Three Tools for Building Others Up

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing~ 1st Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

 When our oldest daughter was in the ninth grade, her science teacher had each of his students construct a Rube Goldberg device over Christmas break. For the uninitiated, a Rube Goldberg machine is a device built using an excess of absurdly complicated pulleys, levers, moving parts and gizmos that all work together to tell a funny story and perform a simple task. The project represented a sizable portion of our daughter’s semester grade.

 Five things were apparent within an hour of receiving the details of the assignment:

  1. Rube Goldberg machines are not the sort of project the average student can complete without parental assistance.
  2. The teacher was a vacation-spoiling troll
  3. The assignment was clearly intended to separate mechanically skilled (smart) parents from mechanically challenged (stupid) parents.
  4. My husband and I fell solidly into the second category.
  5. I loathed the science teacher with every fiber of my being.

 Thank heavens I married a clever man.

 I quickly devolved into a puddle of emotional goo and proceeded to rant bitterly against tyrannical teachers who assign tasks that are impossible to accomplish without time and money from parents. I might very well have been standing in the exact same spot ranting when school started back up if it were not for the rational actions of my quick-witted husband.

 Alan called his stepdad (who happened to have an engineering degree) and invited him and my mother-in-law to visit over the Christmas break. It turned out to be a win for everyone. The in-laws were elated to spend some quality time with our kids and the grown-ups had a very pleasant visit. Her teacher was spared an unpleasant phone call and our daughter got an A on the project.

 The experience taught me that the building of anything is serious business. I still couldn’t build a Rube Goldberg machine if my life depended on it. But I did learn there are some some parallels to the building of things and the building-up of people.

Both require a solid plan, careful thought and some real skill.

 The New Testament has precious little to say about the constructing of structures. But it does give a great deal of coaching on the building-up of people. Christians are told repeatedly to grow the body of Christ by looking for ways to build others up. Parents are to build up children, husbands are to build-up their wives, wives should build-up their husbands, and Church leaders and members are to look for ways to build one another. There is a lot that goes into the building–up of others but it all begins with three foundational elements:

 Relationship- 1st Corinthians 16:14

 One of the more profound truths I learned from my father-in-law is that the wrong foundation will doom an otherwise well-constructed device. The same is true with people. For people the foundation for building needs to be a loving relationship and healthy communication. Without relationship and rapport, efforts to build up another person can feel an awful lot like meddling or even malice.

 Encouragement- Hebrews 3:13

 Too often encouragement devolves into hollow praise and gracious but meaningless words we express to the people we like. Biblical encouragement is a form of nurturing that is intended to stimulate spiritual and emotional growth in people. This empowers people to become the totality of what God intends them to be. Well-timed words of encouragement and exhortation can spur others on towards love and good deeds when life gets tough and faith is fading. Encouragement can be life-changing when it is born out of relationship and careful observation of the character, abilities and gifts of person we want to encourage.   

 Truthful words- Ephesians 4:15

 Building people occasionally necessitates some gentle and kindhearted truth telling. When someone we love is headed in the wrong direction or engaging in potentially damaging behavior the most loving thing we can do is to tell him or her what the outcome of that behavior might be. Truth telling should never be harsh or punitive. Truth telling should be done lovingly with relationship and the long-term spiritual growth of the person in mind.

 Building others up is not about ignoring bad behavior or raising self-esteem through empty words of flattery. The building of people is serious business that, if done right, empowers others to do and be all they can for the Kingdom of God. The building of people is not optional for Christians. It is a command that, if obeyed, does as much for the one doing the building as it does for those being built up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptable Child Abuse?

Capricious children will rule over them, the people will be oppressed; each one by another, and each one by his neighbor. The youth will storm against the elder and the inferior against the honorable~ Isaiah 3:4b-5 NASB

 It’s difficult to quibble with the notion that our society has become progressively more child-centric over the course of the last few decades. The phrase “family friendly” is assigned to everything from frozen chicken dinners to prime parking spaces at the grocery store. Sentimental ballads like “Children are Our Future” are the rallying cry of educators, church leadership and Moms and Dads everywhere.

 All kidding aside, overall concern for the health and welfare of kids has brought about some much-needed changes in our culture. Research has raised awareness concerning the educational, medical and emotional needs of growing children. Parents readily invest more of their time, energy and treasure in raising kids than at any other time in history; and educators are much more in tune with the developmental needs of each individual child. As a result, school is far more interesting than it used to be.

 All this child-centeredness has also brought with it a greater awareness of child abuse and neglect. Physical discipline of any kind is now frowned upon and has been replaced with more “enlightened” forms of discipline.

