Would I Be Different Than They?

Too politically incorrect for some, too progressive for others

Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him…. John 12:37

Imagine being there when Jesus lived to hear Him speak, watch Him interact with people and maybe even perform a miracle – right in front of you! How could you not believe?!

It’s easy to think these things. But, what would it really be like? Though Jesus performed many signs in front of people, still they didn’t believe Him. People still believed what they were disposed to believe. People saw what they expected to see.

Would we be any different?

Some people heard Him speak and saw the miracles and believed. But more people heard Him speak, saw the miracles and did not believe. In the 1st Century, they accused Him of performing black magic. Today, we might accuse Him of performing ordinary magic, planting people in the audience and doing sleight of hand.

He would most certainly rock our notions of right and wrong, proper and improper, sense and insensitivity. He would challenge our sacred ideas about ourselves and our freedoms, our causes and our individual rights.

He would be too politically incorrect for the left. He would be too progressive for the right.

Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Into Her Dreams

 (c) Can Stock Photo / Filedimage
(c) Can Stock Photo / Filedimage

Like skaters on icy pavement
gliding together into the city skyline,
grey against clouds of snow.
Winter storm warning, veiled
by music and coffee, conversation and silence.
Precious cargo
delivered into the Windy City,
big shoulders
Blonde and steel,
she slips into the hurried streets,
the streaming crowd,
Out into the world.
This father beams in consolation.
She doesn’t look back,
blue eyes piercing into her future.
No hesitation.
Heading home,
grey fading into western twilight.
slipping past long headlights.
Silence in music playing.
Snow dust, shifting like dry mist,
passing like sands of time.
Falling, the flurries whirling .
How easily she slipped out of my car and into her dreams.

The Light Shines Lightest in the Darkness: the American & Global Church

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared a year ago that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

I just watched God’s Not Dead 2. I know, I am a bit behind the times. But the movie sparked some thoughts about the plight of the Church in the US and around the world.

Before getting to the point, it’s worth noting that courtroom movies are usually not very realistic. Movies rarely get the courtroom scenes right. But, I was pleasantly surprised. They got it right! I am talking about the rules of evidence, the questioning of  witnesses, the objections.

I am an attorney and did a brief in law school focusing on religious freedom in schools. That was a long ago, and I have not remained up to date on the details regarding how the law has evolved since then, but I pay attention to what is going on. I have represented public school districts, which has given me the opportunity to update my knowledge periodically.

Unfortunately, the odds in this country are increasingly being stacked against the believer. Continue reading “The Light Shines Lightest in the Darkness: the American & Global Church”

Christmas Thoughts

Christmas Tree with PresentsThis time of year is a joyful, festive time of year filled with family time, days off from work, presents given and received and celebration. At least, that is how we look forward to this time of year; and I believe it is, for most of us, for the most part, a joyful time of year. But, life is not so consistent with our expectations and experiences.

I checked Facebook this morning when I awoke. A high school classmate reports that his wife and mother of his daughters when to “be with the angels” last night. A friend I met in college said goodbye to his mother yesterday, and she is no longer with us today. An acquaintance I know through wrestling described a colleague, only a few months past 50, passed yesterday after a two-week bout of pneumonia. Another high school friend asked for prayers for his daughter, going in two weeks in the hospital. Another friend from high school started chemo again this week.

These are only a few circumstances among the people I know of people who are struggling with loss, sickness and other difficulties right now. I am painfully aware that this joyful time of year is anything but happy for many people dealing with financial, health and other struggles. The incongruity of the festive, outward showings and the dark, inward struggles makes this time of year especially difficult for many people.

In quieter reflection, we know that the reason for celebration is not the outward trappings. We celebrate the birth of Christ and the hope He brings. Implicit in the story of God shedding his omnipresence and exchanging an eternal, omnipotent position for the humble perspective of dependent newborn baby is that God is not unaware or unable to identify with us in our humanity and our struggles. He is not unaccustomed to suffering.lightstock_798_xsmall_user_7997290

Jesus Christ became God with us, Emmanuel, as foretold many centuries before. He lived as we live and suffered as we suffered. Jesus felt weight of depression and the sorrow of loss. He intimately knows our struggles.

Though we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year, we cannot help but see that joyful time in the context of the purpose for which He was born – to bear in Himself the sin of mankind, to carry that burden to the cross – and, in dying, to bury sin; and in rising, to conquer death and give us hope.

We have a God who is not distant, but is now poised at the door to each of our hearts. He is still God with us, but He is also now able to be God in us – if we are willing to receive Him. I pray that you would open the door to Him today and receive the hope He has to bring.

Though life is still marked by sorrows and suffering, we have hope. I wish and pray for God to fill each person on this Christmas Eve day with that hope and, with it, peace and comfort and, yes, even joy. In the midst of the difficulties and struggles, we can have joy. Our hope is not in the things of this world, but is anchored in something deeper and more substantial.

In that vein, have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas nativity

Connecting to Our Theological Hardwiring

Children come by the inward conviction of God naturally; adults have a harder time with it.

Julia4 at Hershey

Jesus instructed His disciples to let the children come to Him, and he instructed His disciples to become like children to enter the Kingdom of God.

“Faith comes naturally and normally for children. Certain assumptions about the world and its creator seem to arise intuitively at an early age. For example, children tend to believe in spiritual beings without any trouble, and they distinguish between fairy tales and God in sophisticated ways. They believe the world was made for a purpose and by something greater than human beings. Essentially we have the beginnings of theology in some way hardwired.” (A statement from an article in Christianity Today, The Great Congruence of Science and Faith.)

Faith and science hardly seem to be a place of congruence in popular opinion and even less congruent with that popular opinion is a statement about theology hardwired in children. Or is it? Charles Darwin once commented that he could not trust his “inward conviction… that the Universe is not the result of chance”. (The Darwin Project, UK) Darwin recognized the “hard wiring”, but he rejected it on the basis of evolutionary principles. (See also Random Thoughts on Evolution)

Children come by this inward conviction naturally; adults have a harder time with it. Modern thinkers might say that other things are hardwired into people, such as sexual tendencies and gender identity. The Bible recognizes that we are born into sin, which is why we need to be born again. There is something in the way a child approaches the world, however, that is productive toward faith.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” (Luke 18:16) The context in which He spoke those words is as important as the words themselves. People were bringing small children to Jesus for him to pray for them, but the disciples attempted to keep them away from the important things Jesus was doing. Instead of continuing with whatever he was doing, Jesus stopped and welcomed the children. Then he said something even more important:

“‘Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” (Luke 18:17)

God does not want us to lose that “theological hard wiring”. We have in us a tendency toward sin as well as a tendency toward faith. Paul would say that truth is written on our hearts so we are without excuse, regardless of the intellectual gyrations we use to quash that hard-wired tendency to believe in God.

As we get older, we become more self-sufficient and more self-important. We become more dependent on ourselves, and we have a hard time allowing anyone or anything to dictate to us. We blaze our own trails. We chart our own courses. We separate from our parents, and we separate from God. We lose the wonder of childhood. We become jaded, hardened and tend toward the sinful tendencies if we are not careful.

Disillusioned Politician

Is it any wonder that we need to be born again to see the kingdom of heaven? We need a different approach than what we would naturally take as we get older. We need to become like a child to approach God, stripped of the self-reliance that we strive to attain as adults.

Faith opens the eyes of the believer up to the wonder of God in the world. The congruence of faith and science and reason and the reality in which we live is natural and normal, but we live in a fallen world that is tending away from God, tending toward destruction and decay. Faith takes us in a different direction.

At the end of the day, what is more reliable about our ability to reason over that inward conviction? Both reside in finite human frailty. One will take us to the gate of heaven; the other will take us no further than the grave. One is not more prone to error than the other. Or is it?

Without faith we will not see the kingdom of heaven. If we will not receive what God has provided for us like a child, we cannot grasp it at all. The congruence of faith and truth is found in God who can only be worshiped in spirit and truth. Spirit requires that we let go of our own conceptions that are limited by our finite experience and knowledge and ability to reason and open up to what God would reveal to us.

To approach the world like children, as God instructs us, is to remain open to correction and change of direction as God would guide us. In fact, in the same context in which Jesus said we must be born again, Jesus added:

“‘You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:7-8)

If we are to be born again, born of God, was must be open to the influence of God, to the direction of God. We must be sensitive to the wind, the breath of God, His Holy Spirit. Like a child, we may not always be happy or understand the direction that we are going, but a child would not think to go in any direction apart from God in whom and on whom we are utterly dependent. We need to plug into the hard-wiring God built into us that is connected to Him and walk away from any sinful tendencies we might have.

Reprinted from NavigatingByFaith

What Have We Done to Protect Our Children?

Julia at Hershey - Copy“The Overprotected Kid”, published in the Atlantic, has been circulating on Facebook. The goofy kid with broken, taped glasses and a silly grin drew my attention, but the byline under the title sucked me in:

“A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”

I thought, “What?!!” We have protected our children from every conceivable danger, imagined or real. We yelled at them when they crossed the street, for their own good. We kept a wary eye on their every movement. We cushioned every bump and angle, plugged up the electric sockets and planned every part of their lives from dawn to dusk with supervised activities and busyness to keep them from wandering into trouble. How could we have possibly failed to keep them safe?!

In spite of our best efforts, the article reminds us that child abductions still happen, children still get hurt on our “safe” playgrounds and accidents still happen. In fact, stranger abductions are as rare as they ever have been. Most abductions are by family. Family abductions seem to be an extension of the control we think we must have over our children. Mom (or dad) takes off with the children to keep them “safe” from other family members or simply to keep control of their situations, including their children.

From my childhood to the present time, parents have become much more controlling over the movements of their children, but The Overprotected Kid calls that approach into question. The article suggests  that cushioning playgrounds inhibits healthy exploration of risk. Continual adult supervision prevents kids from being kids and owning their natural development as human beings. On the other hand, it does not make our children’s lives safer.

“… we have come to think of accidents as preventable and not a natural part of life.”

All of our efforts may not have made our children’s lives safer, but those controls have taken away the valuable self-exploration, freedom, creativity and independence that we had when we were children with consequences that are only now being realized and understood.

“There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion….”

As I was stewing on the controls that may have stunted my own children’s growth in comparison to the freedom I enjoyed and what that means for them, I read another article, “Difference Between Encouragement and Entitlement”, by blogger and author, Courtney Walsh. She suggests another game changer:

“Disappointment breeds greatness.”

Really?!! I don’t want my children to be disappointed… EVER! How many times have I wanted to give that coach a piece of my mind! How could they not see my kid’s greatness! How does this woman think that disappointment leads to greatness?!

Courtney Walsh cautions against rushing to our children’s defense at every sign of potential disappointment. She suggests that parents should “let” their children fail sometimes, that it is actually good for them. She believes that learning through failures leads to success.

Then the Sherlock Holmes in me detected a common thread: good parenting does not mean preventing our children from being hurt. Kids need to explore boundaries themselves, not the ones we put there for them, but the ones they discover and set for themselves. That does not mean that allow them to walk into actual harm, but they need some freedom to learn for themselves. They need to understand that missteps and mistakes hurt. We can not cushion every fall or rescue our kids from every disappointment and expect them to become healthy, well-rounded productive, creative members of society.

If we cushion our children from every disappointment by telling them always they are great, when sometimes they are not, and rescuing them from there not-so-greatness, we actually prevent them from growing. The “real world” is not full of people telling us we are great when we are not. If we continually tell our children there are great, when they are not so great, we are not, then, doing a very job of preparing our children to leave the safety of the nest.

Courtney Walsh suggests that people need to fight through disappointment and the consequences of our own not-so-greatness to become the best kind of people we are able to be, and we need to give (or allow) our children those opportunities.

Fighting through disappointment is actually the way to greatness. Great people are not born great. Greatness is not handed out like ribbons. The character of greatness is forged in the crucible of disappointment, failure, hard work, resilience, patience, perseverance and learning to believe in principals, values and, in the end, our own selves. That does not happen in a world that is controlled to be free of consequences.

I have included the links to both articles below. There is a theme. We parents cannot protect our kids from every harm or disappointment, and our efforts in doing so may actually produce another kind of harm and even more disappointment when our children find that the world does not think they are quite great as their parents told them they were – at least not without earning it!

I think there is a lesson of faith in there too. Jesus told us not worry. I worry more about my children than anything in my life. Does not God take care of the flowers in the field and the birds? Will He not all the more take care of us – and our children?! I am convinced more than ever that we (parents) have really blown it with the current generations. By “we” I mean Baby Boomers. We have “saved” our children from everything we feared and have stunted and stilted them in the process.

The Overprotected Kid

The Difference between Encouragement and Entitlement