Fatherhood Before the Foundation of the World

A Father’s Day sermon. Cross-posted from Eastland Church of Christ.

Passage: Malachi 4:5-6

This centrality of fatherhood should not really surprise, because the relationship between the Father and the Son is the central relationship of the gospel itself. God the Father sends his only Son, and the Son obeys the Father. The Father gives the Son honor and recognition, while the Son is the perfect image of the Father, imitates the Father, and points others to His Father.

And make no mistake. When I say that the relationship between God the Father, and Jesus the Son is the cornerstone of the gospel, I don’t mean it’s the cornerstone of what we practice here in this building…though it is that. I don’t mean that it is the cornerstone of our personal ethics…though it is that. I also don’t mean that it is the cornerstone of our personal salvation…even though it certainly is that.

When I say that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is the cornerstone of the gospel, I’m saying that it is the cornerstone of creation itself. Of the cosmos. Of the very fabric of reality. The pew you are sitting on holds together because the Father loved the Son. It all goes back to that fact.

The world was created, God spoke us into existence, so that He could send His only Son to be slain. The world was created, God spoke us into existence, so that his Son would be glorified. Reality itself is founded on the desire of the Father to enthrone His Son with all authority in heaven and on earth.

And this Father, who is source of all life, who is the source of all love, gives us, His creatures the same name that He has given Himself. The name that we are taught to call Him in His infinite glory – Father – is the name he requires us men to bear. Just dwell on that for a second.

This is a great privilege. But it also represents a heavy responsibility.

New Dads Who Love Kids Movies Podcast

So I’ve launched a podcast, something I’ve been bouncing around in my head for a while. These are conversations dedicated to the overanalysis of films made for children. So far, they are a lot of fun to record, and I hope they are a lot of fun to listen to.

I’ve launched with two episodes.

I want to ask you for a favor. Please listen to one or both episodes, and then leave an honest review on iTunes. I’ll take feedback very seriously.

I plan do release a new one every 2 weeks. You can visit the podcast website for more details and to subscribe, plus some shows notes about each episode.

Trollhunters and the Value of Life

I’ve been watching Trollhunters, a Netflix original series, with my kids lately. We’ve all been enjoying it. It’s well-produced, full of thrilling action scenes that bounce around an epic mythology and a diverse array of characters.

If you’re a fan of the vision of Guillermo del Toro, as exemplified in movies like Hellboy and Pan’s Labryinth, you’re in for a treat. Trollhunters is overflowing with the same colorful, zany design. (And also, Ron Perlman). As such, it can be a bit dark and scary, but this makes it more thrilling when the darkness is chased away.

While I can’t give it an unqualified thumbs up as appropriate for all kids, there is one lesson it bestowed that bears repeating, one that we would all do well to take to heart.

One of the main characters, a big troll named (I kid you not) AAARRRGGHH!!!, is a self-avowed pacifist, trying to atone for his violent past. His principles are tested and reiterated at several points throughout the show. About halfway through the series, however, he violates his pacifism to save the life of Toby, his human friend. He deals a killing blow to a dangerous killer troll.

Toby looks in shock at his friend. “AAARRRGGHH!!! Your oath!”

And AAARRRGGHH!!! says, “Your life more important.”

This highlights a profound truth. It is found everywhere in Scripture. Some principles are greater than others. Jesus says that there are two commandments that are the greatest. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. When he says these are greater than the others, I take it to mean that they are greater than the others.

And the character of AAARRRGGHH!!! understands the “love your neighbor” part more than most.

If we don’t put “love your neighbor” in its proper place, then we descend into self-righteousness, similar to the Pharisees. They would tithe from their spice rack, and declare that all they had was to be given God…and then neglect their own mothers. It sure looked and sounded great.

If my family is assaulted, I can sound high and mighty, and act superior by citing verses like “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies,” and use them as a cover for cowardice while sounding extra holy and pious. If I fail to do something, what I’m really doing is hating my family. Hating the neighbors God has put directly under my charge.

This is one reason why the Bible has such a nuanced view of deception. The Hebrew midwives, when commanded to kill all the baby boys, lied to Pharaoh. To be honest in that situation would have been hating their neighbors. And God blesses them for their dishonesty.

