8 Parenting Lessons from Captain America

8 Parenting lessons from Captain America

CAVEAT:  I’m totally ripping off this idea (with some modification) from Joseph Lalonde.  In fact, his 25 Leadership Lessons and Quotes from Captain America: Civil War is WAY better than this post.  You should read it!  More importantly, you should regularly visit his site and read his excellent blog.

Your kids are probably begging you to take them to see Captain America: Civil War.  With a word of slight caution about violence and a few uses of profanity, I would recommend you take them.  But don’t stop there.  Take them out for pizza afterwards and use the movie as a launching pad for some conversations about life.  The movie is LOADED with great life lessons on taking responsibility, the consequences of our actions, the value of friendship, the role of government, and the cost of standing for convictions.  Consider using some of the following quotes to start those conversations.

[Obligatory Spoiler Alert]

1.  Friendship isn’t always easy.

Iron Man has just learned that Winter Soldier is responsible for the death of his parents.  In his anger, he is going to destroy Winter Soldier.  Captain America, torn between two friends, tries to prevent this.

Captain America:  “Sorry, Tony.  You know I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice.  He’s my best friend.”

Iron Man:  “So was I…”

Friendship isn’t easy – especially during adolescence.  Especially with teenaged girls! (Can I get an, “Amen”?)  Teaching our kids to value friendship, even when it isn’t easy, is an important lesson.  Sometimes being a friend means standing up to a friend.  Help your child understand the importance of being the truest kind of friend – the type that warns a friend when he is traveling down a dangerous path!

2.  We are directly impacted by those with whom we associate.

Sam Wilson (Falcon): [to Captain America] “I just wanna make sure we consider all our options.  The people that shoot at you usually wind up shooting at me.”

I’ve head it said, “If you lay in bed with dogs, you will catch fleas.”  The company we keep is important.  We usually rise (or sink) to their level.  Even if we don’t, our reputations are usually elevated (or lowered) based upon the company we keep.  Challenge your children to consider closely the friends they choose.  When people shoot at their friends, they will  take fire too.

3.  Stand on your convictions.

Margaret “Peggy” Carter:  “Compromise where you can.  Where you can’t, don’t.  Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right.  Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, YOU move.'”

Peggy’s statement about planting ourselves like a tree reminds me of Psalm 1.  In fact, you should read that to your kids in the course of this conversation.  Help them see the importance of understanding and standing upon our convictions.  As a parent, it is your job to help shape those convictions.  Please don’t surrender that job to others!  Teachers, coaches,  and ministers can be enlisted to help you on that journey, but they shouldn’t serve as your surrogate.  Help your child shape their convictions about church, the Bible, Jesus, morals, family, and life.  Then help them see correct ways to stand for those convictions.

4.  Look out for others.

King T’Chaka:  “Victory at the expense of innocents is no victory at all.”

King T’Chaka delivers a stirring speech to the Marvel Universe version of the United Nations.  He is discussing the damage that was left in the wake of the last Avengers battle (See Avengers 2).  His argument is a dividing point in this movie.  But the essence of what he says is a great conversation starter for you and your child.

“Bullying” is a buzz word today.  Standing for those who are weaker is a hallmark of leadership and Christianity.  Jesus consistently and lovingly elevated the weak.  Help your child to understand that picking on those weaker is wrong.  Show them how standing for the weaker is brave and noble.

5.  Don’t surrender your rights easily.

Tony Stark:  “I saw how dangerous my weapons were in the wrong hands, so I took control.”

Steve Rogers:  “You chose to do that.  If we sign these accords, it takes away our right to choose.”

Okay.  So my point here may be a bit politicized, but let’s think about it.  We can either allow government regulation to dictate morality, or we can allow for a free society where individuals exercise their morality without coercion.  While this may not be a talk you should have with your 5 year-old, your 15 year-old needs to think through issues like this.  I suggest you guide that discussion before some idiot college professor does.

6.  Disagreement doesn’t have to be destructive.

In the most rollicking scene of the film, the two sides of the avengers are duking it out on an airport tarmac.  Black Widow and Hawkeye, who have been the closest of friends since the first Avengers movie, engage each other in battle.

Black Widow:  “Are we still friends?”

Hawkeye:  “That depends on how hard you hit me.”

The line is humorous, but it proves a vital point.  We may find ourselves on opposite sides of issues from people we like and respect.  While we may disagree on important fundamental issues, this does not give us license to be disagreeable.  Christlikeness demands that we treat each other with dignity and respect, even when we don’t deserve it!  These are hard lessons to learn.  Even for adults.  Especially for presidential candidates.

7.  Understand what is really important in life.

Tony Stark:  “Got a passport?”

Peter Parker: [chuckling] Um, no.  I don’t….

Tony Star:  “You ever been to Germany?”

Peter Parker:  “No.”

Tony Stark:  “Oh, you’ll love it.”

Peter Parker:  “I can’t go to Germany!”

Tony Stark:  “Why?”

Peter Parker:  “I got…. homework.”

Tony Stark:  “Alright, I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that.”

Stark is recruiting Spider Man (YAY!!!!) to his side.  Peter Parker has a hard time seeing his role in this battle.  After all, he has an Algebra assignment due tomorrow.

