Welcome to Barnabas Notes. The title of this site comes from the Biblical character of that name who was a companion of the apostle Paul on his first missionary journey and whose name was actually Joseph. He was called "Barnabas," which means "son of encouragement," because of his ability to bless the lives of others. We hope that this blog will be such a blessing in your life!

A peaceful spring on the Macedonian side of Lake Ochrid in the Balkan Mountains

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How to Win Every Argument

I am happy to say that I do not know anyone who enjoys arguing with a loved one. I mean a really serious argument; one that hits right down in your gut. I know lots of people who like to argue politics and I know a few who like to argue about religion. I imagine there are some who are so argumentative that they even enjoy those really distasteful and troubling kinds of arguments with those closest to them. If you are one of those who enjoy that kind of thing, please pardon me while the rest of us talk about how to deal with such an unpleasant part of our lives.

Arguments are, by definition, opposing points of view. And those who hold different views think those views are correct. Again, I do not know a single person who believes that what he believes is incorrect. No one reasons thus: "I believe the sun comes up in the West every morning because, while I know it really comes up in the East, the point of view that it comes up in the West seems so lonely that I wanted to give it my support." It is also true that sometimes our opinions and beliefs and points of view conflict and if we are not careful, and if the subject is important enough in our minds, an argument can be the result.

One of the things all human beings learn to do from the very beginning is to prioritize. Sometimes we learn that from instruction. For example, the Bible tells us what is important in life and how we may live a life pleasing to God (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) and that there are priorities we should observe (Matthew 23:23). We also learn to prioritize when it comes to whose needs will be met first. A newborn has himself as his priority and that is the way God designed him. We have to learn to put others first and again, the Bible helps us with that (Philippians 2:3).

In the heat of an argument, this is a hard lesson to remember, however. Just how can we win every argument? Perhaps Jesus' example can give us an answer. Would we consider that Jesus won or lost His "contest" or "argument" with Satan? Of course, He won! But He didn't fight back, did He? He did resist temptation in the wilderness by using Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11), but when it came to the cross, He offered no resistence. He let Satan "win" (from Satan's point of view) allowing him to "bruise" His heel (Genesis 3:15) and in so doing, won the greatest victory, "bruising" the head of Satan. You see, Jesus' had as His priority, not the appearance of winning the argument, but the accomplishment of His mission - to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

How does that apply to my winning an argument with my friend? Well, what is my priority? Is it winning the argument? Is it not appearing weak and incapable of holding my own in an argument; must I defend myself whenever I feel attacked? Or is my priority maintaining my relationship with my friend? When that relationship (or my friend) is my priority, the argument does not matter as much. Now, instead of doing anything to win the argument, I will do anything to maintain the relationship. And it matters not whose point of view is correct on this issue or that. When I humble myself in the way Scripture commands, I win every single argument, whether human witnesses agree or not!

I know this sounds overly simplistic, but do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a simple solution. It is not! It is very difficult to do. Many are they who will have difficulty giving themselves up and adopting the appearance of being wrong or weak. Another warning I feel compelled to offer is this: sometimes arguments ensue over sinful behavior and the attempt on the part of someone to address or correct that behavior in someone else. I do not at all mean to suggest that we should avoid confrontation over sin. Scripture is equally clear that an effort must be made to restore those caught up in trespass (Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 3:15). However, the same principles apply. What is our priority? Is it pointing out the mistakes and sins of others? Or is it the preservation of a soul? If we approach this very necessary obligation in the way Scripture commands, we will be successful in winning the souls of those who will humbly submit themselves to God and His will.

I called this article "How to Win Every Argument," but it is really about winning souls and maintaining relationships. If you have to "win" and get your way in every argument or disagreement, then your priority is not the relationship you have with your "adversary." On the other hand, if that relationship is your priority, winning for real makes losing in the eyes of others a lot easier. Aren't you glad God created us this way? Well, it's only because He loves you. I love you, too!

Donnie Bates

Monday, March 1, 2010

Who Am I?

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4). I have thought a lot about this verse lately. In fact, I have wondered why God would take any interest at all in me personally. A good friend of mine recently reminded me that such an attitude doesn't give God much credit, because it suggests He would create something worthless. I suppose I knew that, but I think most of us realize that sometimes there is a disconnect between what our minds know and what our hearts feel.

