About a week ago, I met up with F for dinner. During the first part of our conversation, we had a brief discussion about Pastor S’s Sunday sermon on Matthew 16:21-28, “賺了世界，賠上生命.” F deemed the sermon “excellent” while I considered that a poor rendition of one of the most crucial and powerful passages in the Gospel of of Matthew. Despite our differences, we quickly arrived at one common observation, namely that the final applications of that sermon — share the Gospel, serve the church, and support mission — remained largely generic.
The disappointment we felt is particularly real considering what Jesus said in the passage:
Mat 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples,
“If anyone would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross
and follow me.
Mat 16:25 For whoever would save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
How do you summarize Christian discipleship? Simply said, it is to be found in “denying” and “dying.” The call of Jesus is far more radical than “share the Gospel, serve the church, and support mission.” Denying and dying are to take place in the deepest and most fundamental level. Jesus is calling us to demolish the idols we love and cherish the most. He is urging us to (decisively) leave behind this world with “all his boasted pomp and show” that we may truly receive the “solid joys and lasting treasure” which “none but Zion’s children know” (cf. Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken).
Now what are some of the foremost and most powerful idols of our times… in a place like Hong Kong? Well, money, career, prestige, security come quickly to mind. And if you have children in the household, education and schooling become the next inevitable temptations.
As such, Christian discipleship in a place like Hong Kong will largely and necessarily be comprised of denying and dying to deadly idols like money, career, prestige, security while firmly rejecting the notions of education and schooling supplied by an idolatrous culture driven by false promises and fear. [I am sure you Hong Kong parents know I am talking about.]
Ever since our Sunday meeting, I had been thinking much about how (true, biblical) Christian parenting would look like in Hong Kong. And the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that only a radical departure from the world can truly fulfill Jesus’ call to Christian parenting in this idolatrous world. What do I mean by that? I mean instead of keeping our children in the race, we should take them out of it altogether. Instead of aiming to alleviate their pressure in running the (stupid) rat race, we should guide them and urge them to run a totally different race.
That’s what I have been thinking about. How does it look like in practice?
Think about it, if you ask God what a good education looks like, what would He say? Well, without a doubt, God would never define a good education as prestigious schooling, high exam scores, prestigious colleges, a high-earning job plus a successful career. Agree? If so, then we can throw all of the above out of the windows. They should merit no real consideration in our design and aspiration for our children’s education.
What then would be an education pleasing to God? Again, the answer can be quite simple. It is first of all an education that is centered around Knowing God through His Word! I really meant it when I wrote in my previous email, “The Bible — and the Gospel within — is to become everything to them. The Word of God will give them life: it will shape their existence, define their identity, build their values, and guide their paths. There would be no pursuing of this world, no chasing after money, sex and power. Instead, the Lord’s Prayer — seeking His kingdom and righteousness — is to be the singular focus of their lives.”
Again, we must do all things in our powers to nurture our children towards knowing and loving God.
2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God
and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
and for training in righteousness,
2Ti 3:17 that the man of God may be competent,
equipped for every good work.
Deu 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Deu 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your might.
Deu 6:6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
Deu 6:7 You shall teach them diligently to your children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
and when you walk by the way,
and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Now, it should be evident that I am not merely talking about taking the kids to church for worship and/or Sunday School. If this is all you think about being Christian parents, then I can guarantee you that your children will not look much different from the world when they grow up. Seriously, it will take much more to give our children a truly god-ward education. And in order to impact your children with God’s Word, you need to spend time with them… lots of it! And this is where the current educational system becomes a real hindrance.
As you may remember, on the Sunday we met, I spent a great deal of time talking with J. I loved hearing him talk about his life, his loves and dislikes, and his views on many things in Hong Kong. And one theme surfaced repeatedly in our conversation, it is that Hong Kong students are much busier than their counterparts in the West. Somehow the schools (and parents!) found a way to make these little children “work” like robots, so much so that a bright kid like J would still end up having little free time. [I joked that J should voluntarily 流班 and come to live with us for a year.]
Now that is quite a tragedy. It made me think about Neil Postman’s “The Disappearance of Childhood,” though he was writing on an overtly commercialized society. But worse, schools are now “competing” with Christian parents for the precious time needed to bring about a truly godly education to our children.
Some of you will remember Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Disciplines.” And in one of the earlier chapters, he quotes Carl Jung’s famous words, “Busyness is not of the devil; it is the devil.” If indeed that busyness could suffocate our spiritual life, that same busyness will also hamper the spiritual development of our children. In the end, how can you implement a quality biblical education on your children with no time left on the schedule?
