A Lesson in Political Opposition

[An archived post for Inauguration Day on how political opponents can treat one another with love and care, and what this taught me about the love of God for ancient Aramean generals forced to bow to idols.]

Friends Across the Congressional Aisle

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords didn’t make it to the State of the Union Address in 2011. She was in an Arizona hospital, having been rushed there just a few days before when a gunman shot her in the head at a public appearance. Her colleagues left her seat empty that night in her honor.

She made it to the State of the Union Address in 2012, though, and those same colleagues stood in applause as she slowly, haltingly and with a limp, made her way to her seat. In what is usually a well-orchestrated event, where everyone is told by their party leaders when they will stand and cheer, when to sit quietly and how they should respond to all that goes on, her appearance broke down the carefully constructed walls of pomp and protocol as cheers of “Gabby, Gabby!” roared through the House chamber in greeting.

Congresswoman Giffords is in the same party as the President, so (as is usual) she was given instructions on when to stand and applaud certain points in the speech. But she’s still recovering and, in fact, had announced already that she would be resigning from Congress the next day in order to concentrate on getting well. Constant standing and sitting, repeatedly moving from one position to another, would tax her strength that night almost beyond its limits. She needed help.

Congressman (now Senator) Jeff Flake, a fellow Arizonan, stood at the ready by her side. When she needed to stand, he took her arm, helped her to her feet. When it was time to sit, he gently lowered her back down. Time after time he stood with her and then sat again when she took her seat. Nothing too remarkable about this, you might say? But there is.

Flake and Giffords are in opposite political parties. His leadership had given instructions too, and they did not include standing whenever the President hit one of the applause lines in the speech. Quite the opposite, they were to sit mute while the President’s party clapped and cheered. Only occasionally would they be instructed to give modest approval to something in the Address. But Jeff Flake stood anyway. Every time his friend and colleague Gabby needed him, he was right there at her side helping her to her feet so she could cheer. And every time she needed to resume her seat, she knew that her friend Jeff would see her safely back into it.

I thought about this the day after the Address and at first it was just another nice moment of setting aside party differences for a friend. But then I started thinking about another time someone stood and bowed, even if it was not in his own interests to do so. And, as sometimes happens, that very night I read about the man I was thinking of, a 9th c. BCE Aramean general named Naaman. (2 Kings 5.)

Worshiping with the Enemy

Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Aram, and he had a horrible and incurable skin disorder. He learned that Elisha, the prophet of God, could help him, so he asked his king for permission to go to Israel. On meeting Elisha, Naaman was sure the prophet would call upon the name of the Lord and cure him right there. Instead, Elisha told the mighty general to wash himself seven times in the nearby Jordan River. Naaman is disappointed and ready to return home in disgust, but his companions convince him to give it a try. He does, and he is cured. There is not a blemish left to show he was ever sick.

On returning to Elisha’s house Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel,” and offers the prophet a rich reward. Elisha refuses, giving the glory to God alone. So Naaman asks for a blessing for himself instead:

Please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.

Elisha and Naaman (Lambert Jacobsz, 1598-1636)

Elisha and Naaman (Lambert Jacobsz, 1598-1636)

Here’s the part that blows me away: this seems to me like it would be a tough request for a prophet of God to stomach – forgiveness for bowing down in the presence of false idols (see Lev. 26:1, for example) – yet Elisha responded, “Go in peace.”

What?

“Go in peace.”

What glorious words to receive from God’s prophet. Naaman received the blessing to carry out his duties to his king because God knew what was in Naaman’s heart: total devotion to God. And this is more than just forgiveness for carrying out his duty; it is the promise that Naaman already enjoys God’s peace and that he will continue in it as he returns home.

All of this reminds me that the peace of God is something that he gives to everyone who belongs to him. We might not be able to understand how (Phil. 4:7), but we experience a peace that transcends any we could hope to achieve on our own (John 14:27). And it comes to us through God himself, who will never again condemn us for anything we do ever (Rom. 8:1). We are at peace with God the Father through the work of Jesus, God the Son.

So I say to all God’s people: Go in peace.

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Does the Apostle Paul Really Contradict Jesus?

I hesitate to say the Bible disagrees with itself. I find an elegant consistency when read as a whole. But I will say I find apparent discrepancies that require examination. One of them has to do with fathers.

Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is heavenly. (Matthew 23:9.)

It seems rather clear: don’t call anyone father.

Why then does Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer, apparently flout this teaching?

