A few weeks ago, my church (Calvary Fellowship) began a seminar series from True North Star Ministries. This series has mostly been about child abuse (verbal, physical, sexual, etc.) and I must say the statistics we’ve heard from each of these classes have been rather mortifying. I won’t share them here, but I will say my eyes have been opened.
In the most recent class – this last Sunday – we were being instructed in two major categories; how to read the signs of abuse and how to positively influence abused children. Indicators for possible abuse are many and I don’t want to open that issue here, but what really stuck with me on Sunday afternoon was not how I’m trying to influence the kids around me, but rather how I am influencing them.
Honestly, I don’t know what kind of influence I’m really having on the high school kids I teach. And I especially don’t know about the elementary kids I used to teach. Why’s that? Because how I desire to influence kids – no matter how old or young – is hardly ever the way that I actually am influencing them. Maybe I’m wrong, but kids notice you when no one else is around. It’s like a sixth sense for them; they pick up the bad habits you don’t want them to.
Last night I went with some friends to watch the movie Courageous. I knew it had something to do with police officers, but I didn’t expect all the statistics about fatherlessness. 40% of today’s children grow up in homes without a father. Kids without dads are five or six times more likely to commit suicide. Nearly 80% of convicts are fatherless. Dave and Christi – the leaders of True North Star Ministries – have said several times that the most severe case of abuse is neglect.
For those of you who didn’t know, I grew up without my biological father around. Like Nathan Hayes from Courageous, I haven’t met him yet. When he went to his biological father’s gravesite and read him a letter he had written, I was immediately reminded of the letter I had written my father. And yet, like Nathan Hayes, I’ve come out of it all alive and out of jail – not unscathed, but alive.
I’m not trying to spoil the movie for anyone who would like to go see it, but there are five men who make a pact. What I found challenging was their reasoning: They were doing a good enough job. In our American society, good enough means sufficient; it means you don’t have to do anymore than what’s already been done. But, as they collectively pointed out, God doesn’t ask us to do a “good enough” job; He commands that we be perfect.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48
One question Dave asked each of us in Sunday’s seminar was, “What kind of person are you when no one else is around?” As Matthew 5:48 says, we’re supposed to be perfect, but perfection isn’t about how others perceive us. It’s about how God perceives us – especially when we’re alone.
When we’re on our own, our pretenses and facades fade away. We reveal what kind of person we really are as we’re driving behind that car that just cut us off; as we’re cussing out the TV for yet another fumble; and as we’re sitting in front of a computer with an unrestricted web browser. In all of these cases – and in many, many more – God sees our heart. He doesn’t care about the clothes we’re wearing or what kind of person we’re pretending to be; He cares about the person we are.
My fatherlessness may seem like it’s a disadvantage in this world, and to some extent it kind of is. I have to learn practically everything either on my own or from someone else’s dad; how to change a tire, how to shave, how to commit to the girl I love, etc. But as I’ve grown to notice in my walk with God, I’ve had the best replacement ever for a father: God Himself.
No, I’m still unsure about myself with a tire iron and shaving is kind of a rollercoaster experience. But I know that God has taught me about being a man of strength, integrity, and – to borrow from the movie – courage. Since my biological dad was never there, I’ve had a lot of doubts about myself and who I am. In fact, I still do. Not as many, of course, but they’re there. But with God leading the way – having the perfect Father – I know what kind of man I need to be.
In Matthew 6 there is a common theme of secrecy. No, not in the sense of keeping everything a secret; but in the sense of reflecting God’s character when no one else is around. “But when you give… when you pray… when you fast,” do so in secret. Jesus teaches us quite clearly to be the man or woman of God when no one is watching.
As I said at the beginning, kids learn your good habits as well as your bad habits. Even though you tell them never to cuss, they hear you cussing under your breath. Even though you tell them never to watch pornography, they know what you’re doing when your door’s closed. And even though you tell them never to doubt God’s sovereignty, they hear you crying out in utter despair and confusion. All of this can change if we just follow Christ’s teaching.
It demands humility, yes. It demands getting help from others, yes. But above all it demands grace; grace you must give yourself. Religious legalism has a way of infecting our walks with the Lord, but you can find it out when you look for grace. Legalism doesn’t have it. God does. And since He gives it freely to each one of us, we must receive it, give it to each other, and especially give it to ourselves.
Christ’s message in Matthew 5:48 isn’t a “good enough” message. It sets a standard for the people of His Kingdom. If grace were not there already, it’d be impossible. But God has enabled us to live as He desires us to live.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1.
We can live in perfection in Christ Jesus. We can be Godly men and women when no one is around. We can break the cycles and habits our parents passed down to us. We can be men and women of integrity, humility, and courage.