Category Archives: Family

Perspective for Homeschool Moms

Homeschool

My wife and I have been homeschooling our kids for some 17 years now. As a homeschool dad, I have always seen my primary job as helping my wife, Lisa, to have perspective on the whole homeschooling journey. Like most homeschool moms, Lisa has always placed a tremendous amount of pressure on herself to make sure she is giving our kids the best education she can. She has fretted over which curriculum we should use, agonized over whether she is organized or disciplined enough, worried about possible “gaps” in their education, and wondered if other moms (or various private and public schools) might be doing it better.

For you homeschool moms who are putting that same pressure on yourselves at the beginning of this school year, here’s a bit of the perspective I’ve tried to offer my wife over the years:

1. The advantages of homeschooling have little to do with your educational expertise or ability to teach. Sure, a professional teacher specializing in a single subject might be able to explain that subject matter better than you can. But that teacher can never match the personal attention you are able to give to your child. Even if your attention is divided among a large number of children, the biggest families are still a fraction of the size of a typical classroom. And, of course, no teacher can love your child and respond to their individual needs the way you can.

2. Don’t compare your “closets” to other homeschool moms’ “formal living rooms.” A formal living room is a room that always stays presentable because nobody in the family is allowed to go in there. When company comes over, they are ushered into the formal living room and get a completely skewed perspective of your home. A closet on the other hand is a place we throw all our junk in order to keep it hidden when company arrives.

When you look at other homeschool moms, you see only their “formal living rooms”: their organized school room on the first (never the last) day of school, their most creative lesson, their coolest craft. You never see the times when both mom and child dissolved into tears over a math lesson, when a craft or experiment completely fell apart, or when half the week’s schoolwork had to be hurriedly finished over the weekend. You know what’s in your own home educational “closet,” but all you see of other homeschoolers is their “formal living rooms.” Any comparison you make is therefore a false comparison.

When you’re tempted to compare yourself to someone else, remember that if they were to see only your best homeschooling moments, they might actually be intimidated by you!

3. You won’t know how successful your homeschooling (or parenting) was until you see the finished product, and you won’t see that until your kids are grown and nearing the end of their educational journey. So homeschool for the long haul. It doesn’t matter if your kid takes longer to learn to read or multiply than someone else’s kid. If one of your older children learned something quickly and your younger child is struggling with it, that doesn’t mean you’re now doing something wrong. It simply means that each child is different, and hey, that’s where you can take comfort in the individual attention homeschooling enables you to give (see point 1 above).

As my mom told herself when I had a hard time learning to tie my shoes: “No kid ever went to college not knowing how to tie his shoes.” I may have run around a few years with untied laces, but eventually I got it (and thankfully, that was well before college!). Your kids will eventually get it too. One day that inscrutable math concept or point of grammar will just click, and you’ll have the joy of seeing the light of understanding in their eyes. Until then, keep at it and don’t worry. Reassure them (and yourself) that they’ll get it eventually.


As far as I can see, the advantages of homeschooling are such that it takes serious negligence or apathy to really mess it up. And if you’re constantly putting pressure on yourself, that’s a pretty sure sign that you’re not one of those negligent/apathetic homeschool moms. So relax, rejoice, and rest secure in the knowledge that you are giving your kids a tremendous advantage. It may be hard for you to see from day to day, but one day soon, everyone will see it.

 

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The Lang Gang’s 2015 Christmas Letter

“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
—1 Corinthians 1:25

Dear Family and Friends,

This Christmas, take a moment to consider the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

There were a lot of really smart people in Jerusalem when magi from the east suddenly showed up asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). Herod the Great was a ruthless but brilliant politician who had turned an insignificant province into a wealthy and prosperous client state. He had innovative architects and skilled craftsman building a Temple and palaces that were wonders of the ancient world. Jerusalem was teeming with religious scholars, legal experts, captains of finance and industry—experts in every conceivable field of knowledge. Yet it is those strangers from the east who are universally regarded as “wise men.”

The magi certainly had academic credentials of their own. They were scholars from Babylonia or Persia who had studied languages, literature, history, culture, religion, and of course, astronomy. But that’s not why we remember them as “wise men.”

The wise men were not merely content with making an academic discovery—the sighting of a star signaling the Savior’s birth. On the contrary, they left their ivory towers to embark on a life-changing journey of faith: a costly and dangerous pilgrimage to find the Savior and bow down before him. A merely intelligent man may know something, but the truly wise man acts on what he knows—even if it means turning his entire life upside down.

Christmas 2015For our family, 2015 was a year of academic milestones as we had no less than three of our five children graduate from high school or college. David (20) graduated from Florida State University with a degree in International Affairs. He is now working and getting settled in his own apartment. Through the miracle of dual enrollment and a lot of hard work, Caleb (19) and Bethany (17) earned their high school diplomas as well as their Associate of Arts degrees from Lake-Sumter State College. They are now both majoring in Theatre at Florida State. Thankfully, Alexa (14) won’t graduate for a few years, so we have a little time to catch our breath. Then again, she recently joined the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra and is already researching colleges that can help her become a concert violinist. We keep dropping not-so-subtle reminders that Florida State has one of the best music schools in the country!

