Are My Ears Stopped Up?

Lately, we’ve been trying some new things in during our worship response segment of Sunday Mornings. I give  credit where it is due, because I was given the ideas for this segment by the great Children’s Ministry team at Savannah Christian Church. Anyway, the idea is that every Sunday morning, we give the children an opportunity to respond to God in a unique way in order to grow their repertoire of ways to worship.

We have done a wide array of responses, from writing prayers, to kneeling and prostration, to echoing prayers, to breath prayer, to repeating a Psalm. I will tell you, I was skeptical of kids’ ability to connect in these ways, but they have completely taken to these responses and have surprised me again and again.

I think my favorite response so far has been sitting in silence and listening for God. Yes, you heard that correctly. I asked kids Kindergarten through 4th grade to sit in silence and listen for God. And you know what? They did. They found a spot in the room away from everyone else and sat in silence. (Sure, I only scheduled 30 seconds of silence, but to a kid that can be an eternity.) The trick is explaining listening for God. What will he say? What will the experience be like? Will it be a Mt. Sinai with booming thunder shaking the ground? What happens if we don’t hear anything.

No, really, what happens if we don’t hear anything? If you pressed me, I could probably count on my hands the number of times I’ve “heard a message from God” in nearly 27 years. Was it clear – yes? Was it some mind-numbing experience that left me a hollowed husk blasted by the glory of God? Not really. God called me into ministry using the strong, humorous, and genuine voice of my mentor Keith Buddemeyer during a closing talk at a youth convention, God clarified that call through a book called Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions by George Barna, and, on a slightly unrelated note, God called my bluff when I applied to teach English in China for a month. Otherwise, I do not have a list of direct messages that some people seem to receive.

And in some ways, I do get a little jealous of those believers who do seem to hear from God on a regular basis. And that might cause me to be a little skeptical when it comes to hearing from God. That is my problem, but we are called to be discerning that no message contradicts God’s character.

Silence may be part of the problem. We are so busy. We rarely take time to just be in God’s presence – to invite Him to sit with us. Yes, I have gone over the fact that God is the great King of the Universe, but He is also a father. And this father enjoys spending time with his kids. I explain it to my children this way: sometimes God wants us to sit on the couch with them and just be, like we do with our parents sometimes. We don’t have to talk, or ask questions, we can just enjoy the comfortable silence with someone we love.

We give married people a hard time about not talking in restaurants, but sometimes that can be a sign of deep love and ease. You can tell a lot about your relationship with someone by how long a silence can last while still being comfortable. No really, try it.

So, I guess, much like Elijah after Mt. Carmel, maybe I may not need a message from God other than, “Be still and know that I am God.” Maybe searching and straining and shouting for an answer should give way to stopping, stilling, and listening. Maybe my ears aren’t stopped up. Maybe God just wants some time on the couch.

When have you heard from God? Think about where you were and what you were going through. When was the last time you took time to be? What might you need to set aside for a time to make room for silence with God? What ways of listening and responding to God does your family practice? How does that response help your family to be more apt to listen for God’s direction?


Discussing Captain America News with Your Child

Yesterday the comic book world was treated to a startling piece of information in that Captain America has outed himself as a member of HYDRA. For those of you not gasping in incredulity, this one may take some explanation.

Before I begin, you may want to read this article, as I will use a few ideas from it to make a point or two. First, please be aware that this is a fairly standard money-grab, shock-jock tactic to sell a few more comic books as people rush to their local comic shop to see if the scuttlebutt is true. (The joke may be on Marvel and its writers, however, as there are many useful websites that divulge plot information and whole comics for free. Not that these are morally correct, but it does change the situation somewhat.) What this means is that Captain America will go back to being a bastion of justice and truth just as soon as this quarter’s earnings have come in. And that little analysis there brings me to my next point.

American cynicism has gotten out of hand. We have a very hard time believing anyone is decent, let alone good. How could Steve Rogers (Captain America) be so righteous and moral? Surely he’s got some deep, dark secret that disqualifies him from being a good man, right?

