Growing Kingdom People – What is “Best” for our Children?

What is “Best” for our Children?

A few days ago, Felicity Huffman was sentenced for her role in a disheartening college admissions scandal where she schemed to falsify her daughter Sophia’s SAT scores.  In a letter to the judge presiding over the case, Felicity shared her daughter’s reaction to the news.  Sofia said, “Why didn’t you believe in me?  Why didn’t you believe I could do it on my own?”

Could Sophia have succeeded on her own?  If her SAT score was not high enough, could she have tried again or chosen an alternate path?

Certainly.  And as things have turned out, this would definitely have been the better choice.  But even without the scandal, it is highly possible an honest assessment of her strengths would have guided her to a place of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

As a parent, I can testify that most of us want what’s best for our children.  However, best is a tricky word.  What’s best may not always be what’s easy, for us or our children.  Allow me to make a few “best” suggestions:

It is best that we spend as much time as possible with our children.  Unfortunately, due to financial realities or career expectations, many parents must spend extended periods of time away from their children.  I am aware of a mother who holds down three jobs to provide for her children.  However, I am also aware of households where parents work more than is necessary so they can purchase things they don’t need. They delegate the greater part of their children’s moral guidance and emotional support to others, and provide them with lots of cool stuff.  Yet, stuff is not the same as substance, and observation tells me children will ultimately choose their parent’s example over the instruction of others.

It is best that we hold our children accountable. Perhaps you have tried to hold a child accountable, only to run into a parent who defends him, unconditionally.  Some are convinced their children’s problems are always someone else’s fault, and their children are forever the victim.  It is good to protect our children from abuse or bullying, but there is something to be said for letting them fight their own battles and take responsibility for their own mistakes.  Even if the facts support their innocence, if our children are not in danger, it might be best to let them work through life’s injustices.  In doing so, our children might learn to treat others with greater sensitivity, or to use discretion in their conversations.  When we encourage our children to embrace life’s imperfections, and help them find their own solutions, they gain wisdom and learn how to manage difficult situations similar to the ones they will face as adults.

It is best to make the worship of God a priority in our child’s life. I have heard parents say they don’t want to burn their children out on church, for fear they will turn against it when they are older.  Certainly, children need balance so they don’t live in a religious bubble.  But experience tells me a child is much more likely to abandon something that has never been a priority.  Children not only need to learn about God, but they also need to experience growing up in a faith community.  In community, they learn how God takes people from every walk of life and puts them in His church.  They learn to demonstrate unselfish love and service, and find joy in walking with others sinners, saved by grace.  In respect to children burning out on church, I have discovered they are much more likely to dismiss church because of the things their parents say and do than they are because of overexposure to worship.

It is best that our children have a good example to follow.  This is the irony of Felicity Huffman’s crime.  In her desire to provide the best for her daughter, she robbed her of the best thing she had to offer her: a family name with a good reputation.  The best thing we can give our children is the best person we can be.  While we need to be careful what we share, we should acknowledge our sins and show our children, by example, how to repent, seek forgiveness and walk with humility.  This doesn’t mean we should live in a perpetual state of spiritual regret.  On the contrary, our children need parents who live confident lives.  Parents who have the courage to take on personal struggles and grow in their walk with the Lord.

If giving our children everything was the secret to success, then America should have the most perfect citizens in the world.  We know better.

The “best” is not what we think.

Yes, our children do deserve the best.

It is up to us to discern what it is and provide it in abundance.

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Growing Kingdom People – How to Use a Sharpie Pen

How to Use a Sharpie Pen 

You have surely seen the news story of our President’s edit to the projected path of Hurricane Dorian.  The humor isn’t in the prediction, as there was a time when Dorian could have found its way to Alabama.  It is the timing of the President’s projection (at a time when Alabama was clearly not in danger), and the use of a Sharpie Pen to edit a weather map that makes people laugh.