Helping our kids see the difference between important things and ultimate things is a huge part of parenting.  School is important.  Commitment to teams is important.  Relationships are important.  Faith is ultimate.  Jesus is ultimate.  If we don’t teach our kids the difference between the important and the ultimate, somebody else will.  Be forewarned:  they probably will put things in the wrong categories.  DO NOT surrender this task to others!

8.  I’m old.  You’re young.  That’s not an insult…. bruh.

Spider Man:  “Hey, you guys ever seen that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?”

Before Spider Man recreates the battle technique rebels on Hoth used to topple AT-ATs, he refers to my childhood as “really old.”  When he spewed his line about The Empire Strikes Back, the collective chuckle in the movie theater came from 40 somethings who, like me, were hit in the face by Marvel with our ever-increasing age.

But that’s not a bad thing.  In a culture that values youth above all else, we should help our kids see that, while we are not experts in all things, our life experience has taught us a thing or two – and we are more than glad to share that experience with them.  We want the best for them.  Sharing life’s journey with them is one simple way we can accomplish that.

Another way is watching Star Wars movies with them!

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Heroes You Should Know: John Knox

Heroes You Should Know - John Knox

John Knox (c. 1514-1572):  The Trumpet of the Reformation

I’ve always been inspired by reading biographies.  I especially love biographies from Church History.  This week, I finished reading a wonderful, succinct work by Steven J. Lawson, John Knox: Fearless Faith.  I was inspired to bring Church History to this blog.  From time to time I will offer up vignettes in this series:  Heroes You Need to Know.

Steven J. Lawson writes of Scottish Reformer John Knox, “If Martin Luther was the hammer of the Reformation and John Calvin the pen, John Knox was the trumpet.” Trumpet blasts seldom go unnoticed and often draw attention. In Knox’s case, that attention tended to frequently land him in dangerous situations. He survived multiple assassination attempts and was often embroiled in controversy. Three examples demonstrate his commitment to the Word of God.

John Knox

In 1547 Knox was the presiding pastor in St. Andrews. In June of that year, eighteen French galleons laid siege to the castle. The intensely Catholic French government was keen to squelch the reformation fever sweeping through Scotland. After a month-long attack, St. Andrews yielded. Knox was captured along with 120 other Protestants and forced to be a galley slave in the hull of a French battleship for the next nineteen months (1547-49). Knox’s faithfulness to preach the Gospel led to severe consequences. He was chained to an oar with little food, deplorable sanitation, and rampant galley fever. Scorched by the sun and shivering through cold nights at sea, he grew physically weak.  His Protestant convictions, however, never wavered. In an attempt to drive him back to the Roman faith, his captors tried to force him to kiss a statue of the virgin Mary. Knox resolutely resisted: “Trouble me not; such an idol is accursed and therefore I will not touch it.”[4] Enraged, Knox threw the statue overboard and declared, “Let our Lady now save herself; she is light enough; let her learn to swim.”[5]

A second demonstration of Knox’s commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture can be demonstrated in his refusal to compromise his sermons, even in the presence of powerful political figures. Mary Queen of Scots, ruled as monarch for most of Knox’s later years. Her relationship with Knox was turbulent, and at times volcanic. Knox publicly and repeatedly decried her staunch Catholicism as heresy. In July 1565, she married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.[6] Darnley visited Knox’s church in great pomp to hear Knox preach. An ornate throne had been made especially for Darnley.[7] Knox, fully understanding his royal audience and his Catholic convictions, chose as his text an unfavorable passage about King Ahab. He delivered a scathing rebuke on the abuse of royal power. Knox declared:

“Kings, then, have not an absolute power to do in their regiment what pleaseth them; but this power is limited by God’s Word; so that if they strike where God commandeth not, they are but murderers; and if they spare when God commandeth to strike, they and their throne are criminal and guilty of wickedness that aboundeth upon the face of the earth for lack of punishment.”[8]

The king was so infuriated with Knox’s sermon that he summoned him that very night. In this incident and Knox’s many entanglements with Mary, Queen of Scots, he never wavered from his biblical convictions.

Knox was a faithful preacher until the end of his brief life. Because of his unwavering preaching, Queen Mary of Scots considered him “the most dangerous man in all her realm.”[9] It is said that Knox, a naturally introverted man, came to life in the pulpit. Arthur Herman writes about Knox, “Uncompromising, dogmatic, and driven, John Knox was . . . a preacher of truly terrifying power . . . a Protestant firebrand!”[10] This “Protestant Firebrand” preached until a week before his death. Assistants would aid him to enter the pulpit. Once there, the Reformer would discover a strength that was not his own. James Melville, a teenage student, heard Knox’s preaching in the last days. Of the elderly Knox’s preaching he writes, “He was very weak. I saw him, every day of his doctrine, go slowly and warily, with a fur . . . about his neck, a staff in one hand, and good godly Richard Ballantyne, his servant holding up the other.” After Ballantyne aided Knox to be “lifted up to the pulpit, where he behoved to lean at his first entry, but before he had done with his sermon, he was so active and vigorous, that he was like to ding [hit] the pulpit to blads [pieces], and fly out of it.”[11] What can cause an old man in poor health to become so vigorous he might “fly out” of the pulpit? What inspires a man to confront kings and nobility? What could so enflame the faith of a slave that he fires back at his tormentors? Such is the impact of passion for Christ! When Scripture alone is your source, nothing makes a man more fearless than to preach the Word of God rightly divided!