Well, that deep, dark secret this month is that Captain America has secretly been a HYDRA double agent all along. So what’s HYDRA? HYDRA (if you couldn’t tell from the reference to a gigantic monster or the fact that it’s all caps) is an evil organization that developed as an offshoot of the Nazi war machine during WWII, as written by Marvel comics. Yes, if you do the math correctly there, it does mean that Captain America is effectively a Nazi. If that doesn’t bother you just a little bit, it should.

So in a bigger picture look, the writers decided that in a world that is screaming for diversity in media and mercy for the refugee and helping those trapped in poverty Captain America, who traditionally fought to right these wrongs, should come out as a secret Nazi. Surely we can all see that our political situation is not the best. We can all see the unrest that has stemmed from poverty and a broken welfare system. We can all see that there are people in the world who are, in fact, choosing evil over good. We understand that our world needs fixing and is not in the best state.In that case, why would we decide that a fictional character designed to give hope should be striving against fixing the world and trying to destroy it.

As parents living in a world of superheroes, I don’t envy you having to discuss this issue (pun not intended) with your children. Hopefully this will all be some kind of ruse and this hero will be reinstated as the commiserate good guy. Until then, we have some soul-searching to do about how we raise this next generation. Do we want them to inherit this rampant cynicism, or would we rather them accept the world as it is and work to actively change it for the better?

As Christians, we also have to accept that no human being is perfect and that we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. Maybe that’s the take away here. It’s a hard discussion to have, but your children understanding that human beings have flaws is a part of maturing.

Maybe the discussion includes making plans to apologize when we as adults make mistakes, instead of talking them away or brushing them off. Perhaps this upcoming generation will have a better grasp on what it means to be human in the realm of forgiveness and understanding.

Has this news about Captain America reached your child yet? How will you handle the discussion? Will you allow your child to continue rooting for superheroes? Will you wait this event out to see how the characters fair with time?

Success Doesn’t Equal a Deal with the Devil

I’m starting to understand how highway truckers must feel retreading the same highways over and over again with very little changing with each pass. So, we are going to retread some familiar territory, with a slightly new twist today. (See this post and this one, for similar topics.)

So I did an internet search yesterday, and I’m finding myself starting to get sick with the number of Christian bloggers who feel it is their job to “protect” the flock from what they consider false or flagging teachers. Brothers, sisters, we have a society that is all to eager to bring the Church down, why are we giving it the satisfaction of watching us tear it down with our own hands?

For all of my harshness there, I can see the good intention underneath the knee-jerk reactions and misunderstandings. I’m sure many of these writers are truly looking out for the best for those that read their work. On the other hand, I don’t often see any of these writers reach out to the people they criticize to ask for any kind of further information or clarification.

One of these I recently read was this article by an author named Josh Buice on He wrote clearly, and succinctly, on the topic at hand, and I admire his ability to communicate clearly and effectively. (If you want succinct, though, I have a hard time with that aspect of writing.)

Andy Stanley has been coming under fire lately for several statements that may not have been as clear as they were intended to be. I could write page after page on how often I’ve had to pause to clarify something I’ve said myself after watching the faces of friends and family wrinkle in confusion. Being able to say the phrase, “I’m sorry, that came out wrong. Let me try that again” or asking the question, “What did you hear me say just then?” are wonderful tools in any person’s communication box.

Stated Problem #1 – Andy Stanley Doesn’t do Verse-by-Verse

Now, personally, I prefer this method… However, I also understand that not everyone learns the same way I do. Andy Stanley’s goal is to make Jesus as accessible as possible, and sometimes that means not going through verse-by-verse, but rather focusing on the big topic or main story. Andy Stanley also talks about the idea of the “sticky thought.” He wants people who hear him speak to come away with one idea that they can put into practice the second they walk out the door. I’m ok with this. Jesus taught this way – using stories and illustrations that all focused on one point, but could be unpacked and delved into for even greater meaning.

