Saturday, April 30, 2016

Train up a Child

When my husband and I started dating, we decided to alternate languages, speaking English one day and German the next. "This will be great! J. can help me with my English, while I can serve him in working on his German," ... or so I thought. Little did I know that my boyfriend had studied every minute detail of the German language, making him willing and able to correct me in my native tongue. What a blow to my pride! It took me a while to appreciate his grammatical abilities. Now I see that my husband studies the language usage in the Bible with that same intensity and sees details that others may overlook.

Proverbs 22:6 is a clear example of this: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." This sounds like an amazing formula to success, promising that faithful training automatically produces godly offspring. Oftentimes it does, but experience shows that even children from Christian homes, who have enjoyed the best training, sometimes choose to walk away from faith in Jesus Christ. Their parents feel shattered, having put their hope in the Biblical promise of Proverbs 22:6. They ask in disbelief, "What happened? This is not the way it's supposed to be!" After the initial shock, guilt sets in. Any failure of the child to adhere to Biblical standards is laid at the parents' feet. "Their training must have not been good enough," we assume. This Bible verse becomes a source of heartache and disappointment for many.

This is where my husband's love for grammar is helpful. J. was able to explain to me that because "the way" and "child" both share the masculine gender in the Hebrew language, a different translation  of Proverbs 22:6 is grammatically possible and would read this way: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old it will not depart from him."

Is this rendering of verse plausible? Let's take a look ...
First, the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that it is possible for a child to reject the instruction of his parents. The Bible offers no guarantees that our children will always walk in the prescribed path. This alternate translation of Proverbs 22:6 seems to line up with that reality. If we go with the more popular rendering of the verse, it would seem to be in conflict with other Scriptures.
Second, we can find more examples in Scripture of things departing from people than people departing from things. For example, the Word talks about the scepter not departing from Judah (Gen. 49:6), and strength departing from Samson (Judges 16:19). Our alternate translation is consistent with this pattern, as it says God's truth will not depart from a child trained up in it.

Convinced that this translation is possible and probable, let's now draw encouragement from this verse. The self-condemnation under which some parents have lived for many years has lost its grip. No longer can a poor choice made by a son or daughter of Christian parents be understood as lack of training. This new rendering of the verse promises that "the way" which has been imparted to the children of Christian parents remains as a living voice, continuing to call them for the rest of their lives. This is a message of hope rather than heartache for those whose children seem to have fallen away.

Parents, let's respond to the charge to train up the children who are in our care, and pray for those who have chosen not to live by the Biblical truths they were taught. Take heart in the knowledge that "the way" remains in them, serving as a constant reminder of the truth and calling them to a relationship with God. May they listen and ignore it no longer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Comfort My People

Death is one of those taboo topics in our culture. It is intimidating to witness the suffering which grief brings about, because we don't know how to respond and we realize that we do not have any answers. This makes us feel helpless and uncomfortable. Understanding grief will aid us in learning how to provide comfort for the grieving. The Old Testament figure, Job, knew grief intimately after loosing his children, property and health overnight. His experience gives a clear picture of what a grief-stricken person is going through:

1. Lack of appetite: "My appetite refuses." (Job 6:7)
2. Lack of sleep: "The night is long and I am full of tossing till the dawn." (Job 7:4)
3. Hopelessness: "My eye will never again see good." (Job 7:7)
4. Desire for one's own death: "I loathe my life." (Job 9:2)
5. Exhaustion: "God has worn me out!" (Job 16:7)
6. Tunnel vision: "...he feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself." (Job 14:22)

All these thoughts and emotions were very familiar to me in the years following our daughter Ani's death. Many wonderful friends recognized this and tried to help in any way they could. They made meals, took care of the kids, folded clothes and even cleaned the kitchen for the funeral reception. Their loving-kindness was truly overwhelming and appreciated.

Job also had some amazing friends. We usually don't acknowledge their extraordinary faithfulness and only see their heartless accusations, but these three men sat beside Job for an entire week without uttering a single word. Unlike his companions' initial response, in an attempt to comfort, our most common reaction is to speak too much and give answers which only seem insulting. Later-on, Job was given his share of platitudes and responded to his friends by asking: "How then will you comfort with empty nothings?" (Job 21:34) He sarcastically praises them with the words: "How you have helped him who has no power!" (Job 26:2) There were times when I was tempted to respond in a similar manner to "empty nothings" such as: "God needed another rose in His garden", "God wanted another angel in heaven", or "God has saved you child from growing up in sin." Human attempts to provide explanations ring hollow and therefore never bring relief. There are ways to bring comfort through the words we say, such as: "I am so sorry!", "I am grieving with you.", "I am praying for you." These simple statements bring reassurance that one is not grieving alone.

