He Gives and Takes Away

The Precious Possession of Diligence

Many of you know that my dad passed away early Monday morning, April 17. We travelled to Ohio for his funeral last week and soberly enjoyed the time we were able to spend with my mom and sister as well as other family and friends. I had the privilege to speak for a few moments at his memorial service and the rest of this post is the substance of my message.

Fathers and sons have a special connection, and the relationship between my dad and I was no exception. I absolutely loved my dad and it seemed right for me to honor him today even if for just a few minutes.

There are many things I owe my dad.

Dad taught me to love the game of baseball. He instilled me with a passion for mowing the yard to make it look good. He taught me about generosity, never letting any of my friends pay for lunch when we went out and occasionally sending that $20 for pizza when I knew they didn’t have much to spare. He taught me about the power of respect, gradually increasing both my freedoms and responsibilities which only made me want more to grow up and be a man like him.

But there is one lesson I learned from my dad that excels every other in my mind. In fact he is not just an example to me in this area, he will forever be THE standard. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this lesson is that he never once talked to me about it. This is a lesson I learned entirely by observation, watching him day in and day out.

The biggest thing I owe my dad is the lesson of DILIGENCE.

Everyone has a basic understanding of what diligence is and most of us know how rare it is to find. Diligence is defined as careful, or better yet, persistent, work or effort. We might call it hard work, tenacity, tirelessness, or perseverance. A person like this is often known as a “fighter” or we might say they have “stick-to-it-iveness.” But whatever we call it, that’s what I learned from my dad.

There is not a week of my life that goes by when I don’t think about my dad’s diligence. When I’m tired or just tired of doing something unenjoyable I remember his example.

He was diligent in his work. As a self-employed draftsman he did whatever was necessary to make his clients happy and provide for his family. He worked out of our house most of my life and I could count on him being at his table every morning–listening to his country music–day after day, year after year.

Not only that, he was diligent to be at every one of my sports games. He missed none of my games until I was 16 and traveling with a summer baseball team in Tennessee. Otherwise I could count on him being there. When I moved away he was faithful to support neighborhood kids or Triway teams or family friends. As long as there was even a glimmer of health he was there.

There were other areas of faithfulness too. He was diligent to get our family to church every week. He was diligent to shine his shoes every Saturday night before church. He was diligent to recycle. He was diligent to walk when he could. Diligence was the pattern of his life.

Most of all he was diligent for the last 14 years in his will to live. Since open-heart surgery in the fall of 1992 he battled uphill against heart disease, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, staff infections, broken bones and other problems that racked his body from head to toe. I suppose most of us were surprised God’s grace enabled him fight this long.

I cannot read the following verse without thinking of him:

A slothful man does not roast his prey,
but the precious possession of a man is diligence.
(Proverbs 12:27, NAS)

Diligence was my dad’s precious possession and is the one thing I most hope to inherit from him.

The only regret I have for my dad was also my most consistent prayer request: I wanted him to experience more Christian joy. There’s no doubt that there were seasons of little joys for him. He did have a great smile and a laugh that welcomed you into any story. But in spite of all the difficulties and pains that seemed inescapable to him I kept praying that he would experience sweet, Spirit-produced joy in Christ.

Joy is what he’d talk about if he were back with us. If he were here, knowing what he does now, I’m sure he would love to tell us about the sweet and sovereign happiness to be found in Christ alone.

I think he’d tell us that he missed out on living in this kind of joy, the kind purchased for us by Christ on the cross. He’d express godly sorrow for so much despondency and point us to Christ who died not only to set us free from the wages and eternal penalty of our sin, but also from the dreary, joy-killing power of sin in this life.

I believe my dad would urge us to live in verses like:

Though you have not seen Him (Jesus), you love Him. Though you do not see Him now, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

This is the kind of joy he knows about now. This is the kind of joy he’d want us to live in now.

No matter the trial, if we submit to Jesus we can be freed from the concerns of this life to live in the joy of making much of Christ. Jesus is better than life and He promises eternal joy to anyone who will leave their earthly attachments and love Him with their whole heart.

As I close this morning, I saw a Christmas card I wrote my dad in 1995 that he kept it displayed in his room. Though I used the word perseverance back then it carries the same sentiment as diligence. Here is part of what I wrote:

One word that describes you more than any other is PERSEVERANCE. What an absolute pain in the neck to always be physically less than the best and mentally lacking in desire. Yet you get up every day and press on. Thank you. Your example has not gone unnoticed!

