“Don’t Make Me Come Down There!” – God, also my mom, and every parent ever

As a child, I was a little wild. Most of it was not malicious, but I had an energy and curiosity that often got me in trouble. The few times I was blatantly defiant, my parents were often standing right there with me and saw the whole thing. I wasn’t much for sneaking around. That said, I’ve seen my share of punishment and discipline over the years. And, honestly, I’ve just now come to know the difference.

I think this may have been the reason I was always a little averse to the idea of Spiritual Disciplines – I had equated the word discipline and punishment. Punishment might be an aspect of discipline, but it’s not the whole package.

Discipline comes from the Latin discipulus,  which means “pupil, or learner.” A disciple was one who learned, either as a pupil under a teacher, or as an apprentice under a master craftsman. So a discipline is a course of learning or training, a way to attain mastery in a field or craft.  Discipline, then, is a way to learn that encompasses all the ways people learn, by positive and negative reinforcement, reward and punishment, and internal drive.

Spiritual Disciplines are not punishments meant to harm us or whip us into submission. the Spiritual Disciplines are a training course in humility, God’s character, and submission to His will. Fasting isn’t a painful beating, it’s a practice that reminds us that God sustains us even in periods of hunger or want. Fasting helps us clear our minds so that we can better hear God’s calling.

Silence isn’t a time out from God. Silence is (come to find out) a necessary aspect of our lives for mental health, but also for spiritual health. It’s hard to hear God if we’ve got sound and information bombarding us 24/7. Silence gives us a chance to stop, listen, and reorient to God’s way of life.

Sabbath (rest) is a spiritual discipline! It isn’t a red card to get out of the game of life. It’s a reminder that worrying and trying to do everything ourselves is pointless, because God doesn’t need to rest and will continue sustaining the world even while we sleep. We rest because we have trust in God’s compassion, love, and care.

Those that surrounded Jesus received the honor of being called his Disciples. We still call them that today. How many of us are disciples? How many of us have truly submitted to the discipline of Jesus by living and walking with him every day? In the case of those twelve men who were called by name, their discipleship training never stopped. It just changed, became different since they were no longer able to reach over and tap Jesus on the shoulder. You can bet they continued praying, seeking one another’s advice, sharing meals together, and sharing in that renewed life that Jesus brought through his death and resurrection. Many of them showed their devotion through martyrdom and suffering, facing the challenges that the world threw against them.

In the case of children, you are discipling them whether you realize it or not. When you choose church over sports, or choose kindness over revenge you lay out a discipline for those in your life, children or adult, who look to you for guidance. Do your choices, the discipline of your life, lead others in Jesus’ path, or another?

May your discipline be that of Jesus’, and may you lay out that same path for others.



Breaking a Cultural Curse – Rape and Consent

I am quite sure that a large majority of you reading this have already read several think pieces and rants on the most recent Stanford rape case. If you have not, here is a link to an article describing the situation, and here is the viral statement written by the young woman in the case.

As a man, and a particularly white one at that, I cringe to the point of implosion when horrific situations like this arise and justice seems so far off the mark. Honestly, I cannot even contemplate what might have been going through the judge’s mind during the sentencing, but whatever it was we can say with some certainty that it probably was not justice.

Humanity has a long, brutal, grisly history with rape. We have famous, celebrated works of art with rape right in the title depicting scenes of almost gentile savagery. So what needs to happen? How can we, as parents, as a culture, begin to remove the stigma around rape and begin to fight back?

For one, we can educate our children about sexuality. And not just the mechanics. While the how-tos and basic safety are important, don’t get me wrong, there is more to sex than “how does it work?”

People may wonder why I hold a biblical view of sex and marriage. The reason is, a biblical view takes into account consent and relationship dynamics that can help people to avoid certain pitfalls.

So for Christian parents, the explanation may go something like this. Sex is a response to commitment, a response to a promise, a covenant, that is supposed to last. Marriage vows are those promises that sex is a response to. However, consent still needs to be present in the marriage relationship. Sex is a conversation, a give and take between spouses, consent is given, and can be withheld for a time (prayer, health, etc.).