Stated Problem #2 – Andy Stanley Designs Church for Unchurched People

Ok, real talk. If Jesus showed up at our churches with his friends, we might turn him away. We’d be able to smell cigarette smoke and wine on him from a party the night before (Matthew 9:9-13; 11:18-19) and maybe a few days of unwashed sweat and road dust. You’d take a look at his hard-living, sea-and-road-hardened followers and note thieves, revolutionaries, and a not a few fishy (pun) fellows with him. Not the dressed-up, showered, middle-to-upper class people we’d expect in a suburban church environment.

So, no, Andy Stanley doesn’t want to make church for church people. His goal is to get out there and get a hold of those people who are hurt by, scared of, or even hateful toward the church by giving them something they’ve never gotten – a warm welcome. There’s a phrase – I’m not sure who said it – that says, “Any system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting.” If you notice that a church isn’t having many baptisms and seems to attract people who are simply finding a new church – then that church may be designed to draw “church” people.

Jesus didn’t hang around the traditionally “religious” people, he hung around the sinners, drinkers, cussers, and morally confused. Are our churches a place where these kinds of people would feel safe, like they could re-orient and heal in the presence of Jesus?

Stated Problem # 3 – Andy Stanley Isn’t Hard on Homosexuality

See paragraph above. Also, if Andy Stanley prefers to handle this issue in a personal way, without blasting people with a sermon, he’s approaching the situation like Jesus did on occasion. Take John 8:2-11 for example, when Jesus doesn’t say anything to the adulterous woman until everyone has left, and then says, “Go, and sin no more.” As a church, we should see that picketing and shouting has done nothing but anger people we want to save. Sure, we have good intentions, we want people to see where they’re outside of God’s will, but when has anyone ever changed their mind and life by being shouted to deafness? Relationship and time are the tools to address deep seated issues. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted […],” is what Proverbs says. If we want change to happen, we have to begin at a personal level and not try to wage some kind of culture war.

Stated Problem # 4 -Andy Stanley Won’t Say, “The Bible Says…”

And I agree with him. I cannot tell you how much damage has been done by the phrase, “the Bible says.” Whenever I hear that phrase, my immediate thought is, “Does the Bible say that, or does this speaker say that?” I also go to this scene in Fiddler on the Roof. (Scroll to timestamp 2:32 for the long version or 5:16 for the punchline.)

I understand that there is always interpretation involved when speaking about the Bible, but all Andy Stanley is doing is giving his listeners the ability to go back and see if the Bible really does say that. How? Well, Andy Stanley, instead of saying, “the Bible says,” gets more specific, saying, “Philippians 2:3-4 says…” He’s not questioning the authority of the Bible so much as he is giving people the option to be like the Bereans and, “examine the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11b)

Stated Problem # 5 – Andy Stanely Questions the Bible’s Truthfulness

Ok, here’s one where it’s much harder to defend the quotation used from Stanley, but I’ll try to explain his reasoning, at the very least. Here’s the point: the Bible cannot mean something that it never meant originally. So, to use the Bible as a scientific textbook is to look at God’s Word in entirely the wrong way. There are also many places where we have had issues in translation or copying that have made life difficult as far as interpretations are concerned. (Just research the King James Version and its translation and copying errors, including one of the first printings that excluded “not” in “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”) Historical-Literary Criticism (which isn’t as bad as it sounds) helps to better understand the worldview and mindset of those who wrote down the words we have in the Bible, so that we can better understand what it means for us today. I could go into this deeper, but suffice to say, high-level biblical training does come in a variety of methods and practices, and it can be used to bolster belief, or crush it entirely. It would be beneficial for Christians to better understand the Bible: who wrote it, who read it, and the copying and transmission methods that got it from the original pens to our hands today.