To be honest, I don’t get too involved in opinions about this sort of thing.  Our President loves to use sarcastic humor, and he relishes the reaction of the press, so there is really no way of knowing for sure whether his Sharpie edit was intentional or an indication he was out of touch.

Either way, the thought of the most powerful politician in the world using a Sharpie Pen to support his predictions reminds me of a third-grade classmate of mine who tried to change an “F” on her report card to a “B”.  The edit was wishful, but not very effective.

Lest we become too focused on the President, it might be wise to consider our own use of the Sharpie Pen in relation to God’s Word.  We are guilty of making some wild edits of our own, sometimes altering entire eternal projections in the process.

Consider these examples:

In regards to eternal salvation: The Apostle Paul wrote, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  I am not the proverbial “hell, fire and brimstone” preacher.  In fact, if anything, I don’t talk enough about eternal punishment.  But I can’t arbitrary take my Sharpie and extend the invitation into eternal life to include those who do not “obey the gospel.”  Believe me, I would if I could!  I’m a softy.  But, I would be untruthful in doing so.

In regards to how we handle conflict: The second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Jesus said I am in danger of judgment if I am angry with my brother (Matthew 5:22).  So you don’t freak out when you become angry, I take this to mean, “If I remain angry and don’t seek reconciliation”, as anger only places me at risk.  But still.  I can’t draw a Sharpie circle around those I don’t like and say, “I am going to love everyone but these.”

In regards to compassion:  While doing loving things for others isn’t how we earn our salvation, if we ignore the needs of others, our understanding of the Lord’s heart is brought into question, as is our obedience to His will.  In His famous “least of these” teaching in Matthew 25, Jesus gave us this glimpse into His final judgement: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:40-41) I might draw Sharpie asterisks by the people I want to exclude from compassion and try to squeak by with Christ.  But I don’t think He would be sympathetic to my justification.

In regards to morality: In every age, there appears to be “allowances” made for immoral behavior because it is accepted by society.  Two hundred years ago, Christians in our country owned slaves and traded them like cattle.  A hundred years ago, industrialists, many of whom claimed Christ as Lord, exploited workers and amassed huge fortunes while some went hungry.  Today, many believers are comfortable with casual sex and sex outside of God’s clear biblical directives.  In each of these cases, the Sharpie Pen has been and is being used to strike through commands we don’t like.

But one thing is certain: Just as sure as Hurricane Dorian was pushed to the right by a high-pressure system, God’s Word will be honored.  He will keep His promises, whether they be blessings or consequences.  I have wondered if God laughs or weeps at our attempts to change His truths.  Perhaps both, but I suspect He mostly weeps.

We can scribble, circle and strike-out all we want, but we must remember some words that came through Balaam.  They followed a very interesting encounter with a talking donkey (known as “Balaam’s Ass”) in which Balaam was reminded to be faithful with God’s instructions.  Balaam said, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

Anyone who wants to play games with God’s Word should…

…well…

…get his ass in gear.

Sharpie Pen that!

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Growing Kingdom People – Total Devastation

Total Devastation

The word “devastation” is being used to describe the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s direct hit on the Bahamas.

“Total devastation”

“Complete devastation”

“Absolute devastation”

If you have seen some of the first pictures from the Bahamas, I feel certain you would agree, “devastation” is an appropriate word.  It is rooted in the Medieval Latin expression, “to lay waste.”

Although we see the images, it hard to fully grasp what has happened to so many.  People’s homes have been lost, communities erased and lives lost.

This terrible tragedy, and the proper use of the word “devastation” reminds me that some words are used so often, and in such insignificant ways, they lose their power.  I once heard a Christian college President, Dr. Matt Proctor, use the example of the word “awesome” to illustrate this point.  He noted how strange it was that the same word used to describe God, the Creator of the universe, was also used by some to describe a pizza.

There are other words that suffer the same fate.

