Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy or Holy?

Our goal as believers is to strive for holiness.  Not just for ourselves but for our fellow believers.  It should also be our prayer for those who don't yet know Jesus. 

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However, in our personal conflict avoiding society, we are often settling for far less...happiness. 

"If it makes them happy..." has become the mantra and wish of our generation and many of us, as Christians, have fallen for it.  We may not personally agree with the choices that they make, but instead of taking a stand for holiness, we settle for wishing them happiness. 

Happiness is easy.  It costs you nothing to wish someone happiness.  Happiness has no conviction other than happiness be the goal.  The greatest evil to happiness is that which denies someone the happiness they seek.  Happiness says that relationship must be preserved at all costs beyond condition.  Which is what makes happiness, in our society, one of the biggest hindrances to holiness.

For the sake of happiness (or peace), I have seen women in relationships settle for living together rather than marriage.  Because marriage is hard and mentioning it to him, makes him unhappy.  After all, commitment to a lifelong relationship speaks of conviction toward God and toward a life of self sacrifice to another.  Why ruin all of our happiness for that?

For the sake of happiness, I continually see Christian men and women (and youth) "liking" statuses on Facebook that Jesus would have nothing to do with.  We don't want to lose the relationship by being critical or judgmental so we will affirm those people in their sin and hope that our "like" for their happiness will win them over.  I can't tell you how many I have seen affirming same sex relationships and celebrating that which brings pain to many families who wish for holiness for their sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. 

For the sake of happiness, I have seen those caught in addictions (alcohol, drugs, porn) stay silent or excuse them instead of crying out for the help that they need that may lead toward holiness.  The status quo is easy and gives brief glimmers of happiness in-between the regret and vicious cycle that ensues.  Holiness demands change and threatens to take away those fleeting glimmers of happiness they have come to live for.

For the sake of happiness, believers settle for feeling good about God.  We celebrate our closeness to Him through the way that a worship service makes us feel.  Our feelings therefore dictate our closeness to God rather than our obedience.  Obedience is hard.  It speaks of conviction and doesn't always feel good.  So we settle for being happy with our relationship with God instead of striving for holiness.

James 4:7-8 states "Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."    

"Draw" is a command, not a feeling or hopeful thought of happiness.  It speaks of things that we can do to draw near to God (not earn His affection).  James is speaking to believers and equating closeness with God to obedience.  It is to "double-minded" believers like us he is speaking to, who so easily want to preserve relationships with others at the cost of our closeness to Christ. 

He reminds us that Jesus didn't die for us so that we might be "happy" but holy...a set apart people for Him, and Him first.  We would do well to remember that Jesus came to make sinners holy...not happy.  It is the duty of every believer called by His name to call others to this holiness that Christ offers...even at the cost of their happiness.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Teaching Children (and Adults) to Avoid Drama

I have a drama queen in my family.  Maybe you have the same.

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Now I love my daughter with this trait with all my heart.  However, as a father, I recognize that this drama queening will get her into a LOT of trouble in life, if I don't guide her through how to properly handle conflict (whether it is conflict with her own desires and wants or with others).

Give me a moment to define the term drama queen (or king).  A drama queen (or king) is someone who over-exaggerates the importance of trivial matters.  These trivial matters then become the most important thing that is happening in their that moment.  Because of this attitude, there becomes unrest in their lives and everyone else's lives around them.  Their happiness and joy is affected by these trivial matters.  Fights begin.  Pouting happens.  Slammed doors.  Loud wails.  Disconcerted complaining about how unfair life is.  Exaggerated sighs or looks.  And all because you told them "no" to watching their favorite TV show. 

Conflict seems to gravitate around them.  When they don't get their way, they are poking and prodding others (usually other siblings or possibly your spouse) seemingly getting pleasure out of causing unrest.   

Childhood fights over toys turn into the gossip corner at school and a group of friends who always have drama in their lives and are rarely happy, unless they are preying on someone else's unhappiness.  They post their lives on social media, often causing more conflict.  Their constant desire for attention makes them easy targets for those who would exploit them for their looks and need for attention...any attention and put them in the unenviable position of doing anything to receive that attention, if just for a little while.  They are always unsettled at work and are easily discontented enough to quit their jobs on a moment's notice.

It's not that they are this way all the time.  Nor is it that their emotions are always wrong or misplaced.  However, for these people, their emotions always seem heightened and they are more likely to give into them rather than thinking through their actions.  These children seem to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows...all the time.