Stated Problem # 6 – Andy Stanley Said Small Churches are Bad

See this post…

Stated Problem # 7 – Andy Stanley Wouldn’t Use the Bible as a Starting Point

If you read the original post, here again, Mr. Stanley’s phrasing is poor. What I hear Mr. Stanley trying to say is that immediately jumping into the “Roman Road” may not be the best method for convincing someone of the truth of Jesus’ Kingship. Stanley says something about there being thousands of Christians before the Bible – by which he probably means the New Testament, in which case he’d be correct. The Bible that Paul refers to in many of his letters would have been the Hebrew Bible, because the New Testament was written several years after the Resurrection. This means that the stories about Jesus and his resurrection would have been passed along by word of mouth until they were written down.

So, in effect, Paul, especially when speaking to Gentiles, who for the most part would have been unfamiliar with the Hebrew scriptures, would have begun with the idea of the resurrection. (Acts  17:16-31, for example) So many people in today’s world view the Bible as a book of rules and laws that would hamper their life and remove all joy and happiness. And looking at the way some Christians have used the Bible, I cannot blame them. So, maybe, taking a leaf out of Jesus’ playbook and announcing the Kingdom of God with stories and illustrations that lead back into the Bible and its great story of God working to right the world might be a good idea for some situations.


Maybe instead of just pointing out one another’s flaws, we should first contact that person in question (or at least PR people) and ask for clarification before writing our thinkpiece. Also, can we as a Church please avoid making broad sweeping generalizations about people and listen more?

To wrap up: words are so important. Words were a part of creation.  Jesus is called the Word, who began a new creation at the resurrection. We are a part of that new creation, being called onward and upward by the transformation and renewal of our minds. We are, in effect, messengers, ambassadors of a Kingdom that stretches backward and forward through time, and we serve the King that is above all. Why then are we seeking to bring down others? As the title suggests, sometimes success does not mean that someone has sold their soul to the devil, or to secular society. Perhaps, that person has been blessed with some manner of clear vision and the ability to make it a reality. But remember, to place any human being on a pedestal is a recipe for disappointment. So let’s work to support one another, offering personal correction  and clarification when it’s needed. And, really, we’ve all had a day when we said something the wrong way and managed to anger or disappoint someone.

Putting Down the Gun

I was just on the internet preparing a lesson on the beatitudes and was searching for an image to use to illustrate “Blessed are the peacemakers […]” Would you like to know the first image that popped up on my screen?

A revolver. Now, regardless of your views on guns (which I’m not touching with a 39.5 ft pole) I find it alarming that the Internet’s idea of peacemaking is to point violence in the direction of the issue.

And isn’t America in a nice pickle with that thinking? Instead of stopping, sitting, listening, and discussing with one another we tend to jump straight to a pointed finger and condemning evidence.  (Ever notice that words ending with “mn” tend to be negative? No point, really, just an observation.)

There are so many issues running around right now that involve two sides shouting at one another: moral, ethical, political, theological. It boggles the mind that people who claim to follow a King who didn’t break a thin reed nor snuff a sputtering candle would sink to vitriol, venom, and verbal violence. (Oh, dear, preacher came out – look at that alliteration, would you?)

I guess what I’m getting at is the generally affluent Western, evidence-based culture we have cultivated has led us to a point where we have trouble listening to real issues, and then working to solve the problems without compromising our own values. Yes, we can help others, give them life, without sacrificing our values and morals, but it takes time, wisdom and effort.

Peacemaking is hard work. It involves careful listening, prayer, deliberation, compassion, mercy, pity, and humility. It takes time and patience. And, while, yes, pointing a gun is faster, violence is a peacekeeping action, not a peacemaking one. Death and violence rarely create lasting peace, as current world events have shown.

How do you and your family handle conflict? Is there shouting, anger, and name calling? Is there patience, understanding, and peacemaking? Are you proactive or reactive when handling difficult situations?

Why Election Years Are Hard

With a sigh, I begin the laborious task of writing yet another political commentary from the desk of a Children’s Minister. So we’re all thinking, me included, “Why?” Well, I’ve actually been keeping up lately as to what’s been going on using several different sources – and all of them usually leave me shaking my head in disbelief.

