Monday, June 28, 2010

The Family Lists: Parents

Fathers, do not provoke your children. Ephesians 6.4

We parents, and I assume that most of you reading this are parents, tend to think of the Bible as a pro-parent book. We like to emphasize the passages about honoring parents, respecting elders and obeying those in authority. All of those concepts are important in the Bible, but that is not the whole story. The Bible also talks (a lot) about the responsibilities and concerns that parents are to show to their children.

My prejudice is that parenting is the most important job that most of us will ever do. In fact, I have always rejected the idea that I ever “baby sit” my own children. I never baby sit. I parent. The Bible provides a lot of help for parents, if we want to listen to God’s word, and if we want to be serious about our parenting.

Biblical suggestions for parents:
  • Parents are not to provoke their children (Ep. 6.4). Sometimes we do it in anger, sometimes because we are not thinking, but it is never appropriate to purposely agitate or aggravate your children. Parents are to be positive and uplifting for their kids.
  • Parents are to teach and train their children (Ep. 6.4). Do not fall into the trap of believing that you send your children to school for education. You are your child’s primary teacher in all things.
  • Parents should care for the needs of their children (2 Corinthians 12.14). Do not forget your responsibility to feed and clothe your children, as well as provide for their health, their well-being, their future and more. Being a parent never ends.
  • Parents love their children without condition. Remember that Mary, Jesus’ mother followed him around everywhere. At times it had to be uncomfortable, embarrassing, or even dangerous. But even when he was executed as a criminal Mary stood by loving him. We need to love our children even when they make bad choices and disappoint us, just like Mary.
  • Parents must be responsible for the Christian nurture, education and discipleship of their children (Deuteronomy 6.7). We must never buy the lie that children should choose for themselves. We must teach our children to follow God by word and example. We must accompany them to worship. We must encourage them to participate in church youth groups and Sunday school classes.

This list could go on indefinitely. We will stop here, however, with an admonition to commit yourself and your children to the Lord. It does not matter how old or young they are, your children need to have a strong relationship with you and with Jesus. Pray for them daily. Share your love regularly. Never forget your most important task.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Social Justice

Recently, some media personalities have called on Americans to reject the idea of social justice in their local churches. To begin with, I have some problems with these media personalities. I do not want to take them to task for their peculiar political perspective- at least not now. I want to begin this article by calling them out on their complaints about the "media." Their assertions include claims of a "liberal" media bias and unfair reporting. But please keep in mind that the most popular and wealthy media personalities, and the highest rated cable news network are all right-wing conservation outfits. So much for the liberals who control the media.

As far as social justice is concerned, I want to address one issue in particular. The claim has been that churches who are concerned with social justice should be abandoned by all clear-thinking American patriots. I want to look at this as a Christian, a churchman, and a clear-thinking American patriot.

To begin with, the church is all about social justice. The call of Jesus is exactly to care for widows, orphans, the poor, sick, imprisoned. We are to look after the misused and the disadvantaged. (Matthew 25.40) The only reason, I believe, that the USA has become the entitlement society that it has is that the church has failed in its obligations. Someone has to care for the needs of the oppressed. Since the church has not, the government must. (Luke 4.18-19)

Additionally, Christians are to "work out" their salvation. (Philippians 2.12) I believe that this means we are to not keep our faith to ourselves. We are to express it in how we treat and relate to others. Not only that, but we are to show our faith by how we share it with others. (James 2)

Where does this leave us? Clearly, Christians are to be concerned about the needs of the oppressed in our society and around the world. Consequently, our churches must be speaking out and acting on behalf of the needy in our communities and in our nation. It is the responsibility of all Christians, all clear-thinking American patriots, t0 look after the concerns of social justice. And do it no matter what those guys on the radio say.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Went to a Garden Party

Ricky Nelson, that iconic philosopher of 1950's era teeny-boppers, made a profound observation in his 1972 hit song Garden Party. He said, "Ya can't please everybody, so ya got to please yourself." How is that for summing up life?

Nelson wrote that song in response to fans who expected him to continue singing "Hello Mary Lou" and his other hits from the 1950's. He moved on, however. He stretched. He wanted to grow. His answer to those who wanted him to always be Ricky Nelson, Ozzie and Harriet's boy, was that he was his own person.

In a recent post I discussed the importance of various relationships. This is a very similar topic to me. Who do you plan to please? Who do you need to please? Ricky Nelson was all about pleasing himself. The current crop of pop music stars are all about pleasing everyone else (so that they can sell records). But which is right.

  • Pleasing myself. If I focus only on pleasing myself, I will miss many of the greatest blessings in life. I will become ingrown and not get the joy of relationships with others that can be extremely beneficial and fruitful. For as I seek to please only myself, I will alienate others who are much less concerned with my pleasure.
  • Pleasing others. When my biggest concern is what others think and how I can make them happy, I may shortcut my own ability to be happy. If I do not know myself, or what I am supposed to be doing, how can I be truly fulfilled?
  • Pleasing God. Here is the million dollar answer. When I spend my time and energy pleasing God, I will be personally fulfilled because God's plan for my life is to please him. I will be in good standing with others, because God will give me favor with others. I will be concerned with their wants, needs, desires and expectations.