Of all the things our older kids have learned at college, perhaps the most valuable lesson is this: there are lots of highly intelligent, advanced degree-bearing people out there who cannot see the forest for the trees and who therefore make incredibly foolish choices in life. Education is extremely valuable, but it is no guarantee of wisdom.

At the other end of the educational spectrum, our little Jo Jo (6) is now in the first grade and learning the basics of Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic. Yet somehow, he never ceases to amaze us with his ability to connect any subject back to the most foundational truth. One morning at breakfast, we were talking about how Jo Jo shares his name with a Biblical king, and I asked him, “How many ‘kings’ are there at this table?” He pointed at me (David), at himself (Josiah), and then, having run out of people at the table named after Biblical kings, he surprised us all by pointing up to the sky. His meaning was clear and wise beyond his years: God is our King—the King of all kings—and He too is present at our table.

Jesus Himself affirmed that sometimes a child can see things even the most learned of men cannot: “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure” (Luke 10:21). That was true even at Jesus’ own birth, which was celebrated not by the intelligentsia of nearby Jerusalem, but by the simple shepherds of the “little town” of Bethlehem.

Of course, we can hardly blame all those Jerusalem scholars for overlooking the birth of this “King of the Jews.” What could be more foolish than to expect the long-awaited Messiah to be born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough? Three decades later, those same Jerusalem scholars would see Jesus clearly identified as “King of the Jews.” In fact, it was spelled out for them in no less than three languages on his cross, yet most of them still refused to believe it. Again, who can blame them? Kings are supposed to conquer their enemies; not be crucified by them!

A few decades later, the apostle Paul would ask, “Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish?” He then explained that the message of a crucified and risen Savior was widely regarded as foolishness by those who claimed to be wise. “Yet to those who are called … Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:20–25).

The magi are remembered as “wise men” not for all their learning, but because, foolish as it must have seemed, they followed a star in search of the Savior. This Christmas, may we all seek that same Savior and bow down before Him. Only then will we be truly wise.

Love,
The Lang Gang
David, Lisa, David, Caleb, Bethany, Alexa, and “Jo Jo”


 

WiseMen2

I’ve Looked at College “from Both Sides Now”

Have you ever heard the song “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell? It’s a beautiful poem set to music in which she reflects on her initial idealistic view of things like clouds (“ice cream castles in the air”), love (“the dizzy, dancing way you feel”), and life (“dreams and schemes and circus crowds”). She then moves to a somewhat disillusioned view of those things and observes that she has looked at them from “both sides now.” In the end we’re left with a kind of grown-up ambivalence: having experienced both sides of life, we can no longer maintain our youthful optimism, yet somehow it’s “life’s illusions” we continue to hold on to, so that we “really don’t know life at all.”

The other day my wife and I took our oldest son up to Florida State University for his new student orientation. Twenty-six years ago, my parents were taking me to that same university for my own new student orientation.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I was going through my orientation, my parents were going through a parallel orientation for family members. Now that I was taking my son to college, it was my turn to go through the family orientation. While my son was choosing from a smorgasbord of interesting classes and being exposed to all the fun experiences he can look forward to, my wife and I were being told when the payment deadlines are and what can happen if our son’s GPA dips too low. The speakers at our orientation occasionally made comments about how little the students typically remember from their orientation and how important it was that we parents remember the information we were receiving.

About halfway through this process, it occurred to me that my wife and I were going through the real orientation! Then, as if I was finally seeing the “man behind the curtain,” I began to realize how much my parents shouldered the “real world” aspects of my education so I could be free to explore “great books” and “big ideas”.

A “liberal” education is called that precisely because you have to be “free” (Latin liber) in order to study things like literature, philosophy, art, science, and culture. People who work hard every day just to put food on the table do not have that kind of freedom, and so a “liberal education” is a luxury they simply can’t afford.

For me, college was a wonderful time when I got to wrestle with important ideas and competing views of how the world works, the nature of God and man, what constitutes a good life, etc. The answers I came to largely determined the course I have taken to this day.

My parents had received a liberal education (at FSU a couple of decades prior to my going there), and they had raised me to be interested in all those lofty subjects. Yet somehow, while they were interested in what I was learning, I could tell they weren’t as passionate about it as I was. They were focused on more “prosaic” things like earning a living. When I myself entered the “real world” and began providing for a wife and a rapidly growing family, I soon found I had little time to contemplate all those lofty ideas I was so focused on in college. I was simply too busy with “prosaic” pursuits like earning a living.

Today I see that the freedom I had to pursue a “liberal” education was largely made possible by the added responsibilities my parents shouldered on my behalf. Sure I contributed to the financing of my education with scholarships and summer jobs, and sure I had to take on increasing amounts of responsibility, but there was always that safety net: that knowledge that Mom and Dad would come to the rescue if I really messed things up. That freedom from worry is what really liberated me to wrestle with all those grand and lofty subjects.