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15, emphasis added.)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) (Wikipedia)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)
(Wikipedia)

It turns out the words translated into English as “father” in various places in those two passages are based on different Greek roots in the original writing. In Matthew 23 the word “father” is translated from the Greek root word pater along with the derivation patera, and the first use of “father” in 1 Corinthians 4 is also a derivation, pateras. (Strong’s Greek, 3962, patér.) The word that Paul applies to himself in 1 Corinthians 4:15 (translated above as “I became your father”) is a different word entirely.

Paul wrote the word egennēsa, which translates as “have begotten” or “did beget.” Paul used it only twice, and in each context he appears to be talking about people who came to faith in Jesus after Paul explained the gospel to them. (Other than the Corinthians, Paul referred to Onesimus as one whom he begot in the Lord. Philemon 1:10.) The context in each passage show that Paul is appealing to his authority regarding the spiritual lives of those people: he’s telling his readers to trust him to steer them straight when it comes to spiritual matters. Fair enough.

That’s not the end of my wondering about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, though.

Self-exaltation, Paul?

In the initial passage above, Jesus was speaking against the Pharisees and religious teachers who puffed themselves up due to their supposed religious superiority, taking the titles of rabbi and teacher and father to themselves in order to be prominent in the community. (Matthew 23:1-12.)

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  (Matthew23:5-12.)

Jesus taught his followers to humble rather than exalt themselves. It seems simple and straightforward enough for anyone to understand. Take a look, then, at how Paul presented his position to the church in Corinth.

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father [that is, have begotten you] through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:15-17.)

So far, it looks like Paul is merely trying to reinforce the need for the Corinthians to pay close attention to his teaching about Jesus. However, Paul follows up with the claim that he has a power and authority that the members of that Corinthian church do not. In comparing Jesus’ admonishment to be humble and his description of the self-exalting spiritual superiority of the religious leaders, Paul comes across closer to the latter than the former:

Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? (1 Corinthians 4:18-21.)

Paul probably did have that power and authority. But the way he presents himself here not only seems to violate what Jesus said in Matthew 23 but also Jesus’ words in Mark 10, Matthew 20 and Luke 22, each of which record this teaching:

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1856) Wikimedia

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1856)

Wikimedia

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45.)

Perhaps Paul was merely using culturally appropriate speech in order to correct grave problems in the Corinthian church. After all, they were a church of gentiles and, as Jesus said, gentiles were used to leaders who acted like lords. But this is the very behavior Jesus told his followers to avoid.

So why did Paul write his letter in a way that exalted his authority (that is, showed it to be higher than any power or authority among the Corinthian believers)? Might he have slipped up? He saw a problem and tried to correct it, but his methods might not have been those we should emulate if we want to obey Jesus’ direct teachings.*

On the other hand, and returning to the issue of cultural context, Paul was writing to a group of people who were used to their leaders taking what we would consider extensive measures to exalt themselves, seeing it as a competition of who would be considered the greatest benefactor of the city or province. This was the way things were done in the Greco-Roman culture. (See Paul as Benefactor: Reciprocity, Strategy and Theological Reflection in Paul’s Collection, p. 54.)

In light of what the Corinthians and other churches in that culture were used to, Paul’s language might have come across as quite restrained. That’s how I tend to look at it in context.

I’d Rather Relate than Emulate

That doesn’t mean we should emulate his chosen language in our own cultural context, though. It goes back to the Greco-Roman culture I mentioned above, the one that shows Paul’s language was likely appropriate for his audience. In 21st Century western culture the language Paul uses comes across as heavy handed, and if I were to use it I think I’d be violating Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 23 and Mark 10. Paul’s points are well taken, but can be presented more effectively today by choosing a different way to say them.

Discrepancies in the Bible? I think it is more a matter of discrepancies between cultures. And discrepancies between cultures do not mean the Bible has no application today. It just means there is a lot of thinking to do to understand how to relate the Bible’s eternal message in one culture and another.

I find no discrepancy in that.

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*Before anyone says “Hey Tim, who are you to question the Apostle Paul’s methods?” let’s remember the Bereans were called noble for comparing Paul against the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11.)

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The Most Interesting Binary Thinking in the World

binary-thinking

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Valuing Public Education 

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Benjamin Franklin

Education is valuable. Quality education, that is. You can find good education and bad in every type – public, private, charter, parochial or home-school.
The loudest criticism seems directed at public education. It makes sense. There are almost ten times as many students in public schools than private. (See the statistics at the Department of Education and the Council for American Private Education.)

The debate has risen to national prominence in the news again this week. Rather than join in the debate (since I have no first-hand familiarity with most education systems), I want merely to give my personal experience in making good with public education.

