Category Archives: Gospel Meditation

Trust God and Do Not Fear


Readings for Sunday, November 11:  1 Kings 17:8-16     Psalm 146     Hebrews 9:24-28     Mark 12:38-44


Mark 12:38–44




38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”


41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”


In today’s reading Jesus pointed toward some of the people in the culture around him who constantly called attention to themselves, who served nobody, faked religious fervor and actually stole from widows. These people spent all their time making names for themselves. He pointed to scribes and other religious leaders as scurrilous mongrels.


Then he nailed his point. He sat where he could see the collection plate as people entered the temple. We don’t know for sure what it looked like, so just imagine the plate that is passed each Sunday in your church. As people entered they dropped money into this plate, and some of them dropped a great deal of money. Of course, Jesus had only moments before been talking about how some of those rich people obtained all their money. He never said that all rich people were thieves, but he did point to some specific ones who stole from poor widows. As he watched the parade and the offerings, along came a widow with two tiny coins, which she dropped into the offering plate.


The Bible tells us that Jesus never needed anyone to tell him about people, because he saw through them all. He saw through the self-centered and self-righteous scribes, and he saw through this widow with her tiny coin. Then he made his point about people again. He said, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.” In Jesus’ eyes, her tiny coins outweighed all the other money in the plate.


She was a widow. Jesus had just pointed out that many of the scribes who came ahead of her with their big gifts acquired those gifts by stealing from people like this widow. For her to give anything at all was a huge sacrifice. She could easily have told herself that the scribes had already made her offering with her own money as they passed by. Instead, this widow did the thing Jesus wanted most: she trusted God.


Throughout the book of Mark, Jesus reproaches people for being afraid and admonishes them to have faith. He tells them not to fear what is coming, or what might come, and he tells them to trust God. This widow exemplified everything that he wanted from his disciples.


Once when they were all caught in a storm at sea, the disciples got upset. No, they were not upset; they panicked. They screamed at Jesus, who was sleeping peacefully through the chaos. “We’re dying here! Don’t you care? Do something!” Jesus stood up, looked at the storm, and said, “Muzzle yourself! Or I’ll do it for you!” The storm shut down to a dead calm. Just like that. Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “What is the matter with you? Don’t you have any faith?”


Jesus and the disciples were on their way to the house of Jairus who had begged Jesus to heal his daughter when someone ran up and said, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” Jesus heard what they said and he turned to Jairus. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said. “Only believe.” Then, even though everyone was laughing at him, Jesus proceeded to raise the little girl up from the dead.


Jesus wanted people to have faith in God. He did not want them to be afraid when bad things happened. He did not want them to fear during good times that bad things would certainly follow. I had a friend in college who did that. If things were good for her, she would say something like, “Things are just too good to believe. Something bad is about to happen.” When things went wrong for her, no matter how far between such events, she always said, “See! I told you so!” Jesus did not want people to feel that way. Jesus did not want people feel that they were at the mercy of malicious, invisible powers. He did not want people to think that life is a lottery where some people draw winning tickets while others draw zeroes.


When Jesus burst on the scene at the beginning of the book of Mark, the first words he spoke were these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus began his ministry by asking people to believe that God cared so much about them that he had come to be among them. When Jesus saw a widow, a person who might well have seen herself as a victim of society in general and rich people in particular, he saw a person who might well fear that if she parted with the last two coins in her possession, she could starve. In fact, even if she clung to those coins and used them to buy food, they were still the last money she had. She might defer her death, but she might still starve. Jesus rejoiced in seeing that she actually did trust God with her future. She came to the temple, the place God had designated for his presence on earth. The widow came to meet God, and she felt such gratitude for God that she could trustingly give God the last coin in her possession. It is an image of grateful faith that everyone could learn from.


It is the same faith that Jesus asks from each of us. Everyone faces risks in life. There truly are no guarantees. People who are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after the megastorm surrounding Hurricane Sandy could easily feel victimized and defeated, but this is not how Jesus would have them feel. Jesus would ask them to trust God and use the gifts God places in their hands to find their way forward. He asks the same thing of pastors arrested in Iran for telling Muslims about Jesus. He asks the same thing of Christian families in Indonesia fined two months’ salary for praying with their neighbors. He asks the same thing of a Christian pharmacist in the USA who must choose between his career in pharmacy and his convictions that God does not want him to supply abortifacient drugs even if a doctor prescribes them. Jesus asks each of us to trust him with our lives. He asks us not to be afraid to trust him with our lives. He praised the widow who put her whole life in God’s hands by offering up her last two tiny coins.