…One day, tomorrow or next week, or at least Heaven, WILL BRING ABOUT THE TURNING OF THE TIDE.

Thank you for not giving up and for always being faithful to God and us.

The tide has finally and gloriously turned for my dad. He no longer needs to fight, persevere, or work with diligence. Instead of indescribable pain he has inexpressible joy in Christ. I pray that each one of you have this experience, and hope, of joy today as well.

Enjoying the Process

The Best Online Edwards Resources

In spite of the fact that the 06SR is over, I am hoping that many of you will desire to learn more about and from Jonathan Edwards. While curious readers may already have clicked through my Edwards delicious tags, it seemed like an annotated list of Edwards resources available online might help get you started.

Photo thanks to Tony Reinke

The above are not the only internet sites with JE material out there, but they are the online resources that I used and would recommend most. The audio and sermon notes for my messages at the 06SR are also available online.

  • Jonathan | This is the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Edwards Web Site,” and even though it hasn’t been updated in quite a while, this is the best place to go for some of JE’s scientific and personal writings. You can also view most of JE’s major works unabridged, such as Original Sin, The Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and of course The Religious Affections. Sometimes the site is down, but it’s worth a quick look.
  • JE on | is one of the most helpful Bible/theology collection sites on the web in my opinion, and their page of Edwards materials does not disappoint. This is the best place to start, not only for primary Edwards material, but especially for biographical sketches and articles about his theology.
  • JE on the Bible Bulletin Board | This site is by far the best place to go for Edwards’ own writings on the web. It is organized by category and all the documents are in the same format. BBB is the first place I go to check for JE sermons and shorter works.
  • The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University | There is not a lot of content available yet at the Center, but if they upload half of what they claim, this will become the place to go period. I did find their biographical timeline the most complete available online.
  • JE: The Life of a Master Preacher | This is a (small) online exhibit that includes some pictures and brief biographical information.
  • A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards | This is a free online book available for pdf download from the Desiring God web site. The book includes chapters by various authors (like Piper, J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, Donald Whitney, etc.), originally presented at a conference by the same name held in October of 2003–Edwards’ 300th birthday. This is a terrific introduction to JE and his passion for the glory of God.
  • Of course if you’d rather listen than read, most of the God-Entranced Vision of All Things seminars are available as mp3 files. I listened to all of these messages prior to the retreat; many of them three or four times while I was jogging. Piper also has another message on Edwards, The Pastor as Theologian that was from an earlier pastor’s conference.

The Religious Affections of Jonathan Edwards

  • Session 1 – Shock and Awe – An Introduction to Religious Affections
  • Session 2 – Logic on Fire – Jonathan Edwards and The Religious Affections
  • Session 3 – Heat and Light – The Nature and Importance of Religious Affections
  • Session 4 – No Sure Signs – Inconclusive Signs of Religious Affections
  • Session 5 – Known by Fruit – Distinguishing Marks of Religious Affections
  • Session 6 – The Body and Blood – The Examination of Religious Affections and the Lord’s Table
A Shot of Encouragement

The Man of God

I first heard John MacArthur share this in some version of his message on The Man of God (here’s one). Phil Johnson posted more of the context, which was originally written by Floyd Doud Shafer for Christianity Today in 1961. Really great for a pastor/preacher.

Fling him into his office, tear the office sign from the door and nail up a sign, “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the lives of a superficial flock and a holy God. Force him to be the one man in the community who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all night long, and let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks. Stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence, and bend his knees in the lonesome valley of suffering. Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry over his life before God. Make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone, Amen. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.

Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible, and tie him to the pulpit and make him preach the Word of the Living God. Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, game scores and politics. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day. Sir, we would see Jesus. And when, at last, he does enter the pulpit, ask him if he has a Word from God. If he doesn’t, then dismiss him.

Tell him you can read the morning paper. You can digest the television commentaries. You can think through the day’s superficial problems. You can manage the community’s weary fund drives. You can bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can. Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up worn and forlorn and say, “Thus says the Lord.”

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom and give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word. Sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left, God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter, and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward until all he says rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, when he’s privileged to translate that truth of God to man and finally transferred from earth to Heaven, then bear him away gently, and blow a muted trumpet, and lay him down softly and place a two-edged sword on his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant, for he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.

Floyd Doud Shafer, “And Preach As You Go!
Enjoying the Process

Why Go to Church?