Our principles are just something else we can end up boasting in, puffing ourselves up. But we should be careful to boast only in one thing.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

We are called to lay down our own lives. But we don’t get to choose to lay down the lives of others. Those are the very lives we should be cherishing more than our own.

This can play out in many different ways in our modern world as well. We are susceptible to the language and rhetoric of compassion, all the while harboring a hatred and contempt for our neighbors. If you have offered support for taking care of the poor or taking in refugees…and then “volunteer” someone else’s time, resources, and/or money, you are guilty of this.

Likewise, a friend should not seek to hurt another friend. But in some cases, the loving thing to do is to deliver a properly timed wound. “Niceness” isn’t necessarily a Christian virtue, and coddling can be just as hateful as a knife in the back.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

“On these hang all of the Law and the Prophets.” Your neighbors life is more important than the letter of the law.

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6

Discerning the correct path in a given situation isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, it requires a lifetime of practice (Hebrews 5:14), of honed wisdom. If it requires a quick decision, it becomes even harder.

But maybe AAARRRGGHH!!! the troll can can give us some valuable insight.

How do we engrain a love of our neighbors so that it becomes habit, engraved on our hearts and minds?

Lent

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

From Lent – George Herbert

This final verse evokes the upside-down world that Jesus inaugurates. In the same way the humble will be exalted, here the one who fasts and feeds the poor will be filled.

I love the last line, a surprise ending, and also a double-meaning. When you feed the poor, you feed yourself, not just because it is a good deed, but because you also were among the poor all along.

So Trump Won… and the Condescension Still Drips

It happened. The Donald is now President-elect Trump. I didn’t vote for him, but I was pretty sure about what would happen and I’m pleased with the outcome. And now are we being subjected to the pontifications of people who are confident about what’s going to happen next, the same people who had no idea what was going to happen next. So it looks like they haven’t learned their lesson. The smugness of the media continues.

Echo chambers around the country cracked open, and amongst the hissing caused by the release of stale air, comes crying and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Instead of getting some much needed sunlight, however, they will soon retreat back into those same chambers, covering the cracks with duct tape.

Even now, the condescension drips. It is not urban elites that live in a bubble, but rural America. Blue collar whites need to stop minding their own business, ignore the mouths they have to feed with a decreasing paycheck, and go hopping across the country with money they don’t have. Something is wrong with them, and they need to fix it. They need to go to the big city to be cured of their disease. Also, they’re racist.

But middle America has almost always been content to mind their own business. What happened with Trump is mostly a reaction. Cultural carpet-baggers come pounding down their door, telling them that men can now marry men, and that, oh yeah, there shouldn’t really be such a thing as a women’s restroom anymore. Also, if you use the pronouns “he” and “she” uncritically you are bigoted monster. And by the way, if you don’t celebrate this new reality by baking a wedding cake, you deserve to live in poverty. And on and on.

And then the immigration issue. Chris Matthews actually takes home the right lesson. Michael Moore saw the writing on the wall. The problems are real, but any criticism brings…more cries of racism.

The Tea Party was the polite attempt at a pushback. People who had never really participated in politics before got involved, mainly touting the virtues of basic math. For this, the GOP co-opted and betrayed them, and the Left ridiculed and insulted them. Again, calling them racist.

Politeness didn’t work. A wrecking ball would have to do. Enter Trump. After Romney lost, the GOP thought they had to pander to Hispanics. Turns out, they just had to at least pretend to represent the interests of a forgotten majority.

The GOP deserved to die, to be gutted. The conservative party couldn’t even conserve women’s restrooms. The Democratic party as we know it is also dead, but we won’t see the repercussions for while, since the zombie still has momentum. The DNC’s propping up and going all-in on a corrupt candidate, that candidate’s subsequent loss, and the ongoing Wikileaks releases have formed stress fractures that will grow and fester.

And oh boy, did Obamacare turn out to be a cancer eating away at Obama’s legacy rather than the foundation of it. It turns out it was all sophistry.