I am all for anything that brings awareness to the horrors of child abuse. But I’m afraid we’ve exchanged physical abuse and emotional neglect with a pernicious new form of child abuse. One that is much more socially acceptable but every bit as crippling to the long-term health and well being of children.

 I call this relatively new form of child abuse “insulation.” Insulation happens when well-intentioned parents go beyond protecting their children from harmful influences or danger. Parents who insulate attempt to shield their kids from every kind of distress, pain, sadness, discomfort, discouragement or discontent. Some of the more common methods of insulation would include:

 Demanding teachers give kids grades they have not earned

Refusing to expose kids to unfamiliar foods for fear they won’t like them

Insisting swings and other “dangerous” equipment be removed from playgrounds

Piling on undeserved praise

Allowing laziness and irresponsibility

Failing to tell children “no” when appropriate

Delaying the teaching of necessary life skills (cooking, cleaning, driving, money management)

Neglecting to correct disrespect or rudeness

Anxiety over offending your child

Operating as a mediator with teachers and other authority figures

 There is nothing sinful about attempting to make childhood pleasant. Nor is it wrong to want to protect children from danger. The world we live in is full of evil people and some genuine threats. One of the primary obligations of parents and guardians is to shelter innocent children from unsafe people and risky situations.

 The trouble comes when parents endeavor to shield their children from unpleasant or painful situations that teach kids truth about life. A scraped knee is painful, but the pain effectively communicates to a child the truth concerning their physical limitations. A bad grade won’t kill a student, but the embarrassment that comes with a bad grade may instill in them the importance of working hard. If a youngster is never made to try unfamiliar foods they will be robbed of the joy of discovering foods they do like.

 Childhood is far too brief to fritter away time puffing kids up with unjustified praise or setting them up for disappointment by constructing a fictitious reality lacking responsibility or obligation. Childhood is the only time parents get to teach kids all they will need to know to navigate the rigors of the adult world. One aspect of preparing kids for the inevitability of adulthood is guiding them through unpleasant or challenging experiences, not eliminating them entirely.

 Parents ought to teach kids to negotiate with teachers or coaches, rather than doing it for them. This gives kids the confidence and skills needed to deal with supervisors and managers in the future. Parents need to demand respect and teach etiquette because respect for others, civility and good manners make children and grown-ups more likable and more marketable in the professional world. Refusing to correct disrespect sets a child up to be disliked and passed over for opportunities.

 Insulation is born out of a misguided interpretation of love. Love is more than just squishy, squashy, sloppy sentimentality. Love is more than a urge to bless and shelter. Authentic love is multifaceted and complex. It is patient and kind, but it is also honest, tough and future focused. Love desires what is best long-term. Love looks beyond childhood and prepares for adulthood. Love motivates kids to try new things, to be courageous, protects when appropriate and corrects when necessary. Love, authentic love, provides kids a start that will serve them well over the course their lifetime.

 

 

 

Being the Season

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us~ 2nd Corinthians 5:20a

 This last weekend boredom, a rare kid-free afternoon, a beautiful sunny day, and a case of cabin fever conspired to make me break a self-imposed rule that has served me well for years. I left my house (a.k.a. fortress of sanity) and headed out to the local mall on black Friday.

 Because I wasn’t really there to shop, I was free to engage in some intense people watching.

 The shoppers seemed to be divided into two distinct groups: those who were stimulated and exhilarated by the crowds, and those who were not. The first group wore big smiles, had an abundance of energy and were clearly very happy to be there. However, most of the shoppers looked weary, more than a little frantic and painfully over-stimulated.

 One woman who was clearly a member of the second group caught my attention. Initially it was her festive Christmas sweater, cute boots and jingle bell necklace that I noticed. Ultimately, it was the bitter rant she directed at a harassed-looking salesgirl that seized my attention. The woman went from weary to enraged when the salesgirl politely declined to honor a coupon that had expired. 

I will not bore you with all the details of the long drawn-out moral debate I had with myself as I struggled to decide whether or not to use this poor woman as an example in a blog post. I do not know her, nor do I know how she typically conducts herself.

 It is possible that she is normally a really pleasant person who just happened to be having a really bad day. It is also possible that she was dealing with some personal issues that contributed to her crankiness. Heaven knows there have been some singular moments of bad behavior in my own life that I do not wish to have judged by the general public.

 All that being said, my decision to share this story had more to do with something she said rather than with what she did. Six words uttered by a grumpy stranger, on the foulest shopping day of the year got me thinking about how I view the celebration of an entire season …

 “I’m just trying to celebrate Christmas!”