We speak of “hell on earth.”  I have met people who have experienced such pain and sorrow in this life, I fully understand why they say they have “been through hell.”  But have they really?  I do not wish to diminish what others have endured, but there is one major difference between the horrors of hell and that of earth:  God is not present in hell.  At least on earth, we have a Heavenly Father to hold us, love us, comfort us and guide us.  I don’t think there is any way we can imagine what it means to experience pain outside of the presence of God, with the possible exception of those who have been victimized by something so dark and evil, God seemed non-existent.  But even in these cases, He was, indeed, present.  Hell, on the other hand, is a place of absolute separation from God.

Don’t worry.  I won’t criticize you for saying you have “been through hell.”  I get it.

I’m just saying, we must not forget the difference between a metaphorical reference and the real thing.  The same thing is true of positive words such as love.  How can my love for blackened chicken possibly compare to my love for my wife of 37 years?  Or Christ’s love for me on the cross?  For one thing, you will never catch me making a significant sacrifice for a blackened chicken sandwich.

OK, maybe a small one, such as driving an extra mile or two out of my way.

Hopefully, you get my point.

We throw words around loosely.  And in a day when personal, verbal attacks have become commonplace, we think nothing of using degrading words to describe others.  However, Jesus once said, if we call our brother an empty-headed fool, we are in danger of going to hell (Matthew 5:22).

That’s the real hell.  Not the pretend one.

Words matter.  The right word can help us fully appreciate what has occurred in others’ lives, such as those whose world has been devastated by Hurricane Dorian.

The wrong word can diminish a greater subject, or overstate a lesser experience.

If we can’t think of the right word, there is always an alternative.  We can remain silent (Proverbs 11:12).

At times, silence is the best word of all.

 

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – Crazy Larry’s Almanac for the New School Year

Almanac for the New School Year

The Farmers Almanac has been in publication since 1818. In general, it provides long-range weather forecasts, employing old-school methods that existed before the invention of modern radar and satellite imaging. When I was a teen, someone gave me a copy of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”, a volume of predictions and wise sayings written by Benjamin Franklin under a pseudonym.

I don’t presume to be Benjamin Franklin, and I don’t understand all of the atmospheric data weather forecasters use for their predictions, but I wish to make some predictions and offer some advice for parents who will be sending their children off to school in a few days. To borrow from a common “almanac” saying: Take these with “a grain of salt.”

CRAZY LARRY’S ALMANAC – 2019

Children will be influenced and impacted by their school experience. Continue to ground them in who they are and whose they are so they aren’t defined exclusively by others.

Children will have bad days when they are treated unfairly and their self-image is bruised. Listen carefully to their pain, and love them, but try to help them understand the realities of life as they find ways to overcome them.

There is a possibility some children will be bullied or abused by others. If you notice drastic changes in your child’s mood or behavior over an extended period of time, try to get to the bottom of things and seek professional help if necessary.

Every child is different, and while we want children to succeed, there is a distinct possibility they will not fulfill our personal dreams and predictions. Stay loose in your expectations and continue to focus on the fundamentals of character, morality and truth.

Children will like some teachers better than others. While serious mismatches between teaches and students do occur, use less favorable circumstances as an opportunity to strengthen your child’s ability to adapt to different learning environments and to respect authority.

Remember how much you mean to your child. Take time in the midst of a busy school year to eat with them, shop with them, play with them and pray with them.

Big events in the world will affect your child, and though you may try to shield them at home, they will still be exposed to some information at school that will make them afraid. If your child mentions a disheartening news story, ask how it makes him or her feel, and look for ways to offer reassurance.

Your child will be exposed to ideas, words and actions that go against their upbringing. If they share, instead of just saying, “That’s terrible!”, take time to process why the things they have seen and heard bother them.

You may receive a note from a teacher telling you your child has misbehaved or is falling behind. Resist the temptation to rise to their defense and remember they are flawed human beings who need to learn accountability, responsibility and respect.

As your child grows and learns, your role will be increasingly marginalized in his or her eyes. Remember, you will always have a role, and pray for the wisdom to know how to let go while continuing to pour love and truth into your child’s life.

