The Force of Fathers

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Mads Mikkelson as Jyn Erso’s father, Galen, in Rogue One.

The first time I saw Star Wars, I was with my dad. I was seven years old and the original trilogy had just been re-released into theaters for a new generation to enjoy. I remember leaving the theater spell-bound by the spectacle I had just witnessed, as though some unexplored corner of my soul had been awakened by this space opera of desperate rebels, dark lords, heroic rescues, and larger than life characters. An entire world—no, an entire galaxy—had been brought to life right in front of me. I remember discussing the movie with dad on the car ride home, father and son, relishing the thrill of this shared experience.

As it turns out, the heart of Star Wars is a story about fathers and children. Luke Skywalker is an orphan whose father was supposedly murdered by Darth Vader. Luke is taken under the wing of Obi Wan Kenobi, who becomes like the father he never had, only to see him also killed by Darth Vader. In a chilling twist, Vader himself is revealed to be Luke’s father. Luke and Vader then seek to draw each other to their respective sides of light and darkness, culminating in a father-son showdown that ends with the ultimate sacrifice and a redemptive reconciliation.

Even 2015’s The Force Awakens was powered by another paternal plot-twist: the film’s villain, Kylo Ren, is in fact the son of Han Solo and Leia and the grandson of Darth Vader. It is Han’s turmoil over his son that carries the film’s emotional weight. And it is Han who confronts his son in the film’s most memorable scene. Instead of the smooth-talking, nerf-herding scoundrel we’ve come to expect, we instead see a compassionate father pleading with his lost son to return to the light. We then see the look of betrayal, sorrow, and yet unshaken love in his face when that same son runs him through with a lightsaber. It’s meant to break our hearts. And it does. Because we know how strong this theme of fathers and children has become to the Star Wars universe.

Last week’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the first Star Wars film to deviate from the Skywalker family tree (unless you want to include this and this – okay, we’ll pretend those never happened). Yet the role of fathers has never been more vital than here.

Rogue One focuses on Jyn, the daughter of Galen Erso, the man who designed the Death Star. Right from the opening scene we see the closeness of this father and his child, and once again dad is the key to the entire plot. When Galen is taken by the Empire to do their dirty work, Jyn is thrust into a fifteen-year meandering of bitterness, trouble and distrust. Meanwhile, the struggling Rebellion takes an interest in Jyn precisely because of who her father is. They plan on using her to track Galen down, kill him, and hopefully stop the Death Star from wreaking galactic terror.

Just as her father’s disappearance caused Jyn’s indifference, his re-emergence becomes her motivation. While all other characters assume her father to be a member of the evil Empire, she retains a childlike faith that he must still be good. Galen’s influence is the catalyst for all that happens in the film and, subsequently, all that goes on to happen in A New Hope. Every father, whether by his absence or presence, has some sort of impact on his children.

Some folks still try to downplay the significance of fathers in the lives of children, but the majority of social studies have proven them wrong. Kids with involved dads tend to perform better academically, exhibit stronger verbal and problem-solving skills, and even show better behavioral patterns. They’re also more likely to participate in extracurricular hobbies, to be successful in their career, to be more socially relatable to strangers, to show greater tolerance for stress, to show more self-control and take more initiative, to do better socially, to have better relationships with their siblings, to have higher moral values, and even to have a higher overall life satisfaction. On and on the list goes.

That’s not to insult families who, for one reason or another, don’t have a father in the equation. But the role of dad is a means of common grace that God uses to forge and develop young people, and whether that impact is good or bad, there will always be an impact of some kind. If Star Wars has taught us anything, it’s that this relationship between fathers and children is cosmic.

Indeed, the story of fathers takes center stage in God’s unfolding drama of redemptive history. We remember the fall of our federal father, Adam, and the resulting history of destruction for his offspring. We remember God’s promise to Abraham, that he would be the father of faith to many nations. We remember God’s promise to King David, that his son would reign forever. We remember the true Offspring of Abraham and David who was to come, who would be called both Son of God and son of man. We remember the story this Messiah told about the forgiving father who welcomed back the prodigal son with open arms. We remember that in Jesus the Messiah we are able to call God Himself our Heavenly Father.

Contrary to popular belief, “patriarchy” is not an ugly word reserved for backwoods chauvinism; it’s designed to be a pillar in the basic societal structure, and it’s even the basis by which we understand our own relationship to God.

Whether intentional or not, Star Wars highlights just how good and redemptive that role can be when done right—or just how destructive it can be when done wrong. Like the Force itself, it can be used for great light or great darkness. It’s been almost twenty years since my dad took me to see Star Wars for the first time, and I’m ever grateful for the role he’s played (and continues to play) in my life. My hope and prayer is to make that same positive impact on my own son’s life, to the glory of our Heavenly Father.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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3 Things More Demonic than Halloween

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In my last post I mentioned predestination and Donald Trump as areas of contest between Christians. I suppose you could go ahead and add Halloween to that list as well. Every year when the Jack-O-Lanterns and fake cobwebs come out, believers are confronted with the same questions: Should we celebrate Halloween? How much? How little? Is it a harmless neighborhood costume party, or is it a satanic participation in the occult?