But it is not only biblical learning that I am concerned about; I am ultimately concerned about freeing our children from the slaving “fill-the-duck 填鴨式” education that true learning may take place. Here, I envision a three-level education / learning for our children:
2. Individual Gifting
1. Liberal Education
0. Biblical Education
At Level 0 is learning about God’s Word — the most foundational and central part of Christian parenting. Beyond the basics of the biblical stories, children are exposed to systematic and biblical theologies together with the history of the church. Christian biographies are particularly helpful here as we exhort them to live boldly, fearlessly, and single-mindedly for the glory of God. Indeed, the repeated theme should be that none of their learning is to be geared towards money, career, prestige, and security. These are our cultural idols and must be demolished. Instead, we are to live faithfully, trusting in the Lord and seeking His glory in all that we do. Without this solid foundation, all else would amount to nothing.
Once Level 0 is being given its proper priority, we can then freely and earnestly pursue a liberal education for our children that emphasizes not only the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but a true understanding of our world through a balanced curriculum of sciences and humanities. They are to enjoy God in all their study and learning. They are to understand God’s creation through all the subjects and academic divisions. And unlike a techie-education, think MIT, we must encourage our children to wrestle with history and philosophy (of science and technology), to understand human ideologies and idolatry. Of course, in the end, the biblical perspective must stand out. Yet a good liberal education is indispensable in helping our children develop a distinctively Christian worldview.
The last level of our children’s education provides further freedom and encouragement in pursuing one’s calling. I remember M asking me if we had discovered some unique gifting in Emmett and Alethea. No we haven’t, but this is indeed a crucial element to our parenting process. Sir Ken Robinson, a well-known secular educationist, wrote a book titled “The Element.” The subtitle of the book states “Find Your Passion Changes Everything.” He laments that too many gifted people have settled for (financial and professional) security while forgoing their true callings in life. Talk about “opportunity cost.” There is no greater loss of human resources, said Sir Robinson, than people not living their passion.
I think there is a great deal of truth in what he said. That is why when I saw J’s drawing, i asked her to promise me that she would keep drawing and drawing and drawing. This does not mean that she would one day become a world-renowned artist, but it is our way to impress upon her mind that God has uniquely gifted her and God delights in seeing her exercise her gifts and passion for His glory. The worst thing we can do as parents at that juncture is perhaps to “grade those passions of our children” based on its “potential $$$ value, usefulness and marketability.”
Still, not all passions are equal. In Sir Robinson’s world, every passion / calling is equal in value and legitimacy, but this is not so in God’s world. Kathy has a cousin whose gift and passion are in “programming computer games.” Now that turns out to be a financially-rewarding career, and he seems genuinely passionate about what he is doing. But that does not mean that it is a legitimate Christian calling. The truth is that if he ever gets converted and becomes a (thoughtful) Christian, one of the first things he would likely wrestle with is the meaningfulness (or the lack of meaning) of his job.
Indeed, Christians are heavenly beings with an earthly existence. We live for meaning — meaning as given by our Creator and Redeemer God. We live for God’s glory, and not for the idols of this world. Therefore ultimately, the Christian calling lies in the intersection between one’s God-given talents and one’s God-sanctified passion. Indeed, without true sanctification of mind and heart, a Christian calling is utterly impossible. But once the sanctifying process has begun, we cannot help but long to seek out and live out God’s calling for us… even if it means monetary sacrifices and familial opposition.
What would happen if we would direct our children in a god-ward direction? Does it mean that they would become successful? Does it mean that God would bless them such that they would be respected by many in our world? Well, God indeed would bless them, but the blessing will look very different than what the world would expect. I have a feeling that if our children turn out to be godly, they would likely live poorer lives than we live. They would give more sacrificially and they would likely not occupy jobs / career of high status and power. But in exchange, they would live with godliness, profound joy and contentment. They would engage themselves in the “business of creating meaning.” They would learn to trust God for everything in life; they would live boldly, fearlessly, single-mindedly and unreservedly. They would see Jesus… high and lifted up… before their eyes. They would hear the cheers from the saints… the “clouds of witnesses”… that they would stay faithful in suffering and being rejected by the world.
What a vision to have for our children?! What a dream that will be?! To see the glory of God… to see the mystery of the Gospel… revealed in them!
But it all begins here and now… with us and not with our children. How we live will affect how they live. What we envision for them will in years, by the grace of God, become reality in them… I told F during our dinner that if we were to live in Hong Kong (and not permitted to home-school), we will probably find a school (perhaps in Band 2 or Band 3) known for their “light workload” and “unbusy student life.” We would voluntarily drop out of the rat race that we may be devoted to the one true race. Indeed, there is only one race that is worth racing for.
Come, and run the race… with Jesus… to Jesus… and for Jesus!