While you are not with your child at school, the Lord is there. As a steward of the life He has placed in your care, trust Him to collaborate with you as your child grows into the purposes He has prepared.

In all of these things, pray. We can’t be everywhere and in everything, but God can. He will continue to guide us all in His truth and lead us to a place where we can share in His blessings.

And there’s nothing crazy about that.

 

 

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Growing Kingdom People – “Selling Greenland”

Selling Greenland

When I heard our President express an interest in buying Greenland, I immediately thought of some conversations I have had with friends who have been there to visit. All of them told me two things: It’s beautiful and its expensive. I wondered how much Greenland would cost, if it were made available. Some estimates run in the ½ Trillion range, give or take a few glaciers. I guess we should have purchased it in the 40s when the price tag was around 100 million, though we had other priorities at the time.

I do believe Greeland would be a good purchase. With global warming, the glaciers there are going to continue to melt, producing more land, and exposing vast resources of mineral wealth. We could build a football stadium there and relocate the Minnesota Vikings. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the people of Minnesota, but we would have to have some sort of team named “The Vikings” on Greenland (though I feel certain some already exist). And we would pay for the purchase somehow. Perhaps with toll roads.

There is actually a Christian hymn about Greenland called, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” It was written by Reginald Heber, who died serving his church in Calcutta, India in 1826. The hymn begins “From Greenland’s icy mountains: From India’s coral strand.” The song is about sharing Christ with the nations and contains the line, “Salvation! Oh, Salvation, The joyful sound proclaim.”

The news outlets have been reacting to our President, who had the audacity to suggest we buy a sovereign country. But it never hurts to ask. Those who make their living in real estate have learned “everyone has their price.” Tossing out ridiculous proposals is one way to get the conversation going to see if a possibility exist.

I am reminded there are two distinct purchase offers presented in scripture. The first comes from Satan, our Adversary. In his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness he offered to give Jesus as much land as He could see. Never mind that Jesus already owned the universe. The price? Jesus would have to bow down and worship Satan. The deal fell flat.

The other offer comes from Christ, who has already paid for our debt of sin on the cross, and invites us to walk with Him in spiritual freedom. The Apostle Paul writes, “You were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

The difference between these offers and the Greenland offer is that we don’t have the luxury of doing nothing. We will either sell our souls or accept the grace of God. There is no in-between. I realize there are those who would refute this truth, claiming there is no such thing as a spiritual realm. Yet, even this is a choice to deny the existence of our Creator and reject His love for us. Those who do so may not believe they have chosen one side over the other, but they have indeed opted for  spiritual death.

Salvation in Christ is expensive. It is so expensive we would not be able to pay for it if we were the richest person or nation on earth. A half-trillion dollars wouldn’t begin to purchase one drop of blood that fell from Calvary. The price had to be paid by our Lord, and He offers grace to anyone who is willing to follow Him in faith.

I think about the cost of spiritual things quite often when I weigh the consequences of my sins against the suffering of my Lord. Sin always costs me something, and it has already cost Christ everything. This helps me realize, while I don’t pay for eternal salvation, there is a cost to following Christ. It is the same price tag it cost Him to purchase my soul.

Everything.

Christ requires everything. My being, my time, my wealth and my talent.

Does this sound a bit extreme? I concur. But I remember Jesus’ question in a conversation with His disciples: “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

I can’t imagine what it would be, but I’ll guarantee you it would be a lot more than the purchase price for Greenland.

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Growing Kingdom People – “Do Something!”

“Do Something!”

The chant, “Do Something” rang from a crowd of frustrated citizens after the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Soon afterward, a local Dayton band produced a song titled, “Do Something – A Call to Action.” The song calls on those in authority to do something about gun violence.

Indeed, we need to do something. Certainly, government has a role to play as our society takes steps in hopes of stopping future mass shootings. As I am sure you are aware, there are two sides to the gun debate, and a substantial crowd with varying opinions in the middle.