Some predictions for the future:

  • Trump will continue to surprise people. He will not stop being off-the-cuff and unpredictable. His businesses have taken a hit, but that did not stop him from staying on his message, so it seems he is more worried about a legacy beyond his commercial empire. He has real skin in the game. He will do some good things and some bad things. However, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if, at the end of 4 years, he has higher approval ratings than Obama ever did. Think I’m crazy? Well, you probably thought I was crazy when I said he would be our next President.
  • Trump will not be another Hitler. I know a lot of people have been deluded into thinking that, but every Republican candidate has been labeled Hitler. If you are actually scared, take a deep breath, and read this piece from Scott Adams.
  • Lofty talk about separation of powers will now be in vogue again. Obstruction of Presidential initiatives will be seen as necessary and brave once more. Investigative journalism will suddenly come forth from the grave. As soon as Wikileaks releases some dirt on Trump in about 3 years, Assange will suddenly no longer be part of a vast Russian conspiracy.
  • Republicans who hated Trump will now want to bask in his radiant, victorious glow.
  • More and more cognitive dissonance on the Left, as their hallucination of Trump continually clashes with the reality of Trump. But this isn’t really bold, as it happens with every Republican president. It might be more pronounced this time, though.
  • The Left will not learn their lesson, and will continue to belittle, shame, and insult those who disagree with them. And try to get them fired or ruin their livelihoods.
  • Talking heads and media pundits will still not get out and talk to a truck driver or a displaced factory worker. Opinions they report will still be weighted toward those who can afford $25 Martinis in New York city.
  • Rumblings of states rights and secession will no longer be called racist. Already happening.
  • The electoral map showed deep divisions between the cities and rural areas, and a deep divide in demographics. We are not really a united nation. We are a multi-ethnic empire. And those don’t last forever. Trump was a sign of further tensions to come, but I pray he is a safe release valve on this pressure cooker. A split will come. I don’t know how or where…but it will come. How do you think all of these homogenous nations came to exist in the first place? But I pray, whatever happens, it will be as peaceful a transition as possible. Identity politics is probably here to stay.

Throughout all of this, I have only been able to treat politics as a spectator sport because I know God is in control. This is His story. And wow, this has a been a fun chapter to watch unfold.

And so some advice, that I also give to myself as I write this.

  • Stop listening to the mainstream media. They either don’t know what they are talking about, or they generate false news cycles to sway opinion. They report an event a certain way, and then report people’s reactions to their reporting of the event. Cut them out of your life. It will be better for it. I hope Trump gets rid of the White House Press Corp. and makes them all no better than a blog. We don’t need gatekeepers in this age of social media and direct access. Investigative journalism can and will be funded in other ways.
  • Replace your daily news habit with the reading of old books (over 200 years old) and poetry. Get some ancient wisdom. And yes, this includes the Bible, even if you are an atheist.
  • If you were wrong about Trump’s victory, maybe sit on the bench for a little while. Maybe you don’t really understand the world as well you thought.
  • Have lots of children, raise them well, and give them an education. “Schooling” is not the same thing as education, and oftentimes the exact opposite. Get some actual skin in the game for the future. Sow in hope. Teach the boys to be men and the girls to be women.
  • Get to know your neighbors. Like, your literal neighbors. Next door. Have them over for dinner. Invest in relationships.
  • Have sympathy for those who are scared in the aftermath of Trump’s election. They have just had their god fail them in spectacular fashion, and that is a scary place to be. Offer them something better. Don’t be a push-over, but don’t kick anyone when they’re down either. They are creations and victims of the media’s ceaseless pandering, and of the Clinton campaign’s successful negative framing. Just be aware you can’t reason with them. You can’t reason with someone having an irrational over-reaction. Don’t gloat, wait for the tantrum to end, then be honest.
  • Don’t put your hope in Trump. Unless your hope is that he will bring some unpredictable entertainment, because you can totally take that to the bank. Clinton would have been a terrible judgement, and one we deserved. Trump…who knows? He might be a different form of judgement. Or he might be a Cyrus. Either way, he is nothing but a tool in the hands of God, and Jesus is still Lord.
  • Don’t talk about politics for a while. Just walk away. We were never meant to be involved in political duels 24/7 365 days of the year. I’m not going to write about anything political until after Trump’s first 100 days. Not here, and not on social media.
  • Pray.