  • It began with kindergarten through 8th grade in a public elementary school.
  • Four years of public high school.
  • Transferred back and forth beyween two community colleges for five semesters.
  • Two an a half years at a public university.
  • An additional year abroad, but still a public university.
  • Three years of law school at – yet again – a public university.

My career has come along well, yet from the way some people would say I overcame rather than benefited from the public education I received. Others would say my experience is irrelevant since I went to school way back in the olden days.

Fair enough. Let’s look at my kids.

  • Kindergarten through sixth grade at public school.
  • Junior and senior high school – still public schools.
  • University – public, as you probably expected.

All right, you might think this still irrelevant since my son and daughter are in their mid twenties. What could I possibly know of the current state of local public education?

Again, fair enough. Let’s look at my wife.

In addition to a public education from kindergarten through her teaching credential following her bachelor’s degree, she has taught and continues to teach in public schools both elementary and secondary. She and her colleagues are fantastic at their jobs. You should hear what I hear from parents of her students.

In all my family’s experience we have been able to honor God and his word which says:

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. (Proverbs 18:15.)

My family’s public education experience is not meant to be taken as a criticism of people who prefer other education models, not at all. Home-school, private school (secular or parochial), or other opportunities can be rich and fruitful for students and families. And like public schools, each of those models can also be improved.

The point is to choose an education model that fits and work to make it the best it can be for your children. For millions of us, that’s public.

“What greater gift can we offer the republic than to teach and instruct our youth?” Cicero

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Paying the Wrong Price for Women

Does it advance the cause of women to see other women in prominent and influential positions no matter what they believe and what they do to advance their beliefs? If someone presents herself as a minister of Christ yet acts in ways that show she actually teaches falsely and leads people away from the gospel of grace, should that person’s rise to prominence be celebrated anyway just because she’s a woman?

We live in a world where women are oppressed just for being women. Whether it’s men trying to silence women in the church or sex trafficking around the world, the common factor among the oppressed in these situations is that they are women. It’s no wonder some people will grasp at any opportunity to raise a woman into a position of prominence, influence and power. Yet some opportunities come at the wrong price, actually hurting the people who think they are profiting from the opportunity.

No Advantage in Gaining Some Advantages

This came up in a discussion among a group of Christians who gather on Facebook to discuss Biblical egalitarianism. One person posted on the recent selection of a “female pastor” to take a prominent role in the upcoming inauguration ceremony* and, while recognizing the questionable theology the woman teaches, said “that’s progress and … it should be celebrated.”

Several comments were from women agreeing with her, while other women pointed out that the “female pastor” did not actually teach the gospel of Christ but a false gospel that placed people under spiritual and financial bondage. (See Paula White Ministries: Send me your money so God will pay attention to you for one analysis of her “ministry.”) As Keri Wyatt Kent put it in her comment:

Doctrine matters. And honesty matters. [If] all that matters is that she is female, that is tokenism. Having this particular woman on stage is not a step forward for Christianity or women.

The Perils of a False Gospel

When Jesus said he came to set people free, to be a servant and give his life as a ransom for many, to show people who God really is by living as God in the flesh, one way he lived this out was in his counter-cultural relationships with women. (See e.g., The Unwanted Woman at the Party , and Jesus Never Hit A Woman.) He paid the ultimate price for this freedom of women and men both when he gave his life on the cross.

Never did he say that God’s kingdom would be served, built up or realized by bringing to prominence those who preached a gospel other than the one he preached: good news for the oppressed – including women – through the finished work of Jesus. His warning is quite clear:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (Matthew 7:15.)

False teachers advance a message contrary to what the Bible calls the gospel of grace. Paul had strong words for such teachers:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6-9.)

Such false teaching is “no gospel at all,” says Paul, and throws people “into confusion” in an effort to “pervert the gospel of Christ.” If those who teach like this are under God’s curse what reason is there to celebrate their rise to prominence, whether they are women or men?

Women truly suffer oppression in this world. Would anyone argue, though, that their way out is through a false gospel? No, the way to freedom is always through Jesus.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6.)

It is because of Jesus that anyone is set free. And remember, it is only in him that women gain true equality.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28.)

This is where our efforts should be placed, in pursuing the oneness that comes through Jesus. Don’t get sidetracked and confused by a perversion of the gospel, no matter how attractive it may seem in the short term. It’s too high a price to pay for advancing the cause of Biblical equality.

Don’t settle on tokenism. Settle your eyes, your heart, and your mind on Jesus.

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*This post is not about politics. Please keep political issues out of the comments and focus on the doctrinal issues (and I’ll be monitoring the comments carefully). I know you can do it!

