Sunday, May 24, 2015

Teach Your Family To Pray


I have a close family member dying of cancer. He’s way too young. Thousands have prayed for him but he likely won’t live more than a few days from this writing. Friends have prayed for years for more rain in Texas. Christians from all over the city of Austin prayed together last May for rain and only recently has there been precipitation of any substance.

Of course I believe prayer works . . . sometimes.  By “works” I mean that we get our desired outcome.  Our family has seen bunches of miraculous acts of God over the years where He did more than we could ask or think.  I am confident that as Scripture suggests our prayers both individually and corporately matter.  I hope my friends in Austin get rain, that others I know with illnesses are healed and that friends I pray will change from their destructive ways will get turned around We should never quit praying just because we don’t always get the answers we want.

However, we must also do the appropriate teaching about prayer that will help us understand what I call the parameters of prayer. We must seek from God as well the best reasons we can find that will at least help explain why God doesn't respond as we desire at least some of the time. Why do we pray for rain along with thousands of others and God not give it to us?

Why even ask God for some things if He's going to seemingly ignore us or wait for years to respond.

Why would a cherished love one lose his life while another get to keep hers even when their diagnoses were pretty much the same?  The just have faith proponents often forget to talk about the other times when God doesn’t seem to come through.  And when we’re parents it’s even more important to admit, wonder and then at least try to understand a God who is not merely a cosmic vending machine or happy-go-lucky grandfather who just gives us everything we want when we want it.

Of course, one blog post isn’t going to be able to cover a topic so vast nor will we ever be able to figure out the whys of God. But I do know that the Gospel of John, for example, suggests pretty clearly that we can ask for whatever we will and one or all of three things must happen.  Our prayers must give God glory, bring us joy and bear the most fruit. Check it out in chapters fourteen through sixteen. Seems to me that would be worth some family study along with some pastoral explanations from time to time.

I also know that the Scriptures over and over suggest that prayer is actually a conversation with God not merely our time to make requests of Him. Prayer often opens the door for us to get in line with what God knows best. Wouldn't it be helpful to talk about that?

Maybe some teaching in our homes and churches is in order as we seek out God’s plan and will for our homes, churches, cities and country. It won’t require a degree in theology to do so. But perhaps we can encourage our teachers and pastors to work together with us to wrestle with more of the hard questions and do less promising that God will always listen to us if we just say it enough or get enough people to agree with us.

As parents lets take the lead instructing, modeling and yes even wondering what God is up to as we pray together. Somehow I have a feeling that will draw us together in ways we didn’t know were possible.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Fear: Not Usually Helpful At Home

I have a number of things I'm basically afraid of.  I'll bet you do, too. Snakes are high on my list. Most of us wonder if terrorism will end up in our town or city's backyard. It's natural to be pretty nervous. While I'm confident in my faith in God and that I'll see Heaven someday, I'm still a bit fearful of what dying is like, at least the unknown parts right now.

And healthy fears of getting hit by a car or struck by lightning can help us taken necessary and wise precautions to avoid the worst. All fear isn't bad.

However, some fear in a home can be debilitating, destructive and emotionally painful.As parents we would be wise to think about those kinds of fears and try to avoid them. Let me suggest a few.

The fear of failure. While our kids may not care much at first, many parents hate to see their child make a mistake, not get on the team or give up on a project or endeavor. To those parents their child's lack of succcess means they as parents aren't a success either. So they push harder or at best have trouble hiding their disappointment in their child. And trust me they notice and probably will become fearful themselves of not measuring up.

The fear of what others think.  This can be exasperated when failure looms, but it can also result when we constantly compare ourselves with others.  We don't have as much house, money, fame, social connections or power. So we're not OK in our minds and soon our kids begin to believe it as well..

The fear of other people. Yes, only a few will be totally non-social. That's unusual. But sometimes we can allow our kids to never learn to connect with adults or new people or anyone not quite like them. Other parents teach kids to think that everyone in their world is out to get or hurt them. What a dangerous allowance in a world where someday social interactions and trying new things in relational contexts will be essential to succeed and relate in the culture.