[1]Martin H. Dotterweich, “Knox, John,” in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, ed. Timothy Larsen (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarisity Press, 2003), 345 (345-349 for bibliography).

[2]Steven J. Lawson, John Knox: Fearless Faith (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2014), 15.

[3]Lawson, John Knox, 27.

[4]Lawson, John Knox, 28.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Justo Gonzalez, The History of Christianity, vol. 2 (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1985), 84.

[7]Lawson, John Knox, 90.

[8]Lawson, John Knox, 90-91.

[9]Dotterweich, “Knox, John,” 348.

[10]Lawson, John Knox, 99-100.

[11]Lawson, John Knox, 101-102.

Seven Surefire Ways to Ruin Your Church Experience

7 WAYS TO RUIN CHURCH

Most people want to have a positive worship experience.  But if you secretly want to ruin your church experience, here are seven surefire ways to do it.

1.  Don’t expect anything.  We typically get what we expect out of things. Church is no different.  If we show up and expect it to be boring, our expectation will most likely be met.  When we show up and expect to see God move in powerful ways, it is amazing how He opens our eyes to see His work in our midst.  When we come to church with a spirit of anticipation and expectation, we have primed our hearts to receive the blessing of corporate worship.  When we are expectant, the songs are louder, the sermon is spicier, and the fellowship is sweeter.

2.  Practice buffet spirituality.  If you want your church experience to stink, don’t open your Bible except on Sundays in church, don’t pray throughout the week, and don’t practice any spiritual disciplines regularly.  Just show up on Sundays and wait on the preacher to feed your soul so thoroughly that you don’t have to have a vibrant devotional life throughout the week.  Treat church like an all-you-can-eat spiritual buffet that will have to maintain you until the next time you show up.

3.  Isolate yourself.  People who slip into church, tolerate others during the greeting, and leave as soon as possible have a really good shot at ruining their worship experience.  After all, who wants to hear about the problems other people have?  Isolating yourself is the surest way to avoid hearing about the struggles of others.  If folks are standing around warmly chatting after the service is over, do your best to avoid them.  They will try to engage you in conversation and get to know you.  Steer away from this at all costs!  Getting to know others will enrich your worship experience, so do your best to avoid others.  And whatever you do, don’t go to lunch with anyone after church!

4.  Be fake.  If people ask you how your week has been, politely smile and respond, “Fine.  How about you?”  It doesn’t really matter if your life is falling apart.  If something inside of you is urging you to be transparent and ask them to pray for you, ignore it.  Think of that urge as a sign of weakness.  People who are serious about ruining their worship experience have to act like they have their life all together.  Smile.  Look pretty.  Keep telling yourself that nobody really cares how you are doing.

5.  Be fatigued.  One of the best ways to ruin your Sunday morning worship experience is to stay out too late on Saturday night.  Or if you are too old to stay “out”, just stay up until about 3 am binge-watching something on Netflix.  If you are alert, you might have to stay awake and listen attentively to the sermon.  Instead, prep for your Scripture-ignoring slumber by being sleep deprived as you walk into church.  If you are tired enough, you can be asleep before the pastor clears the first point of his sermon.

6.  Be critical.  Feel free to critique the music.  Is it too loud?  Too new?  Too old?  Too pitchy?  Don’t get lost in worship.  Instead, stand there like Simon Cowell critiquing musical contestants on American Idol.  And don’t forget the preacher!  I bet his sermon is too unclear, too biblical, too long, and too loud.  Don’t think of church as a worship experience to nourish your soul; think of it as a performance designed around your preferences.  After all, this is what Seeker Sensitivity is all about anyway!  If the service doesn’t meet your standards, let as many people as possible know.  You might even want to post it on FaceBook.

7.  Don’t show up.  If you want to ruin your Sunday worship experience, the most sure path to success is to not show up.  Go play golf.  Go fishing.  Sleep in.  Don’t think about how your presence at church encourages others.  Ignore that still small voice that reminds you that God has gifted you uniquely to build up your church.  If you listen too closely to those voices, you might slip up and show up.  Instead, just go AWOL.

If the school tried to paddle my kids…

If the school tried to paddle my kids

Dear Hannah Marie Perez,

Congratulations.  You just about broke the internet this week.  The video you took (while pretending to text) of your son being disciplined by school officials in Georgia has had more hits than a UFC Main Event.  I can’t help but wonder if your insta-fame is more of a burden than you first imagined.  The internet backlash has been massive and extreme, both supporting and condemning you.

The video of 5 year-old Thomas being disciplined by the principal of his elementary school is disturbing, but not for the reasons they have enumerated on various media outlets.  I listened this morning as Savannah Guthrie and company assaulted the heartless school officials who were trying to discipline your out-of-control child.  What they said disturbed me.  They decried the draconian practice of corporal punishment practiced in schools throughout Georgia and 17 other states.  They talked about how you and your child were victimized by the school administrators.  I smelled liberal bias, but I wanted to be fair.  After all, I love me some Savannah Guthrie.

So I watched the video.

