Chasing Wind

I was recently asked to comment on the impact of violence in video games, movies, and television shows among students in our culture.  As I thought through the issue and the ways the questions were asked, a thought emerged to the surface.  By examining this lone issue and making a huge deal out of it, I think you miss the bigger picture.  May I ask the question, when behaviorism has ever worked without mammoth effort to compel certain actions?  Or course violence EVERYWHERE has impacted students, but so has a slough of many other concerning issues.  Who has the time and energy to pursue battling all of these issues?

I would submit that these issues are streams of a larger flood that has washed our culture away.  We need to look at cutting these streams off by considering the flood and damming it up there.  The bigger issue that these symptoms flow from is none other than the prevailing idea that “I can do whatever I want whenever I want, and I will do what makes me feel good.”  Sex makes me feel good and violence allows me to feel powerful, in charge, authoritative.  There are other sub-issues of course, but these two I see in daily student ministry constantly.

So… how do we “dam” up this flood?  I see good news and bad news.  Let’s get the bad news out there.  You can’t.  I can’t.  We can’t.  Let’s be honest.  The flood is too strong, the current too powerful, our dams will be swept away with MAYBE a flinch or two.  Some may argue that I am being defeatist or fatalist or whatever.  Perhaps.  But then again, show me where I am wrong.  May I point out an example?  The DARE program.  Where is it?  When I was in school, it was EVERYWHERE.  I knew my DARE officer by name.  I don’t hear of it anymore.  I see the DARE police car drive by in town, but drugs are still as abused as ever.  Please understand that I am not in any way bashing the DARE program.  I loved it and learned a lot from it.  But it has to be admitted, that it still fails.

With that said, I don’t want to wallow in despair forever, because there is hope.  The root of this behavior is in the heart: what a person wants and desires.  The natural hearts seeks to please itself and build a kingdom for itself, make its own name great.  There is only one type of transplant that will effectively kill this vile, selfish weed – the new birth Jesus discusses in John 3.  The power to “dam” up this tide is found in the gospel alone.  Paul reminds us that the gospel is the POWER of God.  It gives people a new heart with new desires.  We must appeal to what people want and desire.  We must show them the conclusion of what they are recklessly pursuing – namely the futility and finiteness of their wants and desires.  As strong as those desires are, they are still far to weak to do what we expect them to do: give us satisfaction and contentment forever (CS Lewis).

I cannot teach without appealing to affections.  Behavior comes from the heart and as such I appeal to their hearts – to be grasped by the gospel.  Gazing at the cross and seeing what Christ has done affects a new life that produces fruit.  As we learn to love what God loves and hate what God hates, the things that we once hungered for diminishes.  All of a sudden the desire for violence and gore, for lust and sexual gluttony, diminishes and fades in-light of true satisfaction.

Be warned.  This is hard and time consuming.  Hard because you have to think differently and hard because you have to trust God alone to do what he alone is able to do.  Time consuming because we are addicts and we must be weaned.

God grant us grace to see as you see and love as you love – one-way.

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The Crimson Monks

The smell of wood burning greets my nose as I close the patio door behind me, heading to my favorite swing.  The wind blows large chunks of clouds through the sky and as I sit and examine my back yard.  In a trance, I realize I am witnessing a rhythmic dance of swirling and twirling, weaving and flipping, reds, browns, oranges, and yellow splotches.

The wind is icy and makes me pack my scarf tighter.  Don’t you just love the first time in autumn you get to don your scarf?  It’s an instrument of surety that fall has dawned!

Is it just me, or do the colors of fall seem more vibrant with a grey backdrop?  As I sit to read in this colorful and intoxicating scene, two crimson hooded monks exit the same door I have just closed, running with glee towards the swirling ocean of leaves that are ebbing and swelling across the yard.  Their delight pouring over as their little legs propel them, the younger, as usual, tells his older brother from behind, “I will beat you!”

I learned once where cappuccinos received their name from.  A dollop of steamed foam would be added to the top of espresso.  This “cap” was triangular and pointed and brown, very similar to the hooded monks who had made their abode near these coffee epicenters.  Thus, the name “Cappuccino” was born.

That’s how my sons look with their crimson jackets with the hoods up.  My little red cappuccino monks begin to throw handfuls of leaves into the air and onto each other.  Then, they begin to “rake” the leaves with their feet into a small pile, where the oldest is instructing the younger that they will jump into it when it is big enough.

They call for me to come join them.  I look at my book that I just opened then back to them.  These times are rare.  The choice is simple.  With a short sigh, I close my book and tromp out to “rake” leaves with my boys.

We laugh, we play, we compete for the largest leaf, and genuinely enjoy each others’ company.

Thank you God for little crimson monks, crisp fall days, moments that remind us that we were made for something greater.  Thank you for affections that run deep in light of your truth.

A Father’s Joy

The fall colors seem to explode with vibrancy, clothed in a gray sky backdrop.  Autumn commands your attention with such a setting, especially with an icy wind breathing down your neck.  The cherry on top, is reading a vivid poem about an autumn day in England, while your children laugh and play after a week of sibling rivalry wars.

Ah, the serenity and peace.  The low rock wall retainer provides a place to sit and observe, as well as a castle wall, a path to traverse along a cliff overlooking a roaring ocean, or a barricade to keep the dragons in their own vile land.

Today, it is a path.

I hear my oldest son say to my younger, “Alright Son, let’s go meet this new man.  Hello Sir,” he says as he walks up to me.

“‘ello” I say in my best British accent.

“This is my son, Josiah, and I am Jeremiah, what’s your name?” he says.

“The name’s Gregor,” I respond.  “What can I do for you?”

“We are trying to get into the church you’re sitting in front of.”

“The church?  Why are you going there?” Gregor asks genuinely.  What will the Father tell me?

“Well, I work there.” he says after a pause to consider this question.

“Work?  What do you do?”

“I don’t know.  I just started.  I will tell you after I am done.”

“I’ll be ‘ere.” says Gregor.

A few minutes later, the father and the son come back.  “I found out what I am doing.  I am teaching people about what God’s says.”

“Oh?  And how do you know what God says?” Gregor sincerely wants to know.

“Well.  He says, “tree” and one pops up.  Whatever God says happens,” the Father replies.

“So… whatever God says comes into being?”

“Yes!”

“How else does God speak to us?”  Gregor is really enjoying what the Father is  saying.  “What about the Bible?  Is that God’s word to us?”

“Yes.  God has told us what he says in the Bible.  That’s what fathers do.  They teach what God says so that people will know.  Duh!”

This father was filled with humility and awe.  How gracious is my Father in heaven?  A beautiful fall day  for my outer man, and a nugget of joy for my inner man.

With a sigh of joy and contentment, Gregor returned to the house to grab some hot coffee and to share his joy.

Family Laughs

Last night during dinner, after the three-ring-circus of getting the boys’ hands washed, dried, getting them to sit down, and making sure no one and nothing was missed during meal-time prayer, we each took time to talk about our day.  It was during these conversations that I asked my youngest if he would share with the rest of the family what we had picked out for dessert.  His eyes glazed over as he seemed to journey back into another age.  Immediately upon this reflection, his hand went to his chin as he seemed to stroke a non-existent beard.  He said, “hmmmmm…”, then with genuine earnestness, proclaimed the prize of his brief meditation, “I don’t remember.”  We all burst out into laughter.  After waiting for a more thoughtful response, it was so funny to have such a reply.  We all took turns during the rest of the evening making sure we stroked our beards and thought profoundly about questions asked of us.

As Cindy and I reflected on his behavior, she assured me that he was just being like his daddy.  I was thinking about her insistence that I was the model for this behavior, and had to lower my hand from stroking my non-existent beard to inform her that assuredly she was wrong, just in time to “eat my own words.”

Chuckling about the episode today, my thoughts swirled toward the Father.  “You therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  My son gets some of his behaviors from spending time with his daddy.  By watching, talking, listening, and experiencing life together, he learns what his daddy is like and desires so much to be like his imperfect father.

God, let me look to you, listen to you, talk to you, experience life with you, and know you, that I might be more like you.  You made yourself into a man.  Oh, that I would look to your Son, Jesus.  I want to be like him.

As I stroke my non-existent beard, God draw my heart and thoughts to your Word, that my life would draw others into knowing who my Father is.

The Purpose of Trials

A friend and I have been chatting for a while this morning about the purpose of trials and suffering.  We were led in our discussion to James 1:2-4. God really used this passage to encourage me and prepare my heart once again for the trials and suffering that he has in store for me.  When we are in between sufferings, God gives us conversations like these to build our hearts and get us ready before the fire actually comes, so, for this I am thankful.  I wanted so share some of our reflections and write them to seal it in my own heart and mind.

James says that trials are a testing, a tempering, for the purpose of producing steadfastness.  KJV says that testing produces patience, while the NIV and NASB say, “perseverance” and “endurance,” respectively.  It’s cool what each of these words conjures up in my imagination.  Steadfast makes me think of those old Scottish castles in the highlands.  They have endured through storms, battles, time, and human activity.  Yet… they are firm, still there to awe us and make us feel nostalgic.  Trials and sufferings produce rock solid castles of faith that endure the weathering of life.

Perseverance and endurance remind me of marathon runners.  Running, running, running, to go the long haul.  Building their fortitude.  Able to maintain long and rugged courses.  Withstanding the pressures to achieve the goal.

All of these things are what James has in mind.  He says in vs. 4 that the full effect of steadfastness of faith is perfection and completion.  God turns the heat up in your life and my life to produce a faith in us that will carry us to the goal, the prize, namely, being with God himself.  Like children running to candy as the staple of their diet, we run to the world to satisfy.  God uses suffering and trials to wean us off of that which destroys and make us desire that which satisfies.

Thus, James can say, count it all joy when you meet trials.  God is producing in you something that will last forever and deeply satisfy.  Oh what joy!

 

The Four Rules of Communication

I remember when I was doing some extra training in Biblical Counseling doing a session on communication.  This morning I decided to look up that session, because I knew for sure I had remembered a series on the four rules of communication.  Sure enough, in the middle of my binder, there they were.  I wanted to post these and some notes that we took during the class, hoping it would encourage you as well as help you grow in an area where many of us struggle at some point in each of our relationships.  Randy Patten was the course instructor, so there notes come from a handout he gave us.

These come from Ephesians 4:25-32.

1.  BE HONEST — Speak the truth lovingly. (vs.25)

  • Speak:  You must use verbal communication
  • Speak Truth:  Be honest in verbal communication:  avoid lying and deceit, in-congruency (saying one things while acting another), and disguised communication (saying one thing to point to another thing – under the table communication)
  • Speak Truth Lovingly:  Saying what needs to be said with the other person’s needs in mind

2.  KEEP CURRENT (vs.26-27)

  • Anger is energy to be used in solving problems
  • Anger used unbiblically attacks others or oneself.
  • Failure to solve today’s problems today means you are: 1) Guilty of sin  2) Opening the door to resentment and hatred  3) Endangering your sexual relationship (in marriage)  4) Setting the stage for future problems to be distorted.

3.  ATTACK PROBLEMS, NOT PEOPLE (vs.29-30)

  • Unwholesome words attack character, bypass the real issue and grieve the Holy Spirit
  • Edifying communication encourages, builds up, centers on personal responsibility and gives grace to those who hear it.
  • Focus on unbiblical thinking and behavior
  • Seek to understand goals and motives
  • Unwholesome:  destructive, misunderstanding, persecutor, salvos, creates problems
  • Edifying: constructive, understanding, pal, solutions, solves problems

4.  ACT!  DON’T REACT (vs.31-32)

  • Typical reactions of our flesh not getting what it wants are:
  • Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice
  • Attitudes and Actions you must put on to replace the reactions:
  • Kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness
  • Put off and then put on

I hope this encourages you and at least gives you a pause to think through how you communicate with people.  Think about some good experiences and then some bad experiences.  What was missing from these rules in the bad?  How were each of these touched in the good?