The fear of having fun. Many kids today are being pushed harder and harder as I alluded to earlier. But a corollary emotion and response can be the sense that to have a good time is never OK. Only working harder is acceptable here. And while most kids deep inside still want to have fun, they find themselves always wondering if mom and dad are listening or know that they are anything but totally serious about succeeding.

There are of course other fears that I don't have time to explore now. But the bigger issue is, Is our home a safe place for kids to grow, be stretched and even fail? If not, why not?  What are you possibly helping by making the accepted landscape in your family one of only hard work, determination and outdoing their best friend?

Yes, we need to model and encourage that we all do our best. And yes, even the Bible suggests that we should love God and others with all our heart. But fear will never be the best motivator. Imagine what your work experience would be like if your boss motivated you only with fear (and some of you no doubt CAN imagine that.)

Be sure that you are wise and reasonable in your expectations.  Have fun. Celebrate victories, of course, but also celebrate trying hard, doing something unique and even failing after doing your best. Keep fear protective, yes, but not preventative of healthy, wise, fun life at your house!


















Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Living In the Death Zone

I've never climbed in the Himalayas but I've read a lot about those who do. And there is an area generally above twenty-five or twenty-six thousand feet that is poignantly known as the Death Zone. It is so named basically because at that altitude there is a variety of conditions that if not overcome will simply kill you and likely do it quickly.

Of course the most obvious one is the thin air and even with supplemental oxygen the body won't perform with its usual efficiency. And because one's faculties are typically impaired a climber is then more exposed to falling, various forms of edema and other potentially fatal results. Weather is also likely more extreme and dangerous, causing many climbers to bivouac in places where survival is unlikely at best.

A very small percentage of climbers ever experience the Death Zone of the highest mountains in the world and for good reason. It's just too dangerous.

However, in life there are some reasons to actually live in our own Death Zone of sorts. In fact, we can't avoid it. It's living knowing that at any moment our life on this earth could end. We could be gone or someone we love simply won't be around. Morbid? Creepy? A little out there perhaps? Yes, in some ways.

But I have a close relative who is most likely going to die in the next few months or so, barring a miracle that of course our entire family is praying for. However, whatever happens it has made us all think a bit more about whether we would be ready to face the same ourselves. What would we do if death were looking us in the eye all of a sudden? 

I think the answer gives us some essential things to think about doing now without living in some sort of dark, fearful place in the process.  Let me suggest a few. 

First, make the most of every moment you can. No, none of us can savor each second of every experience, but we can slow down and enjoy people and opportunities a bit more.  We can quit cramming so many things into our lives and running by people we love as though they are hardly there. We can stop and watch our kids and grandkids longer, spend a few more minutes with a spouse or friend and just enjoy little special moments of nature that occur every day all around us.

Second, take inventory. Be brutally honest about how many things you're doing that really matter for the long-term versus those that are just because everyone's doing them. Yes, there's nothing wrong with leisure, goofing off now and then and simply having fun. But are we letting the temporary push aside the eternal and the things we think we should invest in for our gain steal time from the people we want to invest in because we love them?  Have we pushed the most important things and experiences into the I'll-do-them-someday-when-I-have time category?

Third, say what you want to say now. I've often thought we should have everyone's funeral before they die if possible. That way people can say to another's face what they want to say about them and would likely say once they're gone. Well, in a sense and in the same way we would be wise to say what we want to say to people before one of us is gone. Do we need to forgive, tell them we love them or that we are proud of them, let go of some past hurts or remind them of how much they meant to us?  Do it now.

You see living in the death zone doesn't have to be something we dread. It can be more something we just do naturally and regularly so that when our day comes to leave this world, we know for sure that we've left little undone or unsaid. Few regrets.  Seems like that's a better way to live . . . and die.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Slowing Down Almost Always Brings Joy

It snowed 8-10 inches last night. Our town and much of the Midwest came to a screeching halt. Churches were closed and even the road crew trucks got stuck at times. The winds are picking up, more snow is on the way and we could be hunkering down at home for another day or two. And while the Super Bowl is on tonight many of the parties simply won't happen.