The concern of many, with which I sympathize, is over the extent to which light-bearing Christians share in a day devoted to the darkness of death, magic and evil. To many Christians this is the very thing Paul warned about when he said, “I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:20).

The Word of God deals quite frequently with the demonic and it often comes in the form of possessed madmen or pagan witchcraft. But not always. For as dark as ghouls and ghosts can be, there is a deeper darkness that perhaps we overlook. The face of evil is not always so easy to spot. Satan himself, the master deceiver, often lures us incognito as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). We must be on our guard against darkness in disguise, for that is the evil that truly grips and corrupts our hearts without us even realizing it.

Here are three kinds of demonic activities that you won’t see on the Halloween costume rack, but they’re perhaps more deadly than all the vampires and werewolves put together:

1. False teaching.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1)

Theology is not a petty issue. A correct understanding of Christ, the gospel, and the nature of God are at the heartbeat of the Christian faith. To miss the truth of God is to miss the person of God, the crux of our salvation, and the very source of our spiritual life.

In typical “angel of light” fashion, bad doctrine is rarely obvious. Some heresies can be smelled from a mile away but most are small and subtle, wrapped in just enough truth to sound convincing. That’s what makes them so dangerous, like poison in a glass of champagne. This is why Peter warned against “false teachers…who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1).

Paul told Timothy that the spirits behind these heresies are “deceitful”. That is, they rope people along into thinking something is true when the reality is that they’re headed down a broad road of destruction. Just like Satan “deceived” Eve in the garden (2 Cor. 11:3).

If we care about protecting our churches, our families and ourselves from the demonic, we must care about doctrine. We must study the Scriptures with great care, we must be cautious about which pastors and preachers we expose our families to, and we must pay close attention to what kind of “Christian” music is playing on our radios. If you care about the decorations that adorn the front of your home, I plead with you to care even more about the kind of teaching that fills the inside.

2. Selfishness.

“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:14-15)

We all admire the success of others. We all have personal goals we want to reach. But when these are taken to their ugly, distorted extremes we end up with pride, bitterness, envy, and arrogance. We become saturated with ourselves and this infestation usually causes us to mistreat and misuse others.

When this happens we have fallen under “wisdom” that is not only “earthly” and “unspiritual” but straight up “demonic.” This love of self was at the core of Satan’s pre-creation fall, and those who fell with him now spread that same toxin.

To safeguard ourselves from true spiritual evil, let’s stop pining for what we don’t have and start giving more thanks for what we do have. Let’s stop gossiping and slandering, especially in our congregations. Let’s stop placing our own impulses and emotions in the spotlight and instead focus on serving one another with the loving humility of Jesus.

3. Carnality.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” (Revelation 18:1-3)

The identity of “Babylon” in the book of Revelation is up for debate. Some scholars say it represents apostate Israel. Some say first-century Rome. Some say it’s a future, literal Babylon restored to prominence. Others say it represents the corrupt world systems throughout history. Whatever the case, the point is the same: this kingdom is a haven of “demons” and “every unclean spirit.”

What is the manifestation of this demonic influence? Drunkenness, sexual immorality, riches, power, and luxury. Indulgences of the flesh. This describes a place that is hell-bent (literally) on fulfilling every carnal craving imaginable. It’s a place where sensuality is unrestrained, money is king, and comfort takes precedence over morality.

Is our career driven by the love of money? Do we watch movies or TV shows that border on the pornographic? Do we substitute the standards of Scripture for our own subjective appetites and desires? Do we participate in—or even defend and justify—that which God calls abominable? We may never step foot in a graveyard or haunted house, but we must be careful to not create a demon-haunted Babylon right where we are.

Some evil is easy to spot. But if we’re not careful it can be little more than a decoy to distract us from the truly demonic activity in our hearts and lives. Sometimes the scariest monster is the one within. Watch your doctrine. Watch your pride. Watch your lust. Unmask the devil’s phony charade and recognize darkness where it does the worst damage, and expose it with the glorious light of Christ.

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:8-16)

The Curse and Children (NOT the curse OF children)

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My wife and I had our first child this weekend. Wow. It’s incredible that something experienced by so many people can still be so thrilling and unreal when it comes your turn in line. The fact that billions of people have done this billions of time since the beginning of history doesn’t take away from its awe-inspiring magnificence.

Yet prior to the delight of holding our new son there was, of course, the agony of labor. I’ve never seen my wife undergo such torture. Tears filled my eyes on multiple occasions as I saw the pain and exhaustion in her own. I kept thinking about Genesis 3:16, where pain in childbearing is pronounced as a part of the curse on a fallen world. With each new cry or wail, I wished I could do something about it–interfere, make it stop, or, if possible, take that burden upon myself. Perhaps that was a taste of how Christ felt on behalf of His Bride when He “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).

