Recently our family had the opportunity to go on a short vacation to Glenwood Springs. It was stunning. One of the highlights was the hike up to Hanging Lake. My daughter Ayla, who is six, was leading us up the steep trail. She loves to hike, but she was starting to get tired and her pace was slowing. As we passed four friendly older adults they spontaneously decided to cheer her on.
“Wow, look at her, she’s leading the way!”
“Great job sweetie! Keep going, you can do it!”
As their encouragement continued she picked up her pace and even started to run, spurred on by these strangers. One of the things I love about my daughter is that she’ll tell you what she likes. A few weeks ago on the way to her soccer game she asked if her grandparents would be there.
“I hope they are because when more people are cheering for me I play better,” she beamed.
She’s not the only one who needs encouragement. Whether we’re trying hard in life or feel like giving up, encouragement can make a dramatic difference in our effort. In 1 Thessalonians 5 we’re told to encourage one another and build each other up. This isn’t just a greeting card sentiment. Encouragement is essential. I’m thankful to have numerous people in my life who are great at encouraging (Cory, Michelle). I’m not very good at encouraging. But seeing the difference it makes in my daughter is challenging me to get better.
Last night at soccer practice we were working on passing the ball to someone instead of whatever direction they happened to be facing. These are the kind of demanding practices you have to run with first and second graders. One of the boys was having an especially hard time. Each time they missed the target with a pass they had to take a short run to the fence that encircles the field and back. This boy missed four times in a row, and none of them were close. His eyes began to well up with tears of frustration. So we stopped the drill and I took a couple minutes to work just with him on some mechanics. On his next pass he knocked it right through the cones. He did that a few times in a row before finally missing again. We celebrated his improvement (which brought a huge smile to his face) but still made him run to the fence when he missed. After the encouragement it’s amazing how quickly he ran and how great his attitude was.
I’ve had the nagging sense for a while now that the Christian community as a whole is like a coach who watches his players during practice in a couple ways.
First, we often expect people to live a faith far beyond their understanding or ability. Imagine if I told the first and second graders they needed to juggle the ball fifty times before they could leave. After all, good soccer players can do that. So many Christian books, sermons, and small groups are focused on fantastic acts and sacrifices we are called to as followers of Jesus. We should stay up all night to pray. We should go serve in the poorest places in the world. We should at least teach a class.
Now I affirm that the call to follow Jesus is deep and costly. Jesus even said we should count the cost to make sure we can follow through before committing to follow him. And I agree that we often lower the bar so much on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus that it doesn’t resemble the biblical witness. However, I don’t see much out there that promotes a deep and faithful presence in the life people are living. It’s either “hope to see you at church once a month” or “you need to get a radical faith and fast for 40 days!” People can do amazing things in the strength of God. Sometimes those amazing things look like a first grader finally getting the ball between the cones.
The Christian community is also at times like a coach who never affirms the improvement of his players. We teach, guide, and challenge people to put their faith into practice. They step out and try and then we question why they aren’t doing something more. In failing to affirm the growth and transformation that’s happening, especially when it is slow, we discourage people from continuing the race. The boy on our soccer team needed to have his success pointed out. The people in our churches need that too. They need to know we see more patience, compassion, and love in them than we used to. They need to know that serving meals to the homeless was a good first step. Too often we focus on the fact that these things are not a sufficient end. We do need to encourage people to greater depths of faithfulness and service, but we need to celebrate the growth that is happening too.
Our faith is one that calls for radical obedience. It is also a faith that walks faithfully with people in the process–encouraging and admonishing.
Technically you are a mom because you carried two children and brought them into the world. But that’s not what makes you a mom, not really. For you being a mom is a calling. You devote yourself to our kids. You ponder every detail of parenting because you feel compelled to give being a mom your very best. You continue to help our kids engage their world with creativity and compassion, even when they aren’t enthused about it.
What you do is not an easy job. Your clients can be demanding, ungrateful, and pretty whiney. They are brilliant in the things they invent to argue about. The hours are never-ending. And while there are moments of struggle, you never give up. You keep going with passion and determination. And the effects of your love, grace, mercy, discipline, creativity, and compassion are evident.
While our kids can frustrate each other they also care for each other in ways that can only be described as beautiful. They can be ungrateful but have regular flashes of deep gratitude for things I often forget. They can be whiney but those times are overshadowed by hilarious laughter and deep joy. They don’t always want to do school work (what kid does?!) but their faces light up when they learn something new (not to mention they love to read).
And this is the payoff for your relentless pursuit of your calling. Two kids who know what real love is and are learning to pass it on to others. Two kids who are advancing toward adulthood with the unspeakable blessing of a mom who would willingly lay down her life for them, and does on a daily basis.
