Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Are you afraid?

We live in a time with a lot of people giving us many reasons to be afraid--Swine Flu, the economy, the national debt, terrorism, war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, pirates from Somalia, tax hikes, earth quakes, floods, tornado, etc.  The Weather Channel runs a series call, It Could Happen Tomorrow.  The History Channel is running series on Gangs and UFO.

I hear that there is a new term for the obsession of such fears.  It's called pessimism porn.  Chicken Little was addicted to it.  I think I have problem too since my two favorite TV shows are Lost and Jericho.  Of course, I'll never know how Jericho ended since they pulled it off the air, but I'm watching season 1 on reruns right now.  Lost plays on fears that the whole world can be in jeopardy from a number of different people or sources.  Maybe most of our TV shows do the same sort of things.

That's not new either, look at any 1950s sci-fi movie.  Nuclear disasters were the reason for so many things to be afraid.

Here, though, is a list of verses that I think will help you when these things become scare.  I think every parent needs to review these verses whenever they are overwhelmed by the things that could go wrong in the life of their children.  Before and after you watch the news, pull a couple of these verses out.  They should help to set your mind at ease.

Gen 15:1
Gen 21:17
Gen 26:24
Gen 46:3
Exod 14:13
Exod 20:20
Num 14:9
Num 21:34
Deut 1:17
Deut 1:21
Deut 1:29
Deut 3:2
Deut 3:22
Deut 7:18
Deut 18:22
Deut 20:1
Deut 31:6
Deut 31:8
Josh 8:1
Josh 10:8
Josh 10:25
Josh 11:6
Judg 6:23
1 Sam 12:20
2 Kings 1:15
2 Kings 19:6
2 Kings 25:24
1 Chron 22:13
1 Chron 28:20
2 Chron 20:15
2 Chron 20:17
2 Chron 32:7
Isa 10:24
Isa 37:6
Isa 40:9
Isa 41:14
Isa 43:5
Isa 44:2
Isa 44:8
Isa 54:4
Jer 1:8
Jer 40:9
Jer 42:11
Ezek 2:6
Ezek 3:9
Dan 10:12
Dan 10:19
Zech 8:13
Zech 8:15
Matt 1:20
Matt 10:26
Matt 10:28
Matt 28:5
Matt 28:10
Luke 1:13
Luke 1:30
Luke 2:10
Luke 12:4
Luke 12:32
John 12:15
John 14:27
Acts 18:9
Acts 27:24
Rev 1:17
Rev 2:10

Do you think your circumstances are really worse that all these folks?  If not, then I think God's message to you is the same.  Do not be afraid.  Have faith.  He is able.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #5 You're better safe than sorry

I don't think parents too often actually sit a child down and tell them that you're better safe than sorry. I can remember hearing this in the past, as in during my childhood, but I don't think it was a message given by my parents. It was probably something I picked up in my 1.5 years of Cub Scouts or with the ultraconservative Jr. High football coach who bravely lead my team to a zero win season. "Better safe than sorry, Men."

Here's the thing, while I don't have evidence that parents use these words when talking to their children, I do think that Christian parents and the churches of America teach this all the time.

That's why we live in the suburbs by the way. That's why we pay high house prices to live in school districts that are free of the riff raff, gangs and drugs of the inner-city.

In my children's high schools each child is allow 1.5 electives in their course schedule. One day in two they have either gym or health. The other day they can learn art or philosophy or music or something. Now they have another option to take those courses if they desire, but few do. Why? Because you'll be better safe than sorry. Therefore, every school administer, teacher and course book recommends that they take at least 3 years of foreign language.

Now I'm not against foreign languages. I wish I would have learned more. But I can tell you, those courses I took in high school didn't teach me one lick how to communicate to people of other languages. I don't think my kids will be better off either. Both of them are taking German anyhow. The fact is, everyone I've ever known who I'd need to talk to who spoke German, spoke English too.

