Monday, February 20, 2012

God's Love Story

I wrote this article about a year ago for my local paper, The Choteau Acantha.


God’s Love Story
       What is the Bible?  If someone were to come up to you on the street and ask you this question how would you respond?  The answer to this question fundamentally affects the way people practically apply their religion.  
       Is the Bible a system of theology?  Is it a list of rules to live by for those trying to avoid hell? Is it a 7 step system to health and wealth? Or is it something more than what these systems can offer?
       Many modern scholars are beginning to realize that the western, “systematized,” framework is inadequate when trying to answer this most basic and simple question.  They are understanding the importance of approaching the Bible as a complete story because that is what the Bible is as a whole
       The Bible is God’s love story to his children.  It tells us not only about who we are, but more importantly, who God is, about His love, and how He restored a broken relationship.  When we are familiar with the story we will gain wisdom in how to grow and live in God’s family.
       This “narrative” approach to the Bible starts to unlock the power of the story in a way that transcends any systematic approach.  We simply cannot fully understand the New Testament without knowing the background and foundation laid out in the Old.  Conversely, we can’t see the types and shadows of the Old Testament if we don’t understand the fulfillment achieved in the New.  It’s the difference between a man standing in the paint aisle at Ace Hardware examining each individual color and their potential and a man standing in a museum enjoying a true masterpiece.  He doesn’t notice any one color because he is in awe of the painting. 
       There are many resources available that provide tools for seeing the “bigger picture.”  Dr. Peter Enns has published a very short book titled Telling God’s Story, A Parents Guide to Teaching the Bible that is a great primer on reading the Bible as a complete story even if you don’t have children.  Another author, N.T. Wright,  has written a phenomenal “For Everyone” series of commentaries on the New Testament. All of these books are easy to read, inexpensive, and do a great job of putting the reader into the context of the overall narrative of the Bible. 
       The Bible certainly has rules and principles to live by, but it is so much more just that.  Rules will never be an appropriate foundation for a true relationship.  This is why God chose love.  The Bible is God’s love story, and perhaps we should approach it as such. If there is any doubt, just ask yourself these questions:  What would you rather have your parents write for you, a list of rules or a love story? What would you rather write for your own children?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Truth vs. Punishment

One important aspect of Garden Parenting is teaching our kids that truth in communication is preeminent.  The relationship between child and parent can only be as strong as the communication channels that it flows through.

As I was growing up, one of the major hindrances for me when it came to communicating with my parents was the fear of punishment.  Many times it was just easier to avoid the potential for punishment by either not communicating, causing diversions, outright deceit, or a combination of varying strategies.

Now that I am seeing things from the parents perspective I am realizing that, as a parent, I would much rather have my child willing to be truthful in their communication, even if it means that I have to "let them off the hook" from time to time.  If, in their minds, it comes down to truth versus punishment, I want them to know that truth always wins out.

Honest communication should be the path of least resistance.  Not deceit or hollow obedience.

In our household we have attempted to remove punitive punishment from our parenting journey.  It is a lot more work to harmonize and utilize natural consequences as your main teaching tool, but I would much rather bank on God's created order than my own arbitrary "punishment" menu.

The other night I experienced yet another refreshing dose of the fruit of Garden Parenting.

Abram (age 3) was playing with Hannah's (age 5) balloon.  The balloon was old and nearly completely deflated.  Surprisingly it had survived for a number of weeks in our house. It was used for everything from science experiments (putting it in the fridge to see how things shrink when they get cold) to make believe kites (tied to a string and drug behind screaming kids running through the house).

As Pax (almost 2), Becky and I were sitting at the table talking after dinner, Abram decided to use the small balloon as a chair on the living room floor.  I looked over after I heard the muffled pop, which was really pretty pathetic because the balloon was so deflated, as the balloon finally gave up the ghost.

Abram, with a puzzled look, gazed at the latex carcass.

After a short conversation with me telling him to throw the balloon away and go apologize to Hannah for breaking her balloon, he ran into the bathroom and said "Hannah, Pax broke your balloon!"

At age 3 he seems to understand the idea of the path of least resistance.  Blame his younger brother and he will have an easier time with Hannah. Seems logical. But that is not life in the Kingdom. We are trying to teach him how to live in the Kingdom.

We started discussing this idea of telling the truth without the fear of punishment when something amazing happened.

Hannah emerged from the bathroom and just naturally walked up to Abram.  First she turned him so he was facing her, and then she said in her cute 5 year old big sister voice, "Abram, you should always tell the truth." She continued seamlessly, "Abram, I am not going to get mad at you and you won't get into trouble, I just want you to tell me the truth."

