Saturday, July 18, 2009

A War of Words

When I watch or listen to political talk shows (on any network regardless of left or right slant), often the host and guests make the watcher/listenter out to be the "dumb one" in the arena. You know, like we're lucky to see/hear such experts solving our dilemmas. Yet, I often wonder who is really the fool: those listening or those talking? I think I got my answer in Proverbs 10 one day when I was reading the various contrasts of the wise person and the foolish person. Take a look at how Solomon describes foolish talking.

Incessant. (v. 8, 19) – “babbling”
Deceptive(v. 10) – “wink”
Divisive (v. 12) – “hatred/strife”
Rebellious (v. 17) – “rejects”
Immoral (v. 31,32) – “perverse”

Wow -- that basically decibes most of the talk shows on the tube, eh? Notice what is not listed -- the word "hear" or "listen." Yep, a fool only runs his mouth, and the end result is not a conversation, but combat! Solomon even uses words like violence, division, and perversion to describe the end result of talking to a fool. No doubt that’s really what it’s like when you engage with a fool's mouth – it’s like entering a war zone!

The sad reality is that most talk shows are nothing more than a "war of words" between multiple fools babbling on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Uhm...No wonder there's carnage everywhere.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Proverbs 16:18-A Visual Reminder

I thought this video was especially fitting considering our current summer series in Proverbs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sons of Issachar...Count me In!

I want to be a son of Issachar. No, that’s not some weird, radical, “the-sky-is-falling” group of extremists; and it’s not a lame think tank that actually proves they do the opposite by the way they live. It’s being someone who understands the times and, consequently, undertakes the tasks necessary to make a difference. I draw this from 1 Chronicles 12:32, where the sons of Issachar are referenced as a cadre of men who “understood the times” and who subsequently were able to engage and equip others to make a difference in the Israeli culture around them. That’s exactly what we need more of today. Allow me some room to illustrate.

Back in 1968 when I was 4, my mom could easily snatch my butt up in the grocery store aisle and swat it to get me in line. And the “mom” fans around would probably have started applauding, telling her to give me another one. Those times were the kind when the culture followed and, to a large degree, tried to support the home. It’s a different time now. Today, our culture tries to strangle the home. And if you lay a hand on your child’s backside at Walmart to deliver an attitude adjustment, you may find yourself explaining your actions to a state official who thinks you’re an abuser. Am I saying don’t spank? Nope! I personally believe it is, generally, the best way to get the devil out of your kids before they get too set towards rebellion. But in these times, you’d be a whacked out moron to ignore the culture around you and blindly persist in “doing it the way my parents did.” You’d be much wiser to understand the times and implement the same principles, not just copy people.

The same is true about our churches. We don’t need any more “Pete and Repeats” heading out to “do ministry” or plant a church in the same exact way they watched their pastor do it, who will then send someone out to do it just like they did, ad nauseam. Quite frankly, we need to put to death the “sheepwalking” mentality (kudos to Seth Godin and his book Tribes) that pervades the mindset of some pastors and preachers which stifles creativity and makes innovation seem like idolatry. The notion that I will watch you do it, then 5 years later I’ll go and do the very same thing, only to have someone else go and do the same thing I did 5 years after that…pleeaaasssee! It’s like we’re spitting out little replica’s of people, not principles. By the way, there’s a surefire way to tell if you’re around a sheepwalking Pete or Repeat – listen for phrases like, “In my last church”, “I’ve never known anyone to do it that way”, or “Remember the good ole days when we…” I’m all for learning from the past, but I’m not especially fond of recreating it. I’d rather have God do something new and fresh in the current times of the here-and-now.

Essentially, this is learning the art of implementing principles from the past while not necessarily copying the people of the past. But most people lack the guts to do that. They’d rather just copy an action because it is easier. Takes less work. Less thinking. Less understanding of the times. Parents do this. Pastors do this. Basically, people do this. Sad if you ask me.

But Issachar’s sons weren’t like that. They embraced their times and engaged the culture they were in with a fresh voice and fervent action. They didn’t try to be like their (possibly great) grandfather Jacob, or possibly even their older (great) uncles (like Reuben or Levi or Joseph or Benjamin.) They were who God needed them to be in the times in which they lived. It was where God sovereignly placed them, and they were committed to being divine reps for the future not merely tour guides of the museum. That's what I want to be for my generation -- a man who understands the times and can tackle the tasks, not just based on what he saw someone do years ago, but based on what he knows God can do years from now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Genius of a Simple Kid

I think kids should write the IRS Tax Code. And I think they should oversee political debates, as well as approve all assembly instructions and troubleshooting manuals for products, appliances, and technical devices. Why? Because nobody can say it as simple as a child.

In fact, I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been talking through a day’s events around the dinner table and one of our kids, after hearing the “if, ands, or buts” of a given situation just pipes up and solves a world dilemma or national crisis in a few words or a simple sentence. It seems rather simple to them. Truth is, it actually is; but we adults love to complicate matters, don’t we? I guess it makes us feel important. Needed. But kids often say it best because they say it simply.