As parents, it is our responsibility to lovingly guide our children through these things.  A tough task, I know.  There are some days where it is just easier to give up, give them their way, if it would earn just a few moments of solace.  The other extreme is just to ignore them because dealing with the drama is too much to handle.  However, both of these efforts do not teach our children how to recognize what is happening with them, nor does it help them identify how to deal with these emotions.  It is also equally wrong to assume that this "drama queening" is just a phase that they will grow out of. 

As hard as it is to believe, these may be the traits that God has gifted your child with.  Our job as parents isn't to try to create a carbon copy of ourselves (which is so easy for us to want to do).  Rather, our job is to recognize the uniqueness of our sons and daughters, recognize the challenges that will face them because of their personalities, pray for a LOT of guidance and allow God to use the traits that He gave them for His glory.

So how do we deal with the drama queen (or king)?

First, we have to teach our children the difference between real drama and manufactured drama.

Real drama is that which has a significant impact on the lives that are affected.  They include things like, divorced, broken families, death of a close loved one, the impending poverty of a family because of a loss of income, etc...

The best way to teach children about real drama is to give your child experiences around it.  Minister to people in these real life drama situations.  Feed the homeless.  Care for the sick and dying.  Bring children to funerals.  The more that they are around such situations, the less they will think their situation is as dire as their emotions are making them out to be.

Emotions used in this way usually bring constructive attitudes of service to those who are in need.  Often those who are very emotional people will feel very strongly about helping in these situations.  This is a place where emotions can be redemptive, rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and grieving with those who are grieving (1 Cor. 12:26).

One of the first questions I often ask those who have older children (8 and up) is:  When was the last time they served someone other than themselves (someone truly in need)?

Manufactured drama often comes into play when there is no perspective of what real drama is.

Second, we must teach our children to rule over their emotions.

The sin of Cain in Genesis 4 is fueled by emotions brought on by manufactured drama.  Cain was caught doing something wrong.  Instead of admitting his wrongdoing, he found a scapegoat for his anger caused by his wrongdoing...his own brother.  God tries to warn Cain of the destructive nature of this manufactured drama by pointing out that if he does what is right, he will be accepted.  He will receive what he truly desires, not by doing things his way, but by doing them God's way.

We must do the same for our children by reminding them (over and over again) that the very acceptance and attention they desire comes from doing what is right.  We must teach our children to have our emotions conform to the truth, even when they wish to do otherwise.

Third, as parents, we have to teach our children to take responsibility for their actions produced by the drama they have created.

This is what God did to expose Cain's wrongdoing.  However, Cain didn't get the memo that he was actually in the wrong.

As parents, we have to do our best to make sure that our children get the memo.  This can be hard to do because with our other children, we don't seem to have that problem.  The drama queen (or king) will blame others for their wrongdoings.  They will blame siblings for tattling or ratting them out for their wrongdoings.  They will fight with those who have outted them, placing the blame on their shoulders.

As parents, we must recognize that this further conflict isn't fueled by brothers and sisters calling out wrong actions and appropriately telling parents.  Rather, this further conflict arises because the drama child hasn't got the memo that they were in the wrong and have compounded the problem by doing more wrong things.

We have to take the time to, not only punish the child, but explain...biblically, why they were wrong.  We need to show them, biblically, what it means to repent and to humble oneself when wrong.  The area of sin and wrongdoing is the one area that the drama queen or king doesn't want attention, therefore we must focus on it all the more, biblically, so they will get the memo.

(This also means that we must not tell our children that they shouldn't tattle or rat out their siblings.  This sends a message that important conflicts are to be glossed over and not paid attention to.  Rather we should teach them how to appropriately handle those situations.)

Fourth, we must teach children how to handle conflict biblically.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-17 how we are supposed to handle conflict.  First, we are to go to the person who has offended us one on one and talk to them.  Then, as appropriate, bring in others to confront for the purpose of restoration, not retaliation.  Unfortunately, this rarely happens in our society.  And for one who is ruled by their emotions, the temptation to tell someone else (or everyone else) is too hard to pass up. 

Our children need to be repeatedly taught that when we break away from God's design for handling conflict...drama ensues.  Drama steals away our joy, our peace, our trust and damages our relationships.  We need to point that out from the myriad of examples that we will see in life, so they can recognize the results. 

We must model for them how to handle conflict biblically, so they can see what happens when tough situations are handled God's way.

Finally, we need to teach our children to seek good, Godly attention, rather than attention for attention's sake.

What our children really want is attention.  So as parents, we need to share with them how to get the attention that they seek without the regret and punishment that comes through sin.  As parents, when our drama children do the right thing, we should be just as eager to commend as we are to reprimand.  We should point out how obedience to those good and Godly things are a reward of itself and are missing the guilt and regret that disobedience brings.

