Parents in the Culture and Under the Cross
Concordia Catechetical Academy, Sussex and Hartland, WI
“Parents in the Culture and Under the Cross”
Rev. Alfonso Espinosa, Ph.D.
Friday, June 21st, 2019
In the Name of Jesus. Amen. My most important qualification for being able to speak to this subject-matter, “Parents in the Culture and Under the Cross,” is the fact that the LORD has seen fit to permit my wife and me to be parents to eight children. Back in the early to mid-20th century, eight children were no big deal, but nowadays half the people we share this information with, give us looks like, “Are you nuts?” or “But how do you do it?!” The answers to these questions by the way are: a) we are a little nuts, especially now that the youngest of the eight is 17 in a couple of weeks (we’re almost through the gauntlet); and b) as to how we do it, we really don’t…the LORD has provided. It is by grace we are saved; and it is by grace that we have raised our children! Thanks be to God! Having said that, however, I also remember a sit-com years ago called “Eight Is Enough!” and I say, “Amen to that!” In fact, if anyone here is interested in adoption, just see me after this presentation.
The reason I’m offering this talk, however, is to serve Christian parents who love their children and who – at the same time – might carry with them guilt, shame, and/or heartache over the paths their children have taken and/or the division they might experience between themselves and their children.
In order to address these significant maladies, I intend to lead us to the Word and Sacraments of Christ, so that our trust in the Lord’s gracious care for us and for our children might be renewed and strengthened, regardless of the severity of the difficulties, trials, and tribulations you may face.
We are led once again to walk by faith and not by sight (2nd Cor 5:7), and apply God’s Law and Gospel to ourselves as parents, and upon the way in which we interact with our children for whom the Lord Jesus was crucified and was raised from the dead.
We understand that whereas we might suffer while living in the culture, the Lord leads us through faithfulness in the holy estate of parenthood to live under the holy cross assured of the promise that He will work all things out for our good as we continue to love Him and commend ourselves to His call for us to live in His purposes for us while persevering in service and witness to our children.
When I say, “culture,” I am taking you to the introductory definition I use in my book Faith that Sees through the Culture, page 22: “Culture consists of everything that fills the lives of people in a given place, be it the clothing they wear, the food they eat, the music they listen to, or the way in which their communities are organized. These things are connected to the good work of God in creation, but also in some cases to the effects of sin in the world, which contribute to cultural formation. This reminds us that while the culture and God’s creation we live in are related, they are not the same thing. While it may be necessary therefore to discern what is bad in the culture, we should never say – just because sin has entered the creation – that God’s creation is bad. It isn’t, and who can deny its marvelous benefits.” The term “culture” therefore, is certainly a both-and conceptualization: when we good Lutherans make reference to that which stands against our lives in Christ, namely: “sin, the world, and the devil,” this “world” idea is a cosmic power; it is the evil influence that permeates our environment that contains the impact of
human rebellion against God (and therefore all creation), but also the spiritual contributors to our environment where Satan and the demons roam (yes, the Scriptures assign demons to gloomy dungeons, but evidently not all are banished from roaming in the world). If you recall, Jesus once sent some into a herd of swine and the gospels are replete with exorcisms (quite distinct from the Lord’s healing of physical maladies). Combine all these forms of radiating influence, and the final product is the world that can quite frankly lure parents and their children into a vortex of darkness experienced physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.
The second major concept of this presentation is “under the cross.” Whosoever trusts in the cross of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sin of the world, taking the sins of the world upon Himself (our sins, my sins, your sins), is one who is made in conformity with their Savior and Lord. He took what was yours, namely your sins; and you take what is His, namely His righteousness and the life that follows. This is no theory for us or pious idea, it was rather actualized when you were baptized into Christ. This was when you entered His death and His resurrection. Now, this new life confronts the sin, the world, and the devil we have mentioned. What does this confrontation look like? What does it feel like? How does it play out? It occurs in what we in the Church refer to as “the holy cross”: the crosses Christians bear as the “little Christs” being made like their master.