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Martin Luther King, Jr., and a Picture of Civil Rights

[From the archives.]

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people. (Martin Luther King.)

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Martin Luther King lost his life standing up for what is right. Taking a stand for Civil Rights in the 1960s could ruin careers, too. These three stood up with Martin Luther King anyway.

Civil Rights March 1963 (Wikipedia)

Civil Rights March 1963* (Wikipedia)

I hope to always stand up for what is right as well, and do it all by the grace of God.

Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty.” (2 Chronicles 14:11.)

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*Bonus points for those who can identify the three people in that photo. Extra bonus points for describing some of the other actions each of them took in working for civil rights. Bonus points on this contest are completely illusory and non-existent.

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Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Color of Your Skin

[Archived post, updated.]

It has been more than 50 years since the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his speech with the famous repeating line “I Have a Dream.”

I was only three years old in 1963, so a personal memory is beyond me. But I remember the Civil Rights Movement that continued to unfold in the ’60s and ’70s. Voting rights, affirmative action, the unequal drafting of blacks into the military at the height of the Vietnam War, the Equal Rights Amendment. I remember all of these from the news, in the lives of families around me, and from the protests that often appeared on the street as we’d drive into San Francisco. You see lots of interesting things when you grow up fifteen minutes from the Haight-Ashbury District.

One thing I saw repeatedly in the High School I attended was people of color. People’s skin went from the darkest hue to the palest pastiness imaginable. (Where did I fall on the spectrum? Let’s just say well toward the pasty end.) Band was a great place to see the variety, and when we held a potluck fundraiser you were as likely to see lumpia and collard greens as enchiladas and a Jello salad.

Together we made a diverse table of food, much like our skin colors made for a diverse bunch of musicians.

Color and the People of God

The kingdom of God includes people from every nation, tribe and tongue. (Revelation 7:9.) It’s clear that membership in God’s kingdom under the New Covenant isn’t limited to people of one particular race or color. As Paul said:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28.)

This isn’t just a New Covenant phenomenon either. When some of the Old Covenant leaders tried to denigrate a woman just because she had different color skin, God put a stop to it immediately. (Numbers 12. More thoughts on that passage here.)

It’s clear, God does not deliver his love based on what color skin someone has.

Yet I think God loves color. After all, we certainly are a colorful bunch, us humans. There are innumerable shades from one person’s skin to the next. For that matter, there are shades aplenty just in looking at the skin on a single person’s body.

You want more proof that God loves color? Consider the lilies of the field, because as Jesus said they look more splendidly colored than any clothing we can create. (Matthew 6:28-29.) And God wants us to be creative in our use of color as well. When he instructed the Israelites on how to build the tent of meeting for their camp in the wilderness, he told them to bring yarns of many colors, die the animal hides red, and use a variety of colorful gem stones as well.

Color, then, seems to be very important to God.

Yes, God doesn’t look at the color of your skin in considering whether to bring you into his kingdom. Yet still he looks on the color of your skin … and does so with delight. All those skin tones, colors and shades are precious to God. Even more so, the people wearing those tones, colors and shades are precious to him.

As Dr. King said:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream that one day … little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

And when this happens … we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands … .

The point isn’t to erase color, but to erase the barriers that people put up based on color. God delights in all his children. Should you do any less when looking at the people he brings into your life each day?

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racial-reconciliation***

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Being a Know-It-All Isn’t All That Bad

[From the archives.]

I ran across an interesting line in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight … (Philippians 1:9.)

What? Smart people are better at loving others? That seems like an odd thing for Paul to write when you consider his earlier letter to Christians in Corinth where he said:

We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1.)

So which is it: does love abound in knowledge like he told the Philippians, or is knowledge empty while love is substantial as he told the Corinthians?

It depends on what you do with your knowledge.

Here’s that line from Philippians in context, giving a better picture of the reason Paul prays for their knowledge and insight.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11.)

According to these verse, then, there are three ways for love to abound in your knowledge and insight.

First – knowledge and insight lead to discernment

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ …

Depth of insight means we know things more than just on a surface level; we have the ability to act wisely because we understand deeply the difference between right and wrong.

The handy thing about discernment, then, is that we can use it to see the difference between what is pure and what is not. Love abounds in this discernment when we act in ways consistent with our relationship with Jesus.

Second – knowledge and insight lead to bearing fruit

… that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be … filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ …

The fruit of righteousness is the fruit the Spirit of Christ produces in us: love, joy, peace, patience , kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23.) It is by keeping in step with the Spirit that we avoid some very unloving acts: conceit coupled with provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:26.)