Here’s what I saw.  I observed a child who was distraught because he was about to be punished for bad behavior.  He acted in a manner that just about all of my children did before they were punished.  They were afraid (because punishment hurts); they bargained (in hopes of changing my mind); they wailed (further indicating the need for the punishment).  They appealed to other authority figures (hoping my authority would be trumped and the punishment would go away).  Thomas was indeed distraught.  But Thomas was acting like a kid about to get a spanking.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

I saw two school officials who acted in an entirely loving manner.  They never raised their voices.  They never belittled Thomas.  In fact, one of them can be clearly heard to say, “Whenever you make bad choices, you have to have consequences” (around the :50 mark of the video).  What a truthful and loving thing to teach a child!  They not only tried to correct Thomas, but these two school officials engaged you in what I think was a completely-missed-by-you attempt to mentor you in child rearing.  At the 1:58 mark in the video, you say, “He does this to me.”  At the 2:00 mark you are kindly asked, “What does he do with dad?  I’m just curious.  Does dad spank him?”  Your response did not shock me.  You said dad did not spank him.  “He just takes his hat off and goes, shhh, on his leg or something.”  You said all of this without losing your camera shot.  Impressive.  These ladies were trying to help you understand the importance of discipline in the home.  Educators will tell you that children who receive consistent, appropriate discipline in the home seldom if ever need to receive discipline in school.

At 1:45  you say to Thomas, “I’m not listening to you.  I’m texting.”  Clearly, you were videoing (which I think was within your right).  But what I wished you would have said was, “Thomas, you broke the rules.  There must be consequences when we break the rules.  You are getting a paddling from these ladies.  And after that, you’re getting one from me if you don’t stand still and take your punishment.  Next time, you will think before you make bad choices.”  Sadly, that’s not what you said.  Instead, you sat there, feigning disengagement, acting as if you were texting through this entire episode.

Hannah, why did you post the video?  I think your intentions were clear.  You were trying to expose bad behavior on the part of the Jasper County schools.  Why did you think what they were doing was bad behavior?  I only saw what you posted, but their behavior was entirely appropriate.  Honestly, this causes me to question any insinuations of wrong-going or inappropriate threats they allegedly made off-camera.  Unwittingly, in your attempt to expose school officials, you did the opposite.  You demonstrated a complete lack of parenting on your own part.

But I want to help.  Seriously.

Proper discipline of children is a Gospel issue.  If we properly discipline our children, we are sowing the seeds of Scripture into their lives.  We are teaching them the eternity-shaping truth that sin has consequences.  To fail to discipline our children is to forego an opportunity to instruct them about the reality and damnable end of their own sinfulness. Discipline, whether it is corporal or some other form, drives home the painful reality of consequences.  We have often heard the platitude, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Did you know that platitude is actually a distortion of Scripture?  Proverbs 13:24 tells us, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”  Corporal discipline, according to the Scriptures, is an act of love.  It is part of how we point our children to Christ, who bore our punishment on Calvary.  It is part of how we help them see the consequences to their own sin.  If their sin has no temporal consequence, why should they think it has an eternal consequence?  I would encourage you (and anyone else who reads this) to pick up a copy of Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley.  He does a masterful job of helping us understand our responsibility to point our kids to Jesus and the role of discipline in that process.

I understand that your situation is complex.  I’m sure you felt cornered by the school board because of the number of days your child had previously missed in school.  I understand that a suspension (your other option instead of corporal discipline) would have put him over the legal limit creating consequences for yourself.  The situation is complex; I get it.  But the bigger issue remains.  All children need loving, consistent discipline.

I have three kids of my own.  If any of them had earned a spanking at school through their misconduct, I would have set my cell phone down, went and held my child still while they administered the spanking, and then asked them to step out of the room for a minute and leave the paddle so that I could reinforce their lessons on the seat of my child’s learning.  I think that would be the most loving thing to do.

 

Take this Job and Shove It: The Heroic Tale of Adam LaRoche

Drake Laroche is lucky boy.

Drake’s dad is Major League Baseball star, Adam Laroche.  In a way that every 11 year old boy can only dream, Drake has grown up shagging fly balls for MLB megastars.  While all of his friends collected baseball cards, Drake high-fived baseball’s best and brightest.  Because of Adam’s success career, Drake has grown up in a home of economic privilege; his dad’s net worth is estimated to be $35 million.  But we all know of children whose privileged upbringing scarred them.  They had parents who plied them with opulent gifts but seldom invested their time.  (Remember Paris Hilton or Tori Spelling?)  Drake has a dad who has proven his love by investing time in Drake.

Adam and Drake LaRoche

Adam Laroche recently made national media headlines when he walked away from a $13 million contract when the Chicago White Sox asked him to limit 14-year-old Drake’s access to the team clubhouse.  Because of the amount of travel involved in the life of a major league baseball player, Adam had made a decision to have Drake with him on the road.  Adam refused to be an absentee dad, seeing his kid on Monday’s when the team stopped over in Chicago during long road trips.  Drake was with the team a lot; the Chicago Tribune described him as the team’s 26th man (MLB teams have 25 man rosters).

The argument from the side of White Sox management was that Drake was a distraction.  Outfielder Adam Eaton didn’t see it that way:  “On our side of things, I think everyone would say we enjoyed Drake LaRoche in the clubhouse and everything he brought to the clubhouse.  He helped out around and wasn’t a burden by any stretch of the imagination. . .  Adam and Drake are probably the most respected people in baseball I ever played with.  Drake would clean cleats, he would help out in drills, pick up baseballs when we needed.  he didn’t say boo to anybody and was never a trouble in the clubhouse.”  Drake seems to have been a very admirable young man.

