18 July 2006

My boys (unintentionally) give me a righteous slap-down

by Dan Phillips

y Josiah (age 10) just returned from what was a glorious week-long Boy Scout camp up northwards. Among tales of archery, swimming, and eating, he told me about a conversation he had at bedtime under the stars one night.

Another Scout said he didn't believe in God anymore. Some bad things had happened, and his faith was gone. Josiah told him the story of Joseph, and pointed out that God can have a good purpose behind bad circumstances. Josiah quoted other Scriptures to his friend. Josiah said after he talked, his fellow Scouts and troop leader expressed their support.

Another time, Josiah tried to talk to him, but the boy told him he didn't want to hear it. "What did you do?" I asked.

"Oh, I just stopped for then, and prayed for him," 'Siah said.

Then that same week, Josiah's younger brother Jonathan (age 6) and I were in WalMart, and Jonathan starts talking about God, Heaven, angels. It was absolutely delightful. "It's going to be fun, playing with the angels in Heaven," he said. He talked about the angels watching us, and about what they do now.

Though Jonathan was telling me, not asking questions (my kids virtually never ask questions), I volunteered, "One of the things some angels do is sing 'Holy, holy, holy' to God, all day and all night. You know, that's like your favorite hymn, 'Holy, Holy, Holy.'"

"I bet the angels are proud of me for liking that hymn," he said. Counselors will never make a dime off of Jonathan.

Then Jonathan just kept on yacking happily about God, heaven, Jesus, salvation. It was sheer pleasure. And as Jonathan chatters on, this other guy walks up, starts looking at shoes by us.

And -- God help me -- I feel this urge to shush Jonathan, to speak in hushed tones.

That urge immediately produces shame, and I don't act on it... but I continue to feel it. I actually have to fight the urge to drop my voice.

And it starts me thinking again. Jonathan and Josiah, like their older brother Matthew, don't know that they're supposed to feel embarrassed about discussing "spiritual things" in public. They've got no compunctions, no inhibitions whatever. They haven't been shamed into hiding their lights under a bushel. They don't know what a dire threat they pose to America, and how like the Shiite ayatollahs they are. They haven't experienced (as their sister had, years ago) how unwelcome their Bibles would be in public school -- though God knows everything else is welcome in school and in public discourse.

Where in the world does this come from? The degree of respect I have for folks like Kevin Phillips, Randolph Balmer, and other cultured despisers? Not as far as I know; zero isn't much of a motivator. Is it fear that these total strangers won't like me, won't be my friends? Mercy, I hope not. Ignorance of Romans 1:16? Can't plead that one.

I will admit that I have a bad case of idiomanumoragorophobia. That's the fear of being publicly made a fool by my own hands. It isn't the fear that I'll be asked a question that has no good answer; it's that I won't have the answer, the perfect answer, and will simply do a passable imitation of a wet trout on a dry, flat, hot rock.

It isn't even that it's happened that often. This isn't to my credit, certainly. I remember one of my very first apologetic encounters. I was a brand-new Christian, and was walking with one of my neighbors back in Glendale. I was all of seventeen, and he was an older man. I was a highschool senior, and far from academically remarkable; he was a well-educated doctor, an assistant to the (famous) county coroner. I was a Christian. He was an ex-Christian.

So I tremulously got us on to the subject of the Gospel, and of his apostasy. Why was he no longer a Christian? I was braced for some devastating, withering revelation from him that would leave me staggering and benumbed. I mean, such an intellectual man had to have simply cataclysmic reasons for not being a Christian. Right? So I braced myself. Here it came. It was... it was....

"Those miracles in the Bible are just not believable."

I think I blinked.

And without much thought, I responded, "Which ones?"

The flopping, beached trout in this conversation was -- to my astonishment -- not me. It was the good doctor. He had no clue, no example. Not one.

And that was it.

This has played itself out again and again. I remember tremblingly looking into Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian, fearing the worst from the famed philosopher. His big reason for infidelity? Jesus wasn't the greatest man who ever lived. Oh? Why not? Because Jesus believed in Hell, and good men don't believe in Hell.