I'm not against learning German. I'm against the better safe than sorry mentality that directs artistic kids or kids with a scientific bent into the same course schedule. "Why?" I asked the school counselor once. "Because you never know if you are going to apply for a school that demands 3 or 4 years of foreign language for applicants." Hmm. I looked it up, and very few schools actually make that demand. Very few.

Now the church lives this way too. People lived that way in Jesus' day. He called them Pharisees and teachers of the Law. These were people who were so afraid of breaking the Law of God that they made their own laws to protect it.

We do similar things in a different way. We expect that our children should go to college because otherwise there will be closed doors. We send them on safe mission trips to safe regions of the world so that they can have a good experience. We work extra hours in our jobs because we want our kids to have every economic advantage. We tell them to be good strong Christians, but don't act weird. Make sure that you fit into the church group. No weird clothes or strange music that people don't get. We offer program after program so that no child (or adult) will feel left out. We offer services with every kinds of music so that everyone feels they have a place.

Why? Because, we’re better safe than sorry. Don't burn any bridges.

I'm not sure that Jesus lived this way. He burned bridges. Not every bridge, but the safe ones. Not the bridges to the marginalized, but the bridges to the mainstream. He didn't mind making those "religious" people feel left out.

He wasn't safe. No, his behavior cost him his life.

That's drastic. Do we want to put our children in a place where their lives will be in danger? Of course not, but their lives will be shallow unless we allow them to push those limit.

Stef showed me a video this morning where Francis Chan gave a silly analogy of Christians as gymnasts who plays it safe . It’s silly because no Olympic gymnast would cling to a balance beam like he does in this video. In the same way, Christians can't cling to their faith in such a safe way as to not risk "loosing" it. It's God's job to protect the hearts of our children. The Holy Spirit is responsible for working these things into their hearts. All we can do as parents is teach our children is teach to trust, or teach them to fear.

I hope that I'm teaching my children to trust God. That's faith. Fear is a lack of faith. To not have faith is to be an unbeliever. I hope my kids are learning to be believers.

Bono has a line on U2's latest album, No Line on the Horizon. He says, "Stop helping God across the street like a little old lady." It took me a bit to understand this line, but he's talking about being religious folks who are trying to make religion safe rather than a matter of faith.

So, I want parents, teachers and mentors to consider this. Are you helping God across the street or are you helping the children in your life to develop a faith that allows for real risk? If you are then stop!  Take them out of the "better safe than sorry classes and help them to discover faith by trial.

Faith isn’t safe, but, in the end, faith is the only real thing we can have. In the end to live a safe life is to be sorry if we don’t allow our children to develop this real, active faith that is not afraid.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Which is more freedom?

I've been listening to the latest Mars Hill Audio with Ken Meyer.  If you are a heady person and like to think about complicated things, I recommend this mp3 subscription,  If not your going to think it sounds too much like NPR and will turn it off.

This quarter's journal features some discussions about freedom, particularly with respect to free market or economic issues, but they say you can only understand economic freedom in light of theology. (This post isn't about economics in any way.  It's about relationship.)

Here's my illustration and question. This morning after riding my exercise bike I took a 5 minute cool-down walk down the block.  Caspian (my pooch) knows when my bike ride is coming to an end.  He usually shows up at peddleside when my timer beeps or my peddling slows.

He knows that I take him on this walk.  I'll take him without a leash.

I take him because I know he needs the walk as much as I do before he's locked in his crate for the day.  I don't use a leash because I'm tire and don't feel like looking for one for a five minute walk.  Besides, most of the neighbors are off at work or school.  There's little chance of running across another dog walker.

This is what I was thinking this morning.

When I walk him without a leash, because I know that I'm violating my HOA rules, I demand that he heal the whole time.  He must walk a foot or two from my left leg.  If he starts to move ahead or is distracted by a fun smell, I immediately give him a "hey" or a quick foot tap to remind him that he has to be close.  He's getting pretty go at this because he loves walking with me.