I like to think and write about discipleship. It is living faithfully in the midst of your life–whatever life God has given. You do that as well as anyone I know. Happy Mother’s Day.
How should Christian parents and the Church as a whole approach sexuality with children and youth. I don’t have all the answers, but here are some things I’ve been thinking about.
Talk about sex like it’s a part of life.
Too often the whole of sexuality comes down to “the talk.” Yet that approach usually results in a parent and child who endure a few awkward minutes without accomplishing anything. It’s not helpful to quarantine a topic that is an integral part of life and identity to a single conversation. Can you imagine doing this with anything else? We’d see no reason to have a single talk about making friends, resolving conflict, or connecting with God. Yet sexuality is just as much a part of life as any of these things, especially for teenagers!
Talking about sexuality may make us more uncomfortable than other topics, but if we are intentional about letting sexuality be a part of life we will make more impact and not have the pressure of “the talk.”
Start addressing the subject early on.
When sexuality is approached as a part of life there are appropriate ways to talk about it at almost any age. As the end result of being honest about where babies come from and how they’re made I told my kids how sex worked when they were 6 and 8. I didn’t set out to do it, but I had already made the decision to be open and honest as these things came up. The crazy thing is they weren’t freaked out by it like I expected and they didn’t ask 100 questions. They just said, “okay,” and moved on with their day.
Obviously it is a parent’s responsibility to decide what to share and when, but ask yourself, is your hesitance to be honest about sex with your kids something you’re doing to protect them in some way or just a function of your own discomfort with the subject? As we’ve made the decision to be open to conversations about sexuality with our kids we’ve been amazed how easily they’ve handled it. You may find your kids can me more mature about sexuality than you are!
Give your kids a better vision for sexuality.
Our culture doesn’t have a very compelling vision of sexuality.
- It is purely physical. Not much different than going hiking with someone. (And thus pornography is no different that checking the score of the game.)
- The most important thing is pursuing pleasure. Even if that comes at someone else’s expense.
- It is impossible to survive without sex. (This results in attitudes like believing virginity is ridiculous and a wife is somehow responsible for her husband’s affair because they didn’t have enough sex.)
- Having a single sexual partner in life is boring, not desirable.
What our culture ignores is any emotional or spiritual aspects of sexuality. But ignoring those aspects doesn’t make them cease to exist. As parents or leaders we must have a compelling and holistic vision of sexuality and be able to communicate that to our kids over time. Our reasons for confining sex to marriage has to go beyond not wanting to get someone pregnant.
Don’t be afraid to be clear about boundaries.
As a young man the main place where sexuality was approached from a Christian perspective was in youth group. In this setting sexuality was reduced to identifying “the line” and sticking to it. The line was the magical place where appropriate physical affection turned to sin. I’m not a big fan of reducing sexuality to line setting. However, as I look back, I am grateful for the role these black and white conversations served in determining how I did and didn’t engage in sexuality before I was married.
I fully believe the most important thing we need to do for our kids is communicate a powerful and holistic view of God’s intention for sexuality. However, on a practical level it is also important to talk candidly with kids as they get older about sexual boundaries. “Sex is a powerful experience of the oneness between a man and woman within a lifelong commitment that reflects the relationship of Christ to His Church,” is less practically effective than “Don’t take your clothes off.”
I still wrestle with this one some because of some of my baggage from line setting. But within a holistic perspective on sexuality there are clear and practical principles needed. I set these for myself to this day. For instance, out of my perspective on God’s desire for sexuality I will not spend time alone with a woman other than my wife. That is not a rule for the sake of having a rule but a boundary to help me live in line with my beliefs and desires.
We cannot let sexuality be reduced to practical boundaries, but these are very helpful in the context of a bigger vision.
First, let me get this out of the way. I don’t mean lower your standards or act like sex is no big deal. But come on, you were a teenager once.
I can’t speak for women, but I remember what it was like to be a teenager as a young man. I thought about sex all the time (or sexually related things). I had no idea how to handle the overwhelming desires. Now that I’m older it would be easy to forget what that felt like in dealing with my own kids. But it’s imperative that I remember.
Too often our approach to sex in the church completely neglects the reality of sexual desire (which is God-given by the way). We tell kids to wait until they’re married. A simple solution for those who are married or at least are older so their desire has waned enough that it’s manageable.
What this means practically is another discussion. But developing a positive approach to sexuality in our homes and in the Church requires that we take the power of sexuality seriously. As parents and leaders we cannot love our youth if we act like following a Christian sexual ethic is a no-brainer.