It would seem I am now looking at college “from both sides.” If I were adding another verse to Mitchell’s song, I might say I’ve looked at it “from play and pay!” Yet somehow, like Mitchell, it’s still “college illusions I recall.” I know a large university is a big bureaucracy with many people who are more concerned about defending their little fiefdoms than about guiding young minds. I know the honest exchange of ideas is sometimes tainted by insecure professors and sycophantic students. I know many kids use their newfound freedom to do incredibly foolish things. I know a college degree is not a guaranteed ticket to a great job and an easy life. Don’t tell my kids I said this, but I even know a college education doesn’t necessarily make sense for everyone—especially from a cost-benefit perspective. Still, it’s an opportunity to grow up some without completely having to “sink or swim.” It’s an opportunity to wrestle with big ideas and discover for yourself what’s really important. It’s an opportunity to meet people who share the interests your high school friends never understood, as well as to engage people who think very differently than you do. All those ivy-covered illusions we have about college life still resonate with us because they represent the enduring value of a liberal education.

So while my son still has the freedom to pursue a liberal education, my wife and I will preserve that freedom by shouldering some additional responsibility. And if he starts to think us a little prosaic, I can take comfort in the knowledge that he too will eventually see college “from both sides.”

Amazing Sex! How Can It Be?

RodinKissAre Christians “called” to have “amazing sex”? According to a recent article for Relevant magazine, the answer is a resounding “no.” In that article, Rachel Pietka rightly takes the Christian abstinence movement to task for “exaggerating … the benefits of saving sex for marriage.” She also correctly points out that modern Christians’ preoccupation with having amazing sex within marriage “smacks of an inferiority complex that wants to compete with mainstream culture’s view of sex rather than modeling a rightly ordered sexual ethic to the world.” However, she also uncritically accepts one aspect of “mainstream culture’s view of sex” which I believe to be seriously mistaken: namely, the notion of “sexual incompatibility.” Consequently, while Pietka makes an important point, she appears to end up with a view of sex within marriage which is far too pessimistic.

Pietka begins by citing a few reactions against the Christian abstinence movement’s tendency to over promise the joys of remaining virginal until marriage. Among these, she focuses on an article entitled My Virginity Mistake, written by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. Henriquez attributes her “quick divorce” to her sexual incompatibility with her husband and blames her teenage abstinence pledge for keeping her from discovering the lack of a sexual spark before she tied the knot. Henriquez’s account of her premarital commitment to purity was undermined by sarcastic references to her relationship with Christ, comments about underage drunkenness, and other indications that her “press[ing] on in stubbornness” was driven more by legalistic righteousness than a sincere desire to please God. In spite of this, Pietka draws the conclusion: “Henriquez’s story is important because it highlights an issue the abstinence movement rarely acknowledges: sexual incompatibility within marriage.”

Pietka never bothers to define “sexual incompatibility within marriage” or to explain its causes and symptoms; she merely asserts that “Couples may find themselves incompatible in the bedroom” and that sexual incompatibility is a “cross” that some Christian married couples will have to bear. The ethical point she wants to make is that “bad sex” (also never defined) is “neither a reason for divorce nor an excuse to stop investing in a marriage.” That is certainly an important point. God never promised that sex between those who were virgins when they married is inherently more ecstatic and satisfying than sex between the promiscuous or even the perverted, yet much Christian teaching about abstinence seems to make that very promise. Marriage is about more than “amazing sex,” and the absence of “amazing sex” is not a reason to “put asunder” what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6).

While Pietka’s point is an important corrective to the excesses of much recent Christian teaching about sex, the idea that a husband and wife may be “sexually incompatible” strikes me as terribly pessimistic and rooted in worldly assumptions about sex. One such assumption is the notion that sexual pleasure is primarily the result of chemical attraction and physical stimulation. The implication of that belief is that great sex depends on finding the right partner and using the right sexual techniques. If a couple does not experience a sexual “spark,” they must try to generate that spark by employing the right technique. If every technique has been tried and ecstasy does not result, then the problem can be written off as a lack of sexual chemistry between the partners. No one is to blame; they just need to find someone who is more compatible. While Pietka would deny that those struggling with “sexual incompatibility within marriage” should look for a more compatible partner, she nevertheless seems to accept these basic assumptions about sex.

I’ve been married long enough to know that sexual intimacy and ecstasy have far more to do with what’s going on in each partner’s head and heart than on which nerve endings happen to get stimulated. The most erotic physical contact can be dulled if one or both of us is tired, sick, stressed out, distracted, frustrated, feeling unattractive, or worried about a child knocking on the bedroom door. Conversely, whenever we are absolutely enamored with each other, even the most incidental touch can feel electric. The aforementioned article by Henriquez on her “virginity mistake” revealed that she was distractedly making grocery lists during sex and that she and her husband no longer kissed with the same intensity once they were married. She likewise admitted that she “was not a willing student” but then complained that “he was no teacher, either.” I read all that not as an indication that this couple was “sexually incompatible,” but that they had unrealistic expectations and did not deal honestly with their deeper issues.