Yep, that was about it. Big philosopher Bertrand Russell. Just as deep as that.

So what is it that I'm afraid of? My boys sure aren't afraid. By the time the oldest was born, I'd already studied Hebrew and Greek, and was a pastor, for crying out loud. Isn't that supposed to make me at least some kind of smart? I had a Master's degree! I'd taught in grad school! Shouldn't I be able to handle a simple, on-the-street conversation?

So, you tell me. What's more impressive: all my supposed learning? Or my boys' unashamed, generous, unblinking openness with what they know?

Your answer is the same as mine.

And so I see myself mired in the same trap I see (and criticize) so freely in others. While I'm silently and abashedly waiting for the perfect moment, and the perfect opportunity, with the perfect emotional and mental state, the perfect circumstances, the perfect array of arguments and evidence, and the perfect wording -- they just do it. Right out there in public. In front of God and everybody.

My boys are still growing and learning, all three of them. I hope they learn a lot.

But I hope to God that they never learn to be ashamed of, or timid about, the Gospel.

And I hope I re-learn what they already know.

Afterword: I had basically completed this essay by last Friday. Then Sunday, my pastor preached a very fine, convicting sermon along the same lines, which you can listen to HERE. I don't read tea-leaves, signs and portents... but it's hard not to feel that a message is being underlined to me.

And now... tag! You, too!

Dan Phillips's signature


Patti said...

Thank you so much for this post. So many times I have wanted to hush my son as he makes biblical proclamations or touts the foolishness of evolution as we walk through a store. I too have felt shame at my desire to want to change the subject, to talk about anything but the Bible. Yet we are commanded to talk about it everywhere with our children. I need to repent and to rejoice with him in the gospel, wherever we may be.

Mike Y said...


This is an excellent story! And it sounds like you're raising some fine boys over there.

idiomanumoragorophobia-- yah, I suffer from that too. Sometimes I fear it coming from another's hands, though. LOL.

I am a bit more quiet these days than I was when I was younger. But I do recall and incident that occurred when I was on my IFBx bus route. Yep, I did those. Anyway, I was visiting a couple of kids and reminding them of the following day's promotion. As I was leaving, their mother's friend decided to launch a verbal assault of me, my faith, and anything else she could think of. I have no idea, to this day, what motivated her.

Needless to say, I turned around feeling totally dejected with my tail between my legs. Well, it wasn't enough that I was totally defeated, she kept on the attack when all of a sudden somthing snapped! I turned around and began preaching a sermon out of various verses. I have to admit I wasn't very expository at this moment. Anyway, I did happen to mention hell and lake of fire on more than one occasion. I concluded with a plead to believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved.

To my surprise, she did. I have never witnessed a countenance change so quickly. She even started tugging on her friend's arm (the mother of the kids), pleading with her to also believe.

I'll never forget that day. She died a month or so later. Apparently she had some form of severe cancer, but didn't even know it.

Anyway, getting back to your post, there is a nice innocence that children seem to possess. It would be nice to get back to that. Don't you think? Too bad the scars sometimes make us a bit tentative and reserved.

Again, thanks for sharing this with us. It's pretty awesome!

DJP said...

Ugh, I wish I could say I didn't know what you were talking about.

Again, when I was a young Christian, and already fighting these feelings, I remember sitting in a restaurant near the smoking section. At the time, I'd lower my voice a bit with "saying grace" publicly, and really try to rush it before the waitress came up (as if I were doing something indecent).

Someone across from us lit up, and the smoke drifted over into our booth.

And I thought, "You know, if others don't care about me having to breathe their smoke, I really shouldn't care about them having to hear me talking to God."

The shame and abashedness is virtually never even remotely rational, is it?

Keith G. said...

Great post. I had the exact same experience Bertrand Russell's essay. I knew a very smart guy who said he was swayed by it, and I intentionally put off reading it for probably three years after that. When I finally did, I afterwards thought "wait, is this the right essay?" We are afraid because we want to be, not because of the danger involved.