Mark does not give us the details of the widow’s remaining days. It is just one of many ways Mark invites each of us into the story of Jesus. He does ask us to think about what the woman did, and he does ask each of us if we trust God that way. Do we really trust God with our lives, or do we create as much security as we can and then fret for fear it won’t be enough to keep us safe?


I’m as guilty as the next person. In our life, I worry incessantly about having sufficient food to keep us healthy between grocery stores. When we are cruising, we don’t know when we might be trapped in a remote anchorage while a big storm passes, and I worry that we have not made adequate provision in our anchoring technique or in our food and fuel supplies. I worry that we forgot to stock enough medicine or warm socks. Mark asks me to stop fretting. He doesn’t tell me to stop using my common sense, but he does remind me that Jesus really wants me to trust God for our lives and well-being. When I read that many Christians suffer arrest, fines and imprisonment for their faith, I know that my fretting over salt, coffee and fresh bread is quite trivial. Some of Jesus’ followers really do trust God with their lives and live daily trusting that he will give them the strength to endure misery I can’t even imagine. It shames me.


Sunday, November 11, 2012, is designated by Open Doors USA as International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Today, tomorrow and Sunday would be good days to pray for Christians in the body of Christ around the world who trust God with their lives, such as Makset Djabbarbergenov, a house-church leader being held in a Kazakhstan jail at the request of his native Uzbekistan. It would be a good time to meditate on all the fretting we do about our comfort and safety while others are suffering great discomfort and no safety because they trust God with their lives. Join Christians around the world this Sunday in prayer for the persecuted church. As I pray with them, I will try to learn to let go of my trivial issues and learn to trust God with my life the way they trust God with their lives. Maybe one day all of us will join the widow whose story inspired today’s reading as we rejoice in the blessing of life forever with the Christ who died for us, because he loved us so much that we can, indeed, trust God with our lives.

What’s In It For Me?


Today’s readings:  Jeremiah 31:7-9     Psalm 126      Hebrews 7:23-28     Mark 10:46-52




Bartimaeus sat by the road near the city of Jericho. Sighted friends nearby told him that Jesus, the amazing miracle-worker was passing by. We don’t know exactly what Bartimaeus had heard, but he called out, “Jesus, Son of David.” Commentators note that until this moment, Jesus had shut down every attempt to publicly name him as the Messiah. In this instance, Jesus responded instead with by inviting Bartimaeus to come near.


The story of Bartimaeus follows a period during which Jesus made repeated attempts to explain to his disciples who he was, but they seemed oblivious to the truth. Astoundingly, as Jesus comes near to a blind man outside Jericho, the blind man sees what the disciples are unable to see. Bartimaeus sees the Messiah. Jews knew that the Messiah would be the Suffering Servant, but the disciples could not accept that idea. They are the truly blind characters in this story.


As friends assisted Bartimaeus to make his way toward Jesus, Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” This question echoes the question he asked James and John, the disciples who were so blinded by personal ambition that they could not see the truth about the Messiah. Their answer was self-serving in the extreme; they wanted the best seats in the coming kingdom where they expected Christ to reign. They didn’t realize that Jesus would initiate his reign on the cross. They were so blind that they confused political power and prestige with Christ’s purpose on earth.


Bartimaeus, who had already testified in his outcry as Jesus approached that Jesus was the promised Messiah, simply asked that his physical eyes might be healed The last blind person Jesus had healed had a very different experience from Bartimaeus. That person had been led out of the crowd to a private place. Jesus put spit on that man’s eyes. It took two actual touches from Christ to restore that man’s sight. Not so for Bartimaeus, because Bartimaeus already believed that Jesus was the Christ, God come down to earth. Jesus simply said, “Your faith has made you well,” and Bartimaeus immediately regained his sight.


The last blind person before Bartimaeus had been directed to go home and be still about his healing. Not so for Bartimaeus. This man may have been physically blind before the miracle that restored his sight, but he clearly saw Jesus for who he really was. Jesus did not send him back to the side of the road. The Bible says that Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way.