It got me thinking about the curse, children, and how our generation gets their correlation wrong.

First, consider that the majority of the curse’s effects are not bad things but rather good things gone wrong. The curse did not simply introduce newly created terrors–it negatively altered what was already created. That which God had originally declared “good” was now distorted.

For example, the curse created a conflict in marital roles (Gen. 3:16). Although feminists claim such roles were a result of the Fall and not a part of God’s original design, Genesis 2 clearly shows Adam as the head (vs. 15, 19) and Eve as his helpmeet (vs. 18) even before the Fall. Complementarianism is the design of God’s perfect creation, rooted in the Trinity itself (1 Cor. 11:3), and not a consequence of sin. What the Fall did produce is a perversion of these roles where on one spectrum a husband might abuse his authority, or on the other spectrum a wife might nag and manipulate her husband.

Another example is God’s curse upon the ground. The thorny soil would make work difficult for Adam, and simple necessities would now have to be earned through blood, sweat and tears (Gen. 3:17-19). This might make us think of work as something unfortunate in and of itself, as though the original ideal for Eden was kicking back under a shady tree and eating easy food all day long. Again, wrong. Work was God’s original responsibility for man (Gen. 2:15). What the Fall did produce was difficulty in work, which would either produce frustration for the hard worker or laziness in someone who wasn’t up for the challenge.

Neither of these consisted of inherently bad things, but rather the perversion of good things. When we experience the curse in our daily lives we experience what happens when God’s good design gets skewed.

Now, what does all this have to do with babies? Because just as we might be tempted to see marital roles and work in and of themselves as negative, we live in a culture that thinks about kids the same way. It’s not just the process of having children that’s considered cursed–it’s the children themselves.

Many of my fellow millennials don’t like the idea of having kids for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to financially support another person, not wanting the responsibility of caring for another person, and not wanting a hindrance to their career or lifestyle. One author even proudly called themselves “selfish” because of how highly they value their personal “freedom.” Translation: kids get in the way of enjoying life. You know, kind of like a curse.

If you’re unlucky enough to catch a strain of this crippling virus, well, fear not, because the curse can be reversed at a local doctor’s office. Children are a sickness, easily remedied with an abortive antidote. They’re so much of an inconvenience that tearing apart their little limbs is totally justified. No big deal.

That’s why abortionists at the University of North Georgia threw a rally earlier this year where baby-shaped cookies were ripped apart while participants laughed and wrote notes such as, “My vagina is too pretty to let a fetus crawl out.” Then there’s the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overrule Texas’s abortion regulations because it was an “undue burden” on women who wanted an abortion. A burden? You mean, kind of like a curse? Apparently abortion is the blessed messiah come to free women from the bane of children.

And, of course there’s Barack Obama’s infamous statement back in 2008 that if his daughters “make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” So babies are a punishment. You mean, like a curse? Perhaps that’s why Obama also said abortion provides women the opportunity to “fulfill their dreams.” Children are the great hindrance that prevent meaningful lives. If you could just get that cursed obstacle out of the way then countless women could enter their own private Eden.

I get it. A baby is a game-changer. And some of the results are less than pleasant. I admit, throughout my wife’s labor I wrestled with some rough questions: Was it fair that she had to suffer so much? Could I ever stand to watch her undergo this agony a second or third or fourth time? Now, two days later, I still see the birth taking its physical and emotional toll on her. I get how the curse could overshadow the value of the blessing.

It’s easy to look at the difficulties involved and think the item (or, in this case, the person) in question must be the problem. It’s easy to see domestic abuse and think male headship is the problem. It’s easy to see thorns and think work is the problem. It’s easy to see painful labor, stretch marks, extra expenses, the loss of personal freedom, or anything else you can name, and think children are the problem. But they’re not.

Quite to the contrary, Scripture calls them a gift from God (Gen. 1:28; 33:5; Ps. 127:3-5; Mk. 10:13-16). I can already testify to that truth. The curse of Genesis 3 reveals that much of God’s good design is still there, it just takes some extra work. A good marriage requires a lot of sacrifice, but it’s worth it. Working for a living can be exhausting, but it’s worth it. Children can take a physical and emotional toll, but they’re worth it. As Christ said, even though the agonies of childbirth as miserable, they result in great joy (Jn. 16:21-22). We must not confuse the curse with the results of the curse.

Finally, isn’t it incredible that our ultimate Deliverer from the curse would be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4); that He came by means of the cursed “birth pains and…agony of giving birth” (Rev. 12:2)? Even though all “creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22), the day will come when the labor will be over, the glory of Christ’s full kingdom will have arrived, and it will all be worth it.

The birth of a child can certainly remind us that all is not right with the world. But it can also remind us of the Seed of the Woman who came into the world, who bore the curse on our behalf, and who will someday return to make all things new. As we await that day, let us patiently bear the temporary effects of this fallen world and rejoice in the blessings God has given. Especially children.