DJP said...

My previous response was to Patti, btw.

Thanks, Mike; I am indecently proud of my boys, and astonishedly grateful to God for His wonderful work in their hearts.

Yours is a terrific story. It's a reminder that we mustn't even attempt to guess what might come of our preaching of the Word, and certainly not neglect to do so because we assume "it won't do any good" (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2).

Catez said...

Interesting! I remember a conversation I had with two Jehovah's Witnesses once (if I have time I invite them in when they come knocking). At that time I knew next to zip about JW beliefs really - but we had a good discussion. I talked about "where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty" and applied that to some of their legalisms. By asking questions - so I'd say something like which principle do you think is more important, laying down your life to save another, or not donating blood (and remarked that blood is called "the life" in the bible). So what's wrong with laying down your life - with sacrifing something to save some-one's life?

It is a really simple position but they didn't have an answer.

Later on I discovered apologetics and got very interested. I've found it's like other study I've done - the more time I spend on it the more the information comes to mind on the spot somewhere. I've found that to be the case in the street ministry I do. That's mainly to the homeless and streetworkers but we also meet other people, some university students, and we have some very interesting discussions. I had a memorable one with some science students in which I basically used the Kalaam argument as a springboard (somewhat like Paul when he begins one of his preaching mesages with creation and moves to the gospel from there).

One thing I do know - there is actually nothing wrong with saying "I don't know" to something. Of the many events which led to my conversion one that played a key role was when I asked a man who was a pastor a question and he replied "I don;t know". He went on to say that God holds some things that we don't. I was affected by that because he was honest and because he made God bigger than he is.

I think it's good to study biblical apologetics - to know what we believe. It's the kind of thing that with regular practice does spring to mind (it's like sitting an exam - if you have studied the answers do come to mind).

And I totally agree - it's a process. Everyone can give a reason for the hope within and it is God's spirit which is effectively working.

I once felt the sort of embarrassment you describe with a friend of ine on a bus. But she has such a ministry in evangelism, and I realised that being embarrassed by her discussion with another passenger was really a wrongful criticism in my heart. The other passenger didn't mind.

I think we have certain social conventions Dan - and I think there are times when people are inappropriate. One team I used to be in had a guy who was harassing people rather than communicating to them. He was given some counsel on that.

BTW - love the Hubble graphic. I sometimes visit their site. On Bertrand Russell... I remember reading his "Why I am Not a Christian" - it is poorly lacking in it's science actually. As I remember he starts with a "scientific" argument which any scientist worth their petri dish can see is full of holes.

Steve Weaver said...

A great post and a great challenge! Thanks!

4given said...

So the big ape got the sloped forehead from his M.Div. Hilarious!!!

Thank you for this post. Both convicting and encouraging.

There have been too many opportunities to share the Gospel that I have purposefully overlooked with a whole array of shameful excuses. The hugest being, "I don't have time right now." Ugh. The opportunities do abound. And so do the excuses.

I wrote something to this affect called "I like being socially maladjusted." It had to do with the worlds view of sharing the Gospel and how it is viewed as socially maladjusted. It is. But we need to get over that... just like your kids have no idea that it is. We shouldn't care.

Matt Gumm said...

To you excellent post, I can only add something my Dad told me recently about a conversation he had with my Grandpa. It echoes Catez's comments.

Grandpa was going down to the rescue mission, and he was going to do some big presentation on the DaVinci Code, or some such thing.

My dad said, "Dad, just tell them the truth. God doesn't call us to 'have an answer for every man's questions,' but to 'have an answer for the reason for our hope.'"

I was convicted by that, because too many times I want to have all the answers before I start "engaging in apologetics," instead of just giving people the Gospel. (Not to mention the Spirit's role and responsibility in this area).

On a related note, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one whose kids God uses to smack him down.

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Great post. God is indeed speaking clearly on this matter, and just like your boys, he won't be hushed no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

Thanks for sharing this. Every blessing to you and yours.

Even So... said...

I preached on Romans 1:16 this past Sunday...Paul was not ashamed of Jesus; he was not ashamed of the way to the gospel, the truth of the gospel, and the life from the gospel.

Great stuff, Dan.

HeavyDluxe said...

My wife had a similar experience at playgroup once.

Isn't it interesting how we try to bottle-up truth?

DJP said...

Matt -- My dad said, "Dad, just tell them the truth. God doesn't call us to 'have an answer for every man's questions,' but to 'have an answer for the reason for our hope.'"

Ooh, that's good! That's like a bi-directional multi-generational smackdown!

Carrie said...

Gee Dan, I am so glad you shared this. I have had similar experiences with my daughter where she is loudly talking about God out in public and I start feeling embarrassed. Of course the embarrassment is soon replaced with guilt for having such feelings. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

I posted recently on my own blog about two verses that really scared me when I first became a believer:

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” Matt10:32-33.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but those verses ring in my ears every time I have the urge to quiet my daughter. I wish I had the faith she displays.

Rob Steele said...

Arghh! I'm it.

I'm such a child of the culture and have internalized its values. I want to be cool. Of course God hates all that and rightly so. Good thing for me He doesn't leave me alone.

OTOH, our culture is not as bad as it could be (or will yet become, I guess.) Christianity has leavened it deeply and for a long time. Many popular bad ideas are twisted versions of things learned from the Bible. Feminism and multi-culturism for example take a branch of Christian ethics and cut it off from the tree. They're withering (You can do nothing apart from Me) but there is still some life in them. They won't transplant though. Pagan soil won't support them.

~Mark said...

Come to him as a little child is SO much deeper than we normlly give credi for!

Catez said...

I considered myself tagged. I've linked to you and discussed this further in my post at Intellectuelle, Despising the Shame.

Consider yourself tracked back to.

Amy said...

You are right, its not even about what might happen. So many conversations about Christ end up just fine.

Satan wants us to think there is more opposition than there really is.

Just like the media makes us think there are so many more homosexuals than their really are or

That everyone thinks the same way about public prayer and other issues.

.........most people know they need something else in their lives...

ya never know when the Spirit is convicting the guy in the shoe aisle that...that something else is Christ.

B.T.W. I am to blame for this, too.

Phil Johnson said...

Here's a great book that will interest those who appreciated Dan's post.

Matt Gumm said...

Looks good, Phil. Thanks for the tip.

Steve said...

Reminds me of the time our oldest son, when he was about seven years old, was so enthusiastic about sharing his newly learned AWANA verses that when my uncle, who bristles at any mention of God or Christ, came and visited us, our son promptly asked if he could practice reciting his AWANA verses to my uncle.

I hadn't forewarned my son about my uncle's hostility toward all things Christian (good thing!). My son proudly and unashamedly quoted the verses, and my uncle, to my surprise, graciously listened.

God has His ways...

Catez said...

I revised my post a little and added a few things to line it up more in parallel with what you are saying Dan (Or what I think you are saying.) Just FYI.

Patrick Chan said...

Oh boy, that was good. Thanks Dan. I needed to hear it, too. :-)

GB Hoyt said...

If only I could learn to not be an idiomanumoragoron! ;)
Sometimes I wish I could just spend more time praising, and less time trying to get my answer out there!

Patrick Chan said...

BTW, a personal story:

I remember my church group doing a car wash in big bad Berkeley, Calif. (I say "big bad" for the obvious reasons: "you can't tell me what to believe!" etc.) We were there to both help clean people's cars as well as to preach the gospel.

I remember a middle-aged woman bringing her car 'round to have us wash it on the cheap. I remember the woman going on and on about how nice we were to do this, and so cheaply, too, and what generous people we must be -- particularly as students volunteering their time and service for a charitable organization. And so on and so forth.

Then it came out that she was a New Ager, and believed in odd things (at least to my ears at the time) like karma and energy and that sort of thing. So I presented her with the gospel, without even thinking, really. And immediately -- bam! I saw her face contort and change, and the brick wall fly up, a hundred stories high. She left in quite a huff.