Who am I, really? I know who I am when I describe myself by my job, by my name, by my position in my family, or the community, but when you peel all that away...who am I? I mean when it comes to considering my self worth. Not long ago someone else made it very clear to me that I am somebody worthwhile simply because of the price that was paid for me. ...knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18, 19). That verse means I'm somebody because Jesus died for me. All those who have submitted to Jesus in humble, obedient faith have been ransomed with this same precious commodity that is so much more valuable than perishable things like silver and gold. And it is vitally important for those who have not so submitted their lives to Christ to understand that word "ransomed" in this passage. It means if you have not submitted to Jesus in humble, obedient faith, you remain in the custody of sin. The good news is that the same blood that ransomed the saved was shed for you, too.

Who am I? I am a man of like nature with everyone else. I am weak and susceptible to temptation. Thank God for passages like 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Who am I? I am a man who fails frequently to remember that God is with me at all times. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).

Who am I? I am a man who, usually because of his own fault, suffers trials and tribulations, just like everyone else does. However, I am also a man who fails to give thanks for those opportunities to grow; in other words, I am a man who feels sorry for himself when things get a little tough. I am so thankful to God for giving me James 1:2-4: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Who am I? I am a man whose faith is often weak; who day by day seems to understand the turmoil in the mind of the apostle Paul better and better. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate...For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing...For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord...There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 7:15, 19, 22-25a; 8:1).

Who am I? I am someone just like you. I am someone who wants to do the right thing, who wants to be faithful to God, but who frequently is weak and fails miserably. However, thanks be to God that He loves you and me enough, that we both have the opportunity to rise above our own weaknesses and, through the strength of his might, we can be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10). I guess that means that you and I are somebody, because God loves us. Oh, and I love you, too.

Donnie Bates

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Hill

It was almost to the point that I didn't want to go to sleep again. I'd had the same dream for several nights running. It was the same, but not the same. Each night some of the details changed, but I knew it was the same dream. Each night the dream developed a little more. Throughout the dream I had been overcome with this horrible sense of guilt and hopelessness.

There was a hill in the dream. I wasn't sure why, but the hill filled me with dread. I could scarcely even look at it. Yet, for some reason, I was drawn to it. I didn't want to go, but something made me. My feet seemed to move on their own; against my will. As I approached the hill my sense of dread deepened.

The darkness was deep and absolute and yet, as could only happen in a dream, I could see. At the top of the hill was intense suffering. My deepening sense of guilt told me that somehow, in some surreal way, it was me. I was the one suffering. It felt like walking to the gallows. At this point, the sense of dread and foreboding was so intense that I usually woke up. However, last night, it went further. As I staggered to the top of the hill, I stumbled and fell. As I lifted my hand from the mud....mud? It wasn't raining! Why was the ground muddy? When I looked at my hand, I saw why the ground was wet. My hand was covered with blood. My blood! When I thought I would surely faint, I heard a scream from very near by. It was a terrifying scream. Almost otherworldly!! It was so loud it woke me up. Sheepishly, I realized the scream was my own, but before I could smile with relief, the memory of the dream flooded my mind.

I don't want to go to sleep tonight. I want to stay awake, but I know I won't be able. Sure enough, here I am, standing at the bottom of the hill. Those old feelings of dread and hopelessness wash over me again. I actually even hear myself whimper. Moving of their own volition, my feet begin their march to the summit. I stumble in the same place. I find blood on my hand again. I hear the scream again. This time, though, I realize it's not me. Someone else is screaming! Who is it? Looking closer at my hands, I see that the blood is dripping from above. Beyond my hands I see what looks like a post coming out of the ground. Slowly, I look up. A drop of blood hits my face. Someone is hanging above me. He's still alive, but just barely. Even in the darkness I can see His face. It shows the agony He feels. The scream had been His. His pain was intense. Yet, He looked at me with eyes full of love.

Suddenly, realization flooded over me. The hill was Golgotha. The Man was Jesus. Then I realized that I no longer felt the dread and guilt. As it all began to sink in and as the tears poured down my face, a rush of words raced through my mind: "Blessed are they that mourn..." "Father, forgive them..." "Having been justified by His blood..."