If I were to go for a walk in the middle of the day, or a little longer of a walk, I'd put him on lead.  He likes that too.  On command, he'll even jump up an stick his nose into his Gentle Leader because his knows what that means and that means a fun walk.  We have a long leash.  I think it's 12-feet long.  When we walk, I let him use all 12 plus as long as there aren't any cars, small children or white fluffy dogs that he loves soooooo much.  He can smell every smell and pee on every bush or cable box.  What fun for a dog!

So, my question.  Which one affords him more freedom?  He he free when he has the ability to run off but stays close because of his respect for me?  Or is he free when he's allowed to do pretty much what ever he wants as long as I can pull him back by the leash?

Which picture is paints your relationship with God?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Review: Outliers by Malcom Gladwell/iPhone Kindle App.

I just finished reading my first Kindle book.  I don't have a Kindle, but I used the iPhone App.

In brief, I liked reading on my iPhone.  It moved really well, I always had the book with me, and I didn't have any trouble with seeing the book at all.  The down side was that I couldn't tap on the notes links at all.  I got to one or two after tap-tap-tap-tap, but a few notes I just gave up on reading after tapping a good number of times.   I'll tell you I read this book much, much faster than I would have read the typical 320 page book.  That length book usually takes me 3 to 4 times longer with starts and stops.  I was challenged to read this without any long delays.  Speaks well for both the Kindle App and for Outliers.

As for the book.  Malcom Gladwell outlines a compelling thesis in Outliers.  I gather that his main point is that success doesn't just happen, and that there aren't some people who are born to succeed. Rather, success is a matter of many key factors lining up just right.  Birthdate, opportunities to practice a trade, timing of swinging economic trends and regional/people-group culture a play a part in defining those who have succeeded in great measure.

Gladwell caught my attention in the first chapter as he spoke about birth timing.  I've noticed this before.  As students work through schools and through sports, those who are the oldest in their class year succeed at a higher rate than the younger.  Success is in some measure determined by timing of your birth.

Gladwell goes on to show other ways that highly successful people have benefited from things outside their control.  Of course, the true outliers always took advantage of the opportunities that they are given.

As Gladwell pulls the information together, he proposes that in order to make more people successful, they need opportunities.  I think that is simple enough.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure that studying outliers is at all a way that we can help more people succeed.  Outliers are just that, outliers.  That means they are the rare few who succeed far beyond anyone else.  The Beatles are outliers, but can't realistically develop a system that will make every disadvantaged, hopeful musician into the next Super band.  If we develop that system, everyone will be that good, presumably, thus they won't be that special.  The true outliers will rise up in some other way.

My next complaint with Outliers is that I am concerned by the measure of success in the end.  I've heard this measure being used time and time again.  That is, I think that Gladwell seemed to indicate that if we found the things that each culture did well and helped all other cultures to assimilate those aspects, then every culture will be more successful.

It work in Korean Air as the learned to fly like Americans.  It seems to be working in some inner-city schools, the KIPP schools, as they assimilate educational principles of the rice cultures (Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, etc.).

First, while I'm sure that we don't want Korean pilots to fly more airplanes into hillsides, and we don't want a math illiterate American culture, I'm not sure that we can define success by saying that every culture should have super success in math or what ever else some cultures may have.  Why does this concern me? While I respect the achievements of many Asian people that I know, I'm not sure that academic success is really a measure of success at all.  I thought Gladwell made that point early on in the book.  My concern is that of many Asians who have stressed academics, I've found that many are miserable in their pursuit of that success.  Japan's exceedingly high suicide rate evidences this fact as 36 out of 1000 men commit suicide every year and 14 of 1000 women do.  There are other nations as high or higher, but they all seem to be nations of economic stress, particularly those who are struggling to find their way out of their communistic background.