Jesus said he produces much fruit in his people, in fact, and all they need to do to bear that fruit is rest in him.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5.)

And since God is love (1 John 4:8), the “fruit of righteousness” he produces in us is nothing less than his love.

Third – knowledge and insight lead to glorifying God

… that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight … to the glory and praise of God.

The love that abounds in our growing knowledge and deep insight of God has an ultimate purpose, the glory of God. In fact, everything we do should lead to that:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31.)

That is where love leads us, to God’s glory. Love is not an end in itself in our lives, just as knowledge and deep insight are not ends in themselves. Love and knowledge and wisdom have a single shared purpose: glorifying God.

Love abounding forever for the glory of God. That’s something worth growing in knowledge and deepening our insight about.

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Dads Caring for Kids – parenting, not babysitting, one hairdo at a time

[Updated from the archives.]

Doyin Richards was on paternity leave when his wife was rushing off to work and fretted about not having time to do their daughter’s hair. He told her to leave it to him, and decided her skepticism required some photographic evidence of his capability.

Doyin Richards is not afraid of his two year old’s hair

The picture went viral.

In a follow-up article at the Huffington Post, Richards wrote:

This story shouldn’t be about placing me on the Mount Rushmore of fathers because of a photo. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s an adorable shot and I’m extremely flattered by the kind words I’ve received from people who think so — but I’ve shared hundreds of pictures of my family on social media and none of them received a fraction of the attention that this one did. Just like the other photos of me with my girls, it’s simply another example of a dad … well, “Daddying.” Additionally, I’m concerned that the bar for being a good dad is set so low that a dude can take a photo with his kids, post it online, and automatically become the “world’s greatest dad” in the eyes of some because of it. (Doyin Richards, When the Story Isn’t the Story.)

That quote reminds me of the way I did it when my kids were young. I’d get to the office early in order to be home for dinner every night. Evening meetings or trips out of town were few and far between. I may have been an anomaly at the office, but my kids didn’t think I was one when I was with them.

For any moms and dads who may be reading this, take it from me: brushing your kids’ hair is a great way to get to know them more, just like sitting down to dinner together or making time to play their make-believe games with them.

Parents knowing the children well is a godly thing.

The Father Who Knows Every Hair On Every Kid’s Head

The article not only reminded me of how I tried to make time with my kids a priority, but also of another Father who knows every hair there ever was. As Jesus assured his followers:

… even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:30.)

Now I did a lot of brushing and combing of my kids’ hair over the years, but I never once came close to being able to say I knew how many hairs they had. Yet God knows every single hair on every single one of our heads.

Our heavenly Father knows us better than we know our own children, even better than we know our own selves.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139:1-4.)

For some people that is a comforting truth, and for others it is a horrifying thought. This dad takes comfort in it. You?

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Silence for a Hurting Friend

“God takes us into the depths so that we may reach the heights.” I thought that sounded pretty good. I patted the shoulder across the corner of the kitchen table with what I thought was a comforting sort of pat.

“I don’t even know what that means,” he said, shrugging his shoulder out from underneath the next pat I was about to lay on it.

“Romans 8:28, God works all things to the good, and all that. You know the verse.”

“I’m hurting here and you’re dropping Scripture bombs on me?”

“What’s wrong with Scripture?” That sounded defensive, even to me, so I added, “It’s God’s word.”

He leaned over even further in his chair, chest practically resting on his lap. “I know that. Doesn’t mean your platitudes are helping any.”

“They’re not my platitudes,” I said, trying again, “they’re God’s.”

That didn’t come out right.

He looked at me sideways and then dropped his head again. In a voice barely audible over the hum of the refrigerator, “Whatever they are, I don’t want them.”

“Hey, I’m just trying to help here.” I’d lost all pretense of hiding my defensiveness.

“I know. But you’re not.” He gave me another sideways look, but this time with just a hint of a curve at one corner of his mouth, maybe a smile, maybe a sneer. “Try something else.”

Back down went his head.

I sat there, stumped, silent.

“That’s a start,” he said.

More silence. Then a small groan and a soft sob, and those unpatted shoulders started rocking up and down slowly. I stood up and moved behind him, resting my hands lightly on his back as he wept into his lap.

“God, if we can’t come to you for comfort, I don’t know where we can turn.” I stopped, not knowing what else to say, or if to say anything else, or if I should have said even this much.

More silence, then, “That’s good too,” came the muffled voice from his lap.

So I prayed some more.

For him.

And for me.

***

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