Cherry and I recently got to spend a couple of days in Ohio’s famed Amish Country in Holmes County. It was great. While there, we discovered some interesting facts about Amish culture and people. Their habits, traditions and lifestyle choices may seem odd (even radical) to us, but one can only have respect for their commitment to not conform. Even though I have no desire to live as they live, I do think there are some things we can learn from the Amish.
I always thought Amish men grew their famous beard with no mustache when they got married. I was under the impression the beard meant they were no longer single. I was wrong. Amish men start growing their beards when they are baptized in Christ and join the Church. Their beards are a physical sign of their commitment to the Lord and the community of believers who make up their local church (the Amish are Anabaptists). You can find many articles that speak of ridiculous reasons Amish men grow beards, but you will find few that speak to reason they start growing their beards.
Obviously, I don’t think followers of Christ should be required to grow beards with no mustaches. But, when I discovered this bit of information, it made me think, “What sign do I give people that I am committed to Christ and His Church?” Hopefully my sign is my love for others, my generosity to the Gospel and those in need, and my personal efforts to share Christ with people. What is your sign?
Amish children are required to go to school until the 8th grade. Conventional wisdom says this is woefully inadequate and unfair. However, when looking at Amish education one must keep in mind their purpose for it. The Amish do not educate to promote individuality and critical thinking. Their goal is teach the next generation the values of hard work, ethical living and the importance of being a valuable member of the Amish community. By the time they graduate, they are expected to start contributing to needs of the family business not because their manual labor is needed, but because they have worth, skill and are part of a bigger picture.
I don’t think we should limit our children’s education to only 8 years, but I do think the next generation is missing out on being taught to contribute. It is not uncommon for mainstreamed, educated children to graduate from high school (and sometimes even college) clueless about their role in society. This does not seem to be a problem among the Amish.
Amish teens are given the opportunity to choose another lifestyle, a practice called Rumspringa, and leave the Amish way of life. Most choose to remain. Many high school graduates who attend church in mainstream society quit participating in faith activities once they leave for college or start their careers. Again, the Amish see a much less percentage of their teens walk away from their values. I don’t know why it is this way, but I do admire the Amish’s ability to train the next generation to hold onto their values.
What the Bible calls forgiveness, many times the world calls pacifism. It is true the Amish are political pacifists, and although I don’t agree with this political position, I deeply appreciate the value of forgiveness they practice.
The commitment of the Amish to practice forgiveness made national headlines on October 2, 2006 in Lancaster, PA. On that day a gunman went into a rural, one-house schoolroom and killed 5 Amish children and wounded 5 others before taking his own life. National news media flooded the low-key Amish community to report on the horrific crime, but instead they found a story of forgiveness. The way the Amish community responded to this event not only baffled the nation but also radically impacted the family of the shooter. If you want a great read about the power of forgiveness get a copy of One Light Still Shines by Marie Monville, the widowed wife of the shooter.
Today, when a life is lost to gun violence, domestic violence, acts of domestic terrorism or hate crimes, we see whole communities march holding signs plastered with hateful words. We see large rallies filled with people shaking their fists cheering to words of hate. We find individuals posting angry videos and writing rants on their social media outlets. We might even see individuals respond with their own acts of violence. When this takes place, hate ends up fighting against another form of hate; and when hate fights hate only hate wins. The Amish taught us on October 2, 2006, the only way to defeat hate is to fight it with forgiveness. Jesus was not making a suggestion when he said, “Love your enemies, pray for those who hurt you, do good to those who hate you.” (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 and 35)
Every culture has pluses and minuses. The Amish culture is no different, but after spending some time in their world and reflecting on some of their values, I think there are some things we could learn.
I have been home for 8 days. The jet lag has subsided and I find myself falling back into my normal routine. Even though I’ve recovered my familiar schedule I do not feel I am the same person. I’ve changed.
Several days before leaving for Kenya I began to pray, Lord, change me. I did not have a specific change in mind. I just felt the need to express my willingness to receive whatever direction my Father wanted to give. Praying that prayer created excitement, and honestly, a little anxiety. I don’t really know why it made me anxious. My Father is good and has never harmed me. I guess it was the thought of being out of control. What, if anything, would He ask of me? Below are 3 things I learned in Kenya.