When Adam was asked to limit Drake’s presence in the team clubhouse, he made a huge decision – a decision that had to speak volumes to his son over how important he is.  Adam walked away from baseball.  At the age of 36, he hung up his spikes, tweeting out, “Thank u Lord for the game of baseball and for giving me way more than I ever deserved! #FamilyFirst”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not arguing that the White Sox or team president Ken Williams are in the wrong here.  That debate can be left to people way smarter than me.  I am trying to point out an act of family heroism.  LaRoche’s commitment to his family is an example that I can only hope challenges countless fathers who give their children very little time or attention.

We live in an era where family dinners have decreased 33% over the last 20 years.  Family vacations have decreased 28% in that same timespan.  A 2015 study revealed that kids spend more than 6 hours a day looking at screens (computers, television, tablets, or phones).  We live in a distracted world and families are spending less and less time with each other.

The challenge for Christians is that God has called us to teach our children His ways.  Deuteronomy 6:6-9 records God’s instruction to the Israelites: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on our hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  The call is clear that we need to teach our children – when we sit and when when walk by the way, when we lie down and when we rise.  I don’t know how you teach like that unless you are around your kids.  Parents, be involved!  Invest your time in your child. This is your Christian duty.  It is your parental responsibility.  It is your joy.

Adam LaRoche draws his convictions about parenting from his faith in Christ.  A non-denominational Christian, describes himself as a “follower of Jesus Christ.”  In a 2013 interview, LaRoche talked about an epiphany of sorts that he had in 2008.

I asked myself: “Why are we here?”  I’ve asked a few people that over the years.  “What is our purpose on this earth?”  My opinion is that it’s to spread God’s Word and that’s it.  And when that finally hit me, it put baseball and all that other stuff in perspective.  I heard a chaplain put it this way:  What do you want written on your tombstone?  Do you want “Adam Larouche: Gold Glove, batting average, hit so many homers, and has a million dollars in his bank account,” or do you want “Adam LaRoche: Man of God, integrity, raised a great family, loving.”  Let’s be honest:  I don’t know anybody who wants their stats.

LaRoche spoke those words 8 years ago.  They weren’t just talk either.  He is a serious man, especially when it comes to his faith and his family.  Serious people put their money where their mouth is.  That is exactly what Adam LaRoche did!

I wonder what you are thinking right now.  Just recently I was watching one of the umpteenth political debates.  My daughter came in to spend time with me.  It had been a very long and exhausting day for me.  I shhhh’ed her away.  And for what?  To see a political debate?  Really?!  What an idiot I can be!  But let’s be honest.  I bet you have similar stories with your kids.  You may not have brushed them off for a political debate; maybe your distraction was social media, a favorite television program, another round of golf, a page-turning book, watching cat videos on YouTube, or talking on the phone to a friend.  Whatever the distraction was, how important was it really?  What value do you place on time with your kids?

Drake LaRoche will never have to wonder how much his dad valued time with him.  At a minimum, we can say that it was worth more than $13 million.

Like I said, Drake LaRoche is a very lucky boy.

Ham and Deviled Eggs for Easter

Ham and Deviled Eggs

I never saw the irony of Easter dinner as a kid.

After all, I was only a boy and had not yet been exposed to the rigors of a theological education.  I was glad to sit down with my family after church on Easter and eat ham and deviled eggs for lunch.  You know, just like Jesus did at the Last Supper.  At the time, I was completely oblivious to the fact that Easter is the fulfillment of a Jewish holiday (Passover) in a culture where it was considered sinful to eat pork.  (No wonder people are not converting to Judaism in droves.  No bacon!)

That’s right.  Jesus didn’t eat ham at the Passover.  And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he would never eat deviled eggs either.  Can you imagine the Son of God munching down on something so satanically-dubbed?  His Passover Seder would have consisted of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and matzah bread.  Each course had religious significance.  The only significant thing about our Easter luncheon was the gluttony-inducing amount of food family and friends brought.  Casseroles and cakes were aplenty.  Vegetables and sweets abounded.  But the two things I always remember having were deviled eggs and ham.

I recently conducted a very non-scientific survey of friends.  “What foods do you traditionally eat on Easter?”  While they didn’t all share my affinity for deviled eggs (Losers!), the answer was clear:  “We eat ham!”  This led me down a path of discovery.  Where did the tradition of eating ham on Easter come from?

Boy, did I ever find some confusing stuff on the internet!  Some people say that we eat ham on Easter because of anti-semitism.  (That’s not true.  I don’t have anything against seminaries!)  Some say ham was considered lucky by Northern Europeans before their conversion to Christianity, so they syncretized that belief into their newfound Christian experience.  Others purport that the eating of ham at Easter is tied to Baal worship.  As Ham-Eater-In-Chief, I considered all of these options in a highly academic and theological manner befitting someone of my position.  After weighing the theories, I identified a conclusive and unique reason why we eat ham for Easter lunch.

Because it tastes good.  (I have a way with profundity.)

