Educating the Body

–March of 2007

Educating the Body

Eva Sutton is a ninety-two-year-old resident of a nursing home.  Her days are lived in the shadowy world of dementia.  She has a number of children and grandchildren, but if you mention them to her she will talk of another era.  She rattles on about her mother and father as if they were alive and she was still a child.   Eva was an active part of her church and its organist for over forty years.   So on most days, she will sit at the piano in the foyer of the nursing home doing what she loves the most—playing the old hymns. The hymns that she played for decades are now lodged in her bones and are released through age-bent fingers with what appears to be little effort.

Eva Sutton reminds us that the body learns – that it can be educated.  That it can be deeply and resiliently marked by that education.  Her fingers and tongue and lips remember the old hymns, even when her broken mind doesn’t.

The athlete calls this “muscle memory.”  One practices movements over and over again until one can do them without thought or any mental awareness of what is happening.  We ride our bikes, milk a cow, swim, make our beds, play basketball and do a host of other things without ever thinking about or analyzing the movements we make.  Our body knows what to do, and it just does it.

The Apostle Paul understood this and admonished us to “…exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7-8).  He understood that spiritual formation involves the whole person, not just the spiritual part of us but the physical body as well.  Actually, the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life and is a chief ally in the formation of Christlikeness.  Paul again makes this clear in a question to the Corinthians: “Are you unaware that your body is a temple to the Holy Spirit from God, Who is within you?  And that you are not your own property?  A price has been paid for you.  So make your body a showplace of God’s greatness” (I Cor. 6:19-20, paraphrase).  This truth is quite a shock for many 21st century Christians who disconnect the mind and heart from the body in their spiritual walk.  For those who “walk in the flesh,” the body may well be the primary barrier to conformity to Christ.  But that is not because it has to be that way.  The body is not some uncontrollable mass that carries our head around.  It is not inherently evil, or the cause of evil.  The body, when presented to God, can be a servant unto righteousness — in fact, it must be.  The proper training, enculturation, and disciplining of the body is absolutely essential to spiritual formation.

Actually it’s the body that often learns first and can retain that learning long after the mind is gone.  We teach our children to speak words of appreciation long before they understand true gratitude, for we know that trained, repeated responses of thankfulness can in the long run create an attitude of gratitude that can mark them for life.  We instruct them in the posture and words of daily prayer years before they understand its real value because we want them to develop the habit of daily prayer.  We repeat this process with acts of mercy, deeds of kindness, and respect for authority and age.  We are “training up the child in the way he should go: so that when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

For those who need help in this area, there are some practical steps you can follow to bring the body under the control of the Spirit.

  1. Surrender your body totally to God.  (Romans 12:1.)  This must be decisive and complete.  You must then understand that the body is no longer your own to do with as you please.
  2. Refuse to make the body your ultimate concern. (Matthew 6:25-34.)  Contemporary culture idolizes the body.  We are overly concerned with food, fashion, fitness, longevity, sickness, and death.  We can become far more concerned about the body’s wellness and care than we can about its usefulness to God.   The body is not a god to worship.  I recently went on an extended fast just to let my belly know I was still boss and that feeding it was not the ultimate concern in my life.
  3. Stop misusing the body.  (I Corinthians 6:12-17.)   Stop using the body to speak the language of this present world.  Christians do not dress to look sexy or any other way that misuses the body by accentuating its sensuality. They do not need a “power tie” or any other clothes that tend to elevate them above others or possibly intimidate others.  We do not misuse the body by lacking sleep, being a workaholic, or eating too much or the wrong things.  The body doesn’t have to have a steak, sex, or Sony’s latest Play Station when it wants it.  Food is our servant, and we are not its slave.  Sex is for the mutual benefit of a husband and wife in the context of a marriage relationship.  Recreation is my servant, kept within the bounds of wise stewardship.
  4. Honor and care for the body as God’s Temple. (I Corinthians 6:19-20.)  The body should be nourished, cared for, rested, and adorned so that we may glorify God in our bodies.
  5. Train the body in godliness and grace. (I Timothy 4:7-8.)  Writers on spiritual formation have listed around twelve spiritual disciplines that have been used through the ages to cultivate Christlikeness and to keep the body as a servant to righteousness.  Make the practice of some of them or all of them a part of your spiritual exercise routine.