Another problem I have with this rice culture as measure of success, is that I'm not sure it is creating many more true outliers.  For example, you have to go to #16 on the list of Forbes' Riches People list to find someone from the rice culture.  Further, I only find 3 rice-culture members on in the top 50.  Again, I don't think we should measure cultural success by the riches people list, or by any outliers, but it seems to me that Gladwell sets the stage for that assumption to be made.

I think we would be good to look at this book in a positive light.  We learned from it that success requires a hand from interested people along the way.  Let's extend that hand whenever we can.  We've learned that our background, our culture provides areas of strengths and weaknesses.  Let's celebrate our strengths and diversity.  I don't think we need to have a world economy where every culture bleeds into one.  Let's aim for one that realized the beauty of diversity.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #4 Grandma will be waiting for us in heaven

This is a difficult one.  It comes out when people are grieving.  They miss Grandma.  They're longing for a chance to talk to her one more time.  But don't say it to a child.  A child thinks in concrete terms and if you paint heave to look like Grandma's house, their image of and purpose for heaven will fall short of that which God has in store.

I don't like too talk too much about heaven.  Heaven is out there.  We talk about it all the time.  Our hope is that some day we will all live together in heaven.

Or is it?

Our hope is that we can please God.  Our reward is that God will bring us into his presence.  Grandma is a wonderful part of our life on earth, but our reward isn't about recreating our relationships from earth in a new place.  The afterlife is about God.  (Actually, this life is about God, too.)  At any rate, it is not good for children to miss that point and the central point of this life or the next.

Of course, when I use Grandma in this post, it could just as easily be any person of a dear relationship.

Don't think that we should not assume that Grandma will be in heaven.  That's possible as far as we mean by heaven in the presence of God for eternity.  In that picture, Grandma may visit us.  But we can't assume that.  The thing is, we don't really know what the afterlife has in store for us.  We know a bit about it, but we don't know much.

What do we know?
We know that God will be the center of it.
We know that it is a city which implies that there will be people there--lots of people.
We know that there will be other spiritual creatures there.
We know that our Lord is preparing a place for us--and he's coming back to take us there.
We know that there will be no death or pain or crying.
We know that it is a reward for those who are righteous in Christ.

Instead of painting a false or assumed picture for a child, help them to understand the known things of the afterlife.  Tell him that Jesus loves Grandma very much and she is happy with him.  Some day we can be there to.

I hope that we get to see Grandma in heaven.  What a special reunion it would be.  But, as special as it may be, I just might run right by Grandma on my way to the King.  I hope Grandma isn't offended. If she's thinking about it at all, she'll probably be happier for my reunion with my Savior.

I don't know what that will be like, but I know that this life and the next is about God first.  God's arms will be and are open, waiting for me.

I can't wait.  But I will wait.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #3 Prayer Works

Does God answer prayer?  Absolutely! So why shouldn't you tell children that prayer works?  

Because prayer isn't a tool for us to get what we want.   Prayer is prayer not a Internet order form, not a 1-800 number to God Services, not an line to the help desk in the sky.

Prayer is a human's relational connect to the Creator.  It's about listening to God as much as (arguably more so) a way of petitioning God.  

I know the Bible says Ask and it will be given to you and with prayer and petition make your requests known to God.  In that light, we should know that God wants us to make requests and, in context, when we ask for holiness, God will give it to us.  But these verses don't paint a pragmatic use of a get what you want service.  

Look at the Ask, Seek, Knock passage in Matthew 7:7-12.  The passage is sandwich between a passage on not judging others and the narrow gate to God.  It isn't about God's willingness to give us whatever we want.  It is about God's desire to give us holiness and is desire for us to ask for that.  The only way to interpret this passage differently is to look at these things as unconnected thoughts.  But they are connected.

Likewise, Philippians 4:6 does say make your request known to God, but the only promise is that God's peace will guard are hearts.  Again, in times of trouble, God is offering us holiness, not our desired result.