I had no words at that point.  Everything that I was trying to explain to Abram, his little sister just accomplished.  Abram mumbled something about breaking the balloon and being sorry, and then he and Hannah hugged.  I think Hannah said something about getting new balloons as they headed off together to get ready for bed, but I was in a different world rejoicing that Hannah was starting to understand this lesson well enough to explain it to Abram.

One of Becky's favorite verses is I John 4:18
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I don't have time to go into the context of 1 John but in a nutshell John is writing to believers who are living in difficult situations.  They were being bombarded by the Judaizers.  Jews who were either rejecting Christ in favor of the Law (TORAH) or those who accepted Christ but were also preaching that adherence to Torah was required, especially for Gentiles. (Interestingly enough this tension between Jews and Gentiles becoming one new man IN Christ is the focus of most of the New Testament letters.  Both Paul and John point to one universal antidote, LOVE.) 

John is telling his audience to hold fast to Christ because the old world that the Judaizers where holding onto was about to disappear.  It was the last hour of the Old Covenant system.  

The great question that plagued the early church was about to be answered.  Who were the true "Children of God?" Was it those who were of faith in Christ? Or was it those who clung to the OC system of Law as the means to attain a right relationship with God?  Who fulfilled the law?  Those who put their faith in Christ or those who toiled by the sweat of their brow?

With that background, John's encouragement that perfect love casts out fear would strike home with his audience at so many levels.  There was no fear of punishment for not adhering so some external code the Judaizers were demanding.  There was no fear of what the Judaizers could do, even though they were able to persecute Christians even up to death, because the Christians understood that their relationship with God was restored, no matter what.  Live or die, they were with Christ! They were true Children of God. 

We do not live in the same circumstances as John's audience, although there are many attempts to recreate external man made fences to define who is in and out.  The answer to their question came not to many years later with the complete obliteration of the physical Temple in Jerusalem.  Everything that the Judaizers were pointing to as required to become a child of God, God himself destroyed.  The only thing left was the true Temple, the Body of Christ, made up of true and vindicated Children of God!

When it comes to parenting, 1 John 4:18 can become a very strong foundation for building open and honest relationships.  In Christ, God's people have finally "grown up."  We should move past "fear of punishment" as a motivation to commune with Christ and fulfill the royal Law of Love. We no longer are under a school master  because we have graduated!

Translating that into our homes is simple.  Fear of punitive punishment, shame, and guilt should not factor into our children's thinking when weighing the pro's and con's of telling the truth.  The only way that can happen is for us parents to remove it from the menu.

The added benefit of this paradigm shift is that our kids learn true responsibility. With fear of punishment removed, they are free to grow, thrive and mature as Kingdom citizens.  We as parents can come along side them and help them learn from the natural consequences God has built into Creation.  Discipling (discipline) our children in this way will help them learn valuable lessons simply for the value those lessons add to our lives as Children of God instead adhering to an external standard because it is the path of least resistance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kingdom Living

I love to listen to sermon series.   I am so blessed to have work that allows me to listen to an iPod most of the day.  Some days I can get through 7 to 10 sermons in a row. At first it may seem like a bit much, but there are many benefits to listening to a series in its entirety in one sitting.

One of my hobbies is finding good resources on the web that provide free teaching material.  Most churches now days are podcasting their sermons.  That is just awesome.  I even have a list of my favorite preachers that hold opposing viewpoints to my own.  They are good speakers and easy to listen to, and it also gives me a chance to stay current on developments within other paradigms and continue to test my own understanding on certain ideas.

From time to time I will link what I think are outstanding series that I have come across.  The one linked in this blog post is one of my favorites.  It is a class taught by a good friend of mine. He is an amazing teacher, and the class is called Kingdom Living.

If you believe Eternal Life is only available after we die or that the Kingdom of Heaven is not yet here, prepare to be challenged.  If you see yourself as living in the Kingdom now, prepare to be encouraged beyond anything you could imagine. Once you start downloading this series I guarantee you won't want to stop.


King Living Class by Jerel Kratt

Sunday, February 12, 2012




Paradigm Shifts.

Call it what you will, but it has become the lifeblood of my Christian walk.

When I was younger, I studied because I believed "I was already there."  I had the knowledge and studying more was simply a way to continue to build my arsenal of weapons and ammunition against other inferior opposing arguments.  It felt good to read those who I agreed with and glean tidbits of useful information that I could use to disarm opponents.  I could replay fictitious debates over and over in my head reveling in the glory of trouncing my opponents.

I was a legend... in my own mind.

Then something started to happen.  Life.

I got engaged.

