One of the most difficult teachings in Scripture to model for my sons, Trent and Troy, is the admonition from Jesus to show love and kindness to those who are hostile to us. That level of obedience simply doesn't come naturally. Human nature resists cooperation.
Of course, on our own this kind of love is impossible — but not if we allow God to grab hold of our heart. That is what I tell my sons: If we are willing, God can shape us in a way that compels us to live a life that reflects His heart.
Our hands: unsterilized
The great minister Norman Vincent Peale was a preacher's kid. His father, Clifford Peale, was a compassionate man, determined to help anyone who asked. One night, a woman from a local brothel phoned the Peale home. She wanted to know if the minister would come pray with a dying prostitute. Peale agreed, and when he hung up the phone, he said to his son, "Norman, put on your overcoat and come with me on an errand of pastoral mercy."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Norman's mother gasped. "You are not going to take our 10-year-old son to that place of sin," she said.
"I am," the father replied. "Norman can see Jesus reaching for a sheep who was lost but wants to come home to the Father's house."
Would I have taken my sons along on such a mission? Would you? Peale's story comes from a different era and culture, but it still challenges me. I wonder if we, as parents, often present to our kids a faith that has been overly sterilized, a faith that does not align with the inevitable reality of tougher times. Why should kids continue to find faith relevant if it doesn't appear viable during the good and bad?
If my boys are going to learn to show God's love to our culture, I must be the one who introduces them to the needs of our culture. I need to show them how Christians care for kids who have no home, how they seek to heal marriages that are broken, how they help those who are physically and spiritually hungry.
Kids need to see faith in action — a faith that isn't afraid of getting its hands dirty.
Our feet — firmly planted in two kingdoms
The Bible gives several examples of faithful men who lived to influence their culture. Joseph became prime minister of Egypt and was greatly used by God. Daniel held a high position in Nebuchadnezzar's court, yet remained faithful to the Lord. The apostle Paul stood before the governing council of Athens and explained to them how their "unknown god" was really the Creator of the universe who seeks a relationship with all of us.
What strikes me about all of these servants is their ability to walk simultaneously in two worlds — present and active in the earthly kingdom, yet still walking with God, in touch with His will and heart. I want my sons to have that same picture in their minds: We live in two kingdoms, and while we are here in the earthly world, we must strive to be dedicated students, athletes and workers, using the bridges we build as opportunities to show the world that Christ loves them.
We are residents of the earthly world, but we are representatives of the heavenly kingdom.
Our eyes — focused on others' humanity
My former friend and mentor Chuck Colson shared an analogy that made a big impression on me: If a blind man stepped on your foot or spilled hot coffee on your shirt, would you get angry with him? Of course not! He's not fully aware of space and the proximity of those around him. The same is true with those in the culture who do not embrace the truth of Jesus Christ.
I find Colson's illustration useful as I help my sons learn to engage the world around them. Every day — at school, on the street, in other public places — we meet people of different beliefs and different backgrounds. They often act in ways we don't like. They may say hurtful things. But we are still called to love these people, and it makes our job much easier if we see them not as evildoers, but as fellow imperfect humans who are loved by God. They are not malicious, but misguided.
Our attitudes and our perceptions of God's creation make all the difference.
Our hearts — driven by values, not victory
We all want to teach our kids about character. We repeatedly tell them that life isn't about winning or losing, but how we play the game, whether it's a baseball score or a biology grade. True, sometimes those objective measures of success are necessary, but as I parent my sons, I'm learning that the old "winning isn't everything" lesson has application beyond sports or academics. Indeed, it's a healthy way for us to approach our interactions with the world.
Too often, when we talk about engaging the culture, we use the language of victory and defeat. We need to win an argument or defend a worldview. Sometimes, those are acceptable goals, but I've noticed that overusing this language can negatively affect our view of the opposition. Even the word opposition seems a poor choice here. How quickly that word can morph into opponent! Once there, is enemy too far behind?
As we help our kids connect with the heart of God, teaching them to love a world that does not know Him, we must teach them not to be consumed with winning our interactions or defeating a sinful worldview. Love and kindness are the first steps. Sometimes, they're the only steps. As the famed preacher Charles Spurgeon used to say, Christ has already conquered sin. It's not up to us to conquer, but rather convince those within our sphere of influence that Jesus loves them.
The battle is over! And Jesus won! Our hearts should be moved — and breaking — for those who fight Him, reject Him or ignore Him. May the Lord guide our families as we refocus our sights on the Savior of the world, examining how best to live a life that magnifies God's truth, love and grace.