everywhere in order to atone for sins. Animals losing their lives as substitutions for sins. Various foods and activities that make a person unclean, requiring cleansing. Washing with water to be made clean. Priests set apart for the work of God on behalf of unholy people. Unclean people being sent outside of the camp. Leprous diseases separating people from other people and God. A scapegoat sent into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people. And this is just a small sampling that our children need to learn.
Then, as we teach Leviticus to our youngsters, we show them Jesus! It is the blood of Jesus alone that atones for our sins. Jesus sacrificed His life as a substitute for our sins. It is our sin, not certain food, that makes us unclean requiring cleansing and purifying in Christ. Washing with the water of the living Word of the God sanctifies us. Our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, was set apart by the Father to do His work in the lives of unholy people. Jesus Christ, by His death on the cross, went “outside the camp” to bring His people into relationship with His holy Father. Sin is our spiritual leprosy requiring the cleansing work of Christ. And, Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat who had our sins placed on His innocent head, being sent away from the Father for our sake.
Do you see it? Leviticus is all about Jesus, just like the rest of the One Story of God’s Word. And it IS for children, as the clear and graphic pictures show the ugliness of sin and the beauty of the holiness of God in Jesus Christ. That’s exactly what our children need as they grow up in this unholy world of sin!
I was intrigued by a recent Fox News opinion headline that stated: “America’s kids need football now more than ever.” So before reading the article itself, I tried to guess what the author’s argument would be (a little game I like to play when reading commentaries). I figured he was lamenting the current spotlight on head injuries that is causing changes in the game and discouraging parents from allowing their kids to play. I was right–that’s certainly the underlying current in this opinion piece. I also thought he would boast of all the character formation value in sports. I was wrong about that. His central thesis actually sort of surprised me: American kids need to play football more than ever because they are more obese than ever. Here’s an excerpt from that article:
Whereas obesity afflicted one in twenty teenagers fifty years ago, it burdens almost one in five today. Kids need more sports, not less. Basketball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and yes, football, provide something that video games do not. The gridiron, because of the advantages it gives to bulk and brawn, can play an especially constructive role getting bigger kids off the couch and into cleats.
There is no argument that our children need to put away the video games, eat healthier, and exercise more. What I find interesting is that statistics show that more American children and teenagers play sports than ever before in history! Millions upon millions of our youngsters are on sports teams that have more games, more practices, and longer seasons than ever before. So common sense says that our children should actually be more physically fit than ever. Maybe our teenagers need to be forced outside to chop more wood, cut more grass, bale more hay, build more stuff and just do more chores. And we could throw in some jogging, biking, and swimming just for fun.
But I digress. The real point of this post is what our kids need now more than ever. And its not really physical fitness, although that is a great thing. I think the Apostle Paul summed it up well in 1 Timothy 4:7-8:
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
Our children need GODLINESS now more than ever. Our children need God’s Word now more than ever. Our children need Christian parents that disciple them to be followers of Jesus now more than ever. Our children need churches that preach and teach Jesus now more than ever. Our children need youth ministries that are serious about promoting faith and godliness now more than ever. How often do we see these headlines from those who are concerned about the welfare of America’s kids?
The Apostle Paul gives us the right perspective as Christians. Physical exercise, training, and sports programs have “some value” and should be incorporated into the daily lives of our children. Yet training in godliness has value for ALL THINGS. In other words, it has ultimate value. Sports programs can only hold promise of reward for this present life. Training in godliness has immense reward in this life AND the life to come!
Parents, do you believe this? Do your children now that your greatest desire for them is that they grow in godliness? Are they aware that you value their spiritual training more than even the valued physical training? While we should be reversing the trend of lazy, obese children, how much more should we be working by God’s grace to change the culture from one that despises godliness to one that fears the LORD. That reversal begins one child at a time, in each Christian home, if we truly believe that our kids need Christlike holiness now more than ever!