Coy McGinnis has been a preacher of the gospel for over fifty years, much of that time spent in evangelism.  He recently passed away after battling cancer for several years.  Toward the end, there were times when his mind was not clear from the sickness and the medicine.  On one such occasion in the middle of the night, while still asleep, he cleared his throat, announced his text, quoted it, and then preached a complete sermon from John 1:29.  When he finished the sermon, he stretched out his arms and pled for souls to come to Christ.  He was never aware of any of this.  Preaching has so marked his life that he could literally do it in his sleep.

The body can be deeply marked and thoroughly educated.  If you don’t think so, don’t try to convince Eva Sutton or Rev. McGinnis – they know better.

Half-Way Christians

–October of 2006

Half-Way Christians

In the early 1600s the Puritans made the arduous journey to America to establish a pure community of like-minded Christians, a “City on a Hill.” As the first generation of these settlers began to die off, their congregational churches faced a membership crisis. Full participation, or membership, had been limited to the “Visible Saints” — those who had made a public affirmation of a conversion experience. In the early days, most Puritans testified to such an experience.  But as time passed, the fires of conviction did not burn as brightly in the hearts of the second- and third-generation Puritans. Fewer of them had a “conversion experience,” and even fewer were inclined to devote themselves to the principles of the church.

In 1662, the church leadership, to confront this crisis of faith, created the Half-Way Covenant.  It provided a partial church membership for the children and grandchildren of church members.  It allowed them the rite of baptism (which opened the door to civil privileges) without having to devote themselves to the strict principles of the church or testify to a “conversion experience.”   Within a generation these partial Puritans were complete worldlings.

History has proven that it is a daunting task for parents to hand down their faith to succeeding generations.  The Book of Judges graphically describes this challenge: “The people worshipped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. They had seen all the Lord’s great works He had done for Israel…. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshipped the Baals and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt.” Succeeding generations have a natural tendency to accept the status quo and to lose the vision of the first generation. Too often the second-generation experience is a second-hand experience. The parent’s fervor for the faith becomes the children’s formalism and the grandchildren’s apathy.

This is more than a sad fact of church history.  It’s a tragedy of eternal proportions.  I have witnessed children who have grown up in the finest of Christian homes succumb to the subtleties of what one writer calls the “second generation syndrome.”  They conform to the codes and creeds of their religious subculture; they perform their Christian duties with sincerity; they speak the appropriate shibboleths with ease and familiarity; yet they lack the vital heart of basic Christianity.  Like the Rich Young Ruler, they are fine examples of religious conformity and moral integrity, but totally void of true spiritual life.

Every Christian parent wants more than anything else to have children who love and serve the Lord.  We all want to give them the benefit of the doubt and take them at their word that they are indeed Christians.  But both parents and pastors need to be very careful not to assume that because Johnny and Sally look the part they truly know God.  The new birth carries with it some unmistakable marks of spiritual life.  If these are not present, then well-meaning attempts to confirm children in the faith will never substitute for a true conversion.  God has no grandchildren.  Every generation must find God for itself and experience His saving grace. There are no half-way Christians in heaven, just totally lost ones in hell.

As the Twig is Bent

–Summer of 2004

As the Twig is Bent

Young people have been a central part of my life for over 25 years.  I have worked with them in church groups, Christian schools, youth camps, and now at a Bible College Academy.  I’ve counseled with hundreds and preached to thousands of teens from all sorts of backgrounds. I have yet to meet any that had Solomonic wisdom or angelic perfection, but I have met many good kids, the kind of young people that made me say, “Your parents did something right!”    I have also met some kids along the way that lacked the basic building blocks necessary to be responsible, respectful, truthful, and productive.  In comparing the two groups, and all the individuals that fall in between, I have searched for the single most significant reason that has made the difference.  I am convinced that a large part of the answer is parenting.