Set your kids up well for marriage.
When we focus exclusively on keeping kids from having sex it can send the message that sex is bad and dirty. Then, when they get married, our grown children are supposed to automatically flip the switch and enjoy what is now perfectly permissible. Yeah, that doesn’t work.
I’ve met too many people who have never been able to really flip that switch. They don’t enjoy sex because they still have a part of them that feels they’re doing something they shouldn’t. Instead of enjoying the gift of sexuality with their spouse they hold back and never fully receive God’s gift in this area.
Parents spend tremendous time and energy trying to do what is best for their kids. If you want the best for your kids in the area of sexuality then send them into marriage believing that sex is fantastic, exciting, and worth the wait. Destroy the impression that sex is bad or dirty whenever it comes up.
Last night one of my good friends and I were talking about church signs and if there’s any way for them to be effective marketing. We went online to see what creative things people did with them and came across some funny ones I hadn’t seen before.
And my favorite of the night…
A weird thing happens when you hit 30 (or somewhere in that general area). The realization sets in that you are an actual adult. Until then you know in your head you are an adult, but there is still an element of wondering what will happen “when you grow up” embedded in your thinking. But at 30-something you begin to realize that what’s happening in your life is the stuff you’ve always just contemplated. And the actual contents of your grown up reality doesn’t match up with the fantasy world you imagined you’d inhabit; how could it?
All this reality can get to you. I don’t think the mid-life crisis is supposed to come at 30, but sometimes it does anyway. It’s difficult for the mind to make the shift from what could be to what is. You used to dream thirty different possibilities about what your future might look like, now all those choices have been decisively narrowed into one reality. You used to look at the real adults and were positive you’d be able to do everything better than they were. Now you’re one of the real adults and you feel a little less assured that you have all the answers.
I have found my 30s to be a jarring adjustment. But I’m also learning that there are significant reasons to be thrilled about being in my 30s.
Reality is actually real. All those possibilities I dreamt of were enticing, but none of them were real. They didn’t consist of real relationships, impact, or memories. Whatever real impact I’m making is far greater than infinite imagined impact. Whomever I’m able to actually love and build relationships with it is much more meaningful that a million imagined relationships. There is something deeply moving about realizing and accepting that you are now living a real life instead of just imagining what real life might be like.
Possibilities still exist. I’ve had moments when I became pretty fatalistic about the possibilities for the future. But there’s no reason to stop dreaming. In fact, it might be more effective to dream now than when we were younger. Now we have more experience, knowledge, and a larger network that provides a greater opportunity to see some of those dreams come to fruition. For me the mental hurdle I needed to clear was understanding that I am now living the part of my life I’d dreamt about to that point. Now I get to actually live that part of life and dream about the future, and that’s a great position to be in.
There’s still so much to learn. One of the worst things we can do in our 30s is get so settled in career and family that we fail to keep learning and growing. The more I know of the world the more I realize I want to learn. From hobbies to parenting to career to learning how to love my wife better–it’s exciting to think of how much I can grow if I put some effort into it.
We get to live in-between. The 30s are a great time to intentionally seek out opportunities to be mentored by those who are older and to mentor those who are younger. There’s so much to learn from those a little further down the road, but we’re now significantly further down the road than a college student. Living with a desperate need to gain wisdom from others and having some wisdom to offer is a fantastic place to be.
We can start to accept that everything matters. All the little things feel much more important now than they did ten years ago. The extra hug my son comes down to get before going to sleep, asking someone’s name who comes in to get food from the food bank, holding hands with my wife, seeing someone find their passion and begin pursuing it, hearing a quote that inspires me, having the privilege of praying with someone–there are so many beautiful and meaningful moments packed into each day. When I was younger I wouldn’t have accepted the power or beauty of it all. So many moments seemed mundane. But with a little more wisdom and more humility the wonder of the normal unveils itself.
So here’s to the 30s! To living each moment with awe and thanks, continuing to dream and risk to see those dreams become reality, and anticipating the 40s when there will be even more insights to ponder.
I am a future-oriented person. If I’m not careful I can miss the present because I’m too focused on the future. This is something that spills over to my personal prayer life. Most of the time I am praying about what will be true for me, our family, our church, our friends, and our neighbors in the future. This future orientation is most true in regard to my leadership of our church. I constantly think about where we are headed and so that’s what I pray about too.
In the past four or five months God has been very silent with me about the future. Usually I sense his leading, but the only leading I’ve sensed lately is that I need to stop praying about the future for a time. It’s not that praying about the future is bad, but for a season God has made it clear that it’s bad for me. Every time I begin to pray about the future I sense the Spirit telling me to stop. This has forced me to take on the challenge of just being present in the present.
There art three ways this season of God’s silence about the future has been good for me (though I haven’t enjoyed learning these things all the time).
First, I’ve been reminded that God wants me to be present with him. Future-oriented prayers are more about where God is leading than being in God’s presence. In the past four or five months I’ve spent much more time praying through the psalms, sitting in silence, and trying to be present with God without an agenda. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been good. God has reminded me that he cares about who I am and wants me to actually be like a child of his, not just have that title.
Second, I’ve been challenged to keep a right perspective on my future. When I am fully future-focused it’s easy to feel like that is the most important thing in the world. In reality, what matters is my faithfulness to God in the midst of whatever future I have. God’s story is massive–I play a small role in it. It’s too easy to approach life like my story is huge and God plays a small role in it. It’s not that I think God doesn’t care about my future, but I think he cares a lot more about my faithfulness in the future than the details of it.
Third, I’ve learned to appreciate the times when God is leading clearly. I’ve had times in life when God has been very clear about the future–for me, our family, our church. I’ve taken those times for granted–as though that would always be the case. But in this time without future guidance I’ve learned to appreciate when the future is more clear.
Gay marriage is a topic I tend to avoid in public forums. As is true with abortion and immigration, conversation is rare. Usually people just go straight to angry diatribes and restating tired rhetoric. But along with the rest of our nation I have been processing these things more deeply in the past few weeks and so I decided to share some of that processing here.
I suppose there’s no way to avoid having people get mad about what I’ll write. That’s fine. I’d love to have pushback. I would appreciate if we could keep it civil though.
Before my thoughts, here are a few blogs/articles I’ve found interesting and helpful.
Andrew Arndt, Pastor of Bloom in Denver
Hugh Halter, Leader of Adullam in Denver
Evangelicals Face Growing Tension Between Political and Personal Views of Gay Marriage, A Huffington Post Article
So here are some thoughts. They aren’t complete, but pieces of my processing.
Christians are picking a convenient time to “protect marriage.”
For a few years now the Christian line on gay marriage has been that we need to “protect marriage” from distortion.
First, I agree with Hugh that as Christians we believe marriage is something God has created and therefore we do not need to protect it from anyone. I also think it is telling that gay marriage is the issue that has led us to the line of needing to “protect marriage.” Marriage has been distorted for a long time. We have not protected marriage from being ravaged by divorce (for any and every reason or non-reason). We’ve often sanctioned it with our silence. We have not “protected” marriage from the abuse of husbands who are supposed to lay down their lives for their wives (Ephesians 5). Sometimes we’ve promoted marital distortion by telling men to be “spiritual leaders” in their homes without defining what that means. Leaving them to apply their distorted views of leadership to their marriages in God’s name. We haven’t protected marriage from the flood of pornography that objectifies women, dishonors wives, and defiles marital sexuality.
So deciding that now we are going to “protect marriage” says something about our view of marriage and sexuality. The hard truth that people don’t want to admit is that many Christians do think homosexuality is worse than divorce (for any and every reason or non-reason), abuse and neglect, and all kinds of sexual immorality that produces destruction of marriages.
Civil union and marriage.
Some are advocating that all government sanctioned unions be referred to as civil unions and those that take place in the church be called marriage. I understand the distinction being made (and don’t theologically disagree) but at this point marriage is the language used in our society for a committed sexual union between two people. So at this point it’s all going to be called marriage.
Despite this, I think there is a sense in which all marriages that do not include commitment to God in the vows are in a sense civil unions. They are recognized by the state and federal government and really have nothing to do with God. A marriage that is understood to be a vow to another person and to God, however, is a spiritual union (and assuming the right paperwork is filed is a civil union as well).
In the debates about gay marriage, we are talking primarily about the civil definition of marriage, not a religious one. In the United States the State should not be beholden to the Church, and neither should the Church be beholden to the State. Therefore it seems the State should define marriage as it sees fit, but this will only be a civil definition. The Church should also have the freedom to define marriage in a religious/spiritual manner.
Our culture is not advocating “marriage equality” even though that’s the term now applied to this issue.
Words are powerful. They frame perceptions. Why do you think people against abortion aren’t called anti-choice or those for it called pro-death? We pick words that will frame our particular perspective in the most positive light possible–even when it’s misleading.
In our culture we are not debating marriage equality, we are talking about a specific group obtaining the legal rights that come from marriage. I don’t hear anyone advocating the right to marry for minors. I don’t hear anyone advocating for the marriage rights of polygamists. We are talking about state-sanctioned marriage for homosexual couples, not marriage equality.