Many Christian advocates of premarital abstinence have oversold virginity as the key to ecstatic marital sex. Remaining a virgin until marriage is not merely a means to an end, a pragmatic delaying of sexual gratification so that sex will ultimately be more satisfying. On the contrary, premarital abstinence is a virtue to which Christians are commanded and called by God. Failure to keep that command does not ruin one’s chances for sexual satisfaction, and success in keeping that command is no guarantee of a great sex life. At most one can say that the virginal bride and groom may have less baggage to deal with in the bedroom than those who have had previous sexual partners. To the extent that such a lack of baggage can facilitate a frame of mind and condition of heart conducive to passion and intimacy, it can be understood to help lead to great sex, but it’s really just one ingredient of a much more complicated recipe.

As Christians, we are not “called” to have amazing sex, and sexual satisfaction is not a promised attribute of the Christian life. Nevertheless, Christians who are having problems in the bedroom need not resign themselves to bearing a cross of “sexual incompatibility.” Rather, they need to realize that their struggles are more likely a matter of head and heart than of chemistry and mechanics. It is then they will be able to turn for help to the God who has the power to change hearts and minds.

Like “amazing grace” and “amazing love,” amazing sex is a gift from God. We can’t demand it as a reward for premarital abstinence, but neither should we be afraid to ask him for it.

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” —James 1:16–17, NIV

The Lang Gang’s 2012 Christmas Letter

Christmas Card 2012

“Oh, the depth of the riches and
wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments
and how inscrutable his ways!”
—Romans 11:33

Dear Family and Friends,

Lisa and I had been looking for a reliable second car for the better part of a year. Our oldest son, David, had begun taking dual-enrollment classes at the local community college, and we needed something he could drive to school. Unfortunately, we struggled to find a good used car that was not ridiculously overpriced.

Our youngest daughter, Alexa, was with us when we found a cherry-red PT Cruiser convertible. We test-drove it with the top down and my wife and daughter began grinning from ear to ear. I told the car dealer I wanted to act all cool and disinterested, but I knew my girls’ giddiness would betray me. We bought it the next day for a very good price.

Lisa had always thought these cars were “cute,” and the fact that it was a convertible made it especially fun to drive. I always scoff at the car commercials that promise happiness and serenity during a busy morning commute, but it’s hard not to smile when driving with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. After years of minivans, I was excited to get Lisa a car she could really enjoy—and doing that without breaking the bank seemed too good to be true. We regarded the car as a gift from God, and we repeatedly thanked Him for it.

You can probably guess where this is going. Over the past year, our “fun car” has turned out to be anything but. A string of major repairs has hit our pocketbook hard (in spite of our mechanic giving us generous price breaks), and each time the car has been in the shop it has been a challenge getting everyone where they needed to go. Thankfully, my mom and dad were gracious enough to loan us one of their vehicles for much of that time.

Each time we thought it was over, a new and costlier problem would arise. It can get very discouraging and confusing. Will one more repair do the trick, or are we simply throwing good money after bad? We’ve done our best to take it all in stride, but there have admittedly been times we have wondered how this “gift from God” could present so many challenges!

God’s gifts often bring challenges. When an angel told a young Jewish girl she would give birth to the Savior, he made it clear that she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). What a gift! What a privilege! But what a challenge! How would she explain her unexpected pregnancy to her fiancé? What would the neighbors think? Her cousin Elizabeth would call her the “most blessed of women” (Luke 1:42), but I imagine Mary didn’t always feel that way when faced with the disapproving glares of her family and friends.

When God gave me Lisa to be my wife, I marveled at how richly he had blessed me. Yet over the last eighteen years, she has challenged me more than anyone else. She balances out my excesses, softens my rough edges, inspires me to try harder, and helps me see things from a different perspective. That can be terribly frustrating when I want to be rash, grumpy, lazy, or selfish, but that’s all part of the gift. God loves me too much to leave me that way, so he gave me a wife who could help me become the man he intends.

When God blessed Lisa and me with five children, they certainly presented their share of challenges. Having David (17), Caleb (16), and Bethany (14) before our fourth anniversary really kept us on our toes, and any illusions we had of being perfect parents were shattered early on. Having three teenagers in the house now presents a new set of challenges. Yet by the time Alexa (11) and Jo Jo (3) came along, we had plenty of capable helpers. Our house is sometimes noisy, but it is a noise made up of music, laughter, and good conversation. We also have our moments of bickering, but loneliness is never a problem.

Too often in life, we focus all of our attention on the problems we face, the trials we endure, and the little annoyances that come with every relationship. We wonder why God didn’t make life easy and carefree. We look around at others and wonder why they seem to have things so much easier. Yet when we do that, we lose sight of the gifts from God those challenges accompany.

Each time our car was in the shop and I would see another PT Cruiser on the road, I would joke, “There’s a PT Cruiser that works!” But all kidding aside, if God chose to give us a “fun car” with challenges, I’ll have to take the setbacks in stride and enjoy the fun whenever I can. After all, doesn’t having car problems result from having a car? A lot of people in this world never have car trouble. But then, those are the people who walk everywhere!