I’m normally don’t enjoy email forwards, but this one was different. It was sent to me by my friend and fellow one28 staffer, Chuck Weinberg.

A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”

This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:

I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this…they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”

Thank God for our physical AND our spiritual nourishment!

Rightly Dividing

How to Destroy Unity

The theme of this year’s Grace Academy Junior High retreat was unity. I was asked to address the junior high students on Thursday night out at the Warm Beach Christian Camps & Conference Center, specifically at the trusted W-Bar-B Ranch. The passage I selected to preach from was Colossians 3:14. Here it is in the ESV and the NAS:

ESV – And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

NAS – And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

This verse comes in the middle of what is probably my favorite paragraph (verses 12-17) in Colossians. The point of the paragraph is the idea of “putting on” Christian virtues after “putting off” sin in verses 5-11, and this exhortation in verse 14 reveals the crown of Christian virtues: love, along with its result: unity.

This was it. Here was the key to unity–love.

But we’ll all heard about love before. Sometimes we’re so saturated with talk of love that we become “love sick.” So what I thought I’d do is just give you a grocery list of ways to destroy unity. In fact, were going to look at eleven ways to destroy, ruin, and undermine, unity. These are sure fire ways to guarantee a miserable, gloomy, blithering year in Junior High (and for that matter, the rest of your life). These are some practical suggestions for having no unity when you’re walking with others between classes or hanging out during lunch or at soccer practice or spending time together on the weekends.

As a preemptive footnote, I realize this is long. No one is making you read it. But if you are patient you might find benefit in it.

1. Be Impatient

A person who is impatient has a tendency to be quickly irritated or provoked. Generally this happens when you are inconvenienced or taken advantage of by another person. Impatient people are easily upset and annoyed by others. It doesn’t take much to get them bent out of shape. They are regularly put in a bad mood by someone else.

By no means should you be pleasant or good humored or cheerful when something doesn’t go your way or doesn’t happen when you want it to. When someone promises to do something, hold them to a standard you wouldn’t expect to live up to yourself. Be impatient.

Of course impatience destroys unity because we won’t tolerate someone who can’t keep up with our expectations or who is weaker or slower or imperfect. If they mess up–they’re out. If they can’t keep up–don’t wait for them to catch up.

2. Be Unkind

A person who is unkind is inconsiderate and harsh. Proper unkindness can range from being callous to purposefully cruel, from being inconsiderate to downright mean-spirited and hurtful.

Of course, girls seem to know how to do this naturally. We call it being catty, that is, deliberately hurtful in their attitude or speech. I’m regularly amazed at the female’s ability to be just downright cruel and mean. That’s the way to go for the destruction of unity.

Guys, on the other hand, are generally more direct and hostile, they are unfriendly or just pick on someone for the sake of picking on someone. We just punch people we don’t like in the head. Hitting others in the head is generally a good way to communicate that we don’t care about being kind to them.

Please do not go out of your way to be nice to someone else, especially someone else who doesn’t deserve it. Don’t serve others, don’t be gracious to others, don’t be generous. Be unkind.

Unkindness destroys unity by not letting people in the circle we don’t like.

3. Be Jealous

A person who is jealous envies or covets or desires what someone else has. This can lead to resentfulness and long term grudge holding. Being jealous means having intense negative feelings toward another’s achievements or success. If someone has something or gets praise that we should have got, we better let everyone know about. If another person is more popular than you, do whatever it takes to knock them off their pedestal.

This is the time when it is appropriate to mock others behind their back. Be jealous.

Jealousy destroys unity by keeping others out of our circle to punish them for having what we should have or wish we had.

4. Be Boastful

A person who is boastful is always heaping praise on himself. This is the braggart, the cocky, full of himself, walking-with-swagger bighead. Boasting is showing excessive pride and self-satisfaction in one’s achievements, possessions, or abilities. It’s actually trying to make others jealous. Jealousy pulls others down, bragging builds us up.

Throw a parade in your honor. Have a party just to talk about your greatness. Be boastful.

Being boastful destroys unity by setting ourselves up as most important. It keeps us at the top of a very short list where there just isn’t room for anyone else. We don’t need them anyway–we’re cool enough.

5. Be Conceited

A person who is conceited is proud, but maybe just in their heart. They are full of themselves too, puffed up with an exaggerated view of themselves, self-centered and snobby. They are too big for their own britches.