What a grieving person wants most is the comfort of your presence and a listening ear. Job expressed this well when he made the following requests: "Oh that you would keep silent!" (Job 13:5), "Let me have silence, and I will speak." (Job 13:13), "Keep listening to my words and let this be your comfort. Bear with me and I will speak." (Job 21:2+3)

Ultimately, though we need to be aware that we will only be able to provide relief to a certain degree. Recognizing that "God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction" (2. Cor. 1:3), we realize that only He can provide the supernatural peace, lasting encouragement and constant presence needed in this situation. One way we can help direct a grieving person to God is by offering to pray for them. There were times when my grief was so heavy that I would cry for hours. That is when I would pick up the phone and call my friend, Kim, who was always ready to pray for me. In these situations we sometimes need others to believe for us, by speaking out truths about God and ourselves. That is exactly what Kim did for me so that eventually I could echo Job, not only in his laments, but also in his deepened relationship with God, saying: "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;" (Job 42:5)

Let us aim to be a true comfort to the grieving through acts of kindness, reassuring words, a listening ear, and a readiness to pray.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." (Isaiah 40:1)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Royal Mothers

Genealogies seem so boring that I often skip them altogether when reading through an Old Testament book. Today I want to provide you with a good reason to pause at the introduction of each King of Israel and Judah. There is an intriguing pattern in the way most OT kings are introduced. After their name and heritage is given, their mother's name is also provided. Immediately after her mention comes the verdict whether this king was good or evil in the sight of the Lord. I believe this is no coincidence but rather the summation of the mother's influence on her son's life.
"Amaziah...began to reign. His mother's name was Jeoaddin of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord." (2.Kings 14:1-3)
For other good kings and their mothers, see Jehosaphat (1.Kings 22:42+43), Azariah (2.Kings 15:1-3) Pekah (2.Kings 15:32-34), Hezekiah (2.Kings 18:1-3), and Josiah (2.Kings 22:1+2).

Jehoiachin... became king. His mother's name was Nehushta. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." (2.Kings 24:8-9)
For other evil kings and their mothers, see Abijam (1.Kings 15:1-3), Manasseh (2.Kings 21:1-2), Amon (2.Kings 21:19-20), Jehoahaz (2.Kings 23:31-32), Jehoiakim (2.Kings 23:36-37), and Zedekiah (2.Kings 24:18-19).

It seems clear that the way these mothers raised their sons had a direct impact on the kind of king these boys turned out to be. If you are ever in doubt about your role of training your child up in godliness, turn to 1. and 2. Kings. These genealogies serve as an encouragement and exhortation to us mothers. Of course there are exceptions as seen in 1.Kings 15:9-13 where the good king Asa had an idol-worshiping mom. Generally speaking, though, it is obvious that we as mothers have a great impact on the spiritual inclinations of our children.

This is not written to discredit the role of the father, but to encourage mothers and grandmothers to do all they can to raise godly offspring. Ideally this should be a team effort, but even if you find yourself in a situation where the father is not present or shows little spiritual interest, it is your calling, mother, to teach your child God's ways, "talking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deut. 6:7)

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the responsibility we bear. One simple way to weave spiritual instruction into our days is to have family devotions. Getting started is often the biggest hurdle, so I would like to give you three pointers:

1. Choose a time that suits everyone.
In order to make it a habit, it is good to set a regular time for family devotions. When to get together depends on your preference and practicality. When our kids were younger we used to have family devotions at night before tucking the kids in bed. Today our kids have differing bedtimes according to their ages, which makes it more practical to have devotions right after supper, when everyone is still gathered around the table.

2. Choose a devotional.
Of course you can read straight our of you regular Bible and explain the passage to your children, but there are also some great materials out there for kids. To narrow down the choices to a manageable amount I would like to give you a list of our family favorites.
Preschool Age:
- Pray and Play Bible I & II, Group Publishing Inc. (14 chapters each)
- ABC Bible Verses, by Susan Hunt (26 chapters)
Lower Primary:
- Big Truths for Little Kids, teaching your children to live for God, by Susan and Richie Hunt (36 chapters)
- The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (44 chapters)
- Discovering Jesus in Genesis, by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt (36 chapters)
- Discovering Jesus in Exodus, by Susan and Richie Hunt (36 chapters)
- Sammy and His Shepherd, seeing Jesus in Psalm 23, by Susan Hunt (11 chapters)
- Wisdom and the Millers, Proverbs for children, by Mildred Martin (25 chapters)
- School Days with the Millers, by Mildred Martin (24 chapters
- Story-time with the Millers, by Mildred Martin (12 chapters)

3. Keep it simple.
- Read the devotional or Bible passage.
- Give the kids the opportunity to ask questions or comment. The devotionals by Susan Hunt provide the parent with discussion questions.
- Talk about prayer requests.
- Pray, giving each family member the freedom to join in.
- We end our time by praying the Lord's Prayer, together.

May we be like the royal mothers, whose sons did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.