Training Ground

Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

  • Proverbs 22:6

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

  • Ephesians 6:4

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

  • Matthew 4:17

“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”

  • C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock

Everyone is focused on the pandemic and the physical distancing as a result.  They are trying to make sense of it.  To Christians, we wonder if God is ‘punishing’ us, or could he be sending a message?  Rev. David Robertson, in the Third Space Panic Room, suggested that this is a call from God, a warning, but then he lamented, “But is anyone listening?”

Indeed, some will listen.  Their focus on life has shifted, in many cases, to the fragility of life.  The thought of mortality will bring them to God, some of them.  And among some of those, it is my prayer, and the prayer of many others, that they find Jesus.

But why does it take a global crisis, or even a local crisis, for that to happen to establish a training ground for us to learn God’s will in our lives?

It is wonderful how the churches rally around flood victims, tornado victims, and hurricane victims.  The church helps put their lives back together after such disasters.  But does the church ignore those impoverished people the rest of the time?

Thinking of the poor, only Luke omits the story of Mary (only named in John’s Gospel) anointing Jesus’ feet.  And also, only in the Gospel of John, is the disciple who complained about the waste of expensive perfume mentioned, Judas Iscariot.  (As a side note, since Judas was admonished in public in this case, could that have been his petty reason to almost immediately go to the High Priest for the purpose of betraying Jesus?)  But to get back to the subject of the poor, Jesus says that you will always have the poor (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).  But I don’t think that I have ever heard a sermon on the fact that Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, which states as a follow-up that we must remain open-handed in regard to the poor.  Yet, how often, or rather how seldom, is our hand open to the poor?  Yes, we give either to charities or to the poor man himself, but often these people are invisible.  I heard one volunteer who helps the homeless say that she was thanked for ‘seeing them.’  The poor are poor all the time, and they only become visible during times of trouble, just like this pandemic.  If this is a training ground, are were learning anything?

As for the Scriptures, I had the quote from Proverbs quoted to me so often that I cringed when I used it here.  It is a proverb, not an absolute rule, as it was quoted to me – an absolute guarantee, as if the person that brings you up in a Christian home is the one who saves you.  Jesus does the saving, and we each have free will to accept Jesus or not.  Not accepting Jesus has dire consequences, but the option is ours.  Yet, following that proverb, along with the Scripture from Ephesians, is important.  We need to teach our children.

And one thing that needs to be taught is that we are sinners in need of repentance.

There is an alarming trend in our society today to shelter the upcoming generations from any thought of being sinners, not wanting to hurt their self-esteem.  Most young people that I have met have too much self-esteem and should tone it down considerably.  But it has even affected classic hymns.  I watched a livestream funeral service where Amazing Grace was sung.  They removed the words “a wretch” in the first verse and inserted “someone.”  The concept that it is bad to admit that we are wretches threw me into the wrong attitude at that point.  The funeral became a battleground of faith, and who provided the words?  For me, a church-going-since-birth person, it took realizing that I was indeed a wretch in order to know that I needed God, otherwise, I was the “perfect good kid.”  In making little changes like this one word in a hymn that everyone knows (but won’t know, if the change sticks), we are consigning the next few generations to Hell.  They will have no concept that they have done anything worth eternal damnation, if they are always told that they are the “perfect good kid.”

And once the kid learns that he is not ‘good’ and not ‘perfect,’ the next lesson is that Jesus calls us to repent and be saved.  Knowing that there is sin in your life must not be the end of the lesson.  There is Hope, Hope in Jesus.

Of course, there is much more to teach the children, but if we stay safely within the realm of Bible stories with no context, are we really preparing the next generation or wasting our time and theirs?

And to get back to C. S. Lewis’ quote (which prompted this post), this world may not have been here to provide happiness for us, but with the love of Jesus in my heart, I have something better, an ever-flowing stream of living water that provides Peace, Hope, and Joy.  A pandemic cannot take that away.

But to borrow the lament of Rev. Robertson, God may be providing a training ground for us to repent and grow in Christian faith, but “is anyone listening?”

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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