The Shepherd Was Asleep

I have been reminded again how critical it is for the father to be the shepherd at the gate of the sheep pen. In the same way that the pastor is responsible for protecting the flock, the father must always be on the lookout to protect those God has given him.

A number of months ago my two adult sons told me about a new fiction novel they had read about the end-times, and they thought it was great. It sounded interesting and even a little tempting, but for quite a few years now, I’ve been able to avoid recreational reading. The issue is not whether the books are bad (some are and some aren’t), but whether there is a better use of my time.

My heart’s desire is that I would spend my time as the Lord Jesus would have me spend it. I know there is a world of fun things out there that might not be classified as sin, but the question is, are they profitable? I truly want to use my time obediently, doing God’s best and not settling for anything less. I don’t share that arrogantly, but as the sincere desire of my heart.

Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). The word expedient means profitable. Even if something was not sin to Paul, it might not have been profitable for him and his walk with the Lord Jesus. That is what I want for my life, to discern what is chaff and avoid it. Even if something is not technically sin, if it is not profitable for my walk, then I might as well consider it sin. So, if it isn’t profitable, I really don’t want to spend my time and attention on it.

As I share about this experience, please understand that my intention is not to be critical of someone else’s writing. However, as I write of my failure in this area and what Scripture has to say about it, I don’t know how else to explain without some reference to the books.

When Teri and I were leaving on our twenty-fifth anniversary trip last fall, one of the children sent along a CD version of the book. That was all it took. We were “hooked,” and over time, Teri and I read the series. (This is the man who doesn’t take time for recreational reading!) Did we have cautions? Yes. Did I rationalize ignoring them? Obviously.

The first book begins with a man’s adulterous thoughts. That was a red flag to Teri and me. We felt that if a compromise like that were used to get the audience’s attention, there would be other areas we would have difficulty with as well. Did we stop reading? No. When I read the detail about the anti-Christ and focus on him, that was another red flag. Comparing what the Bible has to say about the anti-Christ, we do not see the detail and glorifying of the man that is to be everything “anti” to what we believe. In Scripture, Jesus Christ is always preeminent.

I am greatly humbled by admitting this to you, brothers, but I feel God compelling me to share this. Unfortunately, it goes on. In each book we read, there were the red flags and promptings of the Spirit that it was not edifying, although greatly entertaining. Next, there was increasing gory and violent detail that, again, I knew was not profitable.

I once discussed the subject of graphic detail with the head of a Christian missionary organization. His newsletters would describe in detail the terrible things that were perpetrated on Christians around the world. He defended his writing style by referring me to Hebrews 11 that describes how many Christians have been martyred. “Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented” (Hebrews 11:35-37). However, notice the total lack of detail in those verses. Even when reading the Old Testament about violent things taking place, the degree of detail is slight compared to what I was reading in his newsletter. Paul exhorts us in Romans 16:19 to be wise unto that which is good, and simple in regard to our knowledge of evil. Finally, in Ephesians 5:12 we are told not even to speak of the evil deeds done in secret.

Reading accounts such as Ehud in Judges 3 still do not hold a candle to the graphic descriptions the presses are turning out these days. Have you noticed how little detail God gives when it comes to the suffering of His saints in the New Testament? Is this possibly an omission by God, or maybe He didn’t have the details to include? Certainly not! No one but God could explain the minute details of what someone suffered as they were being sawn in two, stoned, or crucified. Yet, He did not choose to tell us. Why? There may be many reasons, but I believe one reason is that “man” struggles with fear, and He did not want to hand Satan any instruments to use in tormenting us. It is so easy for men, women, and children to be fearful, and the more detail used in describing the atrocities that happen to mankind, the easier it is to be concerned that they will happen to our wives, our children, and us. In God’s mercy, He is sparing us, even though our sinful, depraved nature cries out for the detail.

Think about how much detail God gave us about the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Most of us have heard descriptions of what Christ suffered, but we didn’t “hear” that from the Bible. Rather, it came from sermons or articles. God does not want us to fill our mind with the details of a person’s suffering. Some justify the details as being necessary to move people to prayer and involvement. Unfortunately, wrong methods never justify the means, as there will always be consequences.

Finally, I could not ignore God’s promptings any longer when we began reading another book in the series. The whole focus was on Satan’s man. The last straw was when it related the words of praise that little children were singing of the anti-Christ. Teri and I were in a motel room in a city where we were giving workshops and had a little time before bed. We would take turns reading. Teri happened to be reading and came to those words. My heart ached when she started to read them and quickly said she would skip that part. But it was too late. She had already read enough of it to know it was not healthy. Here God has called me to protect my wife, and I let her fill her mind with words of praise to the anti-Christ. There is certainly no profit to our walk with Christ in that.

Can you see the absolute absurdity of the whole situation? Here were two believers, bought with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus, being entertained reading about the anti-Christ. I knew it was not profitable from the first book, yet I was weak and continued reading. Teri and I take great joy in praying together, and that would have been a joyful, profitable use of our time.