We should have our children eager for the words that we await our Savior to say to us when we finally see Him face to face..."Well done, good and faithful servant..."  If, by the grace of God, we can train them for that, we will save them from a lot of undue drama and troubles, and hopefully give them the attention and joy they truly crave that comes from a relationship with Christ.

Pray for me, as I move toward that end with my daughter, and I promise, I will pray for the same for you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Questions Kids Ask: Who Created God?

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As we expose our children to God, the Bible and its teachings questions are bound to arise.  These questions usually start at the age of 3 or 4 but will accompany your child throughout their walk with Christ.  Many of their earliest questions will either be on the silly or profound side.  The silly ones we can handle pretty well.  However, it is interesting that many of the first questions your child will have about God and faith will be the ones that will need to be revisited over and over again as they grow.

Let's take the question posed for today:  Who created God?  (Or who's God's daddy?)

This question was asked to me yesterday by a curious Kindergartener in our Day Care.  It is important to answer the question at the level of understanding, and this is why we will have to revisit this question over and over again as our children grow into tweens and teens and finally adults.  So below is the question asked by different aged children, the challenges they are facing and a response that helps to satisfy the curious mind and give an increasing confidence that the faith that you and I profess in Christ is grounded in logic and truth and isn't just mere wishful thinking.

3-5 years old

Who created God?

Challenge:  I want to understand the facts about God.  Everyone I know has been created, what about God?

Answer:  God has always existed.  There has never been a time where God wasn't around, so God didn't need a daddy and mommy.  This is what is meant by God being eternal.

This answer usually is enough for the curious preschooler.  At this age, they find more confidence in the fact that Mom and Dad know the answer than needing a detailed explanation. 

K-2nd Grade

Who created God?

Challenge:  I need more confidence than just Mom and Dad said so.  I am learning so much in school about science, math, reading and writing.  My world is growing.  Therefore, the God whom I have heard about should be growing in my understanding as well.

Answer:  God has always existed (reaffirming the previous answer given).  What does Jesus promise you and I, if we believe in Him?  (Eternal life.)  Now, can I give someone something I don't have?  (No.)  If I promise you a million dollars, but I don't have a million dollars, can I give it to you?  (No.)  So Jesus promises us eternal life, if we believe in Him and follow Him.  What does it mean to live eternally?  (It means to live forever.)  But Jesus can't offer that to us unless He lives forever, can He?  (No.)  Therefore, Jesus has always lived forever, because that is the only way that He can offer us eternal life.

Notice in this instance how we affirmed the previous answer while expanding the knowledge of the answer in such a way to satisfy a naturally curious mind.  The dialogue in the form of questions helps your child see the logic concerning your answer.  It begins to make sense.  But the question is going to come up again.

3rd-5th Grade

Who created God?

Challenge:  Up until this point your child has been relying on your knowledge of God.  However, in school they have been opening their world to new ideas through the avenue of reading.  They are reading about History, Science & English.  They are discovering the concept of Math for themselves through addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Their imaginations begin to go wild as they read about the far away places of Star Wars.  This is an age of self discovery.  So their understanding about God needs to be something that they are discovering for themselves.

Answer:  At this age, they should be reading a version of the Bible they can understand (I suggest an NIrV).  It is important as a parent to add Scripture to their previous answers.  Just as children are discovering truths about subjects in school through self discovery, they need that same opportunity with their faith.  At this point, the previous answer they accepted in K-2nd Grade is fine, but needs verification through the Scriptures themselves.

Scriptures such as Genesis 1:1-2 (and actually Genesis 1-2) and John 1:1-18 establish that God the Father, Jesus (the Son) and the Holy Spirit were there at the very beginning of all creation.  Without God, nothing was made that has been made. 

Passages like Psalm 90:1-2; Exodus 3:13-14; John 8:54-59 establish that God has always existed.  But unlike before, we are now taking our children to the places in the Scriptures that God has said these things about Himself.   They are not just taking our word for it, but God's word about Himself.

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Mid High

Who created God?

Challenge:  Now children are being introduced to ideas that counter their beliefs.  Friends who have families who do not believe.  Scientific hypotheses, like evolution, that begin to challenge their worldview enter their world.  At this age, a firmer understanding of their faith is needed.  However, they need more than just a firmer understanding of their faith, but reasons for which their Christian worldview makes more sense of the world than the contrary worldviews they are beginning to be introduced to.