In the same way, whenever you get frustrated with how difficult your job is, remember that not everyone has one. Whenever you get annoyed with your spouse, remember that it sure beats not having someone to love. Whenever your kids are driving you crazy, ask yourself what life would have been like without them. So often, life’s challenges are merely the flip side of life’s blessings. Would you give up the blessings to avoid the challenges?

This Christmas, take some time to thank God for the gifts he has given you, even if they come with challenges. You may not understand everything he is up to. You may ask with Mary, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). But if you are wise, you will also say with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Then you’ll be able, like Mary, to face whatever comes and to “treasure” it, “pondering in your heart” (Luke 2:19) the wonderful “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33).

May you experience that wonder this Christmas, even if you have to deal with car trouble!

Love,
The Lang Gang
David, Lisa, David, Caleb, Bethany, Alexa, and “Jo Jo”

What Does Christian Love for Homosexuals Look Like?

Debates about gay marriage and gay rights are often cast in terms of love and hatred. Dan Cathy’s remarks about “traditional marriage” have been roundly condemned as hateful to gays. The thousands of people who flocked to Chick-Fil-A restaurants on Wednesday have likewise been criticized for communicating a message of hatred toward gays. I have seen a number of blogs in the past few days complaining that by participating in this event, Christians have missed yet another opportunity to show the love of Christ to the homosexual community.

The problem with these criticisms is that they fail to articulate what Christian love toward homosexuals should actually look like. As we discussed in a previous post, Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) activists see anything short of unqualified acceptance as “anti-gay.” Thus, they would regard any disagreement with their worldview or opposition to their agenda as “unloving” and even “hateful.”

Yet sometimes real love must manifest itself in ways that the recipients of that love regard as unloving. For example, I have a nephew who died of leukemia at age nine. His father often had to hold him still while he underwent incredibly painful treatments, and I am sure little Chad wondered how his daddy could love him and let him experience so much pain. Yet it was precisely because Chad’s father loved him that he subjected him to the pain he hoped would save his life.

A friend addicted to alcohol might think that the best way you could show love to him is to buy him a drink. Yet if you really love him, you’ll do the very thing he regards as unloving and deny him that drink. What’s more, you’ll do everything you can to help him break his addiction, even if he comes to hate you for it.

If Christians take the Bible seriously when it says that homosexual acts are sinful (1 Corinthians 6:9), and that all sin leads to death and eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23), then the only truly loving response is to call homosexuals to repentance and offer them the good news of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Merely letting them embrace their sin with our tacit approval is the least loving thing we could do. In fact, it is the ultimate act of hatred.

This does not mean, of course, that Christians have not often condemned homosexuals in an unloving and unredeeming way. All too often we have acted as if homosexuality is the height of depravity or a somehow unforgivable sin. We have forgotten our own sinfulness and need of a Savior and voiced our disgust at sins to which we may not happen to be tempted. In contrast to such moments of judgmentalism, we are called instead to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

When I was in my early twenties, a dear Christian friend of mine grabbed me on my way into church and said he needed to talk. He was obviously upset, so rather than going into church, we walked to a nearby lake. When we got there, he said, “Last night I went over to someone’s house for the express purpose of sleeping with them.” We were both single at the time, and we both believed the Bible teaches that premarital sex is a sin. My friend was confessing a sexual encounter that did not merely involve unexpectedly succumbing to temptation, but which he had purposefully chosen to pursue.

But there was more. I could hear the fear in my friend’s voice as he asked, “Do you love me, Dave?” I assured him that I did. He then blurted out, “It wasn’t a woman!”

My friend took an awful risk that day: that I would react with disgust, condemn him, reject him, or tell him I could no longer be his friend. Yet on the contrary, I admired the courage it took him to leave the man he had slept with, come to church and seek me out, and confess a sin he feared I might regard as unforgivable.

The first thing I did after he said this was to reach out and put my hand on his shoulder. I wanted him to know that I was still there for him, that I didn’t reject him, and that I didn’t regard this sin as somehow making him unclean or untouchable. He was still my friend, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

I then listened as he told me things about his past he had never told me before: about the male camp counselor who had molested him when he was in his early teens. He then tried to assure me that our friendship had never been about same-sex attraction. I brushed that aside as something that would never even enter my mind. We talked for a long time, encouraging each other with the truths of the gospel and praying together for forgiveness and renewed strength.

My friend knew that day that I truly loved him. Yet I never told him that what he had done was okay. I never encouraged him to embrace his same-sex attractions as his true sexual orientation. I never soft-pedaled the fact that what he had done was a sin. I simply assured him that I understood what it is to be a sinner and that what he had done didn’t make him any more a sinner than I am. Together we asked God to “have mercy” on us as sinners, and together we went away “justified” (Luke 18:13–14).

I understand that those who see same-sex attraction as something you’re born with and can’t help will regard my actions that day as terribly unloving. However, showing someone the love of Christ doesn’t mean leaving them to die in their sins, but offering them the hope of deliverance from sin which can only be found in Jesus. After all, the same Jesus who said, “Neither do I condemn you” also said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He then offered us the hope that only His love can give:

I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

That is the love that Christians have to offer homosexuals. It is not a love that leaves them groping about in darkness, but one which enables them to experience the light of life. It is not necessarily the kind of love they are demanding, but it is the very love they need.