The first nudge for change came 6 days into my trip. It was when I met Danshire and Dorcas Njoroge. God used this beautiful couple to challenge me in a unique way. They shared story after story of God meeting their needs, blessing their ministry and giving success to their efforts of bringing hope and healing to wounded teenage girls. As I sat and listened to them, God challenged me with some simple words. Cary, you have skill. They have faith. I have reflected on these words seeking to understand more clearly what God was impressing upon me.
I have skill. As I have prayed and thought about these 3 words I must say I agree with Him. God has given me talent and skills. I recognize these blessings and continue to do my part in developing them. I know He uses me when I preach and teach His word, when I lead others, when I make disciples for Christ. I know if anything good comes from me, it is because of Him; but I think these words also speak to how safe I play it. I take calculated risks and move with measured outcomes in mind. I am more strategy than faith. The result, I have the rewards of skill. Things like an intentional calendar filled with meetings, manageable deadlines, and steady routine. People like me surround me; therefore, there is an element of comfortable predictability each day. My life oozes safe and stable…the rewards of skill. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want my life to be characterized by chaos or pushed around by fear and uncertainty, but if my goal is to have a safe and stable life it doesn’t leave much room for the adventures of faith God may call me to. I can’t be satisfied with the rewards of skill. Through Danshire and Dorcas God showed me the blessings of living by faith instead of just strategy. I can’t create faith moments. I can walk into them when God leads me there. I will trust instead of just strategizing. I will aim for blessings of faith instead of just the blessings of skill.
Another nudge I received from the Lord came in a most unusual way. For the two weeks I was in Kenya, I watched no TV. I couldn’t believe how that one circumstance removed a steady flow of clutter from my mind. Without the noise of television, temptations subsided, worry was starved, and distractions were removed. In the absence of news media and Hollywood’s entertainment, I read a book. It was not a faith-based book. It was the true story about a couple that risked everything to rescue Jews in Warsaw, Poland during the Nazi occupation of World War II. I was moved by their passion to help the most vulnerable of their time and God whispered, “What risk will you take to save the dying in your world?” Then it dawned on me. My desire for the lost can be maintained if I will strive to reduce the clutter in my mind. To me, this meant I needed to adopt the habit of watching less TV and free my mind from life-sucking noise of television.
No one can go to the continent of Africa and ignore all the needs of humanity one sees. Our most basic conveniences like food, safe shelter and clean water are their primary concerns. Put on top of that the worries of employment, healthcare, transportation and child-care and the average American is approaching a nervous breakdown. It is their normal. On top of those layers of human need is stacked the spiritual darkness that permeates much of their population. The spiritual and physical needs are just overwhelming. No amount of money could possibly meet all the demands, but it does not keep one from thinking What can I do to help?
One of the rewards of skill God has blessed my family with is that most months we have more money than we need. I know that is a strange thing to say, but I think it happens to many people. Each month we give to the Lord, live within our means, pay our bills and meet our needs. Often, after all that happens, we still have money left over. When this happens I save it. Then I begin to pray, “Lord what do you want me to do with this money?” When I leave my bubble and meet people who are serving the Lord, He directs me. Cherry and I are currently praying about how to financially help some of God’s servants in Kenya.
Lord willing, I will be returning to Kenya (or some place on the continent of Africa). God is opening doors for the Gospel and disciple making. You want to go?
The people I have had the privilege of meeting and serving are truly amazing individuals. One of the honors of getting to serve the Lord in Kenya is hearing the stories of His servants. I am going to attempt to share with you some of the stories told to me. I will tell you up front, I will not be able to communicate the pain, perseverance and joy I saw in the eyes of the people who shared these stories. These individuals were sharing their lives with me. I am sharing their stories with you so that we might be reminded of the power of God and be encouraged by the faithfulness of His people all over the world.