Families will have to watch the game by themselves and have their own little party. Kids and parents may together be eating hot dogs and chips while laughing at the silly commercials. For most who wins the game won't matter that much.

But I wonder if on this slow day many will experience something deep within that is good, refreshing and re-filling. Perhaps some will stop long enough to remember what is really important - their family, others they love, time for themselves, moments to enjoy what God has made and delight in the little things. Maybe some will be glad watching the game at home. I hope so.

A young man did some work over several days for a woman and stole a valued coin collection from her when she wasn't looking. When she suspected him of course he denied it. However, he was caught when he spent several of the valuable coins for pizza and movie tickets. One was worth nearly $19,000. He didn't realize how valuable they were.

Slowing down is often what we too need to remind us of things we possess that are so valuable. And when we get those moments I think that's when we get a taste of much more than happiness. Instead we experience JOY. And times of joy are rare for many people these days.

Joy is a deep feeling, a profound awareness that we are engaging and embracing something more eternal, not totally of this world and certainly not merely of our own making. The problem is that we spend much of our lives running past joy, spending our valuable coins so to speak on the mundane.

But when we stop, get snowed in perhaps or just take some moments on our own to walk not run we will have more and more opportunities to experience what matters most. And I'm convinced that God intended it that way.  He never wanted us to keep getting busier, accomplishing more and running ourselves ragged.  Even churches can get caught up in the bigger and better syndrome where spirituality and success for God is measured by how much we do or how many people we impact at one time.

Early this morning, while I was making contacts to let our church people know we would not have services, I noticed through the dawn's faint light a car stuck in the snow in front of our house. So I headed out there in my boots and winter coat with a shovel to see if the person needed help.  I discovered a young woman was trying to get to a nursing home where she was needed to work.

Thankfully another man stopped and together we guided her out of the snow and got her on her way. Somehow I wondered if that wasn't a small, but significant opportunity to be Jesus to a person in need and experience joy.  No, it wasn't at church and it was only one person. But somehow it seemed to matter a lot. The sermon I didn't get to preach wasn't important. 

In fact, maybe I actually did preach one - to an audience of one.  It probably wouldn't have happened without the storm. Perhaps we all need a few more storms or at least the motivation to slow down so that joy is more predominant in our lives than mere happiness.

At least today I think I'm going to have another cup of coffee for now and just embrace the joy.  And hopefully I'll be willing to slow down more often even without winter's brutal help to do it. How about you?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

So What If This Year Was REALLY Different At Your House?

We all know that the New Year is a common time for people to make resolutions they rarely keep.  But what if this year were different, not even in BIG ways but just little adjustments here and there that could potentially mean big changes down the road.

None of these suggestions, and they are only suggestions, are that big of a deal by themselves but I have a hunch that if we even did a couple they could end up bearing revolutionary results if we stayed with them. Here we go:

What if we bought less and were thankful for what we have just a little more each day?

What if we stopped one activity that uses lots of time but pays little dividend.

What if we had a weekly tech free night or even one hour each day?

What if we got to know three neighbors who we don't currently know?

What if we saved up some money each month to give away to someone who needs it?

What if we took a vacation that is different from what most other people do?

What if we found a new activity our whole family would enjoy and made it a hobby?

What if we actually took time to look at old pictures and videos?

What if we parents told our kids some of our stories about growing up?

What if every day we took time to share a high and low from our day?

What if we regularly talked about God moments that we experienced?

What if prayed more both individually and together?

OK, so I gave you a few ideas.  I'll bet you can come up with more, ones that your family could also embrace and turn into a truly new year. Try one or two. Let me know what happens. I'll bet you will want to do more. I'll bet you won't want to go back to the old way either.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Problems With Too Much

Most of us parents would love to give our kids some of the things we never had. We look forward to providing for our offspring and ultimately helping them to find happiness and fulfillment.