Answer:  During these years, it is important that your child makes their way all the way through the Scriptures.  They will be drawing on that foundation for the rest of their lives.  Before they can truly understand the conflicts between worldviews, they need to have a basic understanding of their own.  Also, when they reach this age, they should have a more literal (less childlike) translation of the Bible (I recommend ESV).  And I also, recommend that this Bible be a good study Bible with LOTS of notes.

My experience at this age is that the largest conflict with their faith has to do with evolution.  Even concerning the question:  Who created God?  Many in the scientific community proclaim that religion was man's evolutionary response to ideas they couldn't fully comprehend.  At school, they are taught this materialistic worldview from Kindergarten and it begins to make sense. 

At 3-5 they needed Mom and Dad's knowledge and the confidence that comes from their confidence.  At K-2nd Grade they needed underpinning reasons for Mom and Dad's confidence.  At 3rd-5th Grade they needed to see these explanations for themselves through the Scriptures.  At Mid High, they are in need of the reasons that stand up against the scrutiny of conflicting worldviews.

Not only do youth need the confidence of their own worldview, they need reasons why other worldviews fall short of giving reasonable explanations for the question they are facing.  In the case of  "Who created God?"  They need a reason why an eternal God makes more sense than an evolutionary explanation of existence.

To answer those questions we need to introduce our children to logic at a deeper level than we did in K-2nd Grade.  We need not only address our worldview, but the worldview they are being challenged with.

A way that I go over with Mid High youth concerning this subject is the following:

Which makes more sense:  Everything was created by nothing (Which is what evolution believes) or that everything was created by Someone (Which is what we believe as Christians)?

Which makes more sense:  In our experience do explosions create more order or less order?  Then, does it make more sense that the orderliness of our universe come from a random explosion (this is the view of evolution) or that this universe was crafted purposefully and carefully from a loving Creator (what we believe as Christians)?

Which makes more sense:  That the complexity of life would spring from a non-living source, which has never been witnessed before (this is the evolutionary view) or that life produced the life that we see and is our constant experience (this is what we believe as Christians)?

Finally, which makes more sense:  that our morality came from an amoral source (this is what evolution believes) or that our morality has been given to us by a moral Lawgiver (this is what we believe as Christians)?

Not only do these questions answer from the sense of giving confidence that their worldview makes logical sense, but these begin to expose the flaws of other worldviews.

Also, notice how much more complex each answer to the same question is as your child grows older.

High School

Who created God?

Challenge:  A movement from using Mom and Dad as the authority to owning their own faith.  This challenge usually comes through friends who are committed to their worldview.  The talking of big ideas like evolution, atheism and other religions (and cults) has your child wondering what he/she will adopt as their own worldview. 

Answer:  At this point, it is extremely important that your children have a good understanding of the Word of God and are supplementing their faith with books on a High School and College level that will address these ponderings. 

Books such as, The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, Stealing from God, On Guard, Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, Ask Me Anything 1 & 2, The Christian Atheist, Weird, Not A Fan, Crazy Love, Respectable Sins, Defeating Darwinism, Not God's Type, God and the Gay Christian?, The Coffee House Chronicles, Relational Apologetics...etc.  should be encouraged for youth of this age to explore to see the firm foundation they have in faith regarding a number of issues they will be facing as high schoolers (as well as college students and adults).  Many of the above books deal with the question "Who created God?" in a very in depth and scholarly approach.

They should be watching debates of big Christian thinkers, such as William Lane Craig and John Lennox against the arguments of those of opposing worldviews concerning the questions they have.  Also, "God's Not Dead" is a great movie that addresses these ideas, as well.  They should be talking to pastors or spiritual mentors and Christian peers about these questions as well.  They need to be having these awesome conversations with Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad need to be well versed by having read some of the material above, so their youth see that their question "Who created God?" didn't stagnate in the 3rd Grade.

As you can see, this one simple, yet profoundly complex question, is one of many that we will be challenged to answer for our children to give them the firm foundation in Christ all of us as Christian parents hope for each of our children.  As our children grow, we are being forced to grow as parents to address the needs that our children are growing into.  It forces us to be even more dependent upon God, His Word and understanding what we believe and why we believe it, so we may fulfill the command to pass this faith down to the next generation (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Ps. 78:1-8).  And along the way, God just might give us the faith to have an answer for the hope we have to others around us as well (1 Pet. 3:15).

Lord bless you all!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Parent's Biggest Temptation

Being the parent of a child or multiple children is an incredibly hard and time demanding job.  I know...I am one too.

However, as hard as it is to juggle children, I believe there is an even harder thing for parents to do during the wonderful time God blesses us with the upbringing of these children.  It is simply this:

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Making sure your spouse is the most important relationship in your life outside of your relationship with God.