Bartimaeus saw something in Christ that the disciples had yet to learn. When he asked Jesus for mercy, his request showed that he recognized that he needed mercy, as a sinner, more than he needed to be able to see. It was a lesson the disciples had not yet figured out. When Bartimaeus received his physical sight, he didn’t waste that blessing by going around as the local celebrity talking non-stop about himself and that great miracle moment when his sight returned. Instead, he abandoned all that he knew and followed Jesus on the road to the cross, the destination the disciples still could not see ahead of them.


The disciples still wanted to know what their discipleship was going to bring them. When Jesus had talked about how hard it would be for rich people to get into heaven, Peter got very excited and reminded Jesus, as if Jesus did not know, that the disciples had left everything behind for him. “Look here, Jesus,” Peter said, “You don’t have to give us fits about this. We already left everything for you.” And when Jesus told them, over and over, that his destiny would be suffering, rejection, betrayal, scorn, torture and murder, followed by resurrection, they simply could not take it in. They were walking around in the midst of crowds that pushed in toward Jesus so close they could hardly breathe. When they stopped anywhere the crowds continued. There was hardly time to eat or sleep. Jesus was a big celebrity. How could they possibly absorb his warning about arrest and murder in the future? They could not see that Jesus was telling the truth about his fate, and they had no idea that his fate would be theirs as well.


Contemporary American Christians are just as oblivious to this truth as the disciples were. Surrounded by a culture shaped by First Amendment protections, we do not really know what it means to suffer as Jesus suffered, to be rejected as he was rejected, to be betrayed and tortured and executed as Christ was. We think that if we respond to social snubs with grace, we are being faithful disciples.


In fifty countries around the world, Christians suffer every day in ways that would be unthinkable in the USA. In Belarus, for example, no religious group with less than twenty members is allowed to meet. Every religious group that meets the membership requirements must be registered with the state, and any group not affiliated with the Orthodox Church has great difficulty getting the required registration. Two churches were raided by the government in 2011 because they were unregistered, and a court determined that the government has a right to raid unregistered places of worship. Religious leaders of any denomination are subject to harassment, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Government restrictions on freedom of speech and press, right of assembly and religion remain unchanged since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Christians in the USA are blessed not to be faced with such restrictions at this time.


The real challenge for Christians in the USA is to remember that a call to discipleship is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, a “call to come and die.” Jesus said that the only way to follow him was to deny self, take up your cross, and go where he went. His destination when he spoke those words was Golgotha – the cross. In the USA it is easy to start thinking that being a Christian is about attending worship on Sunday and saying, “Merry Christmas” in December instead of “Happy Holidays.” Jesus said the price of our faith is steeper than that. We think we become Christians in order to go to heaven, but Jesus said we become Christians in order to carry our own cross with us everywhere.


What’s the point? Bringing everyone into the kingdom of heaven. We don’t follow Christ in order to get grades or points or prestige or position. We follow him so we can do what he did: invite people into the kingdom. That was his response to Bartimaeus’ request for help: Come on into my kingdom. That is our response to people, too: Come on into Christ’s kingdom. The Secret Believers’ newsletter today said it very well.


If we want to see people reached for Jesus, to see the Gospel transform lives, there is a price that must be paid. The price: we must give up our rights. We must live sacramentally. We must die to ourselves so that Christ can live through us. ( © 2010   Secret Believers is a ministry of Open Doors International) This is the way we follow Christ all the way to the cross.



Me First!

Gospel Text: Mark 10:17-31

In the story immediately preceding today’s text, Jesus tells the disciples what will happen to him in Jerusalem. They were walking together along a road that would ultimately take them to Jerusalem, and you might think that the first thing the disciples would suggest is to go somewhere else.


The reaction of the disciples is to start scheming for pre-eminence in Christ’s kingdom. He has already told them that they will all sit on thrones, but that is not good enough. They may even be sitting in a circle on those thrones, but everybody actually wants to sit near Jesus. James and John are the first to bring it up, and in Matthew’s report of this occasion, he says that their mother got into the act. They have all listened to Jesus predict his own death, but their first concern is to figure out who can be the most important among the survivors.