One of the pastors told me about witchcraft being used in his village. He shared about the shaman who sacrifices animals and cast spells on him, his family and the people who attend his church. One time the shaman publicly cast a spell on the pastor. That evening, the pastor was awakened in the middle of night by large dogs that were howling and circling his home. He immediately began calling upon the Lord and within moments the dogs were gone. This same pastor, who lives in Tanzania, also told me he had no money to get to the training in Nairobi. Some people heard him say he was going to Nairobi and they began to mock him saying, “Why are you committing to go to the Bible training? You have no money. They are going to believe you are a liar.” He responded by telling them God would provide a way. Sure enough, his father, who lives in Nairobi, called him the next day and provided him with a bus ticket to get to Nairobi because he wanted to see him to talk about family business. His father did not know about the Bible training.
Women are extremely vulnerable in Kenya especially in the villages and the less Westernized subcultures of this nation. One joyful, godly lady here at the training shared on her application that she grew up in a family that practiced polygamy. She shared how Jesus rescued her from that practice. Another woman shared how her husband physically and mentally abused her. To protect herself and her children, she left her husband and refused the peer pressure to marry another man for financial help. Instead she committed herself to the Lord’s care and provision. Her children are now grown and she has many stories of how God provided for her during those years.
One pastor here recently experienced great emotional and mental trauma when his wife was raped by one of the village elders. You must remember he is not in the States. In Kenya, it is assumed that if a woman is raped it is her fault and she is publicly shamed. If he publicly came forward, the villagers would shame his wife. He was stuck between the rage of physically hurting the man and protecting her reputation. Although emotions are still tense, he shared how after much prayer he confronted the village elder. He communicated his anger and shared how God would judge this man for what he did. The man was filled with fear and avoids being near the pastor, his wife or the church.
One spiritually sharp man, while listening to his pastor teach on a Sunday morning, was told by the Holy Spirit that the truth of the Bible was not being taught. He was greatly troubled and began to pray. He told the Lord he would not go to that church anymore. He also began praying for God to show him how to discover truth in the Bible. Through a series of events, he heard about the training opportunity Ancient Promise was providing. He applied for the class believing God was directing him to attend. With tears in his eyes and a huge smile on his face, he told me last night, “I can now read my Bible and know the truth.”
I realize many of these stories are challenging for us because we don’t experience the same types of trials in America. However, in America we do experience the pain of sin, the trauma of evil and deception cloaked in religion. The God who is powerful enough to overcome evil in the Kenyan culture is also powerful enough to overcome the evils we face in America. We just have to give ourselves completely to the Lord. In doing this, we will not be exempt from pain, disappointment or hardship; but we will guarantee our victory to overcome in this life and enter into eternity hearing the greeting, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
My time in Kenya is now half over. I am missing my family, my church, my normal routine, and my selfish comforts. The initial buzz of energy in getting here, greeting old friends and making new ones has passed. Mornings are quiet and the evenings, after the day’s work has been done, are even quieter.
Quiet time can be good. It allows me to reflect on what God is showing me and process what I am experiencing. But, quiet time also becomes an opportunity to think about the bigger picture of my time in this place. There is a huge cost to this trip, and I’m not just talking about dollars. My wife and family pay a price for me being here. The church staff takes on extra responsibilities in my absence. I’m sure there are other areas affected, but my mind is tired and recalling all the important people and activities escapes me right now.
I need to explain why I am here. I need to try to communicate why this mission trip is important and why the cost, although expensive, is necessary. With so many sacrificing so much for me to be here, you need to understand that I know this experience is about more than me just taking a trip to Kenya and fulfilling some of my adventurous desires. I believe God is doing something through all of this and it is not just for me. No…it is much bigger than me.
Ancient Promise, the ministry I am working with, is dedicated to teaching others how to study God’s Word. We are passing along methods that allow people to use the Bible correctly without needing commentaries, gifted authors or exceptional communicators. There is nothing wrong with these talented people. They are doing what God has called them to do, but in Africa, and almost the entire Muslim and Hindu world, these resources are either banned or not available. Along with that fact is the reality that many people in developing countries do not receive the same type of educational opportunities that exist in America and Europe.