 You need to understand up-front that nobody on earth loves Christmas more than I do. My husband and kids are convinced that I should be named the official poster child for Christmas celebrations. I love the lights and decorations (the tackier, the better), the music (the louder, the better), the food (the richer, the better), the movies (the cornier, the better), the traditions, the parties (the more the better) but most of all I love the giving and yes, the receiving of presents.

However, even I have to admit that the humble Christ-child and His much-needed message of reconciliation and peace can and usually does get lost in the midst of the celebration and merriment.

 I am not, nor would I ever be rash enough to call for an end to the celebration of Christmas. It’s just too much fun. And I believe with all my heart that the God we serve is the author of fun, celebration and merriment. Old Testament law called for and even commanded the joyful celebration of frequent Holy days.

 However, the irritable woman in the mall got me thinking. Maybe Christmas is a thing I should endeavor to be rather than a thing I celebrate and enjoy for one month out of the year.

 So this year as we celebrate the holiday and relish the fun and feasting that has become such a big part of the commemoration of our Savior’s birth, I do not want to do more this year. Like most Christians in our culture I already do way too much at Christmas time.

 My goal this Christmas is to be more.

More than anything else I want to be the promise of hope that Jesus offers. I want to be the peace that Jesus embodied as I interact with my weary neighbors and the harried salesclerks and the cranky shoppers. My goal this Christmas is to make a much greater effort to model the love and grace that Jesus came to show us.

 

 

What Grace is Not

 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age~ Titus 2:11-12

 I am not, nor have I ever been, much of a rule-maker. My husband and I had very few rules for our children while they were growing up. The rules we did make for our kids all tended to center around safety and relationships.

 My dislike of excessive rules has made its way into nearly every other area of my life as well. To my rule-following husband’s chagrin one of my personal axioms is:

 “Rules are for people who don’t know how to do things right”.

 My aversion to man-made rules is born out of a deeply held conviction that laws are for law-breakers (1st Timothy 1:9-11); and that there would be no need for laws if people would simply use good judgment and obey God (Galatians 5:18). No one who actually knows me has ever charged me with being a legalist.

 All that being said, if I hear one more Christian who is actively skirting the edges of good sense or worse yet, openly sinning proclaim one of the following phrases: “I am under grace not law!” “You can’t judge me!,” or “Just because something is wrong for you does not mean it’s wrong for everyone,” I will need to be medicated.

 It is my conviction that these statements are born out of confusion over two concepts: God’s moral law and grace. Too many folks mistakenly suppose that God’s law and grace are things they are not.

 God’s moral law is not…

 Irrelevant- Matthew 5:17, Galatians 5:18-20, Colossians 3

 There are three types of law in the Old Testament, ceremonial, civil and moral. As the ultimate High Priest Jesus satisfied all aspects of the ceremonial law, it is now fulfilled and is therefore irrelevant for Christians. Civil law was intended for the nation of Israel, and is not generally pertinent today. However, that does not mean that Christians are not bound by moral standards found in the law. If a command or instruction from the Old Testament law is repeated in the New Testament, it still applies today.

 A club to beat people with- Ephesians 4:2, Galatians 6:1-3

 One reason there is so much confusion over this issue is because too many people have been far too focused on the actions of others for far too long. It is biblical for one Christian to warn another when their actions are crossing clear biblical lines (1st Corinthians 4:14, James 5:20). That being said, we have to remember that we are to judge our own behavior at least as harshly as we judge the behavior of others.  Our responsibility as believers is to lovingly warn others where their behavior will lead, what they choose to do with those warnings is on them (Ezekiel 3:21).

An excuse to make more rules- 1st John 5:3, Matthew 23:1-15

Too often Christians make rules around God-given commands and then treat the man-made rules as if they were God’s commands. Man-made rules are typically  well-intentioned and meant to assist us in keeping the God given command. However, generally speaking all man-made rules do is confuse the issues and lead to unnecessary legalism.  A pertinent example would be sexual immorality. Christians are commanded to abstain from sexual immorality. Period. Rules against dating, hand-holding, wearing make-up, premarital kissing and dancing do help some people to avoid sexual sin but those are personal choices, not God-given commands and should not be treated as such.

Grace is not:

 A justification for intentional sin- Jude 1:4

 Too many Christians have perverted the whole notion of grace and turned it into a free pass for willful sin, unruly living and bad behavior. Grace is not nor was it ever intended to be a free pass for anything. Furthermore, one has to wonder how sorry anyone can be for a sin they committed on purpose.