My guilt forced me to ascend that hill. It and my sense of dread and hopelessness were deserved. Yet, when I reached the top, I found Another hanging in my place. His blood washed my guilt away. My guilt, dread and hopelessness were replaced by godly sorrow, love and hope. He died for me. I will live for Him. My dream had been a journey to the foot of the cross. Suddenly, sleep never seemed so sweet.

God loves you and so do I.

Donnie Bates

Where Was God When Mama Died?

Each of us knows the pain that death brings because every family has experienced it. Every day the newspaper runs a full obituary column. And yet, when death visits our family or our friends' families, we are often shocked, not knowing how to respond, or what to think. Too often people respond in the wrong way and blame God or lose their faith, thinking that no loving God would let this happen. How should we respond?

It is easy to see the fallacy of blaming God when we are not suffering through this pain, but the question is still before us. As we said, death comes to every family. In all of Scripture only two men ever avoided it, Enoch and Elijah. Everyone else has died or will die until Jesus returns (Hebrews 9:27).

We should begin by asking a question that may not come to the minds of all, but definitely comes to the mind of some. Whose fault is it? On one level, it is no one's fault! Accidents happen. Sometimes a person dies because of an accident or because of an illness when there is no way anyone can point to another and say, "This was your fault!" This is usually when people want to blame God. We will discuss that more a little further on. On another level, there is direct fault. Sometimes people lose their lives as a direct result of their own or someone else's sin. Perhaps someone violently takes someone else's life. Or, perhaps through someone's carelessness they or someone else dies. There are still those who want to blame God in these cases.

So, how do we respond? One man lost his son and after brooding over it for three months, took his own life. Another man lost his son and cursed God for it. A woman lost her baby and became a recluse. A couple lost their elder son and stopped attending church and became alcoholics, completely ignoring their other children. Others react to such losses by leaning more than ever on the Lord.

What are we supposed to do? First of all, remember the words of Jesus, "Come to Me...I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). I know I run the risk of over-emphasizing that passage in this series to the point that it becomes trite. I hope you do not view it that way because it is too important a passage to forget. Do not leave God! Do not fool yourself into thinking that it will be better if you stay away from church because you cannot stand the attention of the church. In my ministry I have seen so many take that approach and some never make it back.

Let me close with some practical suggestions. Regularly attend worship; assemble with the saints of God! They are your family if you are a Christian and they can help because they have suffered this same pain, too.

Read your Bible daily! We should be doing this anyway. "I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12). Set a time and regularly listen to what God has to say about your pain; you will be surprised what it will do for you. I know this is also a suggestion you will be tempted to think trite, but it is not. It really works!

Another suggestion is...pray! Do not be afraid to talk to God. Do not be afraid to tell Him just how you feel. Yes, He already knows, but this really works as part of the healing process for you. Verbally give yourself to Him and He will help you through this difficult time.

And help others! Everyone knows the dangers of self-pity, although we would never use such a callous term in the presence of someone in such pain. However, there is no better way to soothe your pain than to soothe the pain of others. There are many times in the life of Jesus when He grieved. It is interesting to me that when Jesus went away to grieve and was followed by the multitudes, He responded by ministering to them. Ross Dye, in his book "Words of Comfort" said: "The loss of a loved one will either destroy your faith -- perhaps we should say that it will expose it as a farce -- or it will deepen your faith and enrich your spiritual life. It is most certainly a test of your faith. God does not bring these things upon you, but sometimes He allows them to happen. Faith must be tested in some ways if you are to ever know the reality of it. You are now on trial to see whether your faith is real. You have trusted God, you think, in seasons of joy, but what will you do in the storms? The Christian must not be a summer soldier."

Perhaps at a time like this we should remember passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:13 more than at other times. God has promised to make sure we do not have to suffer more temptation than we are able to bear and that includes the temptation to leave God when we suffer. It just seems like it is too much. I cannot help thinking that so much of what we have said in this series will be seen by some as trite, but it is true that the pain will ease with time, if we will lean on the Lord. There are many painful things in this world that I frankly do not think we could endure without the loving and everlasting arms of the Lord. Thank God we have them. Let us use them!!