In fact, it’s the very love we all need.

Are LGBT Activists “Anti-Christian”?

Jesus once said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2). In other words, the basis by which we condemn others will inevitably be used to expose any hypocrisy on our part. When church leaders and “family values” political candidates abandon their families or are caught in extramarital affairs, their opponents are perfectly right to scoff at their so-called “family values.”

In much the same way, it is legitimate to apply to Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) activists the same measure they use when they accuse someone of being “anti-gay.” In yesterday’s post, I examined what these folks really mean by “anti-gay.” They do not mean that someone bears open hostility toward those who self-identify as homosexual. On the contrary, they apply this label to anyone who does not accept their understanding of sexual orientation or who opposes any part of their agenda. As I wrote yesterday:

It is not enough to be tolerant of homosexuality in general, to be sympathetic to the difficulties homosexuals face, or to love homosexuals as sinners who, like all of us, struggle with their sinful predilections and addictions. On the contrary, it is necessary to accept their understanding of the world, their assumptions about human nature, their views of what constitutes moral behavior, their reading of the Bible, and ultimately, their theology. Fall short of total agreement, or at least, of unqualified acceptance, and you can count on being regarded as “anti-gay.”

LGBT activists have been very careful to frame their agenda as “a campaign for full LGBT equality” rather than as an attack on Christianity, the Bible, or so-called “traditional family values.” They would understandably chafe at the accusation that they are “anti-Christian,” “anti-Bible,” or “anti-traditional family.” Yet if we apply the same standard they use to determine who is “anti-gay,” how can we conclude anything else? If being “anti”-something means falling short of total agreement or unqualified acceptance, then LGBT activists are clearly “anti-Christian” according to their own standards of judgment.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not think it is helpful to brand LGBT activists as “anti-Christian” any more than I think it is helpful for them to brand those who disagree with their worldview as “anti-gay.” Using such inflammatory labels does nothing to promote dialogue or understanding. I’m simply trying to make the point that if we will condemn as “anti-” anyone who disagrees with our worldview, we are gearing up to fight the kind of sectarian wars which result in many casualties and few converts.

What Do They Mean By “Anti-Gay”?

The recent brouhaha over Chick-Fil-A’s “anti-gay” stance has reached something of a crescendo. Tomorrow, August 1, 2012, has been designated Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day by television talk-show host Mike Huckabee, who is encouraging people to support the company by dining there. Meanwhile, gay-rights activists are organizing “kiss-in” protests at Chick-Fil-A restaurants on Friday, August 3.

Chick-Fil-A has been criticized as “anti-gay” by Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) activists for some time now, but the latest dust-up appears to center around two things. First, a group called EqualityMatters, which describes itself as “a campaign for full LGBT equality”, published a list of so-called “anti-gay groups” to which Chick-Fil-A’s charitable foundation has contributed. Second, in an interview with Baptist Press, Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy described the company as “guilty as charged” with respect to its support of the “traditional family.”

It is Cathy’s comments in particular that seem to have LGBT activists seeing red, but they must be careful how they express that outrage. While they can be quite vitriolic in their criticism of Cathy’s statements, they must nevertheless be careful not to dispute his First Amendment right to make such statements. Consequently, many of Cathy’s critics have retreated to the seemingly more secure position of criticizing the company’s financial support of “anti-gay” organizations. I’ve heard a number of Cathy’s critics say something like, “Sure he has the right to say whatever he wants. The real issue is that Chick-Fil-A gives money to support an ‘anti-gay’ agenda!”

The disturbing thing to me in all of this is that this “anti-gay” label is never clearly defined. On the surface, to be “anti-gay” sounds like it means to bear open hatred and hostility toward homosexuals. The Cathys have protested that they are not “anti-gay,” by which they mean that they will not deny service to homosexual customers or deny employment to applicants on the basis of their homosexuality. But that is not what LGBT activists mean by “anti-gay.”

Look at EqualityMatters’ list of so-called “anti-gay groups,” and it becomes clear that they regard as “anti-gay” any person or group which:

  • understands the Bible to condemn homosexual acts as sinful
  • affirms the value of “traditional marriage” (generally understood to mean monogamous heterosexual marriage for life)
  • disagrees that “marriage” should be legally redefined to include homosexual couples
  • believes that homosexuals can and should leave the “homosexual lifestyle”
  • (apparently even worse) attempts to help people leave the “homosexual lifestyle”

In short, LGBT activists regard anyone who does not accept their understanding of sexual orientation or who opposes any part of their agenda as “anti-gay.” Any Christian ministry which promotes a biblical understanding of sexuality is therefore “anti-gay.” It is not enough to be tolerant of homosexuality in general, to be sympathetic to the difficulties homosexuals face, or to love homosexuals as sinners who, like all of us, struggle with their sinful predilections and addictions. On the contrary, it is necessary to accept their understanding of the world, their assumptions about human nature, their views of what constitutes moral behavior, their reading of the Bible, and ultimately, their theology. Fall short of total agreement, or at least, of unqualified acceptance, and you can count on being regarded as “anti-gay.”

I believe many—if not most—Christians who oppose gay marriage or otherwise disagree with the agenda of LGBT activists do so not because they bear personal animosity toward those who self-identify as “gay.” Most Christians are horrified at the antics of the Westboro Baptists who seem to delight in declaring that “God hates fags.” Most Christians would rightly oppose the persecution of homosexuals or the abrogation of their Constitutional protections. However, many Christians, no matter how tolerant or willing to “live and let live,” are constrained by their understanding of Scripture to regard homosexuality as a “lifestyle” which cannot be condoned, promoted, or embraced. They are likewise constrained by their understanding of Scripture to want to strengthen the “traditional family” by opposing divorce, pornography, infidelity, spousal abuse, and anything else which contributes to its disintegration.

As far as I can see, the Cathys’ position on these matters is hardly exceptional. It is a position consistent with their Christian worldview and their understanding of the Bible. They are only “anti-gay” insofar as their Christian worldview disagrees with the worldview of the LGBT activists, and their only sin appears to be that they lend support to those who agree with their worldview.

Because I too hold to a Christian worldview, I will be supporting the Cathys by taking my family to Chick-Fil-A tomorrow. It may mean that LGBT activists will likewise label me as “anti-gay,” but I reserve the right to disagree with their definition of the term.

A Personal Perspective on the Problem of Evil

How God Brings Good Out of Tragic Loss

[This article was first published on Memorial Day, 2004 in response to an article in the Washington Post Magazine.]

Luther and Warhol

Martin Luther once wrote that “a theologian is born by living, nay dying and being damned, not by thinking, reading, or speculating.” Andy Warhol is often quoted as saying that “everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” What do these two quotes have to do with each other? Simply that the truth of them both has been profoundly driven home to me this Memorial Day.

(Cover Photograph by Doug Mindell – Hand-coloring by Tim Thrasher)
Cover Copyright © 2004, Washington Post Magazine. Used by Permission.

First, let me give you a brief account of my—or more precisely, my family’s—fifteen minutes of fame. The cover of this week’s Washington Post Magazine features a photograph of a young World War II soldier in uniform, along with a black-and-white snapshot of a young woman with her infant son. The title reads, “The Soldier in My Attic: A yellowed paper discovered in the rafters after 60 years leads to a forgotten hero, his lost son and the meaning of sacrifice.” That “forgotten hero” is my grandfather. His “lost son” is my father. And the woman in the snapshot who loved them both is my grandmother.

It’s not every day you get a reporter for the Washington Post piecing together your family history for you, but that is precisely what happened in our case, and the blessing it has been will be felt long after our fifteen minutes of fame are over. Peter Perl, a reporter who has lived in the Washington D.C. area for years, went into his attic one afternoon to measure it for new insulation. In the process, he discovered a tattered cardboard cylinder containing the personal effects and Purple Heart certificate of Second Lieutenant George Charles Oertel Jr., a soldier killed in World War II. Curious to find out who this soldier was, Mr. Perl embarked on a process of discovery which has helped to fill in some of the blanks in my family’s history and to acquaint my dad with the biological father who died when he was just six months old.

I would, of course, encourage everyone to read the aforementioned article, not merely because it concerns my family, but because it is a powerfully written and fitting Memorial Day tribute to the soldiers who have sacrificed—and who continue to sacrifice—everything for the cause of freedom.

By now it should be clear why I quoted Warhol’s comment about everyone enjoying fifteen minutes of fame, but Luther’s enigmatic statement about a theologian “dying and being damned” may take a little more explaining. I understand Luther to mean by this that a true theology must be worked out in the context of real life and refined in the crucible of facing death and its aftermath. Theology cannot merely be done by means of scholarly research and philosophical speculation, because it deals with questions of life, death, and the hope of salvation. The true theologian is one who can apply his theology to life, and whose life informs his theology.

My grandfather’s brief life and tragic death raise an important theological question: how could a good God allow such a promising young life to be cut short? It is a question we ask whenever we witness tragic loss, senseless suffering, or random catastrophe. If God is perfectly good and all-powerful, why does he permit such evils to take place? Theologians and philosophers refer to this question as the “problem of evil,” and it has puzzled mankind since the beginning of time. Assuming, however, that Luther was on to something, let’s use this real-life tragedy as a test-case for understanding the problem of evil. Can we make sense of such a senseless loss? Can we possibly see God’s hand in the midst of it?

A Tragic Loss

My grandfather’s brief life was one of tremendous promise, as I think anyone who reads the Washington Post article would agree. First, there was the promise of his individual potential. A gifted athlete, he had dreams of a professional baseball career after he returned from the war. As a soldier, he appears to have distinguished himself, going from enlisted man to Second Lieutenant during his training, and receiving the Combat Infantryman Badge for “exemplary conduct in action against the enemy.” As a young man, he was apparently deeply religious, very close to his family, and devoted to his young wife.