Ancient Promise has taken the skill of inductive Bible study and broken it down to its basic form. Once this method is taught (and caught) by pastors who serve in poor villages or hiding in Muslim or Hindi communities, the Bible becomes alive and understandable. They can begin to discern through the power of God’s Spirit what God’s Word is saying to them and for the people in their churches.
I am teaching pastors who will preach God’s Word and teach this method of Bible study to people in places Christian Americans could never go. Literally, the people I am training will take God’s Word to the frontline of the Christian-Muslim divide. Some of you may have heard of the region of the world known as the 10/40 Window. In this region of the world Christ has not been preached. It is also the most hostile region in the world to share the Gospel of Jesus. Over 3 billion people live in the dark blue countries. There are only a couple of places in the world that serve as a door to walk into the 10/40 Window. One of them is Kenya. Generally, the only Christian Americans who can enter 10/40 Window are military personnel.
By being here, I am doing what I can to spread the Gospel of Christ in dark places. If you are praying for me, if you are giving to the Lord at Grace Bible Church or if you are stepping up to help in some way because I am here, you are helping take Christ to people who have never heard His Name. Thank you!
I met a couple today whose faith dwarf’s my own. Danshire and Dorcas Nigoroge manage a ministry called Wings of Compassion. The ministry is unique for many reasons, as I will try to explain, but from a 10,000-foot view it is different because it is the only one of its kind in Nairobi. Danshire and Dorcas opened up their home to orphaned girls who have been raped or molested by their caregivers after they were orphaned. All of the girls they receive are between the ages of 12 and 16. Here is what happens: a young girl loses both parents to disease or tragedy and is then re-homed with relatives. A male relative (uncle, nephew or cousin) then molests the young girl until she becomes pregnant. To avoid being caught and jailed, the male relative will abandon the pregnant girl to the streets claiming she has brought shame to the family by getting pregnant.
Danshire and Dorcas believed God was calling them to rescue these girls and give them the hope of Jesus which they knew would bring healing to their wounded hearts, abused bodies and emotional health. Another thing that makes this couple unique is that they house these girls in their home. Their home consists of a 4 room block house which is maybe 900 square feet. Outside in their little courtyard they have built two shacks and open-air kitchen. Seventeen girls and 17 babies, along with this beautiful couple, share this home.
Danshire and Dorcas teach and show the love of God to these girls and their babies, but they also include developing life skills. They require the girls to go to school and graduate. They help them find jobs and teach them good financial habits. They show them how to be moms and how to develop a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. On one of the walls in their small living room are pictures of 16 young ladies who once lived in Wings of Compassion. Danshire, with the joy of any father, proudly shows these women off explaining how they all have jobs and a place to live. He smiles even bigger when he explains the wedding they had last year for one his girls.
The truly unique thing about Wings of Compassion is the faith of Danshire and Dorcas. They are in their mid and early 60’s. Due to the needs of small children while the girls go to school, neither of them have a paying job. They told story after story of how God provides for their family. Several times they have run out of money or food only to have God provide in some miraculous way. They told of how God has provided free health care for the pre-natal, birth, and after birth health visits (that’s right…God has provided free health care to this ministry in a country that does not even have health insurance plans). To them miracles are normal. I have never met anyone like them. I have never seen anyone who had nothing and at the same time had everything. It is the first African ministry I have ever met that did not ask for any financial assistance. They asked me for NOTHING except that I pray for them and ask others to pray for them. Before I left they asked me to pray. I wept as I prayed. It was tears of amazement and conviction at the same time. I left their home humbled and awed.
I cannot and will not easily get over what I experienced today. I also cannot fully explain it to you. As I sat there I wished Cherry and the boys were with me. I wished church family could hear and see what I was hearing and seeing. I wished this kind of faith were not so uncommon. I wished it were in me. As I sat there I think I heard God say, “Cary, you have skill. They have faith.” I think faith is better. I am going to pursue the kind of faith I saw today. And honestly, I’m troubled I haven’t been doing that already.