 An excuse to avoid the hard work of living a holy life- Ephesians 5:3, 1st Peter 1:13-15, Philippians 2:12

 In one sense Christians are made holy at the point of salvation (Hebrews 10:10-14). However, we are also commanded by God to work out the details of our salvation (Philippians 2:12) and to behave in a way that reflects our status as holy people (Colossians 3:1-17). It is impossible do either effectively when we are living a life of sin.

 The benefits of grace are multi-faceted and and nearly incomprehensible. Grace pardons us from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace allows us to do things and endure things unbelievers would write-off as impossibilities. (2nd Corinthians 12:9). Grace gives us peace beyond human understanding during difficult times (Philippians 4:7). Grace enables us to understand God on a deeper level (Ephesians 1:7-9). Grace empowers us to see people the way God sees people and, if properly understood, grace compels us to show mercy toward others. Perhaps, the most practical application of grace is that it empowers inherently sinful people to live holy lives (Titus 2:11-12). Because grace is so freely given it can easily devolve into a justification for self-indulgence and pleasure seeking or an excuse to avoid the long, sometimes difficult process of becoming holy. When we allow these things to happen, our version of grace devolves into a perversion of something truly beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce-Proof Your Marriage

 

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure~ Hebrews 13:4

 There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are good at math and those who are not. I fall squarely into the second category. My aversion to everything math-related could quite possibly be classified as some sort of neurosis or phobia. When faced with a complex math problem I can actually feel my brain overheating, seizing up and shutting down like an oil-deprived engine. I will do virtually anything short of sin to avoid any sort of math-related activity.

 The one exception to my firm no-math policy is statistics. It’s the only type of math I can tolerate, maybe because it’s easily applicable to real life. Last week I ran across a statistic that captured my interest. Researchers from the Gottman Institute learned that not only do forty percent of marriages end in divorce, but half of the couples that stay married report being unhappy in their relationship.

 It was the gloomiest news I have heard in a very long time. Half of all people that DO NOT divorce claim to be miserable in the most significant human relationship a person can have. It’s no wonder our society has so many issues with road rage and alcohol abuse.

 The study went on to explain that there are two behaviors that appear to offer protection against both divorce and marital misery: kindness and generosity. Personal experience has proven the research to be true. Kindness and generosity are indeed vital to a healthy, happy marriage. No sensible person wants to be married to a malicious skinflint.

 As important as kindness and generosity are in a mate, they are not the only behaviors that contribute to long-term happiness. Kindness and generosity are traits that grow out of other even more vital attitudes and behaviors. Kindness and generosity will never take root in a relationship that is lacking in other areas, including:

 Respect- 1st Peter 2:17, Ephesians 5:33, 1st Peter 3:7

 Respect means to hold a person in high esteem. Respect is real when it’s shown by giving honor and by openly displaying admiration and appreciation for what your spouse does and who they are as a person. Respect is at the heart of all healthy adult relationships. No other positive behavior will flourish over the long haul in a marriage that is lacking in mutual respect.

 Loyalty- Malachi 2:14-16, Matthew 19:9

 Loyalty is about more than just sexual fidelity. Loyalty is also about how we choose to speak about our spouse in front of other people and how we treat our spouse in both public and private. Loyalty is linked to our priorities concerning time, outside relationships and even how we spend money.

 Cooperation- Ephesians 5:21

 Sometimes it’s called teamwork or collaboration. The Bible calls it mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). Whatever you call it, marriages fail when it’s missing. Cooperation is the unwavering commitment to work together on things and pull in the same direction. Cooperation comes down to our willingness to give up a little bit of what we want, or think we need, for the good of the other person and the health of the relationship.

 Forgiveness- Mark 11:25, Ephesians 4:32

 One fact you can count on in this world is that people, even the best people, will inevitably disappoint and fail you. But it’s okay because you will undoubtedly end up disappointing and failing other people. At one time or another we are all disappointing failures. The key to making a relationship work between two imperfect people is the daily commitment to forgive and let go.

 Selflessness- Philippians 2:1-5, 1st Peter 4:10, Romans 12:3

 We live in a time and a place when self-centeredness has, for all intents and purposes been enshrined as a virtue. We are constantly encouraged to “consider your own needs” and “focus on what makes you happy.” The Bible gives an entirely different set of messages, including: “consider yourself with sober judgment,” “do not think more highly of yourself than you ought,” and “serve rather than be served.” Nowhere do these messages matter more than in marriage.