There are other areas or circumstances that cause families pain, but this short series hopefully has helped us understand that there is help to endure the pain and I hope that you find that encouraging. That is why I wanted to include it in Barnabas Notes. I hope you never forget that God loves you and so do I.

Donnie Bates

Speed Kills

The title of this post comes from an anti-drug campaign of many years ago. In this article I do not intend to limit my comments to the drug known as Speed, but to all forms of narcotics, including alcohol. Drug abuse and alcoholism do not just cause pain in families, it destroys families. This problem is even more widespread than that of teenage promiscuity, although very often they go hand in hand. Isn't it interesting how our attitudes change from one class of assault on our families to the next? What I mean by that is that most families, including Christian families, would be much more horrified to discover their teenager was about to become a mother or father, than to learn that same teenager had been out drinking with his or her friends the night before. "Well, at least they got home safely!" we might reason as we breathed a sigh of relief. That suggests that, on some level at least, we have allowed substance abuse to achieve a certain level of acceptability and, because of that, we have paid, and will continue to pay, a heavy and painful price.

The first step in alleviating pain is eliminating the cause of the pain. Get rid of the drugs, and by that I do not mean hide them before the parents or the cops find them. I mean stop using! And then, do not leave God out of the equation. Remember, we can only serve one master (Matthew 6:24). Jesus made that clear. We understand, of course, that our One Master must be Jesus Himself. We cannot serve Christ and any other master. The apostle Paul made it clear that we are servants of the master we serve, not claim to serve (Romans 6:16). What does it mean to have a master? According to this passage, having a master is obeying someone or something. That means if you obey someone or something (in this case, illicit drugs or alcohol) other than Jesus, you are not His no matter what church roll bears your name. Drugs and alcohol are very much like masters in that they control us if we let them. So, we must decide who our master is.

As in every other article in this series, there is pain here. When a person allows himself (or herself) to be ruled by drugs, he (or she) chooses to despise or hate God, even though may be an unconscious decision. A real consequence of this kind of behavior is the loss of one's soul if he (or she) does not repent. This tears at a Christian family because no one likes to contemplate the loss of a loved one's soul. There is also the consequence of other, weaker, or more immature members of the family being led away. Children look up to their parents, even if their parents are engaged in sinful behavior. Younger siblings idolize older siblings and want "to have fun, too." All of these situations are painful for a family to endure. There are some other consequences, too. One of the characteristics of intoxication (root word - "toxic" - poison) is the lowering of inhibitions. In other words, when you are drunk, you do not mind doing some things that ordinarily decency and decorum would stop you from doing. Sometimes a drunk or "high" person will yell and scream at family members, even committing violence against them. Sometimes other sins are committed that ordinarily would not have been, e.g. adultery, robbery, or murder. Very often, regardless of the secondary activity of the drunk, the family is driven apart and destroyed. In any case, when such a demanding master as drugs enters a family, there is pain.

What can you do if this happens to your family? Remember Matthew 11:28. This may be the most common example of when Christians leave God because of a problem. People stop coming to church because they have this problem or are ashamed that their spouse or children have this problem. Any Christian in this predicament needs God more now than ever. Do not shut Him out!! Some other practical suggestions include what we have already seen of the responsibility of parents to act toward their children who are caught in this trap with love and understanding, but without acceptance of their sin (Ephesians 6:4). Wives must still love and obey their husbands in the Lord, rather than nagging until the husband straightens up; that doesn't usually happen anyway with that tactic (1 Peter 3:1). Husbands must still love their wives and give moral and spiritual leadership, rather than just giving up and leaving (Ephesians 5:25).

I would like to spend just a moment dealing with the question, "Is it a sickness?" Some want to justify their actions by saying they cannot help what they do because this is a sickness and, therefore, not a sin. As I understand it, science has shown that there are physiological changes in a person who, for example, is an alcoholic. Science has also shown that children of alcoholics have a proclivity to drink themselves, meaning that if they were to begin drinking it would be easier for them to become alcoholics themselves. However, none of this changes the fact that abuse of alcohol or any other drug is sin. The physical changes one's body endures (and their children's bodies endure) are proof of God's visiting the iniquities of the fathers on their children unto the third and fourth generations (Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9). These passages do not teach that children are guilty of their fathers' sins, but that the consequences of the fathers' sins are often visited upon their children.

