Explaining the significance of the psalmists’ first words in Psalm 46, Calvin writes:
…the faithful have no reason to be afraid, since God is always ready to deliver them, nay, is also armed with invincible power. He shows in this that the true and proper proof of our hope consists in this, that, when things are so confused, that the heavens seem as it were to fall with great violence, the earth to remove out of its place, and the mountains to be torn up from their very foundations, we nevertheless continue to preserve and maintain calmness and tranquility of heart.
Our tendency to isolate ourselves is grounded in several factors. One reason we usually avoid the company of fellow brothers and sisters stems from a stream of endless hypothetical situations about what might happen should I actively pursue community.
“But what if they see me as I really am?”
“What if they perceive me to not be as strong as they envisioned?”
“What if people’s examples challenge the way I do things?”
You see, fear leads to over-protectiveness/preservation of one’s aloneness, which means living together is crushed by the tyranny of the unknown. But you see, God wants you to jump into the sea of uncertainty when it comes to church life. It is good and right to allow yourself to be known; to taste and experience the mysteries of fellowship.
Long ago in a small little village, far away, there was a great fire. The residents frantically ran to fill up buckets of water attempting to minimize the damage to their little village. But the fire was all consuming. It spared nothing. The next day the villagers—exhausted from their labors—wept as they saw what remained from their belongings. “Everything we have is gone.”
The children, however, continued to play like every morning. The Father looked at them and said, “Don’t you know son that all your toys were burned down in last night’s fire?” The son looked at his father and said, “Father, you taught us that the Lord’s mercies are new each morning. Our toys may be gone, but the Lord’s mercies are not.” The father hugged his son and even as he wept he remembered God’s mercies.
The Supper is a new mercy for us each time we partake. It’s God’s gift when life is not what we expected it to be. At this table, mercy is offered. So, let us eat and drink.
Exhortation: It was G.K. Chesterton who once wrote that “One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.” There are clear places where the Scriptures invite us to do our task speedily. The task of worship, however, is not a grab and hurry and eat sort of invitation, it’s an invitation to stop and savor the salvation God offers us in call, confession, consecration, communion and commission. So, don’t expect a roller coaster experience in worship, but an intentional tour guide through the heavenly city.
While Jim Carrey (net worth $150 million) proudly proclaims the virtues of socialism, I am reminded that only a few years ago Sean Penn, Michael Moore, and Bernie Sanders were proclaiming the virtues of Venezuela and her deceased leader, Hugo Chavez. Now, everyone–including Carrey–wants to distance themselves from Venezuela. The very policies praised and adored by Hollywood Chavistas are now decried as not a legitimate example of true socialism. “We will now praise the socialism of Nordic countries,” they say. But as it has been proven elsewhere the so-called Nordic socialism is a myth.
But the countries where socialism has been tried and tested and experimented with whether Argentina or Portugal, Ecuador or Bolivia (Evo Morales), Brazil or China the results are undeniable: the people continue to suffer and embolden the same tyrants who enrich themselves and fool the populace under the banner of “fairness,” “equality,” “distributionism” and the “common good.” Socialism as a system is a defeatist ideology. It ravishes populations and takes away their moral dignity.
The entire premise of parenting is an anthropological truth: we are all fallen. However you parse it out, we are fallen from feet to forebrain; belly-button to bones. Since this is the truth, we have a whole lot of work to do; not the kind of meritorious work, but the kind of work with grace-saturated breathing. What this theological reality means is that the way to raise healthy children is by having a clear picture of their unhealthy natures as sons and daughters of Adam. While we should have a robust picture of Psalm 127-128 (more of this in another post), we also need to have a robust picture of Genesis 3. The entire narrative of fall and blessing make up the full parental picture.
If our parenting forgets Genesis 3 we will certainly idolize our children overlooking their little deceits as acts of cuteness, treating their good grades as acts of godliness, and their disrespect as acts of self-confidence. Therefore, we need to be ever aware that they are prone to fallen acts at home and outside. They need a constant exercise in remembrance: remember you are dust and to dust you shall return; remember you are sinful and you need a Savior; remember you are prone to wander and you need to be found in Christ.