The disciples don’t get the message. They don’t really know what Jesus is about. They have all heard Jesus preach about giving people more than they ask for, and they heard Jesus preach about loving the neighbor more than self, and they heard Jesus tell the rich young ruler that he needed to let go of everything but Jesus in order to be a follower, but none of it has sunk in. They still believe that Jesus, the celebrity who is surrounded by people night and day, is going to be a big shot in Jerusalem, and that they will be big shots along with him.

Jesus did not leave his throne in heaven in order to be what passes for importance on earth. He was already creator and ruler of the universe. He left his throne to show people God in the flesh. He came into our world in order to show us his world.

Jesus came to be a servant. He gently rebukes his disciples by telling them that he has come to be a servant. If they want to be like him, they need to be servants, too. The gospel record makes it clear that they did not understand what he meant, not even when he washed their feet on the night before his death.

We don’t understand, either. We think that a person whose name is known nationwide must be more important than everyone else. We think that a pastor who is famous must be a better pastor, because everybody knows his name. We think that a pastor whose church has thousands in the audience on Sunday must be a really good pastor, even though we know that football teams have even bigger crowds any day of the week.

The word service is quite popular right now. The secular culture emphasizes the word probably as much as Christian teaching does. However, the usage and meaning of the word is different in a secular context than in a Christian context. Because Christians live in the culture, and because the word used is the same, Christians get confused sometimes. They believe that they are performing Christian service by doing kind things such as feeding the poor or by giving up time to help paint a classroom in the church building. These acts are certainly service, but anybody, secular or Christian, could perform these actions.

When Christ spoke of service he was not referring to mere voluntarism. When his disciples argued over who got the best seats in heaven, he didn’t say that the ones with the most hours on record in the homeless shelter would get the reward. He challenged them to serve others the way he himself came to serve – “to give his life a ransom for many.” This challenge is the same challenge he gave when he asked the rich young ruler to let go of everything he owned. Jesus wanted that young man to stop thinking about himself. He wanted the man to follow him in service to others, and that is what Jesus wanted from his disciples. Jesus could have shouted, “Don’t you see how I give up peace and quiet, comfort and convenience, even my meals, so I can serve people? And this is only the beginning. I’m going to give up my life for them. Do you think you can do this? This is how you get to be important in my world.”

In another place, Jesus talked about the difference between good deeds, the content of secular service, and service to God. He said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) In other words, good works as a response to good government or as a commitment to environmentalism or even just to assure somebody a roof over his head is not the kind of service Jesus is talking about. Jesus expects his followers to be servants whose work points people to God. If a Christian helps to build someone a house, the person served needs to know it is for Jesus’ sake. If a Christian serves a meal to a hungry person, he needs to give it in Jesus’ name. If a Christian serves others, and they say thank you, the right response is, “Don’t thank me. Thank Jesus.”

There are many situations in which that response may be tough. Jesus did not say it would be easy. A new Christian in a Muslim community in southeast Asia walked to school with three friends. On the way to school, they asked her if she would be willing to give up Christ and return to the faith of Islam. She refused. They asked again. She refused. By the time they reached the school, the girls were starting to push her and pull her hair, because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ. At the school, others joined in the fight. Eventually, a bystander rescued the young Christian and sent her back home. In our secular culture, we Christians may not be shoved or beaten for our faith, but we may hear scornful words. If you tell a homeless person that you are serving him a meal for Jesus’ sake, either the homeless person or other bystanders may accuse you of trying to “force” your faith on other people. Yet Jesus said that when we serve him by serving others our work should point to him, not to ourselves. This is not a case of “forcing” anything on anyone. It is simply being faithful to our call to serve Christ by serving others.

When Jesus told his disciples that the road to greatness was the road of service, he told them something else. He said that he would “give his life a ransom for many.” This announcement was a repeat of the warning that had instigated the disciples’ argument over who would be the greatest. Jesus tied the knot on this warning around a loop of service. There is the real truth. If any of us wants to be first in God’s kingdom, we have the wrong goal. We won’t get there by pushing others out of the way. Instead, we must turn away from the head of the line and look for the last spot. We must give the bread and fish we brought for lunch to the person in line ahead of us. When some big Satanic bully comes along and starts hurting people, then we must be willing to die for them. It makes a few scornful words from someone who doubts the very existence of God sound rather feeble. Jesus said that neither he nor his disciples have the leisure for popularity contests. For the love of many, we all have work to do, service to perform, even if it costs our whole lives. Not to worry. Jesus also said, “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Your All or Your Leftovers?