Today has been an incredible day. Before I share what happened, I need to re-communicate some information that got lost in translation yesterday. First of all, Kenya has public and private schools. Public schools are free and private schools are expensive. The school I spoke at today is a public school (named Mwiki Primary School) that has a private school reputation. Hence, it is one of the best public schools on the continent of Africa. It is also one of the largest. It is required that both public and private schools teach the bible as part of its curriculum, but Mwiki has embraced the Scriptures and holds assemblies each week for the purpose of singing songs and hearing God’s Word. Assemblies are not a required part of the curriculum.
Upon arrival to the school (we were running late…a common theme in Kenya), we found 3,000 students standing outside waiting for us. They were not running all over the place. They were standing quietly and patiently. I was impressed to say the least. They rushed us to the front of the assembly. Robbie gave a brief introduction and then she handed me the microphone to share a brief devotion. I said hello and in unison 3,000 students said, “Good morning Pastor Cary.”
After the assembly ended, I was taken to a room where I was asked to speak again to 80 eighth grade students. I started by telling them one of my favorite verses in the bible is Psalm 23:6. I paused to take a breath and before I could start my next sentence all 80 students started reciting Psalm 23:6. They all had previously memorized the verse in their bible class and just started quoting it. I was impressed and humbled.
After speaking to the students, I was hustled back to the pastor’s school to continue the training. I taught there for a couple of hours and was then taken back to the school to speak with the teachers of the school. They have a teacher fellowship each week and they requested that either Robbie or I come back to share with them. Robbie had done this in the past so she graciously offered me the opportunity to go speak with them. It was an encouraging time of sharing God’s Word with the teachers. Not all of them know the Lord, so it was a witness to them. When my time with the teachers ended I was taken back to the pastor’s training.
One interesting thing, the neighborhood we had to drive through to get to the school and the neighborhood the school is in are both very poor and common communities in greater Nairobi. Pastor Paul, my guide and transportation, told me as we were driving through the neighborhoods, “Very few white people ever come to this part of Nairobi. Don’t be offended if the people stare.” Yes…they were staring. Several of the students while shaking my hand would rub the skin on my arm. I have had this happen before. They were trying to see if the white would rub off.
I was humbled today. I can’t believe God would give me the opportunity to represent Him to so many at one time. The kindness of the Kenyan students and teachers made me feel special. I pray God’s Word will spread through Kenya with power changing many lives.
We never know what is going to happen when we follow God. The conference I am serving has 20 pastors in attendance. A few of them are in the picture above taking a tea break. God is using each one of these individuals. Some of them have high profile positions and others serve in small churches. Each has a story of how God is using them.
Gilbert is a Godly man who has a unique position in a large, college prep Nairobi school. The school is for children ages 5-21. It is one of the best schools of its kind on the continent of Africa (Just to help you understand…there are no private and public schools in Kenya…each family pays for their child’s education…the more money one has the better the education will be). Three thousand Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and non-religious students from wealthy families all attend this educational institution. Gilbert’s position at this school: he is the bible teacher and school pastor. Kenya requires its schools to teach the Bible as a required subject because the government has established itself as a Christian government (Please don’t read into this…I’m not saying this is better or worse than our current government policies…I’m just explaining how the Bible is a required subject in schools).
Every Friday the students and staff (over 3100 people) gather for an assembly. The assembly has 10 minutes of Christian worship music followed by a 20 minute Bible lesson. Gilbert speaks to this wide-age range crowd with its various religious backgrounds each week. After the assembly is over, he then chooses one grade of students and shares an additional 30 minutes of Bible learning. He rotates through the grades so by the end of the school year he has been with each grade several times.
He told me he regularly presents the Gospel asking students and staff to give their lives to Jesus. He uses the 30-minute lessons to share biblical principles, tailoring each talk to be age specific, challenging the students to follow Jesus and obey His teachings. As a result of his love for the students and staff, he is now considered the school pastor. Both students and staff come to him for counsel, prayer and spiritual guidance.
Today, after dinner, he approached Robbie and me. He pulled us aside and asked us if we would speak to the students and staff this Friday. He also asked if we would be willing to speak with the 8th grade students following the assembly for their additional Bible lesson. We agreed, but we are both humbled and awed that God would give us this ministry door.