For instance, the other day Julie was having a laundry day with our two littlest girls, teaching them the how, where, what, and why of clean clothes. Of course, since we had recently purchased a new frontloading, high capacity set, the process was really different. Many more buttons, screens, and options; fewer dials. I had already decided the new units were above my learning curve.

Well, when I got home, I asked Breanna how the “day of laundry training” went. Assuming I would get a tired response filled with rolled eyes and a long face, I prepared myself for the typical answer most kids give when done with a day of chores. But not my Bre! In Breanna’s unique and creative way, she said with great simplicity, “It’s a breeze, dad. All you do is turn on the screen, push the right picture, and later push the next button it tells you to push for the dryer. It’s all pretty easy, dad. And the best part is you get a 50-minute break after every load!”

Okay, so maybe there is a little more to it. But I do think GE, Whirlpool, or Kenmore might want to contact Breanna about pitching their new machines. Her simplicity seems pretty attractive, eh?

There’s a lesson here, but it’s so obvious I won’t even go to the trouble of writing it. After all, I might actually complicate it in my effort to “clear it up.” So I’ll just let Breanna’s example suffice. And if you want more simple insight into laundry (or life), call our house and ask or Breanna. She’ll be in the laundry room.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Profile of an Actually Spiritual Family (3)

[NOTE: If you're following this 3-part rambling, you'll know it is from a response I gave to a good dad in our church who felt that perhaps he was committing idolatry because he sacrificed so much for his family and loved them so intensly and actively. So he wrote me, and much of what follows about "actually spiritual families" is my encouragement to him.]

Finally, #3: Actually spiritual families watch out for two extremes: weariness and haughtiness. Balance is a word they love. So here’s a word of encouragement -- just be persistent over the next several years and don’t “lose heart” in the fight (weariness) or “lose sight” of the finish (haughtiness).

You see, when we do the right thing for so long with decent results (family man, church man, etc.), there are two extremes we have to be on guard against: 1) getting tired and wanting to quit or 2) becoming proud and self-sufficient and thinking we won’t quit. Either is fertile ground for the enemy – Satan – who wants to crush your head between his evil jaws. So instead of wearing out (and waking up one day with the “sudden” thought of giving up) or being proud (and waking up one day realizing that you “suddenly” don’t need the weird ideas in the Bible or the church nuts), ask God every day to humble you while you keep doing what you know is right. Otherwise, you will get deceived, then destroyed, and all the while Satan is laughing loudly behind your back (actually, in front of your face because he’s kicking you right in the teeth).

This is why Paul encouraged us to “not grow weary in well doing” and to “take heed lest we fall.” Both weariness and haughtiness can lead us astray. Stay sensitive enough to watch for both of these each day. That’s what the really spiritual family does – they watch out for extremes, like depression (“There’s no use trying; nobody in this family cares anymore for anything.”) and/or pride (“Our way is the only way for everybody”). Whatever is inbetween is probably pretty normal, so don't get all weird about the normal ups and downs. It's the extremes that can cost you.

Now go and be the actually spiritual family I know you are…and may God be worshipped everyday among your beautiful tribe!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Profile of an Actually Spiritual Family (2)

[NOTE: If you're following this 3-part rambling, you'll know it is from a response I gave to a good dad in our church who felt that perhaps he was committing idolatry because he sacrificed so much for his family and loved them so intensly and actively. So he wrote me, and much of what follows about "actually spiritual families" is my encourgement to him.]

#2: The actually spiritual family knows that when they are sacrificing for and being with one another, they actually are doing ministry. And yes, as they do life and ministry together, often many others outside their family are helped. Impacted. But the actually spiritual family doesn’t have to leave their family to start doing things for the Lord; they just keep on doing things for the Lord even when they’re not with each other. In other words, it’s a lifestyle of worship and service, which sometimes they do together, other times apart.

Actually spiritual families don’t compartmentalize; they integrate. All those sacrifices for and time with your family is right where God wants you, as the man that your family needs, to be. You don’t go to church so you can finally worship; you don’t go to your small group so you can finally grow; you don’t help in the Jr. High so you can finally serve someone. Truth is, you are worshiping God when you love your family. You are growing when you teach your kids the Bible and show them how to pray. You are serving God when you help your child learn how to treat others and get along with his/her siblings. And you simply keep on doing these things when you get to do them with other Christians who aren't in your physical family (i.e., at church).

It's legalistic and hypocritical families who think they have to wait to do spiritual stuff till they are in other places with other people who aren't in their family. Give me a break!

Hear me well – should we still go to church? Grow in other group settings? Serve other people? By all means! These are legitimate, biblical expectations for God's sons and daughters. My point is that actually spiritual families know that those things occur at home as well as away from home, and they know you don’t have to always go somewhere else (like to the church building) to worship, grow, and serve.