Regardless of your personal opinion and position, I suspect we can all agree we need to “do something.” In fact, as you are aware, someone did do something. Universal Studios pulled a satirical horror movie titled “The Hunt” which depicted people hunting fellow human beings for sport. They felt this was not the time for the release.

I applaud Universal Studios for their decision. They did something. However, I question their motives. Had the studio cared about the possible connection between screen violence and mass shootings, they would not have produced the movie to begin with.

I understand the chant, “Do Something.” We have all watched old westerns (which have their own share of violence), in which people are gunned down as the town’s people send out an S.O.S. for someone to come and restore order. My favorite is “The Quick and the Dead” where a female gunfighter (Sharon Stone) comes back to town to seek vengeance on the man (Gene Hackman) who killed her father while he was serving as Sheriff. The movie leads its audience to ask, “Can anyone stop this evil?” You may know, Sharon served justice on Gene, and as she tossed her father’s badge to a soon-t0-be Sheriff she said: “The law’s come back to town.”

It remains to be seen how we might bring law and order to the problem of mass shootings. Yet, I believe one thing: it will not be a single answer. The solution will be multi-faceted, and everyone is going to have to make a contribution. With this in mind, I offer the following ways we can help:

Do Something Action Step #1: Be serious about moral instruction and spiritual community. It is no secret our culture is becoming less literate of biblical truth and less committed to communities of faith.  If you don’t believe me, see what happens the next time some of the brightest and quickest minds on the planet find themselves facing a Bible-based category on Jeopardy. Can I be a good person apart from God’s Word? In some ways. Can I love people without being active in the Lord’s church? Yes. But the combination of planting God’s Word in our hearts, in our personal lives and in a spiritual community to which we feel accountable is where moral character is formed. If you want to do something to build a stronger moral foundation for your household and our society, read your Bible and be active in a church. I know it sounds simple, but I don’t know how anyone can demand others “do something” when they don’t make God a priority.

Do Something Action Step #2: Support and pray for law enforcement officers. These are the ones who bring law and order to our community. The unfortunate videos we see of officers doing bad things grossly distort reality. Every day, men and women put their lives on the line to keep us safe. They attempt to engage their communities and serve in ways that are never seen or reported. You can do something for law officers by buying their coffee in line at your morning caffeine station, or picking up their tab at a restaurant. When you see them in uniform, thank them for their service, and try not to be a pain by disobeying road signs and making them waste their time by giving you a ticket.

Do Something Action Step #3: Let those who peddle violence through various media know you don’t appreciation their work. Please understand, I am not saying products such as violent video games and movies always lead to violent acts. But they do make a contribution to the problem, and the principle of free speech is no more an excuse to mindlessly ramp up the depiction of violence than the right to bear arms is to dismiss the debate over things such as background checks. As they say, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” (Well…some people still say it).

Do Something Action Step #4: Serve others. We can no longer afford to be self-absorbed in our culture. There are too many challenges in every fold of every fabric of society for us to think we will not be impacted by what happens to others. Consider a ministry that reaches out to neighborhoods plagued by drug trafficking, prostitution and poverty (not to suggest that these things always go together, but desperation puts people in a place of vulnerability where illegal activity finds fertile soil). Become a mentor for marriages, or a big brother or sister for a child who needs extra guidance. Teach a Sunday School class. Help out in your church’s Student Ministry. Join a prison ministry. Walk with people suffering from mental disorders. The list is endless, but I am certain our government can’t do all of these things by itself. To be honest, I don’t want a government that is big enough to do everything. That’s what we’re here for.

“Do Something!” Yes, we need help with corrective steps in our country that require political clout. But what happens after the next election when people move in and out of office, or the next election, or the next? We should not expect anything to happen in response to our “Do Something” chants if we aren’t willing to do something ourselves.