This last character trait brings us to another area of promise in this young man’s life: the promise of his family legacy. George Oertel Jr. had met and married Gabrielle Louise Hopping, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Brigadier General Andrew Hopping, while back home on leave. They got pregnant right away, and he was shipped out just before George Oertel III, my father, was born. Father and son never saw each other except in photographs, never got to toss the baseball George Jr. was so adept with, never got to live together as a family.

George Jr. was cut down by German artillery fire in an Italian village when my father was still a baby. His wife was a widow at the age of twenty, and she and my dad went to live with her parents for a couple of years. Eventually, she met and married Allen Lang, who adopted my father and changed his name to George Charles Lang.

It’s a Wonderful Death?

For all the reasons listed above, my grandfather’s death was a tragic loss that makes little sense. This loss is compounded when you consider that he was just one of many millions of young soldiers and civilians whose lives were lost in that epic war. But what if that war had never happened? What if my grandfather had been allowed to grow old with his new wife and son? Asking these questions is a little like It’s a Wonderful Life in reverse, but it’s an exercise that will help us come to terms with the “problem of evil” in a way that no logical syllogism could ever accomplish.

If World War II had never happened, if Adolf Hitler had been content with murdering his political rivals in Germany rather than embarking on a course of world conquest, it’s uncertain whether George Oertel Jr. would ever have met, much less married, Gabrielle Louise Hopping. Theirs was a whirlwind, war-time romance, and if it hadn’t been for that war, my father might never have been conceived. For that matter, if it weren’t for World War I, my grandmother likewise might never have been conceived, since she was the daughter of an American doughboy who married a French woman, my great-grandmother “Dee-Dee” (so called because my dad couldn’t pronounce Gabrielle). In a very real sense, I owe my life to the two costliest, most devastating wars in history.

Now, suppose my grandfather had survived the war and returned home. If that had happened, it is doubtful my father and his family would ever have moved to Florida. My grandfather’s family lived in the D.C. area, and he likely would have done the same. Even if he would have decided to move his family elsewhere, what are the chances he would have taken them to the small town of Winter Haven, Florida, where my father met my mother? My father moved there because that was the home of his adoptive father, Allen Lang. Had my grandfather lived, I might never have been born, my wife would be married to someone else, and my four beautiful children [now five] would never have come into this world. When that artillery shell exploded on July 11, 1944, it tragically ended a promising young life, but it also set into motion a chain of events for which I cannot help but be thankful.

Was it good that my grandfather was killed a few short months before his twenty-fifth birthday? Absolutely not. But can it be said that God has used that tragic event for His good purposes? I’d like to think it can. I’m not so sure my presence in the world can be considered an unqualified good. I’m certainly not a better man than the one whose blood runs through my veins. But when I look into the faces of David, Caleb, Bethany, and Alexa [and now also Josiah], I know that God has used my grandfather’s death to make the world a better place. My grandfather gave his life to stop fascism, and God has used his death to bring about new and wonderful life.

It’s Not Always So Easy

It’s admittedly not always so easy to see how God uses tragic events for His good purposes. My grandfather was cut down in his youth, but not before he had conceived a son who in turn has had two children and seven grandchildren [soon to be nine when my sister has her fourth child later this year]. There were countless other soldiers who died without leaving any descendants behind. Where is the good that came out of their deaths? Or what about my nephew, Chad, who developed leukemia at age four and died just weeks before his ninth birthday? Where is the good in that tragic loss? What about the thousands who died in the World Trade Center and Pentagon on what would have been Chad’s twelfth birthday? How has God used that horrific event for good?

We may never know, or see, the countless ways God brings good out of evil, gain out of loss, or blessing out of tragedy. Yet we have two sources of assurance that God always intends for good what man and his fallen world have intended for evil (Genesis 50:20). First, we have the example of the cross: how the salvation of many was accomplished through the greatest evil the world has ever known. Second, we have the assurance of God’s Word, which tells us that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB). We may not always see how, but we have no reason to doubt that God will be true to this promise. The cross of Christ, and the empty tomb, should be all the evidence we need. And if we look closely at those tragedies which touch our own lives, we may just catch a glimpse of God’s good purposes in them, and find reason to give thanks even in the midst of our tears.

Eighteen Years Her Man

After eighteen years, I dared to call myself a man.
I was headed off to college, to learn and understand
The world I thought I held in the palm of my own hand.
Just eighteen years of age, and I thought myself a man.

Now eighteen years have passed since I first called myself her man,
And the wonder that she is I still long to understand.
My grip had proven weak until she offered me her hand,
And without her by my side I would be merely half a man.

These last eighteen years have been far better than the first.
Although we’ve known our share of “for better” and “for worse,”
I still gaze into her eyes and feel my heart about to burst.
Eighteen years have passed and I’m now eighteen years more hers.

My eighteen-year-old follies have all slipped away like sand:
I know the world cannot reside in my poor failing hands.
Yet my world stays in orbit like a golden circling band
Around she who after eighteen years still loves me as her man.