I'll cut to the chase, _______. Your family isn’t your idol, because God is honored when you raise kids who love their mom, siblings, and Jesus, and the best way to do that is by doing what you described in your email (putting their needs first, playing and not working your life away, laughing together, loving your wife, etc). Paul said we are “worse than infidel” when we neglect and avoid taking care of our family. So the actually spiritual family sees their whole life as an offering to God – worship 24/7 no matter where we are or what we’re doing! So relax and have some decaf – God is probably saying, “Thanks for working with me in your sanctification.”

On a side note, I think one of the reasons you felt something wasn’t quite right (when you were in church listening) was because sometimes we think that every week in church needs to end with conviction (I probably make people think that too often in my own zeal for certain ones to repent). But often a week with the body of Christ ends in affirmation. God will many times simply bring a word of edification to a member of the body as his way of saying, “I’m accomplishing my work in you; don’t quit.” Looks like to me that’s what happened yesterday to you, ____. Way to go!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Profile of an Actually Spiritual Family (1)

[NOTE: If you're following this 3-part rambling, you'll know it is from a response I gave to a good dad in our church who felt that perhaps he was committing idolatry because he sacrificed so much for his family and loved them so intensly and actively. So he wrote me, and much of what follows about "actually spiritual families" is my encourgement to him.]

First, the actually spiritual family has the courage to prioritize people and relationships, and they don’t think the one they’re in, which tops their list of priorities, is a hindrance. You can call me crazy, but I have actually met people who have told me things like, “If it weren’t for my kids, I’d have a much better ministry for the Lord.” Or, “As soon as I get this kid raised, I can move on to more important things for God.” Or here’s my favorite: “My spouse/children just doesn’t/don’t understand how much I love ministry.” Hey idiot – yes they do! And that’s what got them righteously ticked. They feel replaced. Perhaps expendable. For sure in second place. And not to Jesus, but to things about Jesus (i.e., ministry, events, etc.). So for starters, if you’re thinking you should feel guilty for being such a good dad, don’t. Those sacrifices you’re making are no doubt your best moments of worship to God and his Son Jesus, and your kids are really seeing a picture of their Heavenly Father's love and commitment.

I personally believe the nano-second we think our family (assuming it is the normal, biblically-based but humanly-stained family I know this man’s was) is keeping us from serving God, the real problem is inside us, not inside our family. Years ago I had similar thoughts about my situation, and God showed me the real error was in my selfish and abnormal thinking, not in the other normal people and seasons of life that comprise this thing we call family life. I am deep-down glad God rescued me from such an evil mindset.

Here’s the reality someone should scream at all engaged couples before they say “I do” and get in bed to make babies: When kids come along, they need a dad. A mom. For children, a family is not a luxury; it is a necessity. To think you can keep the same schedule you had when you were “singly-married” (that’s what Julie and I called ourselves before we had kids) and be a good dad or mom is insanely stupid. Your kids need you. They want you. And you need them and should want them. That “needing” and “wanting,” which is very normal and actually very spiritual, takes time. God designed it that way from the beginning. You have to be with them, which means you will need to NOT be other places and with other people sometimes. Probably a lot of times.

So hear it again -- the actually spiritual family has the courage to prioritize people and relationships, and they know the most important one is the one they’re in, for that is the one they will answer to God for. Sure, you’ll feel humanly guilty at times because you’re comparing your lifestyle to the one you had BK (before kids). But comparing kills, so stop. Bottom line? When we start thinking our family, a gift from God that he calls a treasure, prevents us from the mission of Jesus instead of realizing they actually help protect us from the enemies of Jesus, we are way wrong! Wicked wrong! So the first thing to do is ask God to forgive us for thinking and acting wrongly and agree to adopt his values and perspective. In a word, repent of thinking our family is in the way of God’s blessing and realize our family is the way of God’s blessing. That’s what actually spiritual families do.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Profile of an Actually Spiritual Family (Intro)

Okay, so I finished teaching last week from Proverbs 2 (and a few other corollary passages) about pursuing God with everything. No idols. No competition. Only God. I encouraged people to repent of idolatry, mentioning that the way we find out what gets the most glory in our life (i.e., what we worship) is by asking ourselves, “What do I sacrifice for?” (Romans 11:36-12:2).

I should have seen it coming -- The next morning, I got an email from a really good dad worried that since he “sacrifices” so much for his family, is he putting them ahead of God? Yikes! I didn’t intend to pull good moms and dads away from their greatest and most important earthly role – parenting! So I got to thinking about some of his questions, and here’s what I wrote to him -- in 3 parts I’m calling “A Profile of an Actually Spiritual Family (as opposed to the theoretically spiritual family you only hear about in sermon illustrations that make you fell guilty). Maybe it’ll help some other parents with small children, busy families, and hard-working spouses who falsely feel sometimes that they just don’t “do enough” for Jesus because they’re consistently giving to and sacrificing for their kids/families. (We’ll throw that thought in the same place we threw the one that said real Christians don’t dance – in the rubbish pile, mate!)

Hope you enjoy my “actually spiritual family” a day for the next trio of 24-hour periods.