It is not my intention to put parents on a guilt trip, or to blame them for behavior that is clearly the result of the exercise of free will.  But I do want to remind parents of the responsibility that belongs solely to them in the child rearing process.  I am extremely weary of hearing parents blame the pastor, teacher, principal, or school for their child’s failures.  Parents need to stop looking for excuses and start accepting responsibility for their children’s behavior.  Not all children are endowed equally with the same temperament, learning ability, and giftedness.  But, the ground is level when it comes to building character.  Character and subsequent behavior is a personal responsibility that begins with Mom and Dad in the very early years of a child’s life.  Character is molded and developed in the home and cemented by the choices one makes every day.  One’s peers do not mold one’s character.  They may well influence one’s decisions, but they do not form one’s character; they can only test and reveal what is there.  Character is not really an environmental issue.  I have watched as quality parenting has raised quality kids in situations that were far from ideal.  I have also watched as poor parenting has produced problem kids in environments that offered every advantage.

A Recipe for Disaster

Parents who do not actively involve themselves and assume responsibility for every facet of their child’s development, especially the formation of their child’s character, are asking for problems.   Parents who do not teach and insist upon obedience to authority are headed for heartache.  Parents who fail to establish boundaries and enforce them when necessary are simply sowing the seeds of lawlessness.  Parents who fail to teach their children how to behave ethically and with integrity are laying the groundwork for a teenager that will lie, cheat, and steal.  Parents who give their children everything they want and fail to teach them how to work for something and then respect what they have worked for, are raising a child that will be discontent, never appreciate anything, nor respect their property or the property of others.  Parents who think discipline is old-fashioned and a spanking is out-dated are likely to raise a monster.

 Kids that Succeed

Young people that are a blessing to society and a credit to their parents, tend to come from homes where values are not only taught but modeled. Love is openly communicated and visibly expressed.  Integrity is displayed in everyday living.   They are taught to respect their parents, their siblings, their authorities, and other people. They are taught to respect others’ opinions, property, and privacy, and in turn are given that same level of respect.  They come from homes where rules and boundaries are clearly understood, communicated, and enforced.  Kids who do well in life are those who have been disciplined.  They have been made to understand the consequences of bad decisions. They are taught to accept responsibility for their actions and to do whatever is necessary to correct them. Kids who succeed come from homes where problems are openly confronted with a willingness to reevaluate and change if necessary.

When parents neglect parenting, they commit a terrible wrong that can cripple a child for the rest of their life. There is a story in American literature that tells of a little girl whose mother had died.  Her father would come home from work and just sit down, read his paper, and ignore the child.  The little girl would come in and ask him to play with her for a little while because she was lonely.  He told her he was tired, to let him be at peace.  He told her to go out into the street and play if she wanted to play.  So, she played on the streets.  The inevitable happened.  She took to the streets.  The years passed on and she died.  Her soul arrived in heaven.  Peter saw her and said to Jesus, “Master, here’s a girl who was a bad lot.  I suppose we send her straight to hell?”   “No,” said Jesus gently, “let her in.”  And then His eyes grew stern as He said, “But look for a man who refused to play with his little girl and sent her out to the streets and send him to hell.”

Parents, Listen Up!!

–Summer of 2003

Parents, Listen Up!!

A major consulting firm says that there are approximately 370,000 Christian seniors in America.  Of that number only sixteen percent (60,000) will attend a Christian/Bible college this fall.  Of those who do attend, 98 percent will maintain their faith and stay in church.  The remaining 84 % will attend a secular university or Jr. College near home.  Of those that do, 52 % will lose their faith and drop out of church.  Why wouldn’t Christian High School seniors and their parents overwhelmingly seek to attend a Christian College?

Another recent study shows that there are approximately 3000 churches that identify with the conservative values of a College like GBS or its peer colleges and institutes. (There are still others that would not fully identify with GBS but would still want the values based education it offers.)  An observation was made in this study that denominations tend to send at least 1 student for every 2 churches to the denominational College.  There is some parallel also between Church groups and Colleges they identify with. This means that there is a potential student pool for GBS and its peer colleges of approximately 1500 to 1800 students.  Yet enrollment records show a little under 50% of that number attend.  Why?

Our own survey shows that the key influence in a student coming to GBS is their parents (and it should be). However, our recruitment feedback also shows that the one reason college bound seniors go to secular schools is also because of parents.  Why?

We have been given many reasons.  The most consistent is money. Money on the front end:  Junior colleges are close to home and cheap, secular universities are close and cheap, and scholarships abound in these state funded school.  And money after graduation: “I want my kids to have it better than I did, and ministry doesn’t pay enough!”  Parents pushing their kids for upward mobility is the number one reason for Christian young people pursuing secular training and jobs.