You’ve heard the seat of doctrine for this idea many times: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matt 16:24) These crosses of self-denial are forms of mortification of the body. At the end of the day, crosses are symbols of death. We are called to put to death our sinful flesh, the sinful nature, or simply, the old man. Such self-mortification is experienced while being faithful within our God-granted vocations or estates or stations. We are fond of the word vocations nowadays, but in the Lutheran Confessions, the vocation is the office of the Holy Ministry that serves the people of God by calling them and keeping them in the one, true saving faith (this primary vocation is then experienced in the lives of Christians as they remain steadfast in their baptism into Christ; there is no higher vocation that this), then these same Christians go forth to serve through the various estates and stations in their day-to-day lives that includes in many cases, being parents in Christ. Even the word “priest” in the Lutheran Confessions refers primarily to pastors, Christ’s under-shepherds, though this emphasis does not cancel 1st Peter 2:9, the royal priesthood. In the end, Luther’s royal family analogy helps us see the relationship of the priest among the priests, but the point here is that while our crosses are borne in holy vocation, we mustn’t forget our utter dependency on the vocation of the priest of God who absolves you, who preaches Jesus into your ears, and who puts God’s body and blood into your mouth. That’s all. But when these things happen, the Holy Spirit leads you to live for God in the world. This amounts to a whole lot of resisting, a whole lot of self-denial against sin that bids you to live for autonomous self, the world that wants to rip you from the hands of Jesus, and from the devil who seeks to devour you by destroying your faith and of course the faith of your children. This is the holy cross because it crucifies that which stands against your Holy Spirit-created and sustained faith in Christ! So, we speak of drowning the old Adam! We don’t counsel the old Adam, we don’t coddle the old Adam, we don’t spray perfume on the old Adam…we kill him and follow God instead. That’s the holy cross. It’s the good father who gets up at two in the morning to change a diaper and walk his baby while becoming an expert at lullabies (how many times can you sing I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb?); it’s the good mother who contends with her teenaged daughter who wants to go too far in the way she dresses while ignorant of how young men are visually and chemically wired. It is the faithful father and mother who get up semi-exhausted on a Sunday morning and take their children to divine service, having learned that we don’t play the game to go to church when our hearts are in it, but heaven forbid we forget to crucify our sinful hearts – deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jer 17:9) – and go to church simply because God has commanded it and has promised to keep us alive in faith. These things hurt (especially when an infant won’t stop crying and your teenaged daughter is using the word “hate” in new ways that stab, and when a parent takes in their restless children more than the sermon on a given Sunday) and we’d rather not do them, but we take up our crosses anyway.
These are painful and permitted by the Lord for putting down our flesh, for leading us to serve our neighbor (especially our immediate family), and for glorifying God that we may be witnesses of faithfulness to the world, thus being salt and light to the world. These Scriptures remind us of what Christians are led to do by the grace of God and the leading by the Holy Spirit keeping us in the risen life of Jesus:
Romans 6:6: “We know that the old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
Romans 6:11: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The benefits (evidenced and observable efficacy and good) of what occurs under the cross is often not readily – or sometimes ever – evidenced or perceived. In other words, blessings which result in vocations under the cross are oftentimes invisible. The primary examples of our theology of the cross which stand in contradistinction to a theology of glory (“if God is for me, then He will fix my children in just the way I think they need fixing”), but instead the theology of the cross hides the powerful answers to prayer that God is working. Here are our favorite examples in Lutheran systematics: 1) The nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Luther’s Christology was only second to Athanasius, because Luther described the baby held by the Virgin as the Creator of heaven and earth…but let’s face it, how would you know this if not for special revelation? Otherwise, your natural observation would have been seeing a helpless, crying, getting hungry, and a baby needing the A.D. first-century version of diapers, who also – by the way – happened to be very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…but how could you and I ever see this on our own? 2) The passion and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus also teaches us the theology of the cross. If we had witnessed the event, we would have been shocked at the image of gore and overwhelming helplessness leading to the most humiliating and horrific death imaginable (where the word excruciating was invented to describe its pain, because there was no other word sufficient in the language to describe it)…and yet you know what really happened: sin, death and Satan were being defeated. That cross which seems to represent weakness and foolishness to the world, represents where the divinity of Christ was the hook under the worm of His humanity. Satan took the bait and received a crushing defeat! 3) The means of grace: from an observational perspective, they are immensely plain, ordinary, and let’s admit it, unimpressive, especially if you come to my Divine Services in Irvine, California where the wine used for the Sacrament is very cheap indeed. And yet, what do the eyes of faith see in this theology of the cross? Answer: the very body and blood of Christ given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation and for strength to be faithful parents for another week! And finally, 4) your life, my life in Christ in this world, especially as we consider ourselves as parents, parents so lacking; parents so inconsistent; parents so regretful of what we could have done, should have done, might have done…reviewing our mistakes and asking ourselves, “what could I have done better?!” And yet, what are you parent? In Christ, you are God’s child, gladly say it, you are baptized into Christ! That’s who you are. This theology of the cross sees that in weakness and in the evidence of death and dying, God works His work and blesses parents and children in Christ not because of what they do, but on-account of the fact that they are wrapped in Christ’ righteousness.