Today’s readings: Amos 5:6-10     Psalm 90:12-17     Hebrews 4:12-16     Mark 10:17-31 

In today’s gospel, we read the story of the only report of a rejection of Christ’s call to follow him. It is a startling story. A well-bred Jew comes to Jesus seeking the secret of eternal life. Jesus gives it to him, and he rejects it. The secret is to put Christ ahead of possessions. It is another way of saying what he had already told his followers shortly before his transfiguration, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Back then, the image of the follower dragging his cross along encapsulated the message Jesus gives in today’s story when he talks about his followers being comforted by God with blessings to replace the possessions and relationships they lose when they follow him. Today he says that everything they receive in this life comes “with persecutions.”

Today’s text must be very comforting to people who are persecuted when they choose Christ. The words of Jesus let them know that his followers must expect persecution. They need not be surprised when it happens. They can actually count on it. In many cultures new believers seem  quite puzzling to their families. In some cases the families harass or even beat the new Christian, and sometimes they throw him out. In Muslim communities, Christians will often be refused employment. Worse, non-Christian family members may lose work if anyone in the family is a Christian. Sometimes Christians literally lose house and land when the community drives them out or burns down their homes.

People who live in western cultures are accustomed to legal protection for their rights to express their faith. They have trouble identifying with the idea of persecution. Even though the secular culture rejects and even insults people of faith, this behavior hardly rises to a level that could be called persecution. A suburban housewife who receives dismissive smirks when she misses a Sunday morning tennis match because she is going to church may lose a few social invitations, but neither her way of life nor her livelihood is at risk.

Not so in countries like Sri Lanka. According the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 the US State Department reports that although “the constitution [of Sri Lanka] and other laws and policies protect religious freedom in Sri Lanka and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom” there are continuing attacks on Christians in this predominantly Buddhist country. Cultural pressures tend to create situations in which the government either ignores the attacks or prosecutes false allegations without investigation.In a recent Open Doors devotional there was a story about the price of faith and the replacement of property “with persecutions” that is directly parallel to today’s gospel. The story is true, but because of the danger of cultural and perhaps even governmental retribution the names of individuals are fictional.

Arjuna, a young married man with a family, was part of a team of Christians running an orphanage in a rural village of Sri Lanka. One of the girls from the orphanage was sexually abused by a boy in the village. The police investigated and she identified the boy. The police then arrested the boy.

But the villagers rose up-in-arms saying Arjuna sexually assaulted the girl and she just blamed the village boy to protect Arjuna. The villagers found and forced another girl to say she too was assaulted by Arjuna.

Arjuna was ultimately sentenced to fifteen years in jail where he subsequently led a number of other prisoners to Christ.

One of those men who accepted Christ was Menika. After his release from prison, Menika went to seminary and became a church-planting pastor in a small rural town of Sri Lanka.

Arjuna continued in his prison ministry. He led another criminal to Christ who had committed a capital offense and was on death row. His name was Chandra. Before he was put to death, Chandra said to Arjuna, “I’d like to give the deed to my house to someone in ministry…” It just so happened Chandra’s house was in the same small rural town where Menika was beginning to plant a church.

So Chandra gave his house to the “church-planting” former prisoner, Menika, redeemed by God’s grace through Arjuna’s being falsely accused and sent to prison. Amazing grace!

After six and a half years Arjuna was released from prison but because of the false charge against him was unable to work with children. He now has an ongoing ministry in the prisons of Sri Lanka.

In the USA it is hard to imagine that a person might need to give up everything because he chose to serve Christ. Yet if possessions possess the person, they can prevent someone from putting Christ first. The rich man in today’s gospel simply cannot let go of his possessions. He wants eternal life, but not without his possessions in this life. He walks away from Christ’s invitation to be a follower, the only person recorded in the gospels to have rejected that invitation. He turned away to serve his possessions, and many is the person who has done the same thing.