So what's wrong with telling a child that prayer works?  It's wrong because from a human perspective, often prayer doesn't work.  Many times people, godly people with good intentions and solid faith, don't get what they hope for when the pray.  Paul didn't! The Apostle prayed many time for the thorn in his flesh to be taken away (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).  I don't know that it ever was.  Why wasn't it taken?  Because, Paul concluded, it was a messenger for Paul to understand God's grace, a messenger for Paul to become more holy.

If you tell a child that prayer works and they pray for a puppy, they expect a puppy.  If the puppy doesn't come, the God either doesn't care or isn't capable.  What if the desire is less selfish? If a child prays for his mother to be healed of cancer and the cancer doesn't go away, again God is either uncaring or incapable.  Many many times prayer does not work.

Don't tell a child that prayer works, rather tell them the value of prayer as a relational tool.  Tell of the wonder of being able to talk to or listen to God, the maker of all things.  Make prayer a matter of wonder in the eyes of children.  Don't cause a child to stumble in his faith by misrepresenting prayer, but give them the excitement to be in the presence of God and the hope of realizing ever increasing holiness in his life.  But even then, let a child know that sometimes when we pray, God doesn't seem as close as we want, but that doesn't mean he's not their.  Our feelings can hide the truth also.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #2 God will make you happy

"I'm in right up right down right happy all the time"
What a crock! I'm not happy all the time. I doubt seriously that you're happy all the time. Actually we are likely happy less than half of the time.

Most of are lives are spent just existing. Happiness is fleeting.  Anyone who says that change when you "ask Jesus into your heart" is just wrong. A fruit of the Spirit is joy. Joy and happiness are synonyms. Rather than giving a theological argument about the difference between the two, I propose that God gives neither--At least
on the short term.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is a long work in progress--not a switch. The problem with telling children that the should be happy all the time is that it just won't prove to be true. Everyone has down times in their lives. Many good godly people suffer from depression even.

If you tell someone that they should be happy all the time you telling them that when the don't fell happy something is a lie. They can either believe they feeling, thus distrusting God or God's ability. Or they can distrust their emotions. I've heard many well meaning Sunday School teachers teach the second. "Emotions are untrustworthy." they say.

The danger with this is that emotions are real and real is trustworthy. Over time a person will either become mentally ill from stuffing their emotions or they will choose to disbelieve God.

Allow your children the best chances to discover the truth about God and about the difficulties that exist I'm this world. Teach them that it is ok-even good-to feel sad. God gives them those emotions for a reason. Never let them believe that they should be happy all the time.

Note: I'm trying something new today by sending this remotely. Pardon typos more than usual. I'll try to clean it up later.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Things to never tell a child: #1 The church is God's house

Never teach a child that the church is God's house.
I hear this one when parent (usually) want their child to know that they should be on their best behavior. Other times it is give as a reason to be excited about going to church services or programs.  It usually works only for the youngest children or as part of a threat.

When I hear people talking about not running in the house of God, I get a picture of a God who is snooty.  You know, that old, proper grandparent type person who has you sit on the edge of the couch because the comfortable looking chair is too precious to actually sit on.

Never tell your children that the building that the people of God meet in is God's house.  The Church is God's people, his Bride.  The church is not a building.  The building that the people of God meet in is not his house.  God is everywhere.  If you teach your children that the building, the church, is God's house and deserves special rules, you also teach them that those rules don't apply at home, at school, in the park, or at the local mall. It teaches that there are places and times to be holy and places and times that that's not important.

I want my children to be holy always.  I know that they aren't going to be that way, but my hope is that they will be holy 24/7.  I want God and pleasing God to be the motivation wherever they are.

The Temple was called the House of God in the Old Testament, but the church building is not the Temple.  The Church is the people of God, called out in his holiness to be holy.  The Temple is the people of God.  So why you should never say of the building that it is God's house, the truth is the Church (people) are the Temple of God and we are God's house to live holy no matter where we are.  Teach your children to be holy at all time but not with threats of messing up the house of some snooty God.