And here is a the kicker in the conversation about sex and consent – no means no. Kids can learn consent at an early age through things like hugs. Children can be given the power to say “no” to a hug, and be taught that if someone else says “no” to honor that. To many people, hugs and other physical contact are intimate moments that need consent, and can be a learning tool to discuss and teach sexual consent. Also, an absence of “yes” does not mean consent has been given. A rule of positive consent should be present as we discuss this issue with our children, meaning that children should clearly hear “yes” before proceeding.

Our children need to learn that consent is a crucial social contract. It affects many areas of our lives and children need to learn earlier rather than later how to give and respond to consent. Giving children the power to give and understand consent might help them understand how to avoid abuse. Once they understand that they have the power to say no to touch that they do not want, they can respond appropriately when danger or threats arise.

Again, education about consent tackles both ends of the problem of rape. It does not victim blame by just forcing the person being touched to say “no” in as many ways as possible. Consent education also places responsibility on the person initiating the touch to be aware of positive consent, or the lack thereof before proceeding.

When we see situations like the Stanford case arise in the news, and maybe our older children begin asking questions, we can use those moments to educate and train. With younger children, we can take the reminder to proactively train them to avoid these situations by raising them into responsibility for their actions.

Again, this post will not lessen the impact or damage done in this case. But, as we grieve over injustice and pain, let us prepare our children for the world they live in today so that tomorrow they will have wisdom.

Pain Isn’t So Bad

A thought trend I have been hearing lately from many sources, both religious and secular, has been to point to suffering as being the ultimate evil. Secular morality, it seems to me, is built on the idea that suffering is evil and pleasure (even simple comfort) is the greatest good for humanity. From this comes the idea that euthanasia, abortion, and intense military action is completely justified – because all of these seek to end or avoid suffering.

It seems odd to me, though, that a country claiming to be built on Christ’s example would be walking down a path of avoiding suffering. Jesus himself was no stranger to suffering: seeking refuge in Egypt from an unstable ruler, facing intense hunger during fasting, facing the whip for the accusation of being apolitical dissident, and finally facing the traitor’s death at the hands of an oppressive government. Paul, also no stranger to suffering and who made his point clear while listing off his suffering like a list of prestigious degrees, continually called churches to task in order to stand firm and prepare for the worst. Paul wrote to the Roman church, “[…] We also celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.” (Romans 5.3-4 Kingdom New Testament)

The Jewish people, God’s chosen, themselves have suffered immensely over the years, steeling themselves to live under the weight of oppressive regime after cruel tyrant. They, who wandered in the wilderness, faced their own trials and testing in the desert, who poured out their hearts through the prophets and psalmists, were no strangers to suffering. These are the people who treasured Job in the list of sacred texts, a book that answers few questions, but instills hope.

So why pain? Well, first, consider that a person who feels no pain or who is incapable of feeling emotion does not gain the title of “human perfected” but instead is often diagnosed with some kind of disorder. Why is that? If avoiding pain is the greatest good, why would people incapable of pain not have reached the pinnacle of humanity?

Perhaps it is that, deep down, we understand the necessity of pain and suffering. Pain often brings wisdom. Suffering often leads to understanding and sympathy. Comforting someone becomes much different when we have lived through the same traumatic experiences as another. We often learn the correct and incorrect ways of living and acting through the pain caused by our own choices. Do we think of others on the other side of the globe when things are going well? Or do we only focus on those places of poverty and destruction when the suffering of those people finally reaches the light of a camera on our televisions or laptops?

Not to say this is the way things should be. God hurts when we hurt, but how often do we as humans need pain to learn and grow? My own scars, both physical and mental, are a list (always growing) of lessons learned and mistakes made. Are they all my own mistakes? No. But have I grown because I have accepted what happened and decided to make a change or become a more caring, understanding individual? Yes.

I think maturity involves coming to grips with human suffering. Many great minds, much more adept than mine, have delved into that dark pool to search out the bottom. I have not had such great suffering as they, but their insight into humanity’s heart and mind have come to shape the way we live and think. James, Jesus’ brother who ended up becoming one of the key leaders of the church in Jerusalem, wrote: “My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience.” (James 1.2-3 KNT)

This may be why the early church, after the great persecutions ended, sought out monasticism and voluntary fasting. Perhaps there was a sense that suffering, while an unpleasant part of life, helped to remind us of the important things. Loss often leads us to cling tighter to those important people in our lives. Destruction strips away our trust in physical resources. Suffering reminds us that our own bodies will fail.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mentioned that a  proper Jewish story begins with suffering or sorrow, and ends with hope. That is also the story for Christian people, for all people – our sorrow can be turned into joy, our crying to laughter, and our pain to celebration. We have a God that is working, even now when we may not be able to perceive it, to set things to rights. We are sitting in the “now and not yet” waiting for the full realization of the victory already achieved through Jesus, as NT Wright would say.