Every Christian must look into his heart and ask if it is Christ on the throne of his heart or just the security of having possessions. Arjuna’s predominantly Buddhistneighbors felt that his faith was a blot on the community, and his work with orphans was a veiled incentive for the orphans to abandon Buddhism and become Christians. When Arjuna was sentenced to prison, he lost all his possessions, and even his life work, because he had chosen to serve Christ. He ultimately experienced some of the gifts Jesus mentioned, but mixed liberally with continued persecution. He had to be willing to let go of everything in order to follow Christ.

This is a challenge for every person who claims to want to follow Christ. Can he possess his possessions loosely so that they do not possess him? Can he submit his possessions to the sovereignty of Christ, put Christ first, let the possessions fall where they will? Must he actually let go of those possessions completely in order to follow Christ? To follow Christ is more than sitting with other Christians every Sunday morning, the secular definition of being religious. When possessions take priority, service to Christ cannot also be first. If possessions come first, then Christ only gets the leftovers  – leftover time, leftover money, leftover love. What are you giving to Christ – your all, or your leftovers?


What do we Teach our Children?


1631 Book of Psalms
1631 Book of Psalms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. Psalm 19:7 

Everyone who was listening to Jesus speak the words of Mark 9:42 was familiar with psalm 19:7. The book of Psalms was the prayer book of faithful Jews, and Bonhoeffer calls the book of Psalms “Jesus’ prayer book.” Maybe Jesus prayed psalm 19 in the morning before the discourse in Mark 9:42. Jesus may have been thinking about the beauty and nourishment of God’s teachings. He may also have been thinking of all the issues he had to argue with Pharisees who twisted the law to suit themselves. Or perhaps he was simply reveling in the beauty of the psalmist’s meditation on God’s teaching for the good of people: 

7     The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8     the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9     the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10    More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7-10)

The Psalmist’s view of God’s law, or Torah, is very different than the impression secular thinkers express. A search of secular sites will turn up comments about Christian teaching on almost any subject, and the comments are not complimentary. Christians are viewed as narrow-minded, oppressive, and even hateful. Christian views of sexuality are highly scorned. The very idea of sin, an offense against God, is rejected first, because secular thinkers reject any reality not bounded by time and space, and second, because secular thinkers reject the concept of absolute truth.

The Psalmist, on the other hand, found God’s teachings, revealed in books we call the Old Testament, to be inspiring and comforting. They made life rich and good. They called forth not only obedience but admiration. Among those teachings was the admonition that parents have the obligation to pass God’s teachings to their children. Each generation has the responsibility to assure that the next generation knows God’s teachings. While there may be institutions such as church, school or government that participate in the shaping of a child, God’s teachings lay that responsibility first and foremost on the parents. Parents who love God’s teachings the way the Psalmist did will not find this responsibility burdensome.

The beauty and comfort of God’s law as well as God’s expectations of parents was clearly in Christ’s thoughts as he spoke in the discourse recorded in Mark 9:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”                                                                                          Mark 9:42-50 

Jesus here emphasizes the importance of leading “little ones” in the right path. It is certainly true that he didn’t limit the comments to parents and children. The value of his teaching applies to all Christian testimony to all people. Nevertheless, the relevance of Jesus’ words to parents, and adults in general, who try to share God’s teaching with children, is very obvious in this text. Christian parents struggle with this teaching as they combat a civil society attempting to inject its values into their daily lives. They try to teach their children biblical truth, but the secular culture in which they live sends strong counter-biblical messages. Schools, for example, increasingly treat all religions as variant myths about an imaginary spirit realm that has no reality in daily life. 

This approach is in keeping with public pressure to teach without preference for one religion or other, a neutral stance most citizens could applaud. This push for neutrality, however, is increasingly moving beyond neutrality to outright hostility to religious teaching. For example, through the schools, the secular culture intrudes on the responsibility of parents to lead their children in the right path with regard to sexuality. Christians teach a view of sex rooted in the conviction that God created sex with a divine purpose to be enjoyed within a moral standard revealed in the Bible. As of January of 2012, The National Sexuality Education Standards, create programs for sex education in public schools beginning in kindergarten. The “Core Content and Skills, K-12” aggressively programs children to a secular view of sex, reproduction and families that is dramatically at odds with the worldview of most Christian parents. Christian parents might wish there were some form of punishment for those who insist on teaching a secular viewpoint so completely at odds with biblical teaching, but they cannot wish this curriculum away. 