Remember it isn’t that I don’t enjoy recreational reading; in fact, I do enjoy it very much. The problem is that at the very least, it isn’t profitable, and in this case, I believe harmful to my walk with the Lord.

A short time ago, Teri and I had a couple days away at a bed and breakfast, and that time was spent wisely. We discussed goals for the children, evaluated their progress, prayed, and watched five wonderful preaching videos. We came away filled with love for the Lord Jesus, each other, and a renewed vision for our family. What a stark contrast to how we spent that other time.

I have repented of my attitude of compromise and slothfulness, and as a family we have committed not to read any more of these books (which were written for the lost anyway). Even after all of this, it will no doubt be tempting. It was hard to share this with you, but it is my prayer that God may use my failure for good in your life.

Training Children for Church

Eleven years ago, we had four children from age twelve down to a baby. We sent these children to children’s church and Sunday School but were never very excited about the outcome. Frequently, the children picked up an illness because of their close contact with other sick children. This meant the next several weeks many of us were home from church as the virus spread through the family. Our children also had a propensity for picking up every negative word or action they observed in another child. Even in a Christian church setting, they managed to discover words, attitudes, and actions of which we did not approve.

One Sunday morning a friend of Steve’s visited our church. They had four children about ages six on down. I was stunned as I observed this family sit through ALL of church with ALL of those children. In addition, the children were well behaved. You had better believe the first thing I asked that mom after church was, “How do you get your children to sit so nicely through church?” Her response was very simple, but it revolutionized our family’s future church attendance. We began to practice what she suggested with wonderful results. I want to share this idea in case you are in the stage of life with young children whom you would like to have with you in church, or perhaps know other families with this desire.

We began to train our children to sit in church by practicing during the week at home. We found this method to work amazingly well. It was so simple, yet very effective. Here is how we implemented it in our family.

I held the youngest child, who was still a baby, on my lap during our family Bible time. If he started to try to wiggle down, I held him firmly and said quietly, “No.” If the baby began to make noise, scream, or cry (this is a baby old enough to sit up), I would gently put my finger on his mouth and say, “Shhh.” I did this several times, but if the crying didn’t stop, I would carry the baby to his crib and say, “You must be quiet during devotion time. Mommy will come back to get you when you stop crying.” When the baby was quiet, I would bring him out to the family again and onto my lap. Consistently, we would do this repeatedly as needed. It did produce some interruptions to the devotion time, but if Mom is quietly doing this while Dad continues the Bible time, the distractions are kept to a minimum. We believed the investment was worth the hoped-for outcome.

We also required the other children to sit quietly and attentively during devotions, as we would like them to sit in church. Not only did this help their church behavior, but it also helped them during home Bible time. Because we are not currently training a baby to be quiet and sit on Mama or Papa’s lap in church, we have not maintained the same high standards of behavior during our family devotions, and it has had a negative impact on the children’s attentiveness.

When we were actually at church and the youngest child would not be quiet, either Steve or I would take him out and sit with him where he would not be a distraction. We would be careful not to let him down to crawl or run around because we didn’t want him to learn that if he was noisy he could leave church and have fun. We would do as we did at home, holding him firmly on our lap, putting a finger on his mouth and saying, “Shhh.” Since there was no place to put the baby if he kept on making noise, we would just hold him firmly, praising him anytime he was quiet. If it seemed he was going to stay quiet, we would take him back into the service, leaving again if his noise level rose. There were many services a member of our family missed sitting in the hall at church with a child between nine and eighteen months of age. That was also the age Steve’s friend said was the hardest. However, the fruit of being able to sit through two-hour church services with five young children has been worth those few missed services. We never have to take our children out of church for being disruptive anymore, although there are times when they have some “practice” to do when we get home from church.

We have helped our children toward quiet, respectful behavior in church by giving them an environment to encourage their success. They don’t get to eat, read, or have toys. This makes church a different place from home or another play area. They do have notebooks to scribble in or take notes in if they remember to bring them to church.

Our little ones are not “perfect” in church. They sometimes whisper to each other and to us. Their eyes can wander here and there. They will get off their seat from time to time to pick up a Bible or change laps. They don’t sit like statutes through the service. This is within our level of tolerance of a child’s behavior in church. Others must agree with us because we regularly receive comments on how good the little children are in church. If our children cross the boundaries for church behavior we have set, they will again find they have some practice time at home after church.

It is a joy for us to have our family worshipping all together. We don’t feel our younger children are missing out on anything by being with us. They receive spiritual training on their level at home. They enjoy going to church with their family. They learn to listen, pray, and worship by watching their parents, older siblings, and other church members. It is a delight for Steve and me. We are most indebted to the Hunsburger family, whom we knew in Kent, Washington eleven years ago, for showing us that it was possible to attend a corporate worship service as a family even with little children!