 One of the things I like about statistics is that, unlike other forms of math, they are not fixed. A statistic can be changed. The unhappy state of a marriage does not have to be permanent. I am convinced that any marriage can be a happy marriage. Respect, loyalty, cooperation, forgiveness, selflessness, kindness and generosity are the behaviors that define and comprise love. When these behaviors become standard operating procedure in a marriage, the people in that marriage cannot help but be happy.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

The Benefits of Gossip?

There’s nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip! It melts in your mouth~ Proverbs 18:8 CEV

 I have settled into a predictable morning routine. It goes something like this: I wake up, stumble to the kitchen, pour a cup of coffee and fight to appear engaged while the youngest child chatters incessantly.

Following is more coffee, more chatter, and a valiant effort on my part to ensure the lunches packed are at least somewhat healthy. I herd the girls out the door, savor the quiet, drink more coffee, read my Bible, drink more coffee and do a quick workout while I catch up on what’s going on in the world.

Yesterday, I finished the last of the coffee, climbed on the exercise bike and became so absorbed in working off my caffeine buzz that I was only marginally tuned in to the news program. That is, until a chirpy anchorwoman declared in an insanely happy tone that a recent study has determined gossip is actually good for us.

WHAT????

I will not tell a lie, for one fleeting instant I was elated. For an inquisitive person such as myself this story was without question the best news ever. All of my dreams had finally come true, I could cave to my baser instincts, listen to gossip and improve my health all at the same time. Just as I was preparing to call my best friend to tell her the good news I remembered something about the perils of buying into worldly wisdom so I decided to dig a little deeper. I found the related article and read it carefully. The author spoke glowingly of the benefits of gossip. According to the author, gossip will:

Tell you how to behave on your job

Help you to understand and improve your social standing

Inform members of a group which behaviors are socially acceptable

Possibly lead to self-improvement

Reading about the alleged benefits of a behavior God calls a sin (Romans 1:29) made me wonder what exactly God would say if we could get His unfiltered opinion of that article. I bet it would be interesting. He wasn’t available for comment, so I turned to the book of Proverbs instead. Proverbs cautions us on the more negative aspects of gossip, including:

Nobody actually likes a gossip- Proverbs 17:28, Proverbs 20:19

Everyone enjoys listening to a juicy piece of gossip, but nobody wants to be a victim of gossip. We all know intuitively that a gossipy person cannot be trusted. That’s why few gossips have many close friends. Smart people avoid a gossip like the plague once they realize anyone who will talk with you about another person will talk about you to other people.

Gossip is rarely completely true- Proverbs 26:20-22

Gossip is notoriously unreliable because most gossipers are also embellishers. It’s part of what makes gossip so insidious and interesting. The frame of the story may be true but the details are almost always made out to be more fascinating and salacious than they really are.

Gossip is the number one cause of family disunity-Proverbs 6:19, Proverbs 16:28

At the root of every unhappy family is at least one person who repeats unkind words and circulates gossip. Sometimes this person is another family member; sometimes it’s a “friend” of the family who likes to stir the pot and keep everyone at odds with each other. Beware of any “friend” who wants to know too much of your family business. They don’t have your best interests at heart.

Gossip ruins the gossiper- Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 16:28

There is something about spreading stories and sharing personal information that eventually twists a person and destroys their character. If a person gossips for long enough they will develop an insatiable appetite for more and more information to share with others. This happens because the sharing of information makes them feel powerful and important. If there is no actual information to share, they will enhance stories that are true and even lie in order to continue feeling important.

All supposed benefits aside, there are undoubtedly less destructive ways to learn about our social standing, understand the world around us, and improve our social standing and ourselves. Consuming gossip is like eating a deep-fried Twinkie: it feels good while we do it, but the effects are ugly. Passing along gossip is like sprinkling arsenic on chocolate cupcakes. It’s a pleasant way to destroy people.

 

Four Parenting Mindsets that will Ruin Your Kids

There are few subjects in life where we are likely to get a consensus from a group of individuals. Folks will argue and debate about anything and everything. The issues otherwise rational adults will argue about swing from the significant to the silly. Art, politics, the best burger and pizza places in any given city, the correct way to hang a roll of toilet paper, religion—if it’s a subject we talk about, then it’s undoubtedly a subject we argue about.

The one exception to this rule seems to be the topic of mindset or attitude. Everyone seems to agree that mindset can make or break a person. What one believes or thinks about any given subject affects how they behave concerning that subject. Some of my favorite quotes illustrate this truth:

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit

Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious. ~Bill Meyerange

Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~Katherine Mansfield

There is no subject where mindset matters more than parenting. There are mindsets or attitudes that we adopt, sometimes unknowingly, which can seriously affect our ability to parent well. Most of these mindsets are actually lies that we’ve bought into, and if we allow these mindsets to continue unchallenged, they can eventually ruin our kids. Today I will share four of the most dangerous mindsets parents can fall into.