AC XXVI, paragraph 31: “[Our teachers] have always taught concerning the holy cross that Christians are obliged to suffer, and this is true and real rather than invented mortification.” From the Latin: “for [our teachers] have always taught concerning the cross that Christians are obliged to suffer afflictions. To be harassed by various afflictions and to be crucified with Christ is true and real, rather than invented, mortification.” Continuing at paragraphs 37 and 38: “Paul said that he pommeled his body and subdued it, and by this he indicated that it is not the purpose of mortification to merit grace but to keep the body in such a condition that one can perform the duties required by one’s calling.” As parents in Christ we do this all the time. How often we may despair of our calling as parents when we are in-the-midst of trouble and hardship, and yet the Holy Spirit leads us to pommel ourselves and subdue our flesh so that we might continue the duties of our calling. The Lord knows that at times our flesh would rather walk away and abandon our responsibilities. AP XV, paragraph 45: “With regard to the mortifying of the body and the discipline of the flesh we teach exactly what we said in the Confession, that the cross and the troubles with which God disciplines us effect a genuine and not a counterfeit mortification.” Luther expounded on what we have already heard from Melanchthon when Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, here Luther addresses The Third Petition of The Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (paragraphs 65-66):
Therefore we who would be Christians must surely count on having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies and must count on their inflicting every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where God’s Word is preached, accepted or believed, and bears fruit, there the blessed holy cross will not be far away. Let nobody think that he will have peace; he must sacrifice all he has on earth – possessions, honor, house and home, wife and children, body and life. Now, this grieves our flesh and the old Adam, for it means that we must remain steadfast, suffer patiently whatever befalls us, and let go whatever is taken from us.
As we abide in Christ, and remain steadfast as parents, sometimes what we long for the most as parents: that our children would know the Lord and be safe in his hands, this very thing can sometimes be taken from us and yet we are called to continue our faithful witness even in these heart-breaking circumstances. This is the holy cross. We are in the culture and we are under the cross. We do not change course, though life changes – even when our children or circumstances pertaining to them change – and we remain in what the Confessions refer to as “Christian perfection” (AC XXVII, paragraph 49):
For this is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affliction connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.
My personal interest in this presentation comes from hearing the testimony of many Christian parents over the years who have shared their heartache and/or burden with me (not only informationally, but in the context of Galatians 6:2 while permitting me to serve them while under duress). Devout fathers and mothers know these things even as they love their children:
1) Some parents bear the burden of serving their children with special needs, disease, and/or injury.
2) Some parents bear the pain of their children having wandered into substance abuse and addictive behavior.
3) Some parents bear the stress of children who are rebellious to the point that they are confrontational and, in some cases, verbally or even physically abusive.
4) Some parents bear the pain of watching their children suffer from depression and anxiety; and sometimes to the point of self-harm. Indeed, some parents have already experienced the greatest tragedies that come from maximal self-harm and now grieve the loss of their child.
5) Some parents also bear a sense of loss when their children have renounced the faith. In this case, the situation is easily exacerbated by the real-life fruition of what our Lord warned us about in Matthew 10:34-36:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
My personal interest and life-experience has also piqued my motivation for this talk. Again, I have eight children, but they could not be more diverse. The first four are college graduates, and the second four demonstrate a growing trend in our culture accounting for the reason why American colleges are losing enrollment (though this is probably not true for community colleges); but my second four have chosen to immediately pursue the work force. In the-midst of this diversity, the variations my wife and I have experienced in the parent-child relationship with each one is significant. One factor is the time that we’ve been given to raise our children. Four of them we raised since their birth (or in the case of my oldest adoptive child, at least since her infancy). The latter half we raised through adoption only after their formative first several years and after their being impacted by circumstances beyond their control with their birth parents and foster parents. The backgrounds of all eight, however, do not change our conviction as parents that the Lord has called us to be parents for each one. The chances and changes in our experience as parents have also included our own personal fluctuations, inconsistencies, and sinful limitations and weaknesses. An easy example here is that my wife’s health has been significantly impacted while we have cared for our second set of four, while her health was relatively unhampered while we cared for our first set of four.
In the final analysis, however, I have personally learned more than I can say, especially in-regard to the weight of my own cross as father. Without getting into the details, after raising our first four, I was smugly confident about our ability to serve our second four. We were after-all now seasoned and experienced parents. We had it down…so we thought. The Lord, however, graciously addressed my arrogance. And yet my greater lesson has come through our theology of the cross. What has been a more challenging second-half experience has in some notable ways been better for me as a child of God and disciple of Christ. The heavier cross has helped me be more apt to forsake the illusion of my own strength and to more speedily rely upon the grace of God in Christ. For example, I have learned to pray more during my second-round of being a father. In this way, the second set of four have been used by God to teach me about the critical nature of the daily discipline to be in the Word of Christ and prayer. If not for them, I would have thought my former anemic state was the norm.
As I continue to address how we approach being parents in the culture, but under the cross of our Savior Jesus, allow me to employ the outline of Faith That Sees Through the Culture. This outline of course will be explicated by our ongoing consideration of the Holy Scriptures and The Lutheran Confessions.