So…on Friday at 7:30am (that will be 12:30am in OH), Robbie and me will be speaking at this school. Please pray for us. Gilbert asked us to share the Gospel and then to end it by having a call to accept Christ. Because of his reputation, character and ministry, the principle of the school gave him permission for this to happen. Pray for Gilbert. He has wonderful ministry of teaching the bible and being the pastor in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious school. Wow! God has His people representing Him from the highest to lowest places.
After 20 hours of flying and layovers, I made it to Kenya. I had no trouble getting here. No flight delays, no one getting dragged off a plane, and no bumpy flights. The loneliest activity in the world is traveling long distance alone. I did try to talk to people. I met a grandmother on her way to Savannah to spend time with her grand kids. I spoke with a man from Canada who works for the U.N. And of course, there was the traveling bag lady sitting beside me for 9 hours from Amsterdam to Nairobi. She seemed sweet, but clueless. She only spoke with me when she needed help with her in-flight movies. I wish I could tell you I had some meaningful conversation with someone, but that was not the case.
I arrived in Nairobi around 10pm (I am 7 hours ahead of you). I made it to my temporary residence around midnight. I was shocked by my accommodations. On my previous journeys to Kenya my home-away-from-home has always been primitive and rustic. Not this time! I have a private room and bath with hot water, a bed with a stylish mosquito net and even a couch to recline while I write my blogs. It is not a hotel. It a property owned by a church (PEFA Church of Nairobi…you can find it on Google). I feel humbled to stay in such a nice place. The pastors I am serving will sleep on a floor, share 1 or 2 toilets and heat their water on a propane stove.
The team is small right now…just me and one other person. Her name is Robbie. Robbie founded Ancient Promise (again…you can Google this ministry). She is a godly woman who loves the Lord and His people. Ancient Promise is striving to help others interpret and use God’s Word correctly. Here in Kenya, biblical resources are scarce. A pastor will have one bible, no commentaries, no Internet and no published bible studies. Most will have no education beyond the 8th grade. For the next two weeks I will be working with 20 pastors teaching them how to use the bible, give them a method to rightly interpret it, develop sermon outlines, and share techniques to deliver a message. It is exciting and challenging work.
I found out this morning that Robbie is sick. I spoke with her briefly. Please pray for her to recover. I am not prepared to teach her part of the material (she teaches a study called Transformed by Truth…it challenges the pastors to be godly men.) I teach a material titled Discovering God Together (which focuses on using the bible correctly and developing sermons). I know some of us might struggle with the idea of a woman teaching a group of pastors. Trust me…if Ancient Promise could find enough male teachers willing to come to Africa, Robbie would gladly work with the pastor’s wives. In fact, that is what happens when enough men are available. It is interesting to see how the pastors relate with her. They affectionately and respectfully call her Mama Robbie. She is a vital person God uses to build His Kingdom. Please lift her up.
Will my kid…? Every parent asks some form of this question as they watch their child grow. Will my kid go to college? Will my kid get married? Will my kid be a good person? Will my kid…? You finish the question. I know you have already thought about it. You’ve already asked it at least a hundred times. The question pops up when he surprises you with a random act of kindness or when she acts selfishly or when their behavior seems eerily similar to yours. It happened to me the other day when one of my boys pulled away to read his bible and pray. He didn’t announce it (I’m not sure anyone else even noticed), but this act of faith made me think Will my kid always desire to hear God?
As I watch my boys grow into young men I often wonder what kind of people they will be? I’m not necessarily referring to their career choices (although I can’t help but think about that sometimes). I primarily wonder about their character. Will my kids be godly men? Ultimately, it is their choice, but there are forces in this world vying to have influence over their decisions. Society wants people to think and behave a certain way. And unfortunately, it is usually in contrast to what God desires.
I pray for their character. I pray for their hearts to belong to God, but I also hope my life in front of them will earn me the privilege of being a person of influence in their lives. I want to have a voice in their life for as long as I can. I have learned (and I’m still learning) this is goal…to gain influence…to keep my voice with them. Sometimes we parents loose sight of this. We sacrifice the opportunity to gain influence for the satisfaction being in control (that is, to get our way with our kid). When I do this I usually win the battle at hand, but it is a strategy that sets me up to lose my voice with them over time.