The Bible is very clear about how to avoid this problem (e.g. Proverbs 23:31-35; Galatians 5:20 - the word translated "witchcraft" or "sorcery" is the Greek word from which we get "pharmaceuticals," i.e. drugs). However, if it happens in your family, the Bible also tells us where to go for help and that is to God Himself. Abusing one's body with narcotics and alcohol hurts the family, but it hurts the body, too. There are real, physical consequences to this kind of lifestyle, some of which may not be reparable. Get the help you need! Professional, medical help may be necessary. Seek it if it is! However, through all the pain, do not give up on God. He still says, "Come to Me...I will give you rest..." because He loves you and I remind you because I do, too.

Donnie Bates

When Children Have Children

There is probably not a parent of a teenage daughter that has not thought of and shuddered at the possibility of that daughter becoming pregnant. Most parents of sons probably do not worry about this as much, but they should because the sin of fornication and immorality is not one-sided. And, by the way, it is sin whether she becomes pregnant or not. This subject is so emotional for some that they simply refuse to think objectively through it. There is real pain here. How do we deal with it? What do we do?

Several years ago a survey was conducted among teens in the churches of Christ, and I would like to share some of the results of that survey. 71.5% were virgins; 6% had experienced some form of incest; 12% had used drugs (including alcohol) to enhance promiscuous activity; 15% looked at some form of pornography from occasionally to once a week; 34% said their parents were extremely influential concerning their sexual beliefs and behavior; 11% felt a strong need to conform to peer pressure, while 38% were able to resist it, but with great difficulty; and 46% said the media had a major impact on their sexual behavior. These statistics are more than twenty years old and I do not imagine things have gotten better in the meantime.

Scripture addresses some of these same areas. Do not be deceived: "Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33). "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). The statistics above prove that the concerns addressed by these and other Scriptures are real and dangerous.

When something like this happens in your family statistics might as well be thrown out the window. You may be armed with the all the latest statistical information on the sexual behavior of young people, but when your daughter turns up pregnant, or your son impregnates someone else's daughter, you could not care less about those statistics. Suddenly, instead of asking, "How can I keep this from happening in my family?" you have other questions racing through your mind: "How did this happen to my child?" "Where did I go wrong?" "What are people going to think?" "What are the people at church going to say?" "How can I ever face them?" Those are all normal questions that most people ask, but notice that not one of them dealt with the pain and the needs of that teenager.

Satan has struck a blow against your family in this case. It is true that most people will first think of themselves in reeling from such a blow, although not all will. It is so important to be strong spiritually before this happens so as to better withstand such a thing. A good parent is going to soon recover from the shock and begin to work to help this child through a crisis situation. New questions should be asked: "How does a 12, 13, or 14-year-old deal with a problem like this?" "What help is there available to a family dealing with this?" "What should we do with the baby?"

Let us try to answer these questions from a Biblical perspective. An adolescent who is thrust into a grown-up world by promiscuity cannot deal with this alone. He (or she) needs God, first and foremost (Matthew 11:28). One of the results of the survey mentioned above showed that a number of teens felt that this sin was unforgivable. As serious as it ranks in our minds and as painful as it is in our families, this is not an unforgivable sin. The first thing this child should remember is that God still says, "Come to Me...I will give you rest..." While the child can survive with only God on his or her side, these children really need their parents to let them know they still love them, they understand the temptations the children fell prey to, and they are going to stand beside them and help them through this. The command for parents to bring their children up in the diligence and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) is still in effect. This is a wonderful opportunity to teach our children how to respond to adversity (James 1:2-4). One of the hardest things for this child and the family to do is come to church, once word gets out. A strong Christian family can survive this ordeal without the support of a loving, compassionate church, but a loving, compassionate church can do much to heal this kind of pain. The Bible does not allow the church to tolerate sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-7); however, we are not allowed to turn away from one who has repented, either (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). This really answers the question about what help there is available to a family in this situation. God, a loving family and a loving church all play a big role in helping a family survive this kind of pain.