In chapters 1 and 2 we begin where we must. Chapter 1 is on our struggling with the outside (that is, the world and the devil); chapter 2 is on our struggling with the inside (our sinful nature). Indeed, Article II of the AC would agree as it expounds upon Original Sin. Simply put, if we are not aware of the problem, then we will be less concerned about the solution. We have reasons for our struggle as parents. Said in the most simplistic terms: the world is against us. We see how our sinful nature and the world coalesce in what is written in 1st John 2:15-17, it is the threat that stands against us as parents and against our children:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
Against us are all the so-called priorities of the world which undermine the time and energy we need to be faithful parents. Even pastors can idolize what they do in the Holy Ministry and sin when we allow ourselves to get too busy with other things instead of catechizing our children as we ought to. The world wants to make you so busy that the time you have left over makes it easy for you to have less patience for your children. The world is on the attack. Our children are no less targeted, the big guns in the culture come out against our children. As they get older, you can’t constantly look over their shoulders and the world begins to flood their eyes and ears; their minds and hearts; and the enemy tries to convince them that immediate gratification coming from the fleeting things of the world is what life is all about. They can be easily deceived, especially as they hunger to find their place in the world.
Parenting therefore, enters a battleground. You’re well familiar with Ephesians 6:10-12: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In addition, our battle includes our internal one as parents – like all Christians – and so we face the simul experience within, old man versus new man. As a result, sometimes we just sin in weakness as parents and blow golden opportunities to positively impact our children. Romans 7:15: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
AP II, paragraph 49: “World history itself shows the great power of the devil’s rule. Blasphemy and wicked doctrines fill the world, and by these bonds the devil has enthralled those who are wise and righteous in the eyes of the world.” No one is excluded from the attack against the good we are called to; every parent is “enthralled” and distracted. Therefore, we pray The Lord’s Prayer. In the third petition for example we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The second catechetical question is, “How is this done?” Answer: “When God curbs and destroys every evil counsel and purpose of the devil, of the world, and of our flesh which would hinder us from hallowing his name and prevent the coming of his kingdom, and when he strengthens us and keeps us steadfast in his Word and in faith even to the end. This is his good and gracious will.” (SC, The Third Petition); and furthermore, we pray in the sixth petition, “And lead us not into temptation.” What does this mean? Answer: “God tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God may so guard and preserve us that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, but that, although we may be so tempted, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.” (SC, The Sixth Petition)
So, while what we see in the world with our fleshly eyes can be tremendously discouraging; leading us to despair of our miserable state as parents in this world, look past it Christian. With eyes of faith see Christ leading us to see more so that we would not grow weary of doing good. The Large Catechism, The Second Commandment, paragraph 69: “Therefore I advise and urge, as I have before, that by means of warning and threat, restraint and punishment, children be trained in due time to shun falsehood and especially to avoid calling upon God’s name in its support [support of falsehood]. Where they are allowed to do as they please, no good will come of it. It is evident that the world today is more wicked than it has ever been.” Has it gotten any better, especially as those things we carry around in the palm of our hand bring the world directly to our faces? But Luther is saying that there is a way to counter the world’s tractor beam:
This is a blessed and useful habit [calling in God’s Name in true faith], and very effective against the devil, who is ever around us, lying in wait to lure us into sin and shame, calamity and trouble. He hates to hear God’s name and cannot long remain when it is uttered and invoked from the heart. Many a terrible and shocking calamity would befall us if God did not preserve us through our calling upon his name. I have tried it myself and learned by experience that often sudden, great calamity was averted and vanished in the very moment I called upon God. To defy the devil, I say, we should always keep the holy name on our lips so that he may not be able to injure us as he is eager to do. (LC, The Second Petition, paragraphs 71-72)
At the same time, we learn to constantly handle law and gospel throughout the fluctuations of life. Even when disciples – by the grace of God in Christ – develop the Godly discipline to daily call on the name of the Lord, this in no way guarantees that our children (even though we’ve taught them better) will reciprocate. So, Luther also warns us:
But here again the devil rules in the world; children forget their parents, as we all forget God, and no one takes thought how God feeds, guards, and protects us and how many blessings of body and soul he bestows upon us. Especially when an evil hour comes do we rage and grumble impatiently and forget all the blessings we have received throughout our life. Just so we act toward our parents, and there is no child that recognizes and considers this, unless he is led to it by the Holy Spirit. (LC, The Fourth Petition, paragraph 128)
That is, we move forward not overly intimated by the outward and inward threats we face (though we treat these dead-seriously every-day). But these do not become our preoccupation. Instead, the Lord leads us to daily return to our baptism and be mindful at the onset of each new day, of our new status in Christ. In chapters 3, 4, and 5, I put before us our new identities in the Lord that the Holy Spirit uses to grant us confidence and strength as we continue to steadfastly parent regardless of what the world and/or even our own children counter with. You are as presented in Faith that Sees through the Culture, “Christian” chapter 3; “Disciple” chapter 4; and “Priest” chapter 5. We lay claim to our God-given hope as we parent by returning daily to the fact that the Lord God has made us Christian. To all the parents here today, be strong and courageous! Why? You are Christians!