To complicate things for me personally, I’m learning that what worked with my biological sons may not be successful with my adopted sons. Not only do my strategies of gaining influence need to change for them, but I also don’t have as much time to do it. My biological sons have been with me since their birth. My adoptive sons will be with me for less than 10 years by the time both of them reach legal adulthood (BTW…just because someone turns 18 doesn’t mean they are an adult…but it is the benchmark our society uses). To gain long time influence in a person’s life is a challenging task, but to do it quickly requires divine intervention.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: And when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I’ve heard people use this verse as some type of biblical guarantee for raising a moral kid. I’m pretty sure it is not that. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. Children will grow to make their own choices and the parent will have to sit by and watch. In those moments, parents do not have any control, but remember that is not the goal. The goal is to have influence, and that is what this verse is talking about.
The phrase, “Train up a child in the way he should go” is a word image. It is the picture of a mom trying to get her newborn baby to learn how to suck. Before hospitals, baby bottles and formula moms delivered their children at home with a midwife. It was imperative the infant learned how to suck milk from its mom’s breast. The child’s life depended on it. Granted most children picked up this skill naturally, but sometimes things would not go as planned. What would a mom do with a child that did not naturally know how to suck? She would have to train that little person how to do it. She did this by taking a grape and gently crushing it over the infant’s mouth. The sweet juice would run over the baby’s lips and trigger the skill to suck. The mom would then place the child on her breast. By doing this, the mom had started the journey of gaining and maintaining influence in the child’s life.
When it comes to raising moral children…no, godly children, we have to be like that mom. The child didn’t know how to suck and the mom could not make it suck, therefore, the mom had to change her strategy. Many times we think our kids should already know right from wrong, good from bad, and selfish from kind. After all, they are watching us? They should be able to learn by proxy? But, many times things don’t go as planned. The little person just doesn’t know what they don’t know. Guess what? That process never ends. Just because they are a pre-teen or even a teenager, they still need parents “crushing grapes” over them. We can’t make them be godly people, but we can strategize and hopefully influence them to follow God on their own.
Now for me, I’m still in process. I’m still strategizing. My boys are still home. I still have time. I realize that what I do today may not work tomorrow, but I must resist the urge to try to “make them” be good people. Instead, I must find new ways to gain influence. Every moment, using both my attitude and my habits, is an opportunity to crush grapes over my kids. I pray God’s Spirit will fill me and empower me to do this. I pray my life of faith will be attractive to my kids so that they will want a life of following Jesus…and it was their choice.
How should Christians respond to bad government? It is a question that came up while I was preaching through the Book of Esther. Tucked away in this Old Testament book where God’s name is not even mentioned, we find a king who made a bad decision that impacted thousands and brought confusion to an entire empire. It is classic case of poor government. A case of a leader who is out of touch with the people he is leading, driven by the agendas of his closest confidants and simply ignoring the possibilities of just doing what is right.
Before I move forward, I want every person reading to understand I am not referring to any of our recent or current leaders in the United States. I am simply acknowledging that sometimes government is bad. It doesn’t matter if the leader is republican, democrat or independent. It doesn’t matter if the person is on the national, state or local stage. It’s just a fact…sometimes government is bad. And when it is, how should God’s people respond?
Xerxes (pronounced Zerk-sees) was king of the Persian Empire. He had an advisor named Haman who hated Jews. His anti-Semitism ran so deep that he devised a plan to have all Jews in the Persian Empire killed. He shared his plan with the king and sold him on it. The king passed a law legalizing a one-day genocide. Citizens of Persia would be permitted to purge their neighborhoods of all Jews. And, to top it off, people were allowed to take possession of their Jewish neighbor’s homes, livestock and wealth. Keep in mind; we are talking about the Persian Empire (around 480 BCE) when the king’s words were law. No questions could be asked and no law could be repealed. There was no Bill of Rights, civil rights, laws against discrimination or checks-and-balances in government authority. Haman’s atrocious plan was put into place and the purge was put on the calendar (just read Esther 1-3).