The question about what to do with the baby is a hot topic today. Let me say flatly and unequivocally that abortion is simply not an option if one is interested in God's will. There is just no excuse for killing an innocent child to cover up someone else's sin. Some families decide to give up the child for adoption, and that is a legitimate option. Other families decide to keep the baby; just because a child is conceived through a sinful act does not mean that child cannot bring joy and blessing to a household just like any other child. That baby is a beautiful and precious gift from God (Psalm 127:4, 5).

I know this is an emotional issue when it happens to your family. It is a problem that terrifies many parents of adolescents and many simply cannot see beyond the sin to a possible solution. It is true that this particular sin (promiscuity - immorality), that results in pregnancy, is one that has a permanent physical consequence, unlike some other sins (we should remember that all sins of which we do not repent have a permanent spiritual consequence). However, that consequence does not mean the sinner cannot be forgiven. It does not mean that this sin cannot be overcome. It does not mean the end of the world for those involved, even though it may seem like it does. Their world is certainly going to change. It may very well be completely different from what they had planned, but it can still be in accordance with the will of God.

There is, or can be, a bright future still in the offing. There must be repentance of the sin on the part of the promiscuous child. There must be love, forgiveness and acceptance of that hurting, penitent child by his or her parents, though that does not mean acceptance of their sinful activity. There must be love, forgiveness and acceptance on the part of the church. This kind of response will go a long way toward relieving this kind of pain. God knew that and for this reason designed us and His church to fill this role to ease the suffering of its saints. What a great God we have! He loves you and so, by the way, do I.

Donnie Bates

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Loss of a Child

By "The Loss of a Child" we mean either losing a child in death or losing a child to the world. The pain in either case is real, and severe. What can parents do in such a situation? In the case of losing a child to the world, what can we do to avoid such a situation? Sometimes we cannot avoid it and there is pain to deal with.

Sometimes dealing with pain is itself painful. On the one hand, I know that the Balm of Gilead (the Great Physician - Jesus Himself) heals like no other and the Word of God comforts like no other word(s). On the other hand, realizing that addressing pain can itself be painful, I would not intentionally cause pain if it could be avoided. For this reason, and because the pain we will discuss in this post can happen not because of a bad decision we make, and is such a deep pain, it is difficult to present for your consideration. Please know that every note from friend Barnabas is offered with love and concern that a Christian is supposed to have for his brethren who are in pain (Romans 12:15).

What do we do when a child dies? Few things can be as painful as this for a parent. And yet, children do die and we have to deal with that fact. Does God have anything to say when something awful happens? Thankfully, yes!

Remember, with every hurt we address in this series, we will return to Matthew 11:28: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." This certainly falls into the category of "weary and heavy-laden." Even though it may seem small comfort at the time, it ought to be a comfort that children who are not old enough to be responsible for their actions, who do not understand the rightness or wrongness of their actions (we call this the "age of accountability") are not lost, but safe in the arms of Jesus (Matthew 18:3; Romans 7:9; 5:13). What God says to us at a time like this may not contain all the "whys" and "wherefores" we want answered, but He does tell us that we will be comforted (Matthew 5:4), that this trial will not be too much for us to bear with His help (1 Corinthians 10:13), and that you have a family that is designed to be with you and weep with in this time of terrible grief (Romans 12:15).

It is also true that older children, perhaps our adult children, die for whatever reason, before their parents. Basically, the same promises of comfort apply. One difference of particular concern in this case would be the spiritual condition of that child at death. As parents, we cannot be responsible for our adult children's behavior, although we are responsible for our own actions in teaching this or that behavior. We must fulfill our responsibility to teach our children in such a way that when that day comes (if it comes) our grief is limited to the temporary separation from that child. Someone might say, "But I know my son or daughter was not a Christian! What do I do? What does God have to say to me?" The first thing He says is, "Come to Me...I will give you rest!" At no time must we ever decide that the answer is to leave God. And then we must trust God to get us through.