Unfortunately many moms and dads think that giving them pretty much what they want or that everyone else has is the answer. Can I say it simply? It's not.

When kids get too much stuff, attention or an abundance of accolades that are really undeserved the kids don't blossom they bloat. They get weighed down with entitlement, ungratitude and confusion. I've seen a recent situation where the kids continue to get so many gifts from their grandparents and other close relatives that they don't even know who gave them each gift.

The presents all simply get thrown together into one big pile, sadly a mountain of things that are soon forgotten if even played with much at all. And yet the family thinks this is what these kids need and should have. It makes me wonder who the gift-giving is for in the first place.

The results?

First, a lack of thankfulness for what they do have. Instead of saying thank you they tend to say or at least be thinking, Where's the next one?

Second, a focus on what they have versus others. You will often hear from these children, "I just got a . . . ." or "My parents bought me a . . . ."  They never have enough but it always needs to be more than others got.

Third, a waning of social skills. Some might argue that this result depends upon the kinds of gifts the kids get and there may be some truth to that. But given too much of anything most young people will want to spend more time with the stuff and less having meaningful interactions.

Fourth, little desire to help or serve others. Yes, thankfully there are some exceptions where kids have a lot and find the passion to give it away in some form or another. But the majority of kids I've been around simply make life more about them because their parents did just that.

Each family will have to decide and determine what too much is but my advice would be to always err on the side of too little. I've written some other posts about holiday giving that might help here with other practical ideas about how to do some gift-giving and stuff slimming from your home.

Whatever you do remember the adage that is true in so many other areas: Less is more!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Five Greatest Gifts For Your Kids This Year

Is your Christmas shopping done? Probably not unless you're one of those really organized people. Like most you are probably running from place to place, checking list after list while trying to find the best deals that will maximize your Christmas budget this year.

And while gifts for each other are great and yes can still remind us of the incredible gifts God gave us in sending His Son to earth, I wonder if there aren't some other less tangible, yet more valuable gifts we might give this season. Let me suggest a few, ones that can last and be enjoyed all year long.

More of you. No, I don't mean that you will show up at more of their events or drive the kids to more places in the family taxi. Rather, give them more of you when you're not exhausted, more of you at your best, more of you in casual, relaxed times when they can just be with you and you with them. Let go of some of the usual demands and obligations you've placed on yourself and family and leave some time and energy to just enjoy one another.

Surprises. What if this year instead of doing the same activities, going to the same events, and spending your money on the usual things, you found a couple of special, unique things to do with them that they will never forget?  It will depend on your abilities, interests and resources but you can do a special trip or getaway, visit or invite someone they haven't seen for awhile or attend an event or show they've wanted to go to. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Serve together. Consider finding not just a holiday commitment but a year-long opportunity, perhaps once a month or several times in the next twelve months to care for other people together. The gift?  The blessing of doing something for others and together. Plus you'll be modeling for them how real life and joy are more often found in giving not getting.

Slow down. This is necessary for most good gift ideas but what if this year it was simply more obvious that the whole family is going to be less busy than past years. And while kids might balk at first they will most likely see and reap the benefits of not living in the angst of running ragid and meeting the demands of others all the time. You may take some flak from outsiders too, but so what?  Try it.

Deepen your family's faith walk.  When we make significant changes in other priorities we open up our options for growing spiritually too. Parents will have to set the pace on this but think about some ways that you all can grow more spiritually, both individually and together. One size doesn't fit all here and chances are you're not looking for a program or course to do this. It might start with just praying more, adding more spiritual growth options at home or talking more about spiritual things.

You might serve this year on a missions trip or at a local shelter or other organization.

Whatever you do this season and subsequent new year, be sure to include some gifts that won't ever be under the tree but will shine brightly for months, even years, to come. And once they're opened I'm pretty sure they will be enjoyed long after the boxes and other gifts are set aside for something else.