When your son thinks “penal” is a medical term

A few weeks backs, I posted this story on Facebook:

A couple of nights ago, the kids and I were watching America’s Funniest Videos, while AJ was finishing up a school project he missed while on our road trip. He needed to define words and then categorize them. (For example, he defined “pulmonary” and then placed it under the “medical” column.) I was watching as his eyes got big, and instead of just asking out loud for the definition of the word (which he had already done several times) he slipped me the paper with a snicker. He said, “I didn’t want the girls to hear this one!” The words was “Penal.” He was preparing to put the word under “Medical” when I assured him it belonged under “legal.” I explained the word to him and then he, Traci and I wept tears of laughter.

I have a suspicion the “penal” story will circulate in our family for years to come. Even as I write this, I’m snickering as I think about AJ’s reaction, and the moment of realization when he understood the meaning of the word. As my friend Taylor said on a follow-up comment, “To be fair, that one is pretty confusing.” Indeed, and that confusion created a good laugh.

Thankfully, the definition for penal can be quickly explained and AJ won’t have to face massive embarrassment in his adult life when reading about some legal proceedings in the newspaper. Even if he did, barring that he became a lawyer with that same misunderstood knowledge, it wouldn’t take much to fix his thinking.

Other confusing concepts can be significantly more detrimental to someone’s life and growth.

Like many of you, Traci and I are on a great journey of faith right now. It’s interesting how some view this step of obedience as blind or reckless. That belief comes from a misunderstanding about how people have defined the word, “faith.” Here are a few thoughts about what it means to live by faith.

Faith isn’t blind. Yes, there are times in life where we “step out” of the comfort of the boat and out onto the water, trusting Jesus to take care of us. But even in Matthew 14, where Overboard Ministries has its origins, Peter’s act of obedience to walk on water, wasn’t “blind!” Look at the passage. First, Jesus called him out of the boat, so Peter already had the assurance that Christ was behind this ridiculous expression of his faith. Second, Jesus was on the water where Peter was being asked to travel. In other words, Peter could see that Jesus was already doing what He was asking Peter to do. Third, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for losing site of the goal (“You of little faith…why did you doubt?”) reminded Peter that when Jesus calls us to something, He empowers us for the task at hand. Faith isn’t blind.

Those same principles are true for our lives. If Jesus is calling you into action (and I believe He is calling all of His children to action, Ephesians 2:10), you have assurance that He is with you, and for you. According to Hebrews 4:15, Jesus knows what our life experience is like — He lived here on earth, as the Son of God, fully God yet fully man! He knows what this life is about, and understands, experientially, what we’re going through. Finally, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter rings through the ages to you and me. Doubt, fear and anxiety are tools of the enemy to keep us from following the Lord. James 1 tells us, “…you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…” God wants to stretch our faith to build lasting character.

Faith isn’t blind.

Faith isn’t the absence of knowledge. I have a dear friend who doesn’t know the Lord, and who, on more than one occasion, has accused Christians of using “faith” as a crutch to compensate for their lack of knowledge. He especially believes this at it pertains to science and the origins of the universe. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” My friend would say, “See, faith is your source of understanding because of your [a Christian’s] lack of knowledge!”

I love what the writer of Hebrews is telling us in this verse. “What is seen” — in this case, he is talking about the created universe — points us to an invisible Creator. It’s not the absence of knowledge, but the fact that we look around and realize that nothing else in the universe, no atoms, no scientific theory, no natural law, and nothing duplicated in the world around us, can explain the origins of the universe. Each of these theories lacks a common problem — a “first cause.” The writer of Hebrews says we see the world, we can understand much of what it is, and we know that someone outside of creation had to bring it into being. God is the first cause.

The Psalmist said something very similar in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (19:1-2). David, the author of Psalm 19, is telling us that creation screams one message clearly, “There is a God that put all of this into motion!” My knowledge of the world, my understanding of the laws of nature and creation actually point me back to God, not away from Him.

Faith isn’t the absence of knowledge, it’s the recognition that knowledge has its roots in truth, and truth is rooted in the Almighty God of creation!

Faith is never static. Ultimately, too many Christians see faith as a “belief in an idea” or something in their heart. That’s half right, but the other half of faith is crucial; faith must be active! James 2:17 says it clearest: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” I love how The Message paraphrases this verse: “Isn’t it clear that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”

Faith in God isn’t dead belief, it’s a life-giving conviction that there is a reason, bigger than me, to get up each day. It’s an unshakeable belief that the Almighty Creator God gives life and breath to everyone, and living life for Him is the greatest cause to which we can devote ourselves. It’s a rock-solid foundation for life that allows us to weather any storm, comforted in the knowledge that everything in life occurs for our good and God’s ultimate glory. Faith in God graciously fixes my life path toward an end that God knows, and one which He asks me to actively follow, trusting that what I see and know about Him, is enough to take the next step.

If you’ve been playing it safe in life, living in the safety and apparent comfort of the boat because you have a bad understanding of faith, I hope you will listen to God and follow Him today. He rarely shows us the whole path, but almost always lays out the next step. Will you take the next step with Him? Will you see who God is and what He is doing, and take the next step? Will you seek to understand Him and His work around you, and in that renewed knowledge and understanding, take the next step? Will you put action to your faith, and take the next step?

Traci and I wouldn’t choose to be on any other journey. It’s not always easy, but the growth and challenge we’re experiencing is worth the work. We don’t know exactly where this path will end, but we know the One who leads us, and in faith, we’re following Him. Not blindly. Not foolishly. Not passively.

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water.

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1 Response to When your son thinks “penal” is a medical term

  1. Hilarious! And perfectly what I needed to hear today! Praying for you all

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