Christian is a word that means “Christ’s” …that’s “Christ” followed by an apostrophe “s” …by definition, we belong to Christ, we are Christ’s. The New Testament formulation of your new status is used almost 200 times: you are “in Christ.” In this status, you and I inherently receive the benefits that come with belonging to Him. From the book, pages 50-51:
This work of God occurs in history. It is objective. God attaches His Word to the water in Baptism, and Baptism through the water attaches God’s Word to the person baptized. When this happens, the baptized is joined to Jesus Christ, the Word, who is God (John 1:1, 14). The position of the baptized in the universe changes. This baptized one is now in Christ; this one is a Christian. The new status means that whatever Jesus accomplished for salvation is directly applied to the baptized. Luther said, “[Christ has] through that same [water] placed heaven upon us and gives us the entire divine majesty as personally present and gives Himself fully and completely. In this way, we are “baked into Christ. His death and resurrection are in me and I am in His death and His resurrection.” … By being born, I entered my father’s household. I was given his surname, I was granted the privilege of living in his house, and I benefited from what it meant to be a member of my family. As a child, I didn’t pay for this. These things were given to me. By being “born again,” “born of the Spirit” (John 3:3-7) in Holy Baptism, I entered the heavenly Father’s household. I was given a name: Christian. I was granted the privilege of living in the family of God, and I have benefited from all that Jesus Christ has accomplished for me (what He did for me and what He did in my stead). As a child of God, I didn’t pay for this. These things were given to me. They are given to all who believe. They belong to the baptized into Jesus Christ!
You are uplifted and sustained Christian parent by simply daily taking inventory of what is yours in Christ. As you live out this immense station in life and serve your children, these things should always be put before you (and these are elaborated upon in my book on pgs. 52-60):
1. Christ has made atonement for your sin. The divine life in Christ’s blood covers your sin and death.
2. Christ has made propitiation for your sin. That is, Christ turned away, deflected, or absorbed God’s wrath poured out upon your sin, but it did not fall upon you, it fell upon Christ.
3. Christ has made expiation for your sin. In Christ, God has blotted out your sins and remembers them no more (Isaiah 43:25).
4. Christ has gifted you with the good news of redemption. His suffering and death sacrificed to the Father purchased you/ransomed you from death to life.
5. Christ has gifted you with the good news of reconciliation. You have been reconciled to God by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. You were once alienated from God; you are now reunited with God in Christ.
6. Christ has worked justification in the sight of God. Through and in Christ, God has declared you righteous and that is how you will always stand before God by grace through faith in Jesus!
What does being a Christian look like? AC Article XXVII, paragraph 49: “For
this is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affliction connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.” Luther keeps it simple in the Large Catechism on Baptism, paragraph 65: “Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily Baptism, once begun and ever continued. For we must keep at it incessantly, always purging out whatever pertains to the old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new man may come forth.” And in what way does the Christian purge out whatever pertains to the old man? Luther reminds us of one way in particular: to practice regular private confession and absolution (from LC, on Confession, paragraph 30): “If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it … Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”
You are also strengthened against the threats to you and your family, by returning daily to your identity as disciple. Remember Christian parents (and rejoice!), God has made you to be His disciples in Christ! Now, it is a very common thing that well-meaning Christians will say that the terms “Christian” and “disciple” are synonymous. Be careful here. While it is true, that every genuine Christian is a disciple, and every authentic disciple is a Christian, the words in themselves bring out different (though complementary aspects) to what it means to belong to God in the Christian faith. The popular definition of “disciple” of course is “follower,” so that what people visualize is that a disciple of Jesus Christ is actively following the Lord Jesus Christ. This is true to an extent, but the thought-line can be hazardous if we skip the first, and most-basic meaning of what the disciple is perpetually and fundamentally engaging in. Instead of imagining how busy you can get in your state of Christ’s active righteousness in and through you, do not forget to put first things first. The disciple is first-of-all, a hearer and a learner of God’s Word. Here we wish to be as Mary was who sat at the feet of Jesus receiving the one thing necessary, or the one thing needful (Lk 10). And what did our Lord teach at John 8:31: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…”. If it is not our priority as Christian parents to be fed and nourished by the powerful of God, then where is our strength to be faithful in our parenting?