So the first reason Election years are challenging is the utter dissension they cause. Normally I can scroll through Facebook or Twitter and only see one or two mildly offensive or one-sided political opinion statements or articles. This year, I am not looking forward to the absolute flood of user and officially generated propaganda that will inevitably find its way into my line of vision. So far, the choice to drop cable was a good one, since I haven’t seen a political ad yet! On the other hand, family discussions and keeping a straight face around certain groups of people will begin to get difficult.

Secondly, the effect on kids is unreal. Have you ever heard a child endorse or disrespect a political candidate? Some think it’s cute, but I find it mildly disturbing. The bit that makes me grind my teeth a little is children generally repeat what they’ve heard their parents say – which makes me wonder how much more their parents say about other people. Seriously, though, we should really consider the language we use to speak about other people, whether they’re political candidates or not. As a Children’s Minister, I get to hear lots of stories from volunteers and from kids themselves of what gets said and done at home – and some of it is not flattering.

Thirdly, it’s just difficult to choose. The lack of integrity in politics should be alarming to most of us – on both sides, don’t think your side is immune. When we’ve allowed a system of election that is based mostly on false over-promising with inevitable under-delivery, there’s little room for us to complain when the campaigns get so out-of-hand. I have heard some downright appalling statements and language from both sides that has made me more than once pray fervently, “Lord, come quickly, preferably before November, if possible.”

The result of the Iowa caucus is pointing out who might possibly be the two main contenders for the Presidency. Regardless of your leanings, set an example for your kids in how you speak about candidates, how you pray about your choice, and in the way you explain the reason you vote the way you do.

“Oh yeah? Bless you too!”

In the beginning God created… and he spoke… and it was. And he said it was good. (Or in the case of one of our adorable little ones at church, “It was dood.”)

We all have a sense of the power of words, but sometimes I think our modern minds have tried to over rationalize things. “Sticks and stones” and similar sayings play down the effect words can have. The individualization of America has taught us that we shouldn’t care what other people think… but we still do. (Which is why people say that phrase to begin with, to create a persona of aloof courage, all the while painfully nursing the wound. Much like me getting hurt doing something I wasn’t supposed to when I was younger: “I’m ok. It doesn’t hurt at all. Oh, sure, my leg always looked like that.”)

Ancient magicians in Egypt and Greece had a healthy respect for words. They believed words themselves held power, creative power given to humanity by the gods. We often associate words with magic with spells, incantations, hexes, curses, etc. All of these are words – words that are believed to have the ability to actually impact the physical world. And, albeit in a strange way, they latched onto a truth about the world.

Words do have power. They have the power to heal, hurt, encourage, depress, inspire, or manipulate. Tones have the ability to change the meaning of entire phrases, and can undermine even the kindest of words.

James, the brother of Jesus, took some time out of his day to write a book of wisdom, of practical religion. You know what he spends nearly a whole chapter on? Words. James 3 is a whole treatise on the use of our words. Paul talks about it. Proverbs has many verses on words and how to use them. Our own experience shows us that words can have powerful effects on the people around us. And in all of human experiences there are two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Negative first, since I like ending on a positive note. The curse has been for most of human history feared and taken as the utmost offense. And back in the olden days, they really knew how to curse. Nowadays most cursing involves a simple 4-letter Saxon word and a pronoun (you.) Curses could be long, calling down poor crops, poverty, sickness, pain, and many other undesirable effects. And here is where James says is the problem with Jesus disciples using this. How, he says, are you seriously going to let such an awful thing come out of your mouth? Your mouth is supposed to be a life-giving spring connected to the life-giver Himself, and you’d allow such hateful sewage be sprayed onto another human being, who is also created in the image of God?

On the positive side, think about that image of a spring of water. A spring refreshes, heals, cleanses, and cools. That’s the goal of the blessing. The blessing is a prayer for goodness, health, wealth, gifts, and many good things directed at another human being. There are some wonderful blessings in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. We even see God blessing humanity with fertility, authority, and responsibility. Paul includes a blessing or two in each of his letters to the churches.

