Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Your Family And The Supreme Court Decision

It's been a few weeks now since the Supreme Court's landmark decision on same-sex marriages. Thousands of editorials and articles have been written, pro and con, and it seems like emotions have for now at least settled down somewhat.

Nonetheless, impassioned cries have come for pastors and churches to do everything from rise up as a mighty army to fight the decision and its implications to be more tolerant and accepting even though one may be opposed.

Those discussions and actions will continue for a long time I suspect.

But a question for families might be the more practical one to consider: what should Christian parents do and say to their kids about it?  Or should we just not talk about it? How do we prepare our families for the likely discussions they will encounter at work, in school or college this fall? How can we share what we believe to be God's truth while helping one another to respond to others in a Christlike fashion?

Let me suggest a couple ideas that could help.

First, if you're married work on your own marriage. Yes, boldly model what it means to have a healthy, growing, even thriving relationship in your house. Don't settle for OK. Show your kids how the two of you work at spending time together, having a vision for your long-term relationship and truly loving each other. So many kids today see mom and dad mostly as their taxi drivers and providers. Their parents have or experience little time for and with each other.

My hunch is that some of the most vocal Christians will be ones who spend little time, if any, improving and deepening their own marriage. We'll accomplish far more if we can make a case for and model a healthy heterosexual marriage.

Second, make sure you know the facts on the decision. Talk, yes, about what was decided but try to avoid all sorts of implications that we simply do not know will happen at this point. It's tempting to bemoan the possible changes in our culture, church or future decisions merely getting everyone worried rather than focusing on the present. There have already been numerous internet hoaxes of apparent actions taken as a result of the Supreme Court's decision. And of course, people jumped all over those, posted them to Facebook or Twitter and looked bad as a result.

Let's help our own families to learn the important lesson of getting the details first on anything before we assume the worst or some significant outcome.

Third, teach one another about speaking the truth in love and with grace.  As I've written elsewhere we can do our part to stand for the truth without becoming people others can't stand. Let's remind each other that we all make mistakes, that none of deserves God's grace and that there are sins that we all commit that also need forgiveness, love and someone to not reject us because of them.

What are our kids hearing come out of our mouths on this issue? What spirit do they sense behind our disagreement - bitterness, contempt and disdain or mercy, compassion and kindness?

Fourth, help one another with some cogent, respectable and meaningful replies to those who would espouse same-sex marriage. Learn to respond without anger or a demeaning spirit. Practice ways to invite an ongoing discussion and friendship, if possible, in spite of the fact that you disagree. Learn what Scripture says and doesn't say.  Because we love someone doesn't mean we must agree with them. Jesus loved a lot of people like that so we can too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Experts Say "Parents, Get Out of the Helicopter!"

A year or so I took my first helicopter ride with a friend who is a rescue pilot in Texas. I loved it. The view was great even on a rainy day. It was fun looking over the traffic instead of being immersed in it.

However, it is one thing to ride in a helicopter.  It's very much another to live so to speak in one. And a number of studies the past couple of years have suggested that all the hovering parents tend to do these days to manage, control and manipulate only positive results in their kids lives is not helpful. 

A recent University of Washington study suggested,  Children of helicopter mothers were more depressed and less satisfied with life, and felt that they had less autonomy and were less competent.

"We think when parents are over-involved with their kids lives, they're undermining their sense of competence, both by sending a message that says, I think you can't do it yourself, and robbing them of the opportunity to practice those skills."

Many parents literally fly over and around their children on a regular basis thinking that they will help them prepare most effectively for the future. What they don't seem to know is that they are actually stealing healthy growth, independence and maturing from them.

As a result many kids not only have to have the best of everything these days - teacher, trainer, grades, experience, status on the team. They also have to look like it so every picture has the perfect smile, outfit and location.

Facebook for many is no longer just about communication. Much of it has become competition among parents to show how wonderful their offspring have done in life. Families subtly (or not so subtly) wage war to boast the best vacations, awards and even stories about the famous people their children have met or studied under.

So what does the research seem to imply to any of us who may be flying too closely to our kids?

Lighten up. Get out of the way. Let your children become more independent, make more and more decisions, learn from their mistakes and be imperfect. Of course, we should always be there for guidance and advice. And yes, there are boundaries we are free to have as long as they live in our house and we're paying the bills.

Provide some practical opportunities for your children to taste and develop independence. Even an elementary school child can learn from his or her mistakes or have to go to a teacher or friend and make things right. As they get older widen the path and add more responsibility with appropriate rewards or losses just like they would experience in their future education or work experience.

Admit your inappropriate role as a parent in staying too close. Are you trying to live through your child? Are their unresolved issues and events from your past that are causing you to put needless and unhealthy pressure on your kids? Talk to someone about it if need be but don't require your kids to carry your stuff around with them.

Maybe it's time to land that helicopter and just enjoy being back on the ground for a while.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

GUEST POST- Jackie Sinclair: Grieving Lessons From My Phone

Computers and smart phones have revolutionized our lives.  I sometimes have said that my brain is now in my phone and I can get panicky when I lose track of my devices.  On the other hand, there are times when technology can be downright frustrating.  My iPhone seems to crawl or my battery is dying before noon.  A quick Google search will bring lists of suggestions to get better performance. 

As it turns out some apps run silently in the background allowing them to be ready in an instant if we need them.  The downside is that they are constantly sapping battery life and eventually slowing down the processing.   In many apps this option can be turned off but other utilities must remain running for the proper operation.

About 7 months ago my brother was diagnosed with a recurrence of colon cancer.  In spite of aggressive treatment it became obvious that the cancer was moving quickly and there would be no cure.  Last Friday, May 29, 2015 he passed into eternity surrounded by his wife and grown children.  We will all miss him deeply.

Over the past months I have found myself increasingly distracted, forgetful and unmotivated.  And since his death it seems that even small tasks and decision-making have become more difficult even when I was not actively thinking about him.    

Yesterday it occurred to me that my grief was like an app running in the background of my life, depleting my energy and decreasing my thinking process.  Even though other parts of my life were going on without obvious problems, the grief was there (sometimes silent and other times intense) and it will continue to affect my life in some way for a long time to come.  

As I thought about it more, what is true for grief is also true for other negative events in our lives.  Even when we aren’t dwelling on them they are always there, running in the background and still affecting us. Unfortunately these negative events can’t be turned off with the swipe of a finger.   They are a part of our life that cannot be changed.

So what do we do in the meantime?

First, take the time to evaluate what pain or negative circumstances may be running behind the scenes in your life.  Sometimes we can do a good job of hiding those wounds, even from ourselves. 

Next, evaluate what is essential and which things threaten to drain your emotional battery. What commitments can temporarily be put aside to allow yourself more energy to deal with the loss? 

And lastly, give yourself grace and time to heal.  There is no correct timetable to get past grief.   Allow people to help.  This is often as important for them as it is for you.

Much like our electronic devices, it pays to do a periodic maintenance and assessment of our emotional health and life responsibilities.  It just may keep us from running out of critical energy at a time when we need it the most.

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?