Don’t ever consider for a moment that you are not perfect or that you haven’t arrived. Don’t show any kind of humility. Make sure you believe that you are the best. This is especially important for those of you who are more quiet and who might not be comfortable boasting in public about how great you are. If nothing else you can be kind of smug on the inside. Be conceited.

Just like bragging, being conceited destroys unity by putting ourselves up on the pedestal, and even if we don’t talk about our greatness we still expect others to recognize us as great. And if they don’t? They’re not included.

6. Be Rude

A person who is rude behaves disgracefully or discourteously; they are offensively impolite and inappropriate. This is the person who is always trying to bring shame or disgrace on someone else. Instead of building others up they are tearing others down. They can’t be trusted. They are insulting and abusive.

Don’t spend time thinking about someone else’s needs or their feelings or their sensitivities. Don’t think about how to care for others or even how to act politely. Be rude.

Rudeness destroys unity by never worrying about whether someone is left out of the circle in the first place.

7. Be Selfish

In a lot of ways this characteristic motivates most of the others. A person who is selfish lacks consideration of others; they are primarily concerned with their own profit or pleasure. They are self-absorbed, self-obsessed, wrapped up in themselves, thoughtless, looking out for number one.

Don’t ever let anyone think that you could be happy unless they do what you want. Be selfish.

Selfishness destroys unity because it makes it seem like we’re the only ones who are important anyway. Who cares about anybody else? Don’t seek to serve anyone but yourself. That will keep your circle pretty small.

8. Be Irritable

This is somewhat related to the first point–being impatient and easily annoyed–but it goes a bit further. A person who is irritable is easily provoked to anger. They have a tendency to be grouchy, moody, crabby, cranky, and with a short fuse.

When someone does even the slightest thing to you, get mad, immediately, and let them know it. Don’t hold back. Don’t wait for it to get better. Defend yourself, no one else will do it. Retaliate. Be irritable.

And being irritable or angry helps to push others away. There won’t be any unity if everybody is mad at everybody else.

9. Be Bitter

A person who is bitter is resentful because someone treated them bad of they feel like they didn’t get what they deserved. Bitter people are usually sour and spiteful. They are always taking to account the wrongs people have done to them.

Keep a list of everything that everyone has ever done wrong to you, no matter how insignificant or small it was. Keep track of other people’s sins and never let them forget it. Punish them by acting cold or gossiping about them or anything that will let them know just how awful they were. Be bitter.

Oh, before I forget, let me encourage you to be just as petty and small about this as possible. I’ve found that really tends to erode any chance for unity.

Like anger, bitterness will keep you away from everyone else. There won’t be any unity because no one will deserve to be united to you.

10. Be Immoral

A person who is immoral doesn’t conform to or accept standards of morality–right and wrong. Perhaps a little stronger is the word “perverse.” We normally apply that in terms of sexual immorality, but the basic definition is “showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.”

When I suggest being immoral, I mean go for it. This will be sure to break whatever unity might be there. Scoff at your parents and encourage others to do the same. When you hear some juicy tidbit about somebody else, it doesn’t matter if it’s accurate or not, make sure you pass it on to everyone who’ll listen. Do wrong yourself and encourage others to do the same. Be immoral.

Immorality or perverseness destroys unity by eroding any genuine foundation for unity. If there isn’t anything solid, any truth, if it is just all lies and half-truths then there is nothing to stand on.

11. Be Cynical

A cynical person is always doubtful and distrusting. They typically are concerned only with themselves and making themselves look good. They are suspicious, not open, pessimistic and negative. So never trust anyone and never let anyone trust you.

Just curl up by yourself in the corner far away from everybody. Even if things could be good, don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t last. No one else is going to stick with it, you might as well not either. Be cynical.

So being cynical and pessimistic will destroy unity by negativity.

To sum up, If you want to make sure that there is no unity, no harmony, no getting along with each other, just commit to being impatient, unkind, jealous, boastful, proud, selfish, irritable, bitter, immoral, and cynical.

Well why do I mention these eleven things as unity destroyers? Some of these overlap one another and certainly there are other ways to bring disunity. The reason is because all eleven of these sarcastic encouragements are the opposite of LOVE! And love is the perfect bond of unity. Note the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

You probably recognize the contradictions for the first nine obviously, and then “be immoral” goes with all of verse six and “be cynical” opposes all of verse seven. So if you can just not love, you won’t have any bond or harmony. Without love there will be no perfect unity. In order to destroy unity all you have to do is not love.

But there is one (large) problem with not loving. If you don’t love, you don’t know God. 1 John 4:7-8 makes it clear that love is the normal Christian behavior. Disunity is anti-love and therefore anti-Christian. How dare we claim to know God and not be unified. When we destroy unity we destroy our testimony, our assurance, and potentially destroy our brothers.

Rightly Dividing

A Notice about Prayer

You can’t be a Christian if you don’t pray. I’m not talking about prayer being a work that you do that saves you or sanctifies you. I am not talking about something else that you need to do to make God happy. I am simply looking at it from the standpoint of standard Christian practice. The reason some people don’t pray may be because those people aren’t Christians.

Consider first, Christians are to be like Christ – and Christ prayed. You can’t read for very long in any of the gospels before you find Christ praying. The Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God in human flesh, prayed. And He prayed often. He prayed regularly. He prayed when it was inconvenient to pray. And if Christians are actually “little Christs,” if Christians are being “conformed into the image of Christ,” if being complete in Christ means being like Him, if He has left us “an example that we should following in His steps,” then Christians will pray.

Second, Christians are to obey Christ – and Christ taught us to pray. Not only by His example, but by His own direct words. It is not something He expected us to pick up implicitly (though we do that too), it is something He commanded explicitly.

And third, Christians are to glorify God, and prayer shows God’s greatness. Prayer glorifies God in at least two ways, 1) it shows His greatness in that we want to spend time with Him. And 2) it shows His greatness by highlighting His resources and resourcefulness. We don’t just pray to God to get His help to glorify Him, the act of praying itself glorifies Him! Praying is not just the means to an end, in one respect it IS the end! When we don’t pray it must be because we think we can take care of ourselves. This attitude robs God of glory due only to Him.

We are too comfortable with profession of faith and no prayer coming from the same mouth. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Lies Teens Believe

Vocabulary for OT Young People

The OT is a great place to start in our look to find adolescents in Scripture. We find people of all ages in the OT. There are numerous chronicles of babies, kids, young people and old people in the OT. This is most likely due to the abundance of narrative writing (that is, writing that describes events and history) as compared with the primarily theological (and propositional) nature of the NT.

In our look at OT vocabulary I have not included any words that ONLY refer to infants, babies, children, or older men, even though some of the ones I will refer to overlap with these age groups. This is a short list of four nouns (not adjectives) that are used at least somewhere in the OT as a reference to youth or young men/women. Again, as we’ll see, these four words do have overlap with words for babies and children and with words used in reference to older men.

יֶלֶד (yeled)

This word is used some 90 times in the Hebrew OT. It is translated in various ways in the ESV including “young men,” though predominately by the word “child” or (plural, “children”). Just one example of this use will be sufficient:

For to us a child (yeled) is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Of course, this is a prophecy about the coming of the Christ; the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. Calling Him a child in this verse doesn’t really tell us much about His age, it is simply a general reference to offspring of parents (in this case Mary and the Holy Spirit).

But the word does have more definite age restraints in other places. For example, it is the word used to describe David’s child with Bathsheba.

2 Samuel 12:18 On the seventh day the child (yeled) died.

This is the account of the death of David’s infant son, a punishment of God on David’s crimes of adultery and murder. His son was only seven days old, not even having been circumcised yet. So yeled is used here to describe a very small baby.

More important for our discussion, however, is its use to describe “youth” or “young men.” Yeled is translated as “youth” in Daniel 1:4.

Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths (yeled) without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. (Daniel 1:3-4)

You can imagine that this might be a good model to study later in our series. But before looking at anything else we should figure out how old these “youths” really were.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon adopted a policy of taking the most promising young men and “recruiting” them for government positions in his empire. Rather than reserving leadership for Chaldeans alone, Nebuchadnezzar resolved to pool the best brains and abilities to be found among the nations he had conquered. Though they were to have certain qualities already, probably the one “quality” not prized was stubborn persistence; someone who was “stuck in his ways.” Being stuck in one’s ways is something that is more likely to describe older people.

With that in mind, as well as from other indicators from history and from within the book of Daniel itself, most commentators believe that Daniel and the rest were somewhere between fourteen and seventeen. Yeled is used in Daniel to describe those who were … teenagers.

One more example of this word is important to note. Let’s go back to the story I mentioned in my previous adolescence blog, the story of Rehoboam and the “young men” he took counsel from.

1 Kings 12:8 [h]e abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men (yeled) who had grown up with him….

Forget for just a moment that it is translated young men, not adolescents. The important question is, how old were these “young men”? It sounds typical of teenagers, doesn’t it? It seems like the immature, impetuous manner of most adolescents. So how old were these guys? Take a quick look at 1 Kings 14:21:

Now Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem.

He was forty-one! His peers, his equals were then probably somewhere in their mid-thirties to mid-forties. And yet the same word, yeled, is used to describe them as it is to describe a seven day old baby. I guess sinfully stupid and proud decisions are not something limited only to teens. This is not a passage that adolescent advocates can use to support their position.

So depending on the context, just this one word, yeled, can be used to describe anyone from the age of David’s dead seven day old baby, to Daniel and his teenage friends, all the way to Rehoboam’s mid-life counselors, “young men” who were around forty.

עֶלֶם (elem)

This word is used about five times in the Hebrew OT. It is always translated as some form of the word “youth.” In 1 Samuel 20:22 the youth are military assistants and in Job (20:11 & 33:25) it describes the physical strength, liveliness, and vitality of young people compared with those who are old. It is also used to describe David in 1 Samuel 17:56 after killing Goliath. We’ll look at some of these verses a little later.

נַעַר (na’ar)

This word is the Hebrew workhorse to describe young people, used over 200 times in the Hebrew OT. It is translated predominately with the word “youth,” but also frequently as “young man” or plural, “young men.” But it too is translated in various ways in the ESV. Let me show you a few examples of the various ages covered by na’ar.

This is the word used to describe Moses at three months old, left in a basket by his mother in the river. Exodus 2:2 says that he was three months old, and then in verse six we see that:

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child (yeled), and behold, the baby (na’ar) was crying. (Exodus 2:5-6)

This verse shows that yeled and na’ar can be used synonymously (interchangeably), though obviously na’ar can be used to describe someone extremely little. By the way, na’ar is also used to describe David’s dead infant in 2 Samuel 12:16.

2 Samuel 12:16 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child (na’ar).

So there is overlap in the different vocabulary words, as well as an overlap in age distinctions covered by the same word.

na’ar is the word used of Samuel from before he was weaned (1 Samuel 1:22), immediately after he was weaned (1:24), probably somewhere around two or three years old. Then it continues to describe him as a young person:

Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy (na’ar) ministered to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest. (1 Samuel 2:11)

Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy (na’ar) clothed with a linen ephod. (1 Samuel 2:18)

The young man (na’ar) Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord. (1 Samuel 2:21)

Now the young man (na’ar) Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man. (1 Samuel 2:26)

But look over at chapter three. Here we find the “young man” (na’ar) (3:1) ministering and this is the account of God revealing Himself directly to Samuel (3:8 – na’ar as well). How old do you think Samuel is by this point? The Jewish historian Josephus suggests Samuel was twelve…12! Based on the running story in 1 Samuel at most he could have been only a couple years older than that. He would be considered an early “adolescent” in today’s vocabulary.

But look at the description of him in verse 19:

And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. (1 Samuel 3:19)

This means that God was using Samuel as a young teenager to reveal divine things. He spoke with divine authority as an adolescent! Here was no superficial, trivial, cartoon-watching, computer-game-playing, silly, skin-deep young person with no substance. Samuel was a young person whose life was ripe with knowledge of God. Here was a young person defined by his relationship with God.

A little bit further in 1 Samuel we find the young shepherd David described by this word. Na’ar is the word used of David in:

And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:33)

More than likely David was a mid-teenager, perhaps between 15-17. He was also young enough that Goliath mocked his youth (“when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him for he was but a youth” v.42). You can imagine that we might come back to this representative teenager as well.

Finally, na’ar is the word used of Job’s sons who had their own houses in Job 1:4, 19. We can safely assume a certain level of responsibility and means for these young men to care for their own homes.

So depending on the context, just this one word, na’ar, can be used in a broad variety of ways to describe anyone from the age of Moses in the basket, all the way up to Job’s sons who had their own households.

בָּחוּר (bachur)

Bachur is used over 40 times in the Hebrew OT. It is translated in the ESV predominately as “young man,” and generally seems to refer only to those in the middle to older part of the “young men” spectrum. We could probably limit this word to the time from puberty to around forty.

These young men are of the marrying age:

For as a young man (bachur) marries a young woman…. (Isaiah 62:5)

Though they might not be married:

Fire devoured their young men (bachur), and their young women had no marriage song. (Psalm 78:63)

Another interesting description of these young men was that they were apparently able to have children:

[T]hus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will punish them. The young men (bachur) shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine. (Jeremiah 11:22)

And yet at the same time they were apparently still close to their mothers:

I have made their widows more in number than the sand of the seas; I have brought against the mothers of young men (bachur) a destroyer at noonday…. (Jeremiah 15:8)

They are able to battle (as they are promised to be killed by the sword in battle, while being described as different from men:

May their men meet death by pestilence, their youths (bachur) be struck down by the sword in battle. (Jeremiah 18:21)

So the fourth word, along with the previous three, can refer to a variety of persons in different stages of life, though bachur seems to be the most consistent in its description of those in their teens to their forties.

I will make some additional summary observations in a future blog. For today’s entry I simply want to point out that noticeably absent from this list is one (let alone more) words that restrict a person to the time of 12 to 20. We do not find any equivalent OT vocabulary for persons or the period of adolescence.

Lies Teens Believe

Adolescents in the Old Testament

There is a great old story about King Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. At the beginning of the chapter we find Solomon’s kingdom divided, and Solomon’s son Rehoboam was made king in the South. The people of Israel petitioned the new king to lighten their heavy work burden and the high taxes placed on them by Solomon (vv.1-5). The new King Rehoboam sent the people away with a promise to answer in three days.

As we insert ourselves into the storyline we are initially impressed that Rehoboam immediately went to get counsel. There is, after all, safety in the abundance of counselors. Our impression is further strengthened when we see that at first he goes to the “old men” who had also stood with his father Solomon. These were the guys who had been around; they were the wise guys. But the story takes a turn for the worse when Rehoboam turns from their counsel in verse 8.

[Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him…. (1 Kings 12:8)

The advice of his peers was to make the burden heavier than before. Their counsel to the new king was to increase his authority, his power, and wealth. The people should serve the king, not visa versa.

Now I don’t know if we would say that Rehoboam followed his friends’ direction because of “peer pressure” or because he didn’t want to lose his relationship with them by offending them. But regardless of his motivation, it definitely was not a good idea to listen to these punks.

But isn’t this just the way we would expect a teenager to act? Doesn’t this behavior seem adolescent, ignoring the elders and following the crowd? This is no surprise; it’s just what young men do.

In our discussion on the birth and growth of adolescence we have looked primarily at the various historical elements over the past century that have promoted (intentionally or unintentionally) this social myth. We’ve talked about the modern idea of adolescence as including more than just the actual years of being a teenager, but the mindset of rebellion and instability that are said to define those years. But whatever the history, we are most concerned with what God’s Word reveals about young people, what it expects of them, and what it expects of those who train them.

This leads us to the next step in our series: to look at the various OT vocabulary for young people and attempt to identify any relevant terms or descriptions of adolescent behavior as we recognize it today.

So does an account like that of Rehoboam reveal adolescence in Scripture? Is this narrative just the tip of the biblical iceberg? If we go below the surface will we find uncontrollable teenage hormones dominating ancient adolescents just like today? Will we find a category of juveniles who can’t help but be trouble causers?

We’ll have to see….

Lies Teens Believe

Adolescence Growth Enhancements

Though we’ve finished covering the eight ingredients in the growth of adolescence there are a few additional elements that have enhanced its growth.

For example, the age of marriage. The myth of adolescence (and its real results) has obviously had an impact on the age young people get married. Under Roman law (2,000 years ago) women could marry at twelve and men at fourteen. A thousand years ago this was true under English law as well. Two hundred years ago in the United States it was still the same: women could marry at twelve and men at fourteen. For at least three thousand years, the minimum legal age for marriage stayed the same. I didn’t include this as an element in the growth of adolescence, though perhaps it should be. Maybe it is more a result. Regardless, today we have trouble imagining that a person would be ready to get married until they have finished at least a Bachelor’s degree and established themselves in a job and whatever else. Currently the average age for first marriages in the United States is 26, and that will only continue to rise.

Now I am not suggesting that we promote and push teenagers to get married. Many teen marriages in our day end in divorce, though obviously age is not the only problem. But we might argue that it is precisely because of our assumptions about adolescents that parents don’t even consider it possible to train their young person for marriage-responsible maturity. Perhaps if our society expected them to act like responsible adults, many of them would be mature enough to marry (impacting a significant number of additional problems that later-age marriage brings with it).

But beware, parents, allowing this immaturity has results. It used to be in the United States, at least to hear the older generation tell it, that young people reaching adulthood could not wait to leave home and be on their own. And their parents longed for an empty nest and quieter lives. But young people are spoiling these plans. According to the 2000 Census, nearly four million Americans aged 25 to 34 are still living in their parental homes or have moved back in with Mom and Dad. Boomerang kids, as they’re called, leave home for college or a job or the military, only to end up back home. Newsweek magazine called them “adultolescents,” young adults who just aren’t ready to face the world on their own.

Perhaps still another adolescence growth enhancement is the invention and accessibility of the automobile. The most obvious value of a car for a teenagers is that it is a private space in which to be alone. Not only is a driver’s license probably our culture’s most important rite of passage, cars impress girls and get you away from your family for a little fun.

Still yet another enhancement relates to the current American economy, namely that the United States is wealthy enough for most everyone to afford to have a troubled adolescence. Many dads (or dads and moms together) make enough (or borrow enough) so that their kids don’t have to work to support the family. There’s no reason for them to act mature if they don’t have to. Why work today when you can put it off until tomorrow?

For many individuals, such a long period of education, exploration, and deferred responsibility has been a tremendous gift. For other individuals, it has not been a blessing. … This lengthy waiting period has tended to reduce young people’s contacts with older people and increase them with people who are exactly the same age. That in turn has lead to the rise of a youth subculture that has helped define and elaborate what it means to be a teenager (Hine, p. 7).

I mentioned this before, but I want to say again that I make no denial that most teenagers act like…teenagers. The world and the church are filled with 12-20 (30-40) year olds with the mindset described above. But I truly believe that we are to blame for creating this context, and it only continues because we keep giving it credence. Ideas have consequences and the consequences of the myth of adolescence are no myth, they are very real. But we in the church must work to change our collective thinking as God’s community before we will see any change.

Let me also say again that I am thankful for God’s patience with me, and a rejection of adolescence is not equal to an approval of intolerance or impatience with those who are in the growing process. My challenge is to those who argue that adolescence grants them the right to stay stagnant and prolong immaturity and irresponsibility as long as possible.

Lies Teens Believe

The Easy Sell of Irresponsibility Excuses

This is (finally) the eighth and last ingredient in the growth of adolescence: it appeals to the flesh. Everything about adolescence appeals to human nature, which left to itself pursues laziness, irresponsibility, and if possible, an excuse for it all.

For example, adolescence appeals to the most basic attitude of sinfulness: pride. It makes adolescents out to be special and unique, significant and great. And if a teenager’s problem is a lack of self-esteem, their pride doesn’t need to be deflated, but inflated! This is certainly anti-biblical.

In addition, adolescence appeals to the most basic expression of sinfulness: rebellion. We are presented as if it were a medical fact, that a teenager will be rebellious. They will always want to break out of the cocoon and get out from under the umbrella of parental authority (not to mention other God-placed authorities).

But think for a moment about the chief biblical commandment for children: “honor your father and mother.” The fifth of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:12 provides a clear word to children of all ages – including teenagers.

And here’s what is so instructive, apparently God does not expect young people to despise their parents and see them as irrelevant and useless and restrictive. God expects young people not just to submit and obey with unhappy hearts. Instead, God expects that young people look up to their parents. He expects that they “honor” both their father and mother. The word “honor” has the idea of giving weight or value or importance to. In other words, God requires young people to attach value and worth to their parents and respect them accordingly.

Don’t you think this exactly where Satan would challenge? Young people today are encouraged to think of their parents as irrelevant, restrictive, and narrow. The examples they see night after night in TV sitcoms, the typical parental models found in movie after movie and in popular music indoctrinates teenagers into thinking that their parents are incompetent. Media brainwashes adolescents into thinking that parents are incapable of understanding them. You can forget the old-fashioned notion that “Father knows best.” Make way for the wisdom of the teens.

By the way, this aspect of the parent-child relationship is so important that the death penalty was prescribed for disrespect towards one’s parents. Exodus 21:17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.” While this was typically only applied to over-the-top rebellion from an older child, it does remind us that God has a very serious perspective toward rebellion against parental authority.

The bottom line here is that the Creator of humanity did not chalk up teenage (or any other age for that matter) rebellion to raging hormones. To disobey or disrespect one’s parents is not a mark of adolescence, it is sin. And one more thing, just as God did not excuse sin in teens, He likewise does not permit parents to passively sit back and excuse such rebellion. Again, God takes this very seriously. So should we.