At this point it is a foregone conclusion that gay marriage will be legalized across the country. The only question is how long it will take. In one sense I’ll be glad. Maybe it will allow us to move on from the debate to focusing on loving our neighbors well–to being people again instead of sides in an argument.
As I slowly passed the third car I’d seen spun out on the highway, I started to contemplate why we’d gone ahead with our Sunday service in the first place. Yesterday we had a snow storm in Denver. When I drove to the church at 7:30 it wasn’t too bad, but by the time I headed home it was. Very few churches cancelled their Sunday morning activities despite the dangerous weather. So what is it about Sunday morning that would lead the vast majority of leaders and pastors in Denver to invite people to risk driving to church (and more personally, why did I)?
Possibility #1: Validate Our Jobs
People joke that pastors work one day a week. If that’s true for any pastors they should be fired, but it is the day we are visible to the most people. We put a lot of emphasis on running a service and especially on preaching. This is one of the main things people expect from a pastor (or at least a lead or solo pastor). Is encouraging people to risk blizzard conditions a way of validating the importance of our jobs?
Possibility #2: Obligation
Pretty much the same as the first one without the focus on the pastor. At least in many churches Sunday morning is far and away the primary way people engage the church. Pastors are supposed to provide that “service”. So come hell or high water (or blizzards) this is an obligation to be fulfilled.
Possibility #3: Money
While I don’t like any of the possibilities I’ve mentioned so far, I like this one the least. Many churches rely on the Sunday morning offering for their income. You take a week off, you lose some of that income.
Possibility #4: Vanity
Could we as pastors believe our preaching (or the worship leader’s singing or the children’s ministry or whatever) is so good that people need to hear from us as opposed to the myriad preachers and teachers available on videos and podcasts?
Possibility #5: Belief in Corporate Worship
Two men, Mark Hallock and Zac Hicks, have challenged me in regard to the importance of corporate worship. I wrote a post a little while back about the three things churches tend to lead with–worship, mission, and discipleship. While most (or hopefully all) churches validate the importance of all three, churches usually lead with one believing it will lead to the other two. In the best case scenario there are leaders in our churches with a bent toward each so the church can stay in balance.
I admit that my bent is toward discipleship, followed by mission, and worship is last. I have had times when I’ve wondered if worship (especially corporate worship) was really important or not. But Mark and Zac have helped me explore both the theological and practical importance of corporate worship. This is a time that is very important to communities of faith. Over time the liturgy (practices, not necessarily high church practices) shapes the thinking and desire of the congregation. It is an opportunity to connect with others for encouragement and friendship. It is a part of our eternal calling (worshipping God together).
I remember reading in the book Radical about people who risk harassment, imprisonment, and even death to meet together for study and worship. We take the privilege for granted because it’s a given in our culture. When you take your belief in the importance and power of the corporate times on Sunday morning (or whenever you meet) seriously enough, driving in a snowstorm is a worthwhile risk to take.
Possibility #6: Faithfulness
People need things in life they can count on. Sunday morning (or again, whenever you meet) is a set time people can count on to reconnect, worship, and learn. The decision not to cancel could be driven by the desire to be faithful to those who are driven to have this time.
The Right Reasons
I hope we are driven by some combination of the last two reasons. Any other possibilities come to mind?
These thoughts relate to this article.
The 7 reasons to turn off the TV listed in the article are:
- Improve fertility
- Enjoy a happier marriage
- Live longer
- Sleep better
- Maintain healthy weight in children
- Have a better heart
- Help kids keep healthy diets
I’m not advocating watching more TV here (though that would at least get a debate going) but I do feel like these things are all tied to a few derivatives of not watching TV.
- You’re not exercising while you watch TV. Unless you’re watching TV while on the treadmill you’re probably just chillin’ on the couch while the TV is spewing entertainment. While not watching TV doesn’t guarantee a more active lifestyle it certainly makes it more likely. Being more active helps improve fertility, increases longevity, brings better sleep, helps children maintain healthy weight, and makes a healthier heart.
- Hours of TV watching a day doesn’t scream discipline. When one area of your life is undisciplined it’s likely other areas are too. Lack of discipline makes for a poor diet. That impacts all the items in #1 and helping kids keep healthy diets.
- When the TV is on you’re not actively pursuing closeness with your spouse. A good marriage takes work and watching TV doesn’t help. I thought it was an interesting point the article made that people compare their marriages to the romantic/dramatic/passion-filled examples on TV and that is detrimental as well.
Based on these three issues I think they could come up with way more than 7 reasons to turn off the TV.