I remember feeling not the least bit ashamed by what I did. In fact I suppose it was even a proud moment, and in retrospect, I am certainly glad the Lord granted me the grace to stand my ground.

But, oh! How unashamed I was then where today I'd be quivering to say something, anything, to anyone. It's like I grew more timid rather than less. That doesn't seem to be the way Christian maturity is supposed to go (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7).

Anyway, thanks again for your post, Dan.

DJP said...

Wish I didn't know what you mean, Patrick, but I do.

The Lord saved me during my senior year of High School. I'd been taking a public speaking class. During the first part of the class, I'd given my pre-New-Agey, relativistic, who-can-really-talk-about-God? type talks without a qualm. Heck, I was in Drama -- plays, stufflikethatthere. No real nerves.

But then after conversion, of course, my talks changed -- and so did my demeanor? For the first time, butterflies in my stomach, dry mought, sweaty palms... Why?

FX Turk said...

I think it's because you were talking about something important.

Strange how when you're saying something that you might possibly screw up you get giddy.

Jonathan Hunt said...

Dan, amazing post and very helpful to me right now, thank you so much.


Craver Vii said...

God bless those boys of yours!

A friend was nervous about JW's visiting. I told her not to worry for herself, because if the Holy Spirit really lives inside, nobody can serve Him an eviction notice. She cannot know all the answers, but God has chosen her to be His, and appointed her to be Christ's ambassador.

When we debrief after sharing the Gospel, my pastor-friend asks, "And did anything bad happen?" So far, the answer has always been, "No."

We tend to build up this big monster under the bed, but when you turn the lights on, there's really nothing to be afraid of.

By the way, you cracked me up with the floppy trout thing...

donsands said...

Thanks for letting us share in how the Lord is working through your sons. And your humility humbles and encourages me.

Great stuff to read.

I wish I was less fearful. I can have a brave heart at times, and then other times timidity grips me.

I wish I could be more like your sons, and my grandsons.

PressingOn said...

Great post, Dan. Thanks for sharing it!

I've had similar experiences with my son. Earlier this year, he and his friend came up with an interesting plan for sharing the Gospel with the neighborhood kids. Both my son and his friend are homeschooled, but there is a public school two streets from our home.

Each day at the close of the school day, they would grab their backpacks and their gospel tracts. They would walk to the school and start walking home with the kids. As they would talk and get to know them they would share their tracts with them. They would also strategically place those fake money tracts on the ground and watch kids pick them up and start reading them.

I actually had some trepidation that there would be some kind of backlash from the neighbors about this "behavior." Sigh.....

I truly don't know where he got the motivation for this. I'm ashamed to say that he didn't see me doing it first. What a blessing it was for his father and I to see his commitment and zeal for seeing other kids come to know the Lord.

I pray that our kids will all grow up to be great men and women of God who fear no man's scorn!

Matt Gumm said...

Ooh, that's good! That's like a bi-directional multi-generational smackdown!

Still laughing about this one.

Daniel said...

Excellent post Daniel! It calls to mind an encounter I had while waiting for my bus on the way home one winter's day.

I had just finished a day at work wherein I knew I had slacked off, and I felt like a phoney Christian because I knew better - and were that not enough, in my shame (read: pride) I was struggling against talking to God about my failure, as irrational as that sounds.

As I was frumping along in my private thoughts some young man, with a smile big as all outdoors comes up and asks me about when the bus is coming. I gave him the curt sort of answer that simultaneously provides him with the information requested, while broadcasting my obvious unwillingness to engage in conversation at that moment.

But the fellow was mentally handicapped - I hadn't noticed at first, because there were no visual cues - it wasn't until he started to really talk that his simplicity evidenced itself.

The first thing he spoke of? That he was a Christian who went to such and such a church, how he had just come from an awesome time of fellowship, and how much he loved the Lord. Not the cold, clumsy, calculated, near clinical and cliched "Now I will turn the conversation to spiritual matters" approach that so many have come to expect from people who are trained to "witness" - but a raw, unbridled, and absolutely unfeigned love for the Lord was shining through and out of this young man, and his pure simple love for our Lord was exactly what I needed in that moment.

My problem was that I had exalted myself in my own thinking, I didn't want to be a failure, I wanted to come to God in my triumph, as though such a thing could ever be more than a work and a proud one at that - yet that is what I was trying to work myself up to. This man's simple love of the Lord humbled me, and brought me back to earth.

God wasn't interested in me because I was 'triumphant' - He called me in my failure. He wasn't aloof from me now because of my failure, I was aloof from him because of my pride. Here I was, with all my bible study, with all my "smarts" - and this guy clearly had a much better relationship with God that I felt I would ever have.

Whenever I get too big for my breeches I recall "Nigel" (for that was his name); I recall how ugly my pride looks when contrasted with genuine humility and very public, even gregarious and open love for our Lord.

I am reminded of Nigel I say, because as we were not the only ones at the bus stop, I too felt that we ought to be whispering in each other's ears, while he was speaking in his full voice from the rooftop as it were.

Very humbling.

DJP said...

Oh, Daniel; I read that as if it had happened to me. It could have happened to me. Man, what a Hallmark card from God, eh? Very eloquent message.

Thanks very much for sharing that. How humbling, how true. Our brother there may not have had the IQ (overrated), but he had that bubble-factor. That's another thing that's convicted me. When I've seen a great movie, eaten at a great restaurant, nobody has to present me with the equivalent of "Sir, what must I do to be saved?" (i.e. "Sir, where must I go to see a good movie?"). It just bubbles.

And in case Jonathan Edwards is reading this, no, I'm not at all saying that the Lord is like a movie or a restaurant. But I am saying that what we love, what enthuses us, what fills us with joy and hope and a sense of purpose, bubbles out. Like the apostles, you can't not speak it.

My homegrown proverb is that I think a lot better of the way Brother A is doing it imperfectly, than the way Brother B (or Brother DJP) is doing a perfect job of not doing it.

That story's going to stick with me; thanks.

C. T. Lillies said...

Kids do that. My girl has been known to turn to perfect strangers at restaurants or in check-out lines and say, "You know what? If you don't know Jesus you're going to go to HELL! But I'm not because believe in Jesus, do you believe in Jesus?" I can relate to the urge to lower your voice thing.

Thanks for the reminder of what NOT to teach our kids.


Captain Headknowledge said...

What an endearing story about your children's simple faith. I, too, clam up when I'm in front of others; sometimes I rationalize that it's my natural shyness rather than shame of the gospel and other biblical matters but, yeah, sometimes you just gotta play like you assume the people around you who might overhear you aren't going to be offended.

A youth evangelist I listened to once gave me this gem: "Other people aren't thinking about you nearly as much as you think you are." Perhaps proverbs like that, or better yet, considering what kinds of scrapes our Savior survived when he spoke about spiritual things in public (and look how well he turned out!), might help motivate us to speak up (or not tone it down in front of others) when the time comes.

Keep up the work of faith and labor of love

mxu said...

Thanks for sharing this. I needed to hear it too.

I've linked you here

Steven Carr said...

'Another Scout said he didn't believe in God anymore. Some bad things had happened, and his faith was gone.'

Isn't this typical of the hypocrisy of atheists?

He must have known that the Boy Scouts of America will not allow atheists the privilege of enjoying scouting activity, yet he remained, despite the fact that he knew that his beliefs did not conform to mandatory requirements for scouts.

pgepps said...

GOOD stuff.

GOOD, good, good stuff. Thank God for moments like this, and those He uses to bring them about!

May His blessings be upon your family richly.


Donna Chua said...

"But I hope to God that they never learn to be ashamed of, or timid about, the Gospel.

And I hope I re-learn what they already know."

Amen. Your boys are sooo adorable. I'm sure God thinks so too. =) I hope that when I have children, they'll love God the way your kids do. Great post!