Another reason is status.  They want their child to graduate from a college with national recognition.  Another reason is some parents don’t think their child is mature enough to be away from home and fear the loss of control over their lives.

I have also heard the reasons why some parents are willing to send their son and daughter hundreds of miles from home to our Campus. Let me list some of those.  They want them to get settled spiritually. They appreciate the academic excellence and ministry opportunity.  They see the value of resident life in the maturing process.  They want them around other kids who share their values and faith so as to have appropriate choices for a life partner.  It also places them in an atmosphere where they can make themselves available for full-time Christian ministry if God so calls them.

This is true for many parents who know that their child will only be here for a couple of years and then move on to a college that offers a career field we do not and could not offer.  They do not see it as wasted time, but as one of the best investments they can make in the future of a child they want to see maintain their faith and be an effective Christian servant no matter what calling they follow in life.

Nothing is more important to parents than their children. Nothing is more important to the Christian parent than the spiritual welfare of their children.  If that is so, then why not do whatever it takes to get them in that 98% group that keep the faith and bless God’s Kingdom!

Evaluating My Relationship Portfolio

–April of 2003

Evaluating My Relationship Portfolio

People who work closely with the stock market have been carefully evaluating their investments over the last few years.  They want a balanced portfolio that will yield both short-term and long-terms gains.    I have been evaluating my investments as well.  Not those in the stock market, but those I make in peoples lives. I want to make sure I’m investing in those relationships that matter most.  (For those who are following, this is my third New Year’s Resolution.)

Life makes tremendous demands on our time and energy.  If we aren’t extremely careful, we will invest a significant amount of time in things that mean the least to us and have the smallest impact for long-term good.  At age 46, I’m realizing how quickly time is slipping away and how few years I have left to invest the talents God has given me. That forces me to be more discriminating in how I invest my time and in whom I invest it.

First of all I want to invest my time and energy in those people who want the investment I can make in them.  People who are passionate about improvement, have a teachable spirit, and have allowed me to develop the kind of relationship with them that makes it possible for me to be a blessing.  To those that are older, I want to be a source of consolation in loneliness, strength in weakness and encouragement in the dark moments of life.   To those that are younger, I want to be what Paul was to Timothy and Barnabas was to John Mark.  To those that are my peers, I want to be a “friend that sticketh closer than a brother”.

I also want to invest in my larger family.  I want to be a good son, son-in-law, brother and uncle. I want to make a serious contribution to the well being of each member of my family.  It’s so easy to take them for granted or just make them a part of holidays and funerals.  I want to give a listening ear, a word of encouragement, a warm embrace and any other means of support available to me to give.  This will take time, but it is time I want to give!

A large part of the stewardship of my time will be given to my sons.  I’m their father, and I refuse to neglect that role.  They will have my time, my heart, my prayers, my counsel, my support, and my ear.  I will proof term papers, talk sports, or sit on the edge of the bed and talk half the night if it builds bridges and makes them better.  I’ll teach, preach and nag (if necessary) until certain values and traits are theirs.  I’ll see to it that they educate their minds, discipline their bodies, value hard work, love their country, respect their elders, act with manners, and treat their mother like a queen (or face the consequences).  This will require and has required a huge amount of time, but I’m going to give it to them.  They’re mine, they deserve my best, and I will not let them down.

A special portion of my time will go to my wife.   Ruth and I have shared so much life in the past 24 years of marriage.  We’ve experienced an abundance of love and happiness.  Together we’ve poured an unbelievable amount of time into the lives of our children and plan to continue doing so until God calls us home.   Together we have pastored, promoted, and presided over various aspects of God’s work.  We have shared sorrow, stress, and misunderstandings.  We haven’t always agreed, but we’ve always been committed to loving and going on.  Ruth has allowed me to invest a huge amount of time in others without complaint.  Yet, I want to invest more of myself in her– more quality time.  I want to invest in our marriage, so we are planning to attend a marriage seminar.  I want her life to be filled with more bright spots, so I’m going to invest in more special moments.  I want a greater degree of “soul connection,” so I’m going to invest in more time to listen and pray with her. Our relationship matters and I want my commitment to it to reflect its importance.

Sooner than I realize, I will answer to God for my stewardship.  When I report on my investment in people, I want to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”