When your children are young, you attend their every need.  They need to be fed.  They need to be burped.  They need their diaper changed.  They...just need everything.

And that's how it begins...the need of time and attention starts with the parents being attentive to every cry of their child and celebrating every joy, like their first steps, and the first time they poop on the potty (can I get an "Amen"?).

Life begins to revolve around this (or these) little bundles of joy.  As they begin to grow and can do more (and get into more stuff), we find our lives staying just as occupied with our children as ever before.  Walking turns into running, running turns into sports or ballet or piano lessons or...well I am sure that you can fill in the blank.

Before you know it, your schedule is filled with carting children from one activity to another (sometimes in separate places).  Because we are over scheduled or just ragged from all the running around, we begin to break down and berate our spouses because this event or activity wasn't made or because our children are in trouble (in grades, with the wrong crowd, disrespecting one or both parents, etc).  We argue and fight with our spouse while trying to maintain a good relationship with our children, who we seem to get along with better.

Somewhere along the way, inadvertently, we have put more value into our children, who are only with us for a time, than to the one whom we have committed our lives to.

We have somehow convinced ourselves that we are doing our children a disservice if they don't have this opportunity or that opportunity that we either did or didn't have as a child.

I believe that if we learned to say "no" to our children more and "yes" to our spouses more, we would have healthier marriages and healthier kids.  In the end, your kids don't need basketball or track or debate or whatever...  What they truly need is the love of Christ modeled through a loving relationship of a husband who will love his wife and give himself for her (not the children) and a wife that will respect her husband and the leadership he brings into a home.  (Eph. 5:21-33)

Saying "yes" to your spouse more might just be the exact thing that your children really need so they will know how to do the same when they are grown.  And honestly, isn't that the type of kids you want.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Holiness...Two Minutes at a Time

We live in a culture defined by technology. 

In some respects, this could be construed as one of the greatest times in all of history.  So much knowledge, information and resources at our fingertips. 

Do you want to learn how to knit or auto repair?  Pop onto YouTube and look at the thousands of videos that give step by step instructions.  Or if you are someone who would rather actually read the directions, there are thousands of sites online for that too.

At the touch of a keystroke or a tap of an icon on our smartphone and the world awaits us.

I have a library of books on my phone that I can take around with me easily fitting it into my pocket and access anywhere in the world.

So what are most of us doing with all of these resources that we have at our disposal?  Playing games.  Watching meaningless videos.  In other words, we are entertaining ourselves to death.

Now don't think that I am just calling you out.  I am calling myself out too.

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Those that know me know that I love games.  My favorite game, by far, is a game called Dominion.  I have every set that has been created of this game, even the promotional cards (except for 2).  When we play games in my family, I will choose it 75% of the time.  I have the game on my computer at home and a version of it on my phone.  The phone version can be played in as little as 2 minutes, though it is usually 3 or 4.  I have literally played thousands of games of Dominion on my phone.

I usually pull out my phone and play the game when there is a lull in my life.  If I find myself waiting for 15 minutes for my family, I'll pull out the phone and play a few games.

Maybe you do the same with your favorite game or app.  Spare moments find us gravitating toward the mindless and meaningless, hoping to be entertained a few more minutes until our next destination.  We go to games with our kids and during the boring times, we pull out "old faithful" and kill a few more meaningless moments checking Facebook or email.  I am sure that I am not the only one who has had struggles with technology at the dinner table.

However, with each decision to use those "spare" two minutes playing a game, we do it at the cost of relationship, first with God, then to our families.  We say with every click of the button, every high score we rave about, every disinterested "uh-huh" at the dinner table where we weren't even paying attention to the conversation, that this little electronic device and the world it let's me explore is more fulfilling, more important than the real people in our lives and more important than a God who desperately wants us to know Him.

Lately, I have been trying to replace some of my two minute games with short devotionals that only take about 2 minutes to read.  My current one is a daily devotional by Jerry Bridges called "Holiness:  Day by Day".  Through it, I am challenged to spend these spare moments, not just reading this devotional, but being reminded that these two minute breaks are blessings to pray for others, love others by sending a quick note or text or just ponder and revel in the greatness of God.

This isn't to say that there is never a time for a little relaxation.  But I want to be known to my family, to my friends and to strangers around me as a man who seeks after God first and foremost.  This can only happen when I continue to choose God (and people) over the mindless and the meaningless that is so easy to gravitate toward.  And I am finding more and more that holiness comes two minutes at a time.

Of Bible Translations and Heresy

Maybe you have heard the news, maybe you haven't:  Eugune Peterson, the author of the Message Bible, has recently endorsed same sex marr...