Hope is what we have to hold on to. Hope keeps us strong in the midst of suffering. As we learn and grow, slowly and painfully, we have hope that God, who is ever faithful, is working in every situation to bring about the final victory.

How do discussions about suffering go at your house? How are you using every opportunity to instill hope in your children? What ways have you found to help children find understanding in hope even in difficult situations?


Fighting from the Low Ground

To fight from the low ground is to fight at a disadvantage. Having the higher ground means having a better view. Being higher means having gravity working for you and against your opponent. Would you prefer to start from the higher or lower ground?

Christians have gotten into  a bad habit over the past 1000 years. Ever since Christianity became part of an empire, we’ve been used to having enough power and authority to be able to leverage people into the kind of life we think they should live. That time is very swiftly drawing to a close. Christians are losing the high ground politically.

We’re coming to a time when legislation and power plays in politics will be harder to come by. What then, brothers and sisters, shall we do? We relearn how to function from the political disadvantage. We relearn the principles that Jesus laid out when he warned and encouraged his followers that in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.

Consider that Jesus, through his disciples, was capable of turning the Roman Empire upside down to the point where governors are having to write letters to the emperor to figure out how to handle these nutty Christians. What was the early Christians’ biggest sin in the eyes of the Roman Empire? They refused to take part in politics, which were tied to emperor worship. Because of this, they were labeled traitors and “atheists.” (I’ll continue when you finish chuckling over that point.)

How did Christianity spread so quickly? Well, besides the Spirit of God moving powerfully, persecution was the biggest mover. Persecution broke out in Jerusalem, so the Christians spread out into other cities. Then those cities got frustrated and drove the Christians on to even further-flung cities and villages. Even struggling from the disadvantage proved to be an advantage for God and his mission.

For a while, we as Christians have been struggling with how to use power. We like the phrases in Genesis “fill the earth and subdue it.” And, yet, we also see that our own sinfulness has made power a very dangerous weapon to wield.

Paul makes clear that God makes the wisdom of the world seem like foolishness, and that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Perhaps it’s about time we begin bringing up a generation who understands how to fight from a disadvantage.

We always bring up the Civil Rights movement when discussing power, weakness, and change. Even though many who held power resisted that movement, the quiet strength and disadvantage of the marchers and peaceful protesters was nearly unstoppable. Consider what Jesus could accomplish if we stopped depending on our own power and began acting out of our weak points so that God’s strength could be made perfect through us.

Does this mean raising a generation of weak men and women? Of course not. It takes an indomitable spirit and willingness to face danger and anger and power itself. It’s being Paul listing his suffering, it’s being Peter sitting in jail, it’s being Jesus shutting out the mocking by asking God to forgive his tormenters. These people aren’t weak, they’re strong, but their power isn’t one of violence and privilege. Instead theirs is a power of peace, determination, perseverance, and trust in a God bigger than the current suffering.

How do you and your family talk about change that needs to happen? When culture seems to be lashing back at Christians, how to you react? In what ways are you preparing your family to act boldly from the lower ground.

Righteously Disgusted

As a part of our Sunday Morning curriculum we have had a month discussing the character trait of perseverance. The whole month has been centered around people from the Bible who refused to give up when things got hard.

Don’t we all have a favorite person from the Bible who refused to give up, even when things looked absolutely bleak?

The reason I mention any of this was that our most recent lesson had three short stories, two of which ended with someone who refused to give up: a girl with dyslexia who read out loud in class despite her difficulty and a really lackluster soccer player who discovered his dream to be a coach instead of a player. These got the children excited and interested, they began engaging with me as I told these stories. And then we got to the middle story.

The middle story was about a young lad who had trouble tying his shoes. His dad bought him a fantastic pair of new shoes, but they had laces… And when I told the children that instead of practicing or working hard the kid gave up and never wore the shoes his dad bought him, the look of disgust and disbelief on their faces was surprising.