Good parents do everything for their kids

There are a many well meaning Moms and Dads who are knocking themselves out to do everything but breathe for their kids. They do their dishes, pick up their stuff, pack their lunches, clean their rooms, pay for luxuries long after kids should have jobs of their own and sometimes even do their kid’s homework for them. This is dangerous because it teaches nothing, produces laziness, and encourages a welfare mentality. Parents should teach kids how to do things for themselves and hold them accountable for a job well done.

Misplaced anxiety

The 24-hour news cycle has produced a generation of adults who have weird priorities when it comes to anxiety. Parents worry themselves sick about protecting kids from things that will likely never happen, or that don’t really matter. They freak out over school shootings, Ebola, random kidnappings and what will happen if their kids don’t learn to play an instrument or get into the “right” school. Some of these same parents will allow their kids to be exposed to dangerous ideas and corrupting influences through television, peers and the Internet. Bad things happen, but kids are much more likely to be harmed by the influence of a friend than to become a victim of a school shooting. We should worry about the things we can control and trust God to protect our kids from random acts of evil or disease.

Guilt

Parenting and guilt go hand in hand. Parental guilt begins in pregnancy, gathers momentum throughout early childhood, reaches a peak in the teen years and continues…well, until you die. Guilt is not automatically a bad thing. If handled wisely, guilt can be a powerful motivator towards change and better parenting. Guilt becomes a bad thing when parents are driven to do things, buy things or indulge their children’s whims out of guilt. Next time you feel guilty about a parenting issue, stop and analyze the feeling. If you can change something, (like yelling or not spending enough time with your kid) change it. If the guilt is coming out of something you can’t change, don’t try and compensate for it with stuff.

Blaming outside influences

Even the best kids have areas that need work. Kids will lie, mistreat other kids, shirk responsibility, and disrespect adults. Their flaws are a result of their human nature. These flaws need to be dealt with decisively. Not blamed on bad teachers, television, other children, gluten or video games. All of those things may contribute to a kid’s issues, but they are not the cause.

After twenty-five years of parenting I have learned that the time is short and we have to take advantage of the teachable moments. When we are deep in the trenches of diapers and temper-tantrums it’s hard to imagine that that our kids will ever grow up and make adult decisions and choices. They do, and they do it very quickly. Smart parents decide early on what kind of an adult they want produce. Then they are intentional about sowing those qualities into their children. Our attitude toward the process makes or breaks our ability to sow truth into our kids while we have them.

He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations~ 1st Chronicles 16:15

The Little Girl

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live~ Deuteronomy 30:19

 Recently Pope Francis shed his image as the hip, happening Pope when he came out with a bold, rabble-rousing declaration condemning recreational drug legalization. Pope Francis could not have been more unequivocal in his condemnation of drug legalization. His message stated in part…

 “The problem of drug use is not solved with more drugs.”

 He went on to clarify…

 “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise. To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem.”

 The blogosphere went wild with disapproval over the Pope’s archaic notions. The haters were out in full force, overjoyed to have an occasion to bash the Pope, organized religion, and anyone ridiculous enough to believe in God. There were some weary attempts at defending the use of marijuana made by pointing out that alcohol is legal and widely used (I, for one fail to see how one is connected to the other).

 Then there were the gloomy souls who seemed sincerely baffled that a Christian leader who appears to be as left-leaning and cool as Pope Francis could be opposed to recreational drug use. But by far the most common sentiment asserted by those who hope to legalize drugs was the tired line that has rapidly become the rallying cry of a civilization that is rotting from within:

 “People should be able to do whatever they want with their own bodies!”

 As I read page after page of comments extolling the virtues of personal sovereignty and unlimited freedom, I couldn’t help but think of the little girl who lives upstairs in the room that used to be my office.

 She’s a precious little thing.

 She has long, dark blonde hair, wonderfully expressive hazel eyes, and a mischievous smile. She adores animals and is currently campaigning hard for a hamster that she intends to name Sir Edward Fluff Ball. She loves to swim in our pool and likes craft projects. Her favorite color changes almost daily.

 She is the daughter of a relative, the offspring of two people who sincerely believed that they had the right to do whatever they wanted with their own bodies. A few years ago her Mother died from choices she made with her own body. 