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 expresses the intense priority of God’s Word in the lives of His people. We should not take this granted nor consign such an emphasis to an outmoded Old Testament, no the spirit of Deuteronomy endures for each and every true disciple of Christ to this day: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Furthermore, perhaps we are not constantly sharing the account of the Exodus, but how easy it would be for us to share with our children all the times the Lord has helped us throughout our lives when we were in need and in this way give testimony of the importance of trusting in the Lord throughout life and holding to His Word. In this way, we too can live out Deuteronomy 6:20-21 & 24-25: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ Then you shall say to your son, ‘…the Lord commanded us to do all these statues, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’”
And now consider dear Christians, how did Luther direct the use of the Small Catechism? At the mast of The Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, The Sacrament of the Altar, the Morning and Evening Prayers, and Grace at Table, what words adorn each sub-heading? These words: “in the plain form in which the head of the family shall teach them to his household” or a slight variation thereof. What common denominator is carried forth here? Answer: that the Word of the Lord be broadcast and taught within the home. The family altar need not wax with eloquence or the feeling of deep piety, it just needs to happen, so that the Word would do what the Word would do. This is the norm for the disciple.
You are also buoyed up as to your new status as the Lord proclaims you as belonging to His royal priesthood (1 Pe 2:9), you are in Christ, also priest. God has placed you between Himself and your children, and your children must be made aware of it. Deuteronomy 5:16: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” And note also how Job treated his priesthood duties as a father, Job 1:4-5: “His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.”
The Large Catechism on The Fourth Commandment is magnificent in our consideration of the parents’ priestly estate as one who stands for God towards their children. Paragraph 105:
To fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction, above all estates that are beneath it, that he commands us not simply to love our parents but also to honor them … Thus he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For it is a much greater thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love but also deference, humility, and modesty, directed (so to speak) toward a majesty hidden within them.
To be sure there is nothing we can do to force any child to treat their parent this way sincerely and from the heart. This is a matter for the Holy Spirit. However, what we do – for our part – is to teach this. I have often shared with my children a snapshot of this in sacred memory of my dear mother who has since fallen asleep in the Lord. When I was a man well into my late-40’s doing things for my mother in contributing to her care, she walked me out to my truck one day and noticed that I had in the back of my truck, my suitcase tied-down by a bungy cord. The suitcase wasn’t going anywhere between Bakersfield (where she lived) and Lake Forest (where I live) a few hours south. I hugged my mother goodbye and started around my truck, when my mother said, “You shouldn’t have your suitcase back there, it should be inside your cab.” I smiled and thought to myself, “the suitcase isn’t going anywhere,” but then reminded of myself of what we are now considering. I retraced some steps, removed the bungy chord and placed the suitcase in an already crowded cab. Why do this (esp. when it was completely unnecessary and in truth, my mother was not aware of the stability of the tie-down)? For one simple reason: the 4th commandment.
Luther makes clear at paragraph 126 what should incentivize children to obey their parents: “For God has exalted this estate of parents above all others; indeed, he has appointed it to be his representative on earth. This will and pleasure of God ought to provide us sufficient reason and incentive to do cheerfully and gladly whatever we can.”
As far as it depends on you, Christian parent, live at peace and do you part. It is true that the Word of Christ states plainly, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents… [and the list goes on].” (2nd Tim 3:1-2) But in-spite of this, we – on our side of the equation – can be faithful to God in our estate. Let us confess what we are to confess; and do what we are to do.
As of chapter 6 in Faith That Sees Through the Culture, I commence the section where each chapter is subtitled, “The Lutheran Lens.” As we conduct our lives in our holy stations, we must remember that as parents in the culture and under the cross, our faith trains us to see dualities and paradoxes as we walk by faith and not by sight. If we get this, then we are significantly helped as we engage the difficulties that face us as parents. We gain a better understanding of the big picture and what is going on behind the scenes if you will. From chapter 6 in the book beginning on page 89 where I discuss the important tool used by optometrists called the “phoropter,” I discuss the importance of coordinating the two lenses we must work with, the eye-glass lenses are of course analogies to the two-sided realities of some of the major teachings in the Word of God:
Anyone who wears glasses [or contact lenses] is probably familiar with the routine. You place the bridge of your nose against a large framework with lenses. Then the test begins. The optometrist measures one eye at a time, testing various lenses on each eye while asking the patient to tell him which projection is clearer: “One or two?” “Three or four?” “Five or six?” As the patient narrows down the selections, acuity increases. Before long, the optometrist finds the perfect lens that will work with each eye, working toward a 20/20 result. The two lenses are coordinated, aligned, so that one can see.