Mordecai was a Godly Jew living in the shadows of the palace when Xerxes announced the genocide (he also happened to be the foster dad of Queen Esther…that’s another story). When he discovered the law had been set in motion, the Bible tells us he…
“…tore his clothes, put on burlap and ashes, and went out into the city, crying with a loud and bitter wail. He went as far as the gate of the palace, for no one was allowed to enter the palace gate while wearing clothes of mourning. And as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes.” (Esther 4:1-3)
From this brief passage we find guidance on how we should react when government is bad. Notice the 2 things Mordecai did:
In an era when civil liberties were not on the social radar, Mordecai displayed his anger and disappointment with the government without breaking any laws, destroying any public property or organizing a march. We are told he did not enter the king’s gate with his protest. Why? Because it was against the law! He was bringing attention to the unjust law without breaking any laws. Mordecai was walking a tightrope. If his protest were too strong, too loud, and too anti-government, then he would create a reason for people to hate him and other Jews. His actions would have built a case for Haman’s anti-Semitic opinions. However, if he did not protest enough, then he could not hold to Biblical values and people would think he did not care about what is good and evil…right or wrong. When government is bad today, God’s people must learn to walk this tightrope. We can’t riot, but we can’t be silent either.
Mordecai went “wailing” in the streets and other Jews through the empire “fasted, wept, and wailed, and… lay in burlap and ashes.” These expressions of disappointment and angst are foreign to us. I’m not suggesting we start wearing burlap when government is bad. However, these were the customs of prayer when in a crisis for a Jew in 480 BCE. Their public displays of civil disgust were bathed in private prayer. Before they cried out to the greater community for justice they cried out to their Creator. It would be wise for God’s people to follow this practice when government is bad here in the good old USA. Too many of us rely on social media rants, rallies, marches or the latest political personality to be our voice. When instead, we could use our voice to cry out to God and then let Him give us a voice in our community.
Queen Esther found out about Mordecai’s personal, public protest. She was in the dark about what was happening and she was concerned. Mordecai did 2 more things.
Esther sent for Hathach…her attendant. She ordered him to go to Mordecai and find out what was troubling him and why he was in mourning…Mordecai told him the whole story,…[and] gave Hathach a copy of the decree issued in Susa that called for the death of all Jews. He asked Hathach to show it to Esther and explain the situation to her. He also asked Hathach to direct her to go to the king to beg for mercy and plead for her people. (Esther 4:4-8)
When Esther’s attendant came asking what was wrong, Mordecai told the exact truth and backed it with a copy of the written law. He did not share his version of the facts, the fake news of the facts or the alternative facts of the facts. Even though he was emotional, he did not allow his emotions to exaggerate his story. When emotions get involved, it is easy to exaggerate (like the husband who is angry and says, “My wife NEVER helps me!”…Really?…Never?). God’s people can’t be like that. Nothing turns people into a hot mess like bad government…even Christians. But in those moments, we must use honest words not exaggerated versions of facts. Why? Because when we exaggerate we are trying to force a reaction instead of trusting God. When Mordecai shared the truth he was trusting God in a practical way with an emotional situation.
Mordecai challenged Queen Esther to do the right thing by challenging her to use her influence and reminding her of God’s purpose for her life (read Esther 4:10-17). People in leadership positions need to be reminded of this. When is the last time you wrote a letter, made a phone call, scheduled an appointment or took a politician out to lunch? I realize with many national figures this is unrealistic, but city council members, mayors, county commissioners and other civic leaders are accessible. It may require some persistence, but the relational Christian is much more appealing than the political one. Mordecai did not tell Esther what to do. He asked her if she would let God do something through her. What would happen if conversations like this happened when government was bad?
I don’t have the space to tell you how this story ends, but I’ll give you a hint (spoiler alert). God rescues the Jews from genocide and bad government leaders are exposed. God rights the ship. I believe this is still possible today when government is bad. When things get sour in political circles and bad laws are passed, let’s stop shouting our rights and instead start practicing our faith.