“Do Something” is no more profound than our “Thoughts and Prayers” when we do nothing.

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Growing Kingdom People – What God’s Word Says About Debates

What God’s Word Says about Debates

The Bible doesn’t declare debates are always helpful or well managed. But they are necessary, and leaders of the early church weren’t afraid to address tough topics in the interest of protecting the integrity of the gospel.

One of the most famous Bible debates is found in Acts 15. The topic was circumcision, but the principle at stake was much broader.  Allow me to explain:

Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of the covenant. All faithful Jewish parents circumcised their male infants in obedience to God. Since the first church of the New Testament was Jewish, members likely never considered the possibility they might worship with uncircumcised people groups.

Until the Gentiles became Christians.

Once this cultural line was crossed, the church became divided in its view toward circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of the old covenant and was not required to follow Christ. However, since it had traditionally been seen as a sign of faithfulness to God, it was hard for many Jews to fathom a church with uncircumcised believers.

One day some tightly wound troublemakers travelled from Judea to Antioch, where Gentiles were coming to Christ, and began stirring up dissention over the circumcision issue. As a result, the church at Antioch sent the Apostle Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to debate the matter with the church leaders there. This event is called “The Jerusalem Council.” In the end, it was decided circumcision was unnecessary, but an appeal was made that Gentiles “abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:29)

I read the account of this debate this week and found some practices worth noting in this season of political debate. I am not suggesting a spiritual debate is the same as a political one, or that we should expect politicians to follow Christian principles. But, perhaps, there is something to be learned from the early church.

The Jerusalem debate was rooted in a common bond. When Paul and Barnabas arrived. they were welcomed by the church, along with the apostles and elders there. Everyone knew the topic of circumcision was a difficult one, but people on all sides of the debate acknowledged one another as members of the same spiritual body. Political debates should begin with the same mutual respect for fellow Americans. We are all a part of a great nation, and we share a sacred responsibility to maintain the Constitution and the principle of freedom.

The Jerusalem debate began by celebrating spiritual victories. Paul and Barnabas rehearsed everything God was doing through them. We aren’t told how the apostles and elders initially reacted to their news, but we are told the people Paul and Barnabas met on their way to Jerusalem rejoiced over the progress that was taking place among the Gentiles. It would be unrealistic to expect political debates to begin with prayers of thanksgiving, although it wouldn’t hurt. But perhaps a more positive and grateful attitude on everyone’s part would be a good thing.

The Jerusalem debate allowed dissenting voices to express their opinions. I will add that this debate did not take place in public, where people with a growing faith could become confused or be hurt. However, within the closed context of the council, even the Christian Pharisees were allowed to speak. They, of course, were on the side of circumcision. We should expect we will not agree with everyone, regardless of the topic. But it is important that those with opposing views have a clear statement of belief and be allowed to share. The Pharisees said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). There was no mocking or name-calling at the council. Everyone made their views known without attacking one another’s character or personhood.

The participants in the Jerusalem debate were good listeners. The Bible says, “The whole assembly became silent as they listened” (Acts 15:12). They were thinking instead of talking. Talk is good, but talk without reflection is often nothing more than talk. This may be the most disheartening characteristic of modern political debates:  they aren’t about listening.  They are about winning, not arriving at a mutually beneficial conclusion.

The Jerusalem debate ended with a good outcome. The requirements the council placed on the Gentile churches was a big opinionated. With the exception of sexual immorality, their requests were mostly a matter of personal preference. Yet, the Gentile church grew, and the circumcision issue was officially removed as an obstacle to the gospel.

This would be my personal hope for all aspects of our political process. Not that circumcision would be removed (in case I lost you in my transition). But rather that everyone would seek an outcome that would provide a blessing for our great country and our descendants. We are stewards of our society, and we cannot afford to view government merely as a means to feed our selfish ambitions.

The future depends on our ability to nurture what we have been given and leave it better than we found it.

On this, there should be no debate.

But I’m sure one exists.

 

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