Through pre-marital counseling, I was finally forced to deal with baggage and sin that was blinding me to certain things in my life and to the way I was treating people, especially my mother.

Things started to change a little.  I started to read people that I disagreed with.  No, I didn't read what people that I agreed with wrote about the people that I disagreed with.  I actually started reading opposing arguments presented by the people who held those positions.  (There is quite a difference.)

But I was still "already there."  I had just lost a little bit of my confidence.

So I got married.  I left a church that was too "liberal" in favor of a church that reminded me of my childhood and the way I was raised.  (Yeah, that should have been a red flag right there but...)

Eventually though, through the grace of God and the prayerful leadership of my wife (Becky), I started to open up to new ideas.  I realized that I might not be "already there."  I actually started to think that I would benefit from studying for the sake of the Journey rather than building an arsenal.

It dawned on me.  Christ doesn't need to be defended, as if He is some impotent grey headed senior confined to a wheelchair in a group home!   I turned away from the image of myself as the last defender of Christ and all that is Holy against an ever increasingly compromised world, and I instead started looking toward the Christ who was actually there.

What I found was amazing.  When I studied in an effort to come closer to Christ, a whole new world opened up.  Instead of fearing alien ideas, I started to comfortably engage opposition.  Sometimes they would make sense, and sometimes they wouldn't.  I learned that if I kept my eyes on Christ, I could easily benefit from all kind of ideas, even the ones that I didn't necessarily adopt whole heartedly.

I transitioned from a Fundamentalist to a Libertarian.

From a hard core Young Earth Creationist to someone who believes Genesis 1 isn't talking about physical things.

From someone who feared science to someone who loves to study geology and imagine what the world looked like millions and billions of years ago.

From a state worshiping neo-con to a sovereign individual whose only allegiance is to the Kingdom of Heaven.

From a husband that needed his wife to submit to build his own self image to a husband that glories in the benefits of having a Godly wife willing to lead in areas where she is gifted.

From a father who was ready to spank at the slightest sign of defiance to a gentle Dad who has realized the futility of physically hitting a defenseless child.

From someone who imagined themselves right next to Christ while he rides on his White Horse slaughtering the wicked at the end of time (and even helping out with my own blood stained sword) to someone who realizes that Christ is here with us now, in all of His fullness and glory.

No, I don't think I am finally there.  In fact, through all of these shifts I finally realize that I don’t even know how far away I am. But I also know I am not alone.   
As I share my experience and studies in these areas (and more), I hope that my Journey will intersect with yours and bring about encouragement and edification. 

Friday, February 3, 2012


Who am I, and what is this blog all about?

Well, as you keep reading you will certainly learn more about me.  In the meantime here are some basics.  I live in beautiful north central Montana.  My lovely wife, Becky, grew up here, and a few years ago we moved north to be closer to her parents.  We wanted our children to really know their grandparents, and getting out of the big city (Denver, Colorado) was an added bonus.

We have three lovely children,  Hannah, Abram and Pax.  They are an absolute joy, and it is because of them that I have titled this blog Family Life In The Garden.  Stay tuned...

I grew up in Florida and various other places in the south.  My parents homeschooled me back in the day when it was really weird and unheard of.  In my early childhood we attended an independent Baptist church.  It was your typical conservative Baptist church complete with a weekly alter call, including Wed. nights, and 8 or 9 verses of "Just as I am."

When I turned 11, we moved.  Not only did we move locations we moved denominations.  We were now attending a Reformed Presbyterian Church.  They used wine in the communion!  That was crazy, but not as crazy as the pastor wearing a black robe.  I adapted, except for the wine part.  (I am more of a Mike's Hard Lemonade kind of guy.  I never acquired the taste for wine, but I guess there is still time.)

After that my life got kind of crazy.  A few more moves.  Different churches, different denominations.  My parents divorced.  I finished my homeschooling on my own while at the same time building a business.  I also made a go at being a professional athlete.  I speed skated on inline skates for about 7 years.  I skated for a TV show for 2 years and even got pretty fast at racing bikes. 

Through all of this I was dealing with a lot of anger and baggage from the messiness of my home life.  I lived in a glass house.  Then it shattered.  I looked down on kids who's parents were divorced.  Then my parents got divorced!

It was as if God was telling me that I wouldn't find Him in all of the theological head knowledge that I had gained or through the performance based achievements.  If I wanted to get to know Him, I would have to get down off my high horse.  I didn't want to, so he nudged me a bit.

So from there I slowly started picking up the pieces.  I made a few breakthroughs with some anger issues before I got married.  Since then, my wife has helped me on a journey that has brought me to where I am now.  Living with my family... in the Garden!