Ham is delicious.  As I write this, my salivary glands are giving way to a Pavlovian response.  Ham is not only delicious, but one could make an argument that it is distinctly a Christian meat.  Many eastern religions generally abstain from meat consumption of any sort; Jainism is strictly vegetarian while Buddhism and Hinduism are strongly influenced by vegetarian principles.  The moral to that story is if you think Uncle Jethro is potentially being reincarnated as a pig or cow or chicken, your chicken and dumplings will taste funny.  Islam also forbids the consumption of pork, as does Judaism.  It seems that of the major religions of the world, pork stands tall as a distinctly Christian delicacy.  Christian, think about what that means.  You get to enjoy ribs and pulled pork sandwiches and BBQ festivals.  Unlike the Muslim or Jew, you can have fried pork chops or stuffed pork tenderloin.  Of all the world religions, only you know the intoxicating fragrance of thick-cut hardwood-smoked bacon sizzling in the wee morning hours.  Pork is yours, brethren.  All because of Jesus’ act of redemption.

Yes, you heard me correctly.  It was the work of Jesus that made pork our friend.  (Can I get a hallelujah?!)  I thank God for Acts 10.  Peter, a faithful Jew who would never eat “unclean” things, finds himself caught up in a vision on a friend’s rooftop.  He sees a great big canopy being lowered down to him.  All types of unclean animals were ensnared in this canopy.  A voice announced to Peter that he could eat any of the animals.  Peter, taken aback by such a thought, declared, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  A second time the voice announced that he could eat the things that he though of as “unclean.”  As if for good measure, the voice pronounced the same thing a third time.  And the vision ended.  And with that, the golden era of culinary Christianity was opened.

The point of Peter’s vision has far less to do with ham and dietary restrictions than we might think.  Actually, this vision is preparing the way for the proclamation of the Gospel to the broader Gentile world.  Jesus didn’t just die for the Jew; He died for his people in every tribe, tongue, and nation. So, this year when you sit down to eat your ham and deviled eggs, remember that God graciously included us Gentiles in His Good News message!  He opened his covenant up to us!  Not only do we get bacon.  We get grace – amazing and undeserved.  We get forgiveness – unmerited and complete.  We get life – abundant and eternal.  That is an Easter dish I can savor for a long time!

And in case you were wondering if you should eat deviled eggs with your ham this year, I’m sharing this recipe to win you over to my side:

Rob’s Bacon/Cheddar/Jalapeno Evil Ovums (Deviled Eggs)

  • 12 eggs
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1/8 Cup jarred jalapeños, minced
  • 1 Cup finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 Cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 red onion, minced
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 T spicy or Dijon mustard
  • Paprika to garnish
  1. Place eggs in a saucepan; cover with water.  Bring to boil, remove from heat, and let eggs stand in hot water for 15 minutes.  Remove eggs from hot water, cool under cold running water and peel.
  2. Cook bacon.  Crumble bacon.
  3. Cut eggs in half lengthwise; place yolks in a bowl.  Mash egg yolks with fork.  Stir in half of bacon, minced jalapeños, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, red onion, garlic, and mustard.
  4. Spoon mixture into egg whites.  Sprinkle remaining bacon over eggs.  Garnish with Paprika as desired.

Dad, don’t walk away

I’m not the kind of guy who cries at movies.  I don’t boo hoo over songs either.  Years ago my wife and I were reading  The Hiding Place by Corey Ten Boon on a road trip.  It didn’t bring me to tears.   She declared me emotionally dead on the spot.  And she’s right.  I generally have the emotional range of a snail.

Imagine my surprise when I recently found myself uncontrollably sobbing over a performance by Kelly Clarkson on American Idol.  Seriously.  I was a blubbering idiot.

Clarkson, the inaugural Idol winner, performed her latest title hit, Piece By Piece.  She stripped it down from the original synth-pop studio version to an acoustic ballad with Clarkson and an accompanying piano.  The stunningly beautiful result was simultaneously gut-wrenching, spell-binding, thought-provoking, and tear-jerking.  Did I mention that it rendered me a blubbering idiot?

Clarkson wrote the song after the birth of her first child, daughter River Rose.  As she contemplated the love and attention husband Brandon Blackstock gave to their daughter, she couldn’t help but compare it to the lack of attention and care her own father failed to show.  In an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Clarkson noted, “Watching my husband love on his daughter all the time, you know, go to her events and just be there and, like, be present is, like, hard to watch but beautiful to watch.”  She went on to note, “I don’t even think I understood the gravity of [my relationship with my father] until I was pregnant.  I was like, ‘I cannot imagine not seeing this kid to his or her full potential and just seeing what she’s going to do, what she’s going to be like.'”

Clarkson’s emotionally raw ballad resonates with a generation who have been raised by single mothers or in blended families.  One in three American children are growing up in homes without their biological fathers.  Countless kids are left at home wondering, “Why did you leave, Dad?”

Katherine Sotelo is a terrific writer who opened up her soul in a blog post entitled, “Today I gave my father my mailing address.”  In this stream-of-consciousness piece, she writes,

Life is weird because we grow.  you were always larger, but the same.  I catch glimpse of your face every once in a while, do you know that?  In a Chinese restaurant, in the kitchen. As if every day was a dream.

“That guy looks like my dad.”  I’ll tell a friend across the table.  They’ve never me you, no one has.

“Oh cool.”