Now, as Christian parents, the better we see both sides of what God’s Word puts before us, then we will experience the immeasurable consolation and help given to us by the Holy Spirit. Essentially, Christian parents can get better at deciphering their circumstances as they raise their children in the culture, but under the cross. The first major set of lenses answers the question, “What is real?” And in application to parenting, this first set of lenses is immensely important. Our children are always before us and let’s face it, in general, the more someone is around you, the more apt you are to see their foibles and even their more glaring deficiencies. This is true for all of us, and lest we think ourselves an exception to the rule, people see ours all the time. Thanks be to God that love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Pe 4:8) We are now led back to the practical bearing of the theology of the cross. Here are parts of an elaboration beginning on page 101 through page 103:
The theology of the cross is counterintuitive to people and seems repulsive to human reason. We must be careful to explain and not go in the wrong direction. Certainly, if what is understood by “the theology of the cross” is that suffering in and of itself makes us better and closer to God, then one should have a problem with it. Such ideas are reminiscent of penance, the idea that sacrificial works must be combined with confession so as to earn grace. Such ideas contradict Scripture itself. This is not, however, what “the theology of the cross” means. The theology of the cross simply teaches that God hides Himself in ways of humility, quietness, and suffering in order to bless His people. These, however, are not self-imposed but are given by God … The lens of faith learns to see that God is often working good when others think that there is only bad … Luther asserted … at thesis 20 [in his Heidelberg Disputation] … “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” … At thesis 21 … Luther explained, “A theology of glory [which does not recognize the true work of God] calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”
There are some simple sayings that remind us of the basic principle of the theology of the cross. One of them is, “things are not always as they seem” and another is, “never judge a book by its cover.” An old Lutheran pastor, who was a member of my parish, Rev. Herb Geisler got home from the hospital and we were chatting in his living room. When Pastor Geisler shared his improved health report to me, I responded by saying, “God is good.” Then Pastor Geisler was eloquent in this simple lesson as he said back to me (as I share this exchange and some resultant insights on pages 106-107 from the book):
He was right. There was no arguing his point. The child of God gets into an accident. If the person dies, God is good in taking His child into glory. If the individual survives with great hardship, he or she might grow in faith in ways never imagined. If the person survives and is granted healing, God is still good. The Lord knows what He is doing in any scenario, regardless of how we might struggle with it. A wise seminary professor [Rev. Dr. Robert Preus] once taught me and my classmates about prayer. He said, “There are three things to know about prayer:
1. God always answers the prayers of His children.
2. God always answers for good.
3. God rarely answers the way we expect Him to [or want Him to].”
This is a constant reality in our experience as Christian parents. There are too many hard – very hard – examples to list, but I will be very general in respect to just one of them. One of my eight children got into a dating relationship with someone who was just a deceptive person. As the relationship was prolonged, the bond between me and my child was strained. I could sense that the person they were dating was going to hurt my child. The day came and it finally happened. This process was beyond stressful. One of the end results was collapsing on the driveway of my house, late at night when my child finally got safely home. Both me and my child hit the ground in despair. We were both crushed for the heartache; and my soul truly empathized with my child’s disappointment and disillusionment. However, what we went through – together – galvanized an already good relationship between me and my child, making it even stronger. Years later, this bond has led to some of the greatest joys I’ve ever experienced as a parent. Going through the storm together made us closer than I could have ever imagined. This does not mean that I say that what my child had to experience was good. No, it was not good. It was bad, but what I can say is that the Lord of love and mercy worked good through those very bad circumstances. This much is undeniably true.
Nothing seems as it actually is. Luther in the Large Catechism while discussing Baptism writes at paragraph 20: “If we regard persons with reference to their noses, eyes, skin and hair, flesh and bones, they look no different from Turks and heathen. Someone might come and say, ‘Why should I think more of this person than of others?’ But because the commandment is added, ‘You shall honor father and mother,’ I see another man, adorned and clothed with the majesty and glory of God. The commandment, I say, is the golden chain about his neck, yes, the crown on his head, which shows me how and why I should honor this particular flesh and blood.” Take this counsel from our Confessions on child toward parent and turn it around from parent toward child and consider the account of St. Augustine’s mother Monica. She never stopped praying for her son, and in time her intense intercessions were answered. St. Augustine went from seeming lost positions in libertinism and false religion to becoming one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church. Such insight and discipline of faith and practice takes time to develop; there is no time like today to begin. We don’t even see our true selves very well and indeed, what God sees in us – in how we are covered in Christ – we cannot even see. This is true also in the way we see our children and the circumstances surrounding them. Bottom line: never give up hope; keep seeing not only what you see physically, but keep seeing what cannot be seen: God is working as you call upon Him and hold Him to His promise to bless you and your children because the 4th commandment is clearly in accord with His good and gracious will (He promises to answer these kinds of requests doesn’t he? Remember John 14:14 for example: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”). The 4th commandment is indicative of the name and will of our Gracious Lord, but as you pray, leave all things to Him and walk by faith and not by sight.
The rest of my book offers other lenses to help you as you navigate your estate in the culture and under the cross. It is valuable to consider in a more in-depth way (as we did touch on it above) the answer to the question in chapter 7: “What Am I?” Again, you are simul, you are old man-new man. The most valuable thing I give you here are the insights summarized on page 112 where I discuss the daily internal battle and conflict we experience between our sinful nature and our born-again spirit:
1. The conflict itself is not an indication that a Christian is not really a Christian. Much to the contrary, the conflict is a crucial sign that a Christian is truly a Christian.