 Moving in with us was tough on her in the beginning, but she is becoming a bit more comfortable in our home all the time. Although they are much older, she enjoys hanging out with our kids. She and my husband share a love of the silly and absurd that is bringing them together. She and I have connected over decorating her room and a mutual love of stories. Her growing bond with our family does not keep her from crying sometimes because she misses her Mom and yearns to live with her Dad.

 She is a bright and imaginative girl.

She reads above grade level and performs well in school. Unfortunately, she struggles more than most kids her age with impulse-control issues, remembering things and telling time. On nights when sleep evades me I worry that her problems are more than childish immaturity. My gut tells me her issues may very well be the outcome of choices her Mother made with her own body while she was pregnant.

 Her story is far from unique.

There are millions of little girls and boys just like her. Children who are the human fallout of arrogant and foolish choices their parents have made with their own bodies. Children who are plagued by nightmares, children who struggle to connect with their peers, children who long for an ordinary life with their biological parents.

Children who cry themselves to sleep at night.

 The vast majority of those children do not have the advantages she has. Most are not as naturally bright as she is. Nor do they have extended families that are able and willing to pick up the slack for parents who are busy making choices that prevent them from parenting their children properly.

 Those children are fated to become cogs in the wheel of an apathetic, overburdened public system. A system that lacks the human element necessary to help children mature to adulthood in a healthy way.

A system we all pay for.

 Sadly, societies reap what they sow as surely as individuals do. I fear the harvest we will reap in the coming years with these kids, as we loudly and arrogantly demand the right to do whatever we want with our own bodies.

 In an ideal world, we would not need laws to govern what individuals can and can’t do with their own bodies. In an ideal world, people would make unselfish, rational choices with their bodies. In an ideal world all people would agree that an individual’s right to make choices should end at the place where those choices begin to negatively affect others. In an ideal world, there would not be any children like the little girl who lives upstairs in the room that used to be my office.

The Hardest Question

For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help~ Psalm 22:24

 From time to time I get a message or phone call asking me to share my opinion about a particular issue. Because the issue in question is inevitably thorny, contentious, and well above my pay grade, I generally dread these requests.

Such was the case this week.

 A sweet, mature Christian friend who is deep into the grieving process asked me to consider sharing my views on one of the most controversial issues of our time. She had some very well thought out, heart wrenching questions. The emotion behind them broke my heart.

Following is a summary:

 Why does God allow people to feel pain at death?

Why is it okay to blunt the pain of death with medication but not to use the same medication to hurry up the process of death?

If death is inevitable, why is it wrong to end life and reduce the length of time a person suffers?

Death and pain in childbirth are both a result of the Fall. Why is it okay to eliminate the pain of childbirth and not end a life that is destined to death a little early?

 Death and suffering are deeply emotional issues. No decent human enjoys seeing another human suffer. Suffering becomes even more personal when the person suffering is someone we love. All of this is made thornier by the fact that most of us are isolated from the only two events in this life that are common to all people: birth and death.

 Few of us have witnessed a child being born. Fewer have seen a person die. Most of us obtain our “education” on these subjects from television programs. Anyone who has actually witnessed a birth or death knows that the TV version of these events bears little similarity to the real-life version. The deaths we see on TV are typically swift and painless; the person quietly draws their last breath, closes their eyes peacefully, and goes serenely into the great beyond. This is NOT how death happens. Death is normally a long, messy, painful process that is excruciating to witness. Our reflex is to shorten or avoid any process we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with.

 End-of-life issues are further complicated by the gift of medical knowledge. Our society has been blessed with medical expertise that makes it possible to save people from what would have been inevitable deaths just a few years ago. As wonderful as technology is, it creates some unintended consequences. Doctors possess the knowledge to prolong life but sometimes lack wisdom as to how and when that knowledge should be applied. Prolonging life often means prolonging and even intensifying suffering.

 I am not stupid or arrogant enough to pretend I know everything there is to know about this issue. I do not. That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain is that it’s not wrong or sinful to use medication to ease the suffering of a dying person. Proverbs 31:6 is clear on the issue of pain relief at death.

 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!

 The use of alcohol is a contentious issue amongst Christians but one fact is clear from this verse: a legitimate use of alcohol is for pain relief at the end of life. If it is acceptable to give alcohol to a dying person then I cannot see any reason why it would be wrong to use morphine for the same purpose. As for the whole childbirth issue, I honestly don’t know whether or not pain relief during childbirth is a sin.

 I certainly hope not.

 Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “assisted suicide is a sin.” However, most Christians believe that assisted suicide falls pretty neatly under the category of “Thou shalt not kill.” This particular commandment is an imperative statement clearly lacking the wiggle room needed to make a well-defined and compelling biblical argument for assisted suicide.

  I had my first experience with death and suffering at nineteen when my beloved Grandmother died of lung cancer. I was not there when she died, but I did spend a lot of time with her in the weeks prior to her death. Those visits were some of the toughest things I have done. As an unsaved teenager, her suffering and the dignity she maintained as she suffered impacted me in ways that are difficult to express. Her death caused me to evaluate my own mortality in a way I had never considered before.

It caused me to seek God.

 Death sucks. There is nothing good or redeeming about it. Death is the most visible reminder of the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3). It makes a sad sort of sense that the single greatest consequence of mankind’s sin and disobedience would be painful and would linger until the earth is fully liberated from the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4). But God, in His infinite wisdom, sometimes brings good things out of death and the suffering of others, when we are willing to submit to the process.

 

 

 

The Folly of Forsaking Wisdom

 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it~ Proverbs 8:11 KJV

 I have been tutoring a seven-year-old boy twice a week for a little over a year now. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I help him with his homework and then we work to improve his reading and writing skills. I will not lie-I have a soft spot for Chandler. I think it’s at least partly because he’s a bit eccentric for a second grader. 

 Chandler’s favorite food is Cheez-Its and he dreams of becoming a fighter pilot someday. Chandler knows everything there is to know about airplanes, dolphins and warships. He is convinced that America was the instigator in World War II and is extremely proud of that “fact.” He is unfailingly patriotic, has an offbeat sense of humor, and a uniquely quirky way of viewing the world.

 He also has a tenacious stubborn streak. Because he can be stubborn, motivating him can be a bit of an issue, especially when it comes to handwriting.

 Chandler would rather eat bees than write neatly.

 One afternoon last spring I became desperate. We had ninety minutes and three pages of homework to complete. We also needed to do his reading for the week. Every page of homework was handwriting intensive and Chandler was in no mood to cooperate. I attempted to inspire him with kindness and encouraging words, and he dawdled.  I tried being stern, but that only intensified his level of stubbornness.

 Finally, I made him an offer he would have been a fool to refuse. I offered to give him one piece of candy for every neatly written word. The results were truly miraculous.  The only real downside was that by the time he got half way through the second page he had eaten so much candy I was really scared he would throw-up all over my kitchen table. I gathered my wits enough to have him put the rest of the candy in a bag to eat later. He went home that afternoon with three pages of neatly completed homework and a sandwich baggie stuffed with candy.

 The next week, sweet little Chandler transformed into a greedy overlord. He expected to be rewarded with candy for every single word he wrote. He went home with huge bags of candy after our tutoring sessions. His handwriting improved dramatically, but only when he was with me and only when I paid the little punk off with candy.

 It wasn’t until Chandler suggested that he should get a piece of candy for every properly written letter that I acknowledged my stupidity.  That day I began the painful process of ending the madness. Because I had allowed the insanity to continue for so long, it took almost a month to get things back on track.

 No one would guess from reading this story, but I am not an idiot. I know better than to bribe a child with refined sugar. I know better than to bribe a child with anything. I have better sense than to allow an obstinate, eccentric seven-year-old-boy to run the show. I am well aware of the dangers of allowing bad behavior to persist unchallenged, and yet to my everlasting shame I did all of those things.

Repeatedly.  

 I have decided that this whole silly episode was not really about smart or stupid. It was about wisdom, or in my case an appalling lack of wisdom. My error was in supposing that the problem needed to be solved immediately by any means necessary.

 As I mulled this over, I concluded that many of the missteps we make in life are rooted in the desire to take a short cut to solve a problem or make life easier. Drugs and alcohol are a faster and more comfortable way of dealing with pain than self-examination and change. Bribing a child will get the job done without the effort necessary to build character and self-discipline. Alleviating loneliness with sex does not require the work needed to build healthy lifelong relationships. Cheating takes less effort than learning and yelling is easier than discussing. Casually dismissing God as a myth appears to make life easier and less complicated, but like every short cut it comes with a hefty price-tag.

 The differences between wisdom and reasoning are subtle. Worldly thinking is all about results and so the end always justifies the means. Wisdom understands there is more to a successful outcome than desirable results. Worldly thinking is all about getting the task accomplished. Wisdom is about getting the job done with integrity and in a way that will produce lasting change. Wisdom is the gift that enables us to look down the road and see the consequences of our actions and—if need be—correct our course before we reap an unpleasant harvest.