What do we do when a child leaves under unhappy circumstances? What if he/she runs away? We may not be as familiar with such cases as this, but they do happen and sometimes to Christian families. What do we do? What counsel does God give us in this situation? Speaking as a father, I would move heaven and earth to find my runaway child. I am not so ignorant, or arrogant, however, to think I am the only father who ever felt that way and some have acted on that feeling. Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they are not. What then? Again, start with Matthew 11:28 (I hope that before we end this short series on dealing with family pain you begin to understand just how important this verse is). Then, remember that we are to provide for our families. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). It may be that you cannot find them, but do not give up looking! If you find them, be sure that you do what is necessary to meet the needs of that child. As tempting as it may be, a belt or a grounding may not be the appropriate response right then. The child ran from something and to keep it from happening again you are going to have to address that something. Start by remembering what Paul said in Ephesians 6:4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If your sin is the reason they ran, repent of it; ask their forgiveness, as well as, God's. This is not a question of losing your authority over your child, but of teaching that child the correct way to respond to mistakes. There may very well be some serious problems invoved here that require professional help; do not be afraid to use it if necessary.

What about a disagreement that result in the breaking of a relationship? This situation involves older children who are adults, or almost adults, who are still living at home; or, it may be that the child has his or her own home. Remember, start with Matthew 11:28. A young lady between 15-17 years old, in a Christian family, became pregnant. Her response was to repent and ask for forgiveness for her sin. She was going to have the baby and give it up for adoption. Her father's response was to disown her. This man turned to himself rather than to God with this heavy burden. Were it not for this girl's faithful mother and a couple who took her in while she waited to have the baby, this father might well have destroyed the soul of his daughter. The commands to provide for our own and to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord still apply. We cannot discard them because people in the community might find out that our children played adult games and now must grow up too fast.

If your children are already adults and there is a problem that threatens to break the relationship, we must remember that we are not allowed to lay aside our Christianity for any reason. If you are the source of the problem, repent! If someone else is the source of the problem, forgive! Remember Jesus' words in Matthew 5:23, 24: "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."

Here is some preventive medicine. Environment plays an important role in the future lives of our children. Obviously, raising children in a Christian home will avoid a lot of the problems the world has to deal with. However, a Christian home is more than just a home that toes the line and obeys all the rules. It is also a home full of love and joy and mistakes and forgiveness and prayer, not just on the part of the children, but of everybody. So, build your home to be a nurturing environment that teaches your children not just to rejoice in the Lord always, but also how to deal with problems when they come...because they will come.

What do we do when a child leaves the church? First, consider this from the perspective of a child from a non-Christian home that is now Christian; a home where the children did not grow up going to church and so did not have the advantage of being raised in a Christian environment. The parents have since become Christians. What do they do about their children? If they love them, they will try to share with them the good news they have found. This is evangelism, but the stakes are higher (or seem to be) because these parents are more personally involved; these are their children. Because they are so personally involved, they must be careful not to lose control of their emotions. Also, remember that the emotions of the children can get out of control, so they must be doubly careful. For that reason, they may want some help from their brothers and sisters in Christ, but whatever else happens, they must not give up on those children!!

Now, let us consider this from the perspective of a Christian home; a home where the children did grow up going to church, but, as adults, have left the church. This could happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes children leave the church because they were never really a part of it and that was because the parents were only marginally a part of the group (you cannot be a marginal Christian, by the way). Sometimes there is an incident at church that drives our children (and sometimes adults, too) away. As hurtful as some of the things brethren say are, that is no excuse to leave the church and usually that is just what this is...an excuse. Every passage of Scripture that deals with saving an erring brother or sister applies to parents whose children have left the church. The same cautions noted in the last point apply, as well, but the responsibility is still there, too. Do not give up on them!

Doctors, lawyers and policemen are told not to practice their professions on family members because they are too close. Christians are not allowed to use that excuse. We cannot refuse to practice our Christianity in the presence of family members because we are too close to them or because we do not want to offend them. That is still a tempation, though, isn't it? When it comes to our children, do you want to teach them that we serve God no matter what comes in life, or only as long as it is convenient? If you choose the latter, you run the very real risk of suffering through the pain discussed here.

Our children and grandchildren (Deuteronomy 4:9) are growing up in a scary world. They have one shot at survival and that shot is God! We must do everything we can to make sure they have all the tools to survive spiritually. Then, if they do not survive physically, we can be sure of eternity with them worshipping our God if we remain faithful ourselves. What a wonderful God we serve! He loves you and so do I.

Donnie Bates