2. The conflict, however, is not the Christian’s focus, as if the conflict were a badge to take pride in or a suffering that makes them real Christians. Rather, its real purpose is to lead Christians back to Christ, their true focus.
3. The conflict is surpassed by an even more important experience, namely, the Christian’s life in the Spirit – the daily remaining in Christ – which leads to living in faith and the active expression of that faith, especially love, which is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
These insights apply to you as a parent. Your sin, the world, and the devil strive to convince you that you’re fighting a hopeless battle! I submit to you that the father of lies, the devil, is expert in either-or fallacies. Once upon a time the Israelites stood at the edge of the Red Sea, and they saw two options: one, go the way of Pharaoh’s chariots and be crushed; or go the way into the Red Sea and be drowned. Those were all the options according to sin and the devil. That’s all, just two options. The devil conducts -- deliberately because he hates us -- the logical error of the excluded middle. With God, there are other options and just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean that they’re not there! In Exodus, God generated the other option and the sea was divided in two and the Israelites crossed on dry land!
Satan accuses you left and right: “You’ve blown it as a parent. You have utterly failed. Your child is too far gone!” He is a liar, a liar, a liar. The truth is that nothing is impossible for God. Never give up. Our God is the God who raises the dead.
Chapter 8 answers the question, “To Whom Am I Speaking” and in the case of our parenting, we must remember that no matter how far it seems our children has strayed, God’s universal grace in Christ – His inclusive and utterly powerful mercy and love – is always there for your child. Always. Not sometimes, not most days, but always and every, single day. We just continue to love them enough to give law when they are complacent in their sin; and we love them enough to keep telling them that are loved by God in Christ when you can see that they know they need God. This chapter is the most important apologetic in the book as I demonstrate that the inclusivism of the grace of God and the exclusivism of Christ as the only way, truth and life is not contradictory, but complementary. In the end, we seek to live in both side-by-side as we strive to live in repentance, something I break down in the most practical way I know how on page 152:
And when the cycle is completed on a given day, we start all over again
into the next. In this way we return to our holy baptism in Christ and receive new strength to be the parents we’re called to be, not perfect, but repentant!
Chapter 9 asks the question, “Where are we?” Our culture reduces our proper theology on the two kingdoms: the kingdom of the LEFT (or kingdom of power) and the kingdom of the RIGHT (or kingdom of grace). The culture reduces these by foisting a more simplistic and restrictive idea referred to popularly as “church and state.” In a nutshell, as Christians we must maintain that it was never God’s intention – nor even the intention of our forefathers – to remove our faith from the public square. Their only concern was that no single religious sect would predominate. What does this mean for us parents? We don’t go along with the foolish idea that our faith is to be restricted to our homes and places of worship…we are to teach and encourage our children to always live their faith wherever they are and wherever they go. What is especially non-negotiable is our great need to regularly receive Word and Sacrament to keep our faith alive. Our children need it too.
Chapter 10 answers the question, “When Are We?” We do not live in the past, chained down to our past failures which Christ has covered with His blood, nor do we live in the future to worry about tomorrow, but we emphasize this day to repent and live for God. We emphasize this day to love our children and be prepared to be Christ’s ambassadors for them.
Chapter 11 answers the question, “What Do I Say?” And here we learn from the great parable of the prodigal son that is better referred to as the parable of the two sons. The younger son represents the problem when the law is rejected, and we enter libertinism; the older son represents the problem when the law is mishandled and we enter legalism. Instead, the right way is to permit the law to do its job: to show us our sin (Ro 3:20). Then we know our great need, and the gospel is freely given to us once again: Christ for us. This is not only the hope of our children but is also the hope of every parent here today. It is a hope not based on a subjective wish, “we sure hope this might work out,” no, this is a hope based on an objective promise: God has called you to be parents in the culture and under the cross, and in Christ you have been, you are, and you will be blessed.
 Espinosa, Alfonso, Faith That Sees Through the Culture, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018.
 All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV)
 All references to our Confessions are from Tappert, Theodore G., The Book of Concord, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.
 Albrecht Peters, Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Baptism and Lord’s Supper, trans. Thomas H. Trapp (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2012). 89.
 Ibid., 114.
 Espinosa, Faith That Sees Through the Culture, 50-51.
 Luther, Martin. Career of the Reformer: I. Vol. 31 of Luther’s Works. Edited by Harold J. Grimm. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957. 40. This quotation within the greater quotation from Faith That Sees Through the Culture. 101-103.
 Ibid., 40. This quotation within the greater quotation from Faith That Sees Through the Culture. 103.
 Faith That Sees Through the Culture. 106-107.
 Faith That Sees Through the Culture. 112,