The bottom line is that when I please God, I will win all the way around. In Matthew 6.33 Jesus says that if we seek God's ways first, everything else that we need will be taken care of. I'm for that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What Opinion Matters

There are three categories of people whose opinion makes a difference in our lives. Each group takes a part in making a person who he/she is. Whether we know it or not, or whether we like it or not, the opinion of another person does contribute to who we are and how we feel about ourselves. The trick is to not let any of these inputs get out of balance.
  • A person's opinion of herself is important. Every human needs to have a realistic view of who she is. That means that we must all know what our strengths and weaknesses are. It was Socrates who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I could not agree more. We must know who we are, what we are good at, and what we cannot do. When we have a good grasp of who we really are, when we have an honest opinion of our abilities and limitations, then we can be a more complete person.
  • The opinions of other people is important. Whether we like to admit it or not, every person cares what others think about him. It is not always healthy, but it is definitely unhealthy to not care at all about the opinions of others. Take into account the person whose opinion you are considering. Does he have a good track record? Do you generally value his opinion on other matters? Is it his desire to build up or tear down?
  • God's opinion matters to a person. Unfortunately, God's opinion is often not taken into account in a person's self-analysis. We buy into pop-philosophies like "I'm OK, you're OK," and think that's all there is to it. Shame on us. We should consider what God wants for us and from us first.

There is at least one thing to remember though: You must have a balance between all of the inputs. It will leave a person insecure and flaky if he is only concerned about what someone else thinks. Likewise, you will find yourself egotistical and lonely if you think too much of yourself. Begin by listening to God, then mix in the other factors and you will be set. You will be on your way to becoming a well-balanced person.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Right Relationships and Responsibilities

I have been thinking a lot about what are the most important things in life. I have been trying to evaluate my own life, priorities and beliefs. It has occurred to me that even though I have cultivated many good and relatively close friendships, and even though I have a multitude of acquaintances who I am friendly with, and even though I love my family immensely and enjoy intimate conversation and sharing with all of them, I have some deficiencies in my relationships.

I need someone with whom I can share my inner thoughts and struggles without fear of judgment or reprisal. My wife- and other family members- is disqualified from this position because she is living through the same struggles as me. I think that I need to be intentional about developing and maintaining mutually supportive and sustaining relationships in the following categories.
  • A relationship with God. For me this one goes without saying. The very foundation of my life and priority system is based on the values that I receive from my spiritual life. The first thing I do each day needs to be to spend time with God.
  • A relationship with my family/spouse. These are not the same, but somewhat similar. I need an intimate and strong support system. Family can provide specific checks and accountability that no one else can. Likewise, my family nourishes my emotional life like no one else.
  • A relationship with friends. This is the most tricky. These friendships run the gamut of experience. I need friends to socialize with, friends to share my heart with and friends to challenge me professionally, spiritually and intellectually.
  • A "pressure-valve" relationship. The one thing that is missing in my life is a relationship with someone that I can 'blow-off' to. I need someone who will not think less of me if I struggle or stumble. I need someone that I can complain to who will not judge me or be offended at me. I need someone that will listen with an open heart, and whom will not worry me.
This is a very personal list, but get this: Everyone needs these relationships. I do not believe that any of them are optional. Look around. Start your search for these people in your life. Let me know how you do. You can be sure that I will report to you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Getting Control

Here is a paradox: Americans strive their whole lives to be in control of their lives. We are trained from an early age that the American dream is to be independent, wealthy and successful. We want to control our own destiny and make our own decisions. However, the Christian faith teaches us that we can only be successful (and faithful) if God is in control of our lives. What a conundrum.

I have been working with a person who has never been in control of anything. She is scared to be in control because for her first years her parents were in charge. Later she was in a relationship where her mate was in charge. She has learned to let things happen to her. What a travesty.

We should all be in charge of our own decisions. We should be assertive and not wait for things to happen to us. I must confess that I have not arrived at this point. But here are some suggestions for people of all ages and backgrounds.
  • Don't put things off. Take advantage of every opportunity to resolve conflicts and disputes. When you wait for someone else to resolve things, they are in charge of them.
  • Regularly evaluate your life, your values and your purpose. Make sure that you are spending your time doing the things that will give you control. Don't waste your time on "trifles."
  • Be aggressive, but graceful. Take advantage of your position in life, but not to the disadvantage of others. Your goal should be to control your life, not someone else's.
The second part of that paradox is just as troubling. God needs to be in control of our lives. We must voluntarily include him in all our decisions and preferences. We need to take his desires into account and do them.

Eventually, as you grow in faith, you will learn that what God wants will become almost indistinguishable from what you want. That is when you know that God is in control.