The law the Psalmist praises in Psalm 19, the teaching of God revealed in the Bible, teaches that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God, that reproduction is the fruit of a marriage between a man and a woman, and that families are built on this foundation. The marriage relationship between a man and a woman is the model God uses to teach his relationship with the church. The consummation of that relationship is the model for the end of the time/space reality. The Bible teaches that God loves all human beings, no matter what sin they choose in their brokenness, but the Bible does not teach that God blesses every variation on sexuality that humans choose to invent. In public schools, the secular view that all variants are equally valid in the eyes of the culture is the basis for the “Core Content and Skills” included in the National Sexuality Education Standards. The public school curriculum confuses children by asking them to figure out their gender identity, when they think they already know. The secular worldview asks children to experiment with different sexual orientations to figure what they like, even though children are told by their parents that God made sex for the joy and fulfillment of a man and a woman. Secular models for the meaning of the word “family” embodied in the sex education curriculum directly challenge the Christian teachings about family that Christian children receive at home. 

Some people may dispute the involvement of activists for the LGBT political agenda in the creation of the National Sexuality Education Standards. It would be difficult to prove actual involvement, but it is easy to see the evidence of the embedding of that agenda in the standards. It is quite disturbing, all religious teaching concerns aside, to see a political agenda embodied in any teaching curriculum. The problem in this case is that political warfare is an arena where only adults should engage in the battles. Sadly, when a political agenda is embedded in teaching programs for kindergartners, those little children stand on the front lines of a very violent battle. The rhetoric of this confrontation is abusive and destructive, and no little child ought to be forced to stand in the middle of it. This is surely the sort of image Jesus envisioned when he spoke so forcefully about the way God feels when children are led astray and used by adults to achieve adult objectives. 

This is the sort of crisis that requires Christian parents to exercise their faith with strength, persistence, endurance and love. Jesus said that “everyone will be salted with fire.” Many commentators link this statement with the Old Testament teaching that sacrifices to God should be salted (Leviticus 2:13). Any parent who tries to stand firm for Christian teaching in the face of the LGBT political agenda embodied in the National Sexuality Education Standards will quickly discover how it feels to be sacrificed, and it will certainly feel like being salted with fire. 

It is a matter for deep and serious prayer. How do parents assure that their children learn the truth in an environment that teaches them something else altogether? Christian parents in the US need not feel alone in this battle. Christians around the world face similar problems. There are many countries where even reading the Bible is illegal, and anyone who teaches its precepts may see neighbors burn down his house while the police watch. All Christians must remember that Christ did not promise us that living the faith or even teaching the truth to our little ones would be easy. Christians must put their hope in Christ alone, learn to look at the world around them with God’s worldview, exercise the disciplines that strengthen their relationship with Christ, and respond to all acts of oppression and persecution with love and blessing. Even while Christian parents teach their children to ignore the false teaching about sexuality that they hear in school, they are equally obligated to pray lovingly for the blessing and enlightenment of the teachers whose words they reject. This is hard. 

Jesus promised in today’s discourse that God will judge those who teach lies to children. Satan would really crow if Christians responded to these challenges by saying, “God’s going to get you for this.” Christians must be faithful to leave that judgment to God as they work lovingly to protect their children from ungodly influences in the culture. After all, Jesus died for everyone, including the activist who pushes the homosexual agenda and the teacher who teaches sex education to a secular standard because it is part of his or her job. Christians who rejoice in God’s grace in their own lives face this secular assault on biblical teaching about sexuality and family values must find in themselves the love of Christ to share with those who are enemies to their families and their children. 

In today’s reading Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42) In the Sermon on the Mount he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) If the salt in today’s verse is the salt that sanctifies the sacrifice, we must recognize in Jesus’ words that we are the salt that sanctifies the world. We dare not allow our wounded egos or our fearful hurt feelings to overpower our commitment to give our testimony, our salt, to the earth. We must not let despair at the cultural invasion of our families steal our faith that God will work in the hearts of our children despite all the cultural pressure to turn away from him. We must be salt and keep the peace and give our testimony and sanctify the world.