There has been so much trash talk swapped between generations since the ancient times – even the Greek philosophers talked about the “wild and crazy” youth. But lately, the jibes have been turning from “wild and crazy” to “just plain lazy.” I wonder where that comes from.

The looks on these kids faces told me that giving up wasn’t even an option. The idea of someone just throwing up their hands in defeat stunned them into silence and then argument. “What do you mean he just gave up? That doesn’t make sense!” Kids don’t give up, it almost seems against their nature.

I wonder when many adults lost that sense of righteous disgust at giving up when things get hard? Where did the younger generation pick up a habit of “it’s no use?”

If you have a rebuttal for your particular instance, this may or may not apply to you. Or, maybe you should take a moment and think about where that rebuttal stems from and where your emotions are.

Giving up isn’t in human nature. God designed us to push forward and take one more step toward our goals. Jesus himself pushed through terrible pain and anguish because he could see the victory on the other side of the struggle. And maybe that’s the key. Maybe kids have a clearer vision of the possible victory and joy. Maybe their eyes haven’t been clouded by cynicism and apathy.

So as the kids learned yesterday, “When life gets hard, remember what Jesus did for you.”

What is the culture of perseverance at your house? How do you talk about difficult situations and which ones need perseverance and which ones need a brave refusal?

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 www.deliveredbygrace.com. 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.

Why your church can be a great place for kids. Or, why Andy Stanley had to apologize.

Ok, let’s be honest, Alex is behind the curve again. I didn’t hear about this Andy Stanley calling small church people “so stinkin’ selfish” or something like that until today. Understandably, all of the videos I tried to hunt down have been removed by North Point Ministries. Since the video went viral and generated so much vitriol on social media, Stanley has apologized stating that “even [he] was offended.”

First of all, Andy Stanley is a human being. He also makes mistakes, like the rest of us, and as Christians we should forgive and let go. (And, really, the high pedestal we put ministers on crushes more of them than it helps. Another topic, another day.) He’s already going to have to live with that statement for a while and has lost credibility with many that looked up to him. The least we can do is try to understand where his mind was. As I mentioned in a previous post, being happy that a successful church made a mistake is about as un-Christ-like as it gets. We are better than this as God’s children.

Secondly, he has a point. The point he was trying to make is that children need a healthy environment with other children to help them along in their journey with Jesus. Sure, we often like to cite the fact of “where two or three are gathered,” but try asking a child if they’d invite a friend to a 3 person party. Then ask if they’d be willing to be the new person at a 3 person party. Does that shed some clarity?

The church where I currently serve and worship has been my church home for nearly 14 years now. I grew up here. Much of my Christian formation was here. My youth minister from that time is a big part of why I decided ministry was where God was leading me. (Trust me, very few choose ministry – it chooses them. It’s a scary position – read Jesus and Paul talking about a teacher’s role.)

The reason my family stayed at this church? My brother and I. We were 4 and 10 respectively and we immediately fell in love with the other kids and the leaders in our groups. While we were visiting churches, both of us would beg to go back to this church because experiencing Jesus was fun and engaging.

The point I want to make is this: your church home will be a part of shaping how your children grow and develop as disciples. If your church is not equipping you and your children for faith development – ask your leaders about it and get something started. If you feel strongly about it, you may have to be the one to create children’s programs. You may be the one to ask for space for a nursery, or for children’s rooms. You may need to be the one to find volunteers and invite parents. As a very, very final last resort, after everything else has failed – if the leaders don’t act, maybe it’s time to find a church that considers children a priority.  (I’m very biased as a children’s minister as to the importance of Children’s Ministry, which means that as I write this I am keenly aware of what these statements mean for myself and my team.)

Can smaller churches provide the kind of environment where children can thrive? Of course. Can they do it with excellence? Of course. Does it take effort, time, and dependence on God? A thousand times yes. Could you be the one to lead the charge? It’s very possible.

I am not advocating that you leave the family that you worship with each Sunday. I am not advocating that you find your nearest mega church and be overwhelmed.

I am, simply, asking you to evaluate your church family. I am asking you to fight for your church family and challenge the leaders to step up to the issues facing kids, preteens, and teenagers – if they haven’t started already. I am asking you to think, love, and act like Jesus when it comes to bringing about needed change.

And if you’re church-hopping right now… maybe take some time and listen to where your children want to go.