Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"I'm Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger"

That's the title of a provocative and interesting article written by missionary Rachel Pieh Jones.

The job of Christian parents, she says, isn't to protect their kids from risk; life itself, wherever one feels God has called us to be and whatever God calls us to do, is risky.

The job of Christian parents is to give witness through living that no risk nor danger can rob us of the life with God that only Jesus Christ can give. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," Jesus says in John 14:6.

Better to risk condemnation, heartbreak, even death, from the world, than to avoid risk by living faithlessly, going along to get along with a world that will one day be destroyed, and so losing the eternal life that only God can give. "Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven," Jesus says in Matthew 10:32-33. "But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven."

To follow Jesus is risky business. And, in the interest of truth, Christian parents must let their kids know how risky it is.

Risk avoidance, the path of looking out for ourselves or our own without regard for the needs of others, even of strangers we'll never meet in this world, is not a commendable Christian character trait.

As Christians, we live under the charge of Jesus to daily wrestle with the challenge He lays down for us in Matthew 16:24-26: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"

Whether it's right for Christian parents to ask their kids to have the courage of their parents' convictions may be an open question.

But there is no doubt that Christ and the apostles commend lives of faithful risk. (Though not risk for its own sake nor to test God.)

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

The apostle Peter, writing to Christians in Asia Minor (a region today that largely comprises Turkey), who faced the commonplace shunning and disdainful dismissal that Christians in the US often face these days, said that followers of Christ should regard themselves as foreigners in the world, migrants passing through who ought not become so comfortable that we avoid risk.

"Dear friends," Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11-12. "I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."

And the apostle Paul is clear that the gravest risk anyone can take is to bet on this world to feed the hunger gnawing every human soul for a transcendent, joyful life that can only be filled by God, the One Who loves us infinitely and died and rose to give us eternity. He writes in Romans 8:31-39:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  
As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It's imperative for Christian parents to convey a truth to their children, both through our speaking and through our attempts to live it: To risk following Christ is ultimately less risky than any other way of living.

And so, Jones may be onto something when she writes:
Ever since my husband and I became parents, we have risked losing our children—whether to physical death or to spiritual death, either of which can happen on any side of the ocean. Our kids are inevitably going to get hurt. Although we can’t protect them, we can prepare them, and one of the ways we do that is by modeling a life of joyful, worshipful service...
Christ calls all of us outside the camp [outside of what is comfortable for us, that risks the comfort the world offers in order to embrace the comfort that belongs to those who trust in Jesus Christ] to serve and love others, and we often do that alongside our children. Why risk it? Because we are citizens of another far-off country. As it says in Hebrews 13, “here we do not have a lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”
Read the whole thing.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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