“Yeah.”  I’ll respond, stealing glimpses at the man’s face.  Terrified.  As if someone grabbed my neck and told me to stop breathing.

“Yeah.”  I’ll snap back to the scene.  It’s easy.

The subject changes.  The food arrives or we turn the corner.  The feeling in my limbs come back.

Sotelo and Clarkson are articulating the same sentiment.  They are mourning the same loss.  The day their fathers walked out, holes were blown into their world. “Dad, why did you leave?”

The pain of fatherlessness is demonstrable.  Children raised in a father-absent environment demonstrate:

  1. 5 times the average suicide rate.
  2. Dramatically increased rates of depression and anxiety.
  3. 32 times the average rate of incarceration.
  4. Decreased education levels and increased drop-out rates.
  5. Consistently lower average income levels.
  6. Lower job security.
  7. Increase rates of divorce and relationship issues.
  8. Substantially increased rates of substance abuse.
  9. Increases in social and mental behavioral issues.

I don’t write this to demean those who have been abandoned by fathers.  I write this in the hopes that some father somewhere who is thinking of leaving will reconsider.  Maybe he will think twice before flirting with the girl in the next cubicle or rethink the next website he visits.  Perhaps he will recall his marital vows.  Let the memories of the birth of his children play through his mind like a cinema.  Remember those precious children that you would do anything to protect?  Now, sir, consider that your staying put is an act of protection.  In doing so, you are sheltering them from the angst and bitterness and confusion and misplaced guilt that so often accompanies abandonment.  Do the right thing.  Be a man.  Take responsibility and ownership.  Do hard things.  Stay.

I wonder how Kelly Clarkson’s father feels about Piece by Piece.  I’m sure he would say the situation is more complex than her song represents.  I’m sure he would have reasons why he left – reasons that make sense to him.  Then I think of my two daughters.

The worst fate I can imagine would not be any worst than one of my daughters writing this:

Piece by piece I fell far from the tree

I will never leave her like you left me

And she will never have to wonder her worth

Because unlike you I’m going to put her first

And you know, he’ll never walk away,

He’ll never break her heart

He’ll take care of things, he’ll love her

And piece by piece, he’ll restore my faith

That a man can be kind

And a father should be great.

Fathers, don’t let some other man pick your little girl up.  Stay.  Be a dad.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

Joe Kennedy isn’t Allowed To Pray

Joe Kennedy is the most well-known assistant high school football coach in America.  He’d rather that not be the case.

For the past 9 years Coach Joe, a Marine combat veteran and follower of Jesus Christ, has been praying at the 50 yard line at the conclusion of every football game.  Win or lose, Joe would bend his knee to thank God.  Often his own players as well as players from opposing teams would join him in that prayer.  Their voluntary participation was not coerced or required.  Joe was inspired to lead these post-game prayers by the movie “Facing the Giants.”

Earlier this year, someone complemented a Bremerton High School principal on the players peacefully gathering at the 50 yard line with Coach Joe to pray.  In a stunning display of the hyper-litigious, politically correct environment in which we live, that seemingly innocuous compliment led the principal to question if the school was in compliance with laws because of Coach Joe’s prayer.  This inquiry then led to a Sept. 17 letter to Joe Kennedy from the School Board.  Even though Joe had not asked young men to pray with him, he was not free to express his own faith on the job.  For some weeks, Joe complied with their mandate.

On Friday, October 16, while the students sang the fight song to the audience, Joe quietly knelt at midfield and bowed his head in prayer alone.  Even though students weren’t involved, the school board felt compelled to press their point on Kennedy.  In a October 23 letter, Superintendent Aaron Level wrote, “Any further violations will be grounds for discipline, up to and including discharge from District employment.”  Joe was forbidden to pray, even alone, in any way that was “readily observable to (if not intended to be observed by) students and the attending public.”

There you have it.  Public school employees are not allowed to have their own faith.

The school board in Bremerton, Washington, says employees can have faith – they just can’t have any public demonstration of that faith.  The ignorance of such a statement is mind-numbing.  What is a person to do if their faith, like the Christian faith, demands a public display?  Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).  Faithful Christians are expected to declare the Gospel in public to a lost and dying world (Mt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Our faith demands public expression.

The Bremerton School Board has followed along with the absurdity of modern thinking.  We have been trained to think that the highest virtue is tolerance.  It seems, however, that society responds very intolerantly towards Christians.  This sad episode can be demonstrated over and over again.  Everything from manger scenes to valedictorian speeches to holiday greetings in retail stores has been swept free of any Christian expression.  I’m not saying that speeches or manger scenes or greetings are themselves Christian; I’m simply noting that many of the people who engage in these things are Christians.  In a world where we are told that all viewpoints matter, the Christian viewpoint seems to be increasingly marginalized.

The truth of the matter is that the secular world only fights this battle when things are going well.  On the Support Joe Kennedy FaceBook page, Rosemary Norris Agee said it better than I ever could:

Mr. (Superintendent) Leavell, I am a resident of the sate of Oregon.  I live a few miles from UCC where we had the recent shooting of students.  Without prayer our community would not be able to heal.  As a concerned citizen and a follower of Jesus Christ, I pray that you will lead from the hip and allow the coach to continue to pray with the players on the field.”