If you’ve never considered what the blessing could do, I’m recommending a book. This book is titled The “B” Word. Catchy title, huh? It’s written by Robert Strand, a pastor and writer. In it, he uses Scripture to highlight the benefits and the ins and outs of blessing someone, especially children. See, he has a tradition in his family of blessing every grandchild when they reach the age of 13. The entire family gathers together and each member prays a blessing over the child. The effects of these blessings has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold over the years as these children live into and experience the fullness of the blessings they may not have understood at the time.

So, what’s the point? Well, consider changing your language. Instead of, “[insert word of choice here] you!” Maybe try praying blessings over others. “But, that’s ridiculous,” you say, “that sounds like weakness and extremism!” Maybe, but the man I follow, Jesus, did that very thing while soldiers were beating him and while the crowds jeered and mocked him. Saying a blessing over someone who cuts you off in traffic instead of cursing them seems like a small step in the light of Jesus’ example.

How does your language reflect your walk with Jesus? Do your kids hear blessings from you, or only criticism and curses? Do your children hear you bless others or curse them? What’s one situation this week where you can intentionally make an effort to control your words and use them in Jesus’ name.

Pity the Fool

So I have been reading again…

The book in question is titled The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. And before your pull out your tinfoil hats, it’s not that kind of conspiracy. In fact, the book is more about the Sermon on the Mount than anything. Now before you replace your hat with a neck pillow, Jesus’ talks are often much more interesting than what passes for a sermon in your mind.

Willard also talks about prayer -especially the Lord’s Prayer. And one particular phrase has jumped out at me the past week. The phrase, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Willard makes the case that a more modern translation might say something along the lines of, “Have pity on me, as I have pity on others.”

At first, much like your reaction now, my thought was, “Pity? What need have I of pity?” (And yes, read that in your best English accent.) We certainly like the idea of mercy better. the word mercy, as Willard continues, often has a connotation in modern times of, “I just need a break. I’m no so bad.” However, in ye olden days, mercy was a plea of someone in the direst of straights, nearly at death, begging and sobbing for just a few more moments to bargain. So, nowadays, pity seems to be a better word.

But doesn’t it just grate against your mind? It did mine. It bothered me for a week… that is, until I put some thought into it and realized, “Oh, I am being a rather stubborn, prideful, pitiable creature right now, aren’t I?” And that’s when it hit me. It’s hard to forgive others when we don’t really feel like we need all that much forgiveness. When we’re of the mindset of, “Oh, God, just cut me a break here, I’m not all that bad,” everyone else’s failures and impositions on us suddenly look like egregious mortal sins of the highest caliber… even if they just happened to forget their blinker on I-75.

But things change when I put myself in a mindset of being pitiable. When I am receiving pity and forgiveness from God, I understand the magnitude of my own failures and mistakes. I realize the things I’m not forgiving myself for are because of my pride wanting to erase my own mistake without admitting it to anyone.

The story of the unmerciful servant springs to mind. (Matthew 18:23-35) For some reason, the first servant, despite his massive debt, felt himself entitled to that forgiveness, and was unable to show that same forgiveness because he may not have realized the sheer magnitude of pity shown on him. We look at that man and say, “How undignified and cruel!” Meanwhile, we often fail to notice that same behavior in our own lives.

Living in a state of pity allows us to stand in the love of God, aware of our state, but also acutely aware of the great, mighty, unquenchable fire of a love that God sustains us with. With that knowledge in hand, we can then begin to forgive others. We can admit our mistakes to others, to our kids, knowing that we are pitiable, but loved.

I have had to admit mistakes this week in regards to how I handled some situations. In doing so, I had to remember that God loves me regardless, and that he extends pity that extinguishes pride. I had to let go, admit my mistake, and begin working with others in order to create a better environment. Before, I wanted to blame others and get angry, but I realized that if things were going to heal, I would have to let go of all of that and accept things as they were and work to set them right.

Have you ever had to admit a mistake to a child, or even your own child? How did that feel? How did it affect your relationship? How could your family begin to create an environment where mistakes are shared, forgiven, and healed?