It’s not that we are self-consciously crushing our children’s spirit, it’s that we have deceived ourselves into thinking it’s good parenting. We may call it “tough parenting” to make it more justifiable. But it’s wrong on many levels. An example of this takes place in the midst of discipline. Discipline is a crucial moment in the relationship between child/parent. When we think that discipline, for example, is a one-dimensional exercise, we’ve forgotten how our Father in heaven deals with us (Heb. 12:6). All discipline is characterized by dialogue. When we discipline without engaging, we are acting as if we are unapproachable precisely when our children need to approach us the most.
(After discipline, hugging the child): “Son, I love you and want the best for you. What you did was wrong, and it’s my responsibility to protect you from loving the wrong. Do you understand what daddy is saying?”
Redemption from wrong-doing does not come through a series of one-sided acts but through a series of relational actions that bind parent and child together in the journey of redemption.
It’s Saturday! In our household, that means a little more sleep in the morning and perhaps a nap in the afternoon. We treasure those 30 extra minutes. Remember college? In college, time was on our side. Naps were luxuries we took for granted. Now here we are: fifteen years have passed and five children later. Time matters a whole lot! The children are consistent early-risers. They are punctual little creatures. They love time. They love it so much that even without an alarm clock they detect that 6:30 is coming. They are not allowed to leave their rooms until 6:30. I am not fully awake then, but I can hear them coming. Sometimes they come silently. Sometimes they come like hungry warriors. But they come…consistently. My lovely wife makes the first move. She is more courageous than I am that early. She does it without flinching. “What a mom! and where does that magical strength come from?” I think to myself. Breakfast is ready. Children are fed. Sometimes the beach is a fine option. Soccer games. But the last few hours of Saturday are sacred. It’s our preparation for Sunday.
On late Saturday afternoon, we begin our preparation for worship. Sunday mornings with five little ones can be a challenge. We try to go to bed relatively early. We usually make no Saturday evening appointments. Saturday evening is sacred in that we prepare ourselves for the sacred gathering. It is almost a ritual for us. Ironing and showers are constant activities before dinner on Saturday. If we are hosting on Sunday it demands extra effort from our team on Saturday. Preparation is key and we begin the preparation early so Sunday doesn’t become late.
Sunday arrives. The man of the house is also the pastor of the Church. He begins to prepare himself psychologically for the service. Sermon notes run through his mind; mental editing begins and really never stops until he begins preaching. He begins to hum through the psalms and hymns. Sunday mornings are created equal. It is always hard work but made infinitely easier by Saturday preparation.
When guests are coming over after church, we work even harder Sunday morning. “Is the beer in the fridge for the guests?” “Are the floors clean?” “Are the plates set?” “We need to leave in the next ten minutes!” The excitement builds. We love Church. We prepare for it. But with little children nothing is easy. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, but remember we have begun our preparation on Saturday. Mommy prepares herself. She makes sure that her war tools are ready: Diapers: check. Milk: check. Snacks: check. “I think we are ready!” She has her army under control. “Where are my clerical collars?” I ask. I have so many of them, but they never seem to be in the same place they were seven days ago. It’s naive of me to think they will be. But that is my liturgical pattern every Sunday.
“A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” -Tolkien
“Children, what day is today?” “The Lord’s Day!” “What do we do today?” “We worship God and sing His praises.” Yes, we do all these things, but it’s been a long journey until that moment. We died in one hundred different ways during the week, so we can be brought to life on the day of Resurrection. “Live the liturgy,” says the preacher. We are trying. It’s extremely challenging. It’s really very sanctifying. It’s holy work. Yes, it is.
In an age when Sunday worship is treated with profound disrespect and viewed with triviality by the evangelical population, we need a return to its sacredness. I edited a book several years ago that developed this theme. Yet, a missing part of the puzzle in my estimation is how to prepare for Sunday. I have been asked if there are some practical steps to preparing for Sunday. I offer here few thoughts which are not exhaustive and which can vary dramatically depending on family dynamics but may prove useful to starting this needful conversation in the home.
a) Ironing clothes on Saturday instead of Sunday morning has proved essential to our well-being on Sunday. Though we are not prone to sleeping in on Sunday, we discover that on the rare cases where ironing happens on Sunday morning, it adds almost 30 minutes to iron clothes for seven people.
b) Getting showers for the little ones on Saturday instead of Sunday morning.
c) Going over Bible texts and/or hymns will go a long way in making Sunday more understandable for the little ones. We have noticed that if a song has been practiced during the week, their Sunday participation is much more pleasant.
d) If hosting on Sundays, prepare tables or lay out the essential ingredients for the meal on Saturday. The children can be trained to get their rooms clean and living room area prepared for guests. This will take some practice, but when children participate in the preparation they benefit more from the event.
e) We rarely participate in events on Saturday night. It’s our family commitment to use that evening to calm our hearts and minds for Sunday.
It is my firm conviction that this seriousness in preparation will cause your children to see your commitment to the holiest of all days in the week.
C.S. Lewis observed in his Reflections on the Psalms that a Christian can’t always be defending the truth, sometimes he needs to feed on it. This is very appropriate for the people of God on this Lord’s Day. This is the day to receive the blessings of God in word and sacrament. This is a day to feed on the One who gave himself for us. This is a day to be renewed and encouraged to assume our roles in this world.
We cannot defend something unless we have been transformed and fed by it. The first step to being fed by the Word is to allow the Word to cut through us and exorcise our sinful habits and thoughts. We cannot be truly fed by the Word if our hearts do not desire the Word.
As we prepare to confess our sins, let us receive and respond to this pure Word spoken by our Creator and Redeemer, the Beloved of God, Jesus Christ.
I have been asked a few times my thoughts on the controversial Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s leading candidate for the presidency. Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally yesterday. The reports indicate that while he is in a stable condition, full recovery is still uncertain a. His fans will likely view his cause with a greater martyr-like passion and his opponents–populating the major networks in Brazil will outdo themselves in advertisements against him in these final 30 days.
Bolsonaro has been named as the Brazilian Donald Trump. He has received the kind of press Donald Trump has for speaking his mind. For example, he opines openly about sexuality issues condemning the public education system for their graphic school books on anal sex and other homosexual acts. He also wants to enact a policy that sexual abusers shall be chemically castrated which has been interpreted as homophobic by many and received strong opposition from human rights’ activists largely on the left of Brazil’s politics.
He has a general disposition towards de-bureaucratizing government policies. The man who will lead his economics department is a firm believer in more limited government and privatization. Bolsonaro also has a similar Trumpian view of trading with China. Bloomberg summarizes his position:
China is currently Brazil’s biggest trading partner but Bolsonaro has serious reservations about Chinese investment in Brazil. He says Brazil should trade with China, but says he’d like “trade with the United States to be much larger” than with the Asian nation. He prefers “great partnerships” with U.S. firms instead of “making concessions to the Chinese.”
Jair Bolsonaro has a military background which makes his central agenda the security of the Brazilian people which is one reason his numbers are so high at this stage in the election cycle. Brazil’s violence continues to soar under the current presidency. The New York Times observes:
With 62,517 violent deaths in 2016, Brazil reached a record-high homicide rate of more than 30 per 100,000 residents, according to the latest annual study that compiles law enforcement and health statistics. (In the United States that rate dropped to five homicides per 100,000 people from eight from 1996 to 2015.)
In my estimation, Bolsonaro will be a needed change from leftist politics that have dominated the country for almost two decades. Honestly, he needs to win. If the Brazilian political system is not shaken now, the country will become a glorified version of Venezuela.