Prayer becomes a crucial part of our society – not just for the religious – when tragedy strikes.  If you don’t believe me, ask the folks in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Saturday was Homecoming, the high point of any football season.  A horrible accident at the Homecoming Parade that killed 4 people including a 2 year-old boy caused the PC no-prayer rule to be thrown out the window.  Photo after photo testify to the prayerfulness of the both the team and the crowds in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State prayer

Last October I found myself in a small rural town in Louisiana.  I was there to preach at a dear friend’s ordination ceremony.  In the pregame warmups, one of the cheerleaders for the opposing team had a very serious accident that required her to be taken to a hospital by helicopter.  The scene was surreal.  Hundreds of people were in the stands, but you could have heard a pin drop.  Everyone knew the situation was grave.  Then the announcer came on over the PA system and respectfully asked people to pray with him for the injured cheerleader.  I was already praying.  I was glad for the company.  Not a soul objected.  They seldom do when life hangs in the balance.

Please understand my position.  I am not arguing for the return of pre-1950s in-school teacher-led prayer.  Surprising to most, I am against that idea for biblical reasons I would be glad to enumerate for you.  However, I do think all people – teachers and students – have a right to exercise their faith.  Including Coach Joe Kennedy.

To Coach Joe Kennedy, should he ever read this:

I found myself in the midst of a football/religion news circus in 2009. A dear friend of mine wound up leaving his coaching job over the incident.  He is a man of deep character and, like you, Christian conviction.  I would tell you what I told him:  Some things are worth being fired over.  Joe, I so admire your spirit.  You have not tried to inflame the situation needlessly.  You have sought out legal counsel in a situation that, sadly, will be decided in the court system.  Whether you win or lose the case (and I’m praying you win!!!!), I believe you have won where it matters most.  God always smiles when His children are faithful.  My prayers are with you!

A Pastor’s Perspective on Pastor Appreciation Month

Pastor's Appreciation MonthOctober is generally recognized as Pastor Appreciation Month.  At least, that’s the impression I got while visiting the local Christian book store.  They seemed to be capitalizing on a lot of “I love my pastor” junk marked at premium prices. (Smart shoppers will stock up in November for next year!) Don’t misunderstand me.  Pastors love that kind of thing.  A pecan pie left on his desk or a new coffee mug filled with candies will always remind your minister that you are thinking of him.  However, I want to suggest three oft-overlooked ways you can and should encourage your pastor in October and beyond.

Allow your pastor to be real. Give your pastor the gift of allowing him to be himself.  Your pastor does not live some mystically charmed life without challenges and temptations.  He struggles with doubts and stress and finances and relationships – just like you do.  Only he lives with these struggles and the burden of being all things to everyone in the congregation. One group wants him to lighten up and be more approachable. Another group wants him to grow up and be more serious. Both groups can’t have it their way.

Consider allowing your shepherd to be who he is – who God made him to be. Enjoy him for his own idiosyncrasies. If his humor is quirky, laugh and stop rolling your eyes. If his style is more bookish, buy him an Amazon gift card and appreciate the intellect God has given him. Whether your pastor is extroverted or introverted, educated or earthy, organized or scattered, he is your pastor. God sovereignly placed that man in your life and in your church to aid in the process of your sanctification. Create a culture of love where your pastor is accepted as God made him. The next time you hear someone say, “I wish our pastor was more ______ (you fill in the blank),” tell them that you are personally glad that your pastor is who he is.

By the way, if you do create a culture where your pastor is allowed to step off the pedestal and be a real person, you will discover some wonderful byproducts.  You may actually get to have a real relationship with him. I’m talking about a relationship beyond the cordialities of Sunday worship. I frequently sit at ball games with folks from my congregation. They let me yell at referees and shout obnoxiously loud encouragements at the players. And we have the best time in the world doing it together! 

Another surprising benefit of allowing your pastor to be real is that you free him up to empathize with you. Only when pastors feel the freedom to walk in transparency can they share with you how your struggle has also been a chapter in their journey. Common struggles bond us together, and, in a misery-loves-company sort of way, powerfully encourage us. Your pastor will never be transparent with you if he feels threatened or insecure.

Show up. We live in an era where faithful church members may attend church 60% of the time. More than ever before, alternate Sunday activities overcrowd a family’s calendar. Recreational activities, youth sports, and work obligations limit church participation. Despite the impact this has on your own personal spiritual journey, limited church participation affects pastors.

Pastors don’t write sermons or design worship services in a bubble; our relationships with our congregation impact how we think and plan. I can remember numerous occasions where I have written sermons that I knew would help a church member deal with an issue in their life only to notice their spot empty on Sunday. Imagine making a gourmet meal for someone you love. You carefully plan, sparing no expense. Only when it is time to serve the meal, they are unexpectedly absent. How would that make you feel?

Your pastor, if he is a good one, does what he does for God’s glory. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t gratified when he sees God working in your heart. Your faithful attendance and participation in church life gives him increased opportunities to observe God’s grace in you. Few things will encourage your pastor more than observing your sanctification!

Do ministry with him. Pastoring can be one of the loneliest jobs on the planet. This fact is especially true in churches without a plurality of elders. In churches where pastors operate solo, they usually are tasked with doing more than is humanly possible. In my own church – a healthy church with biblical eldership and shared ministry – I never leave work with everything crossed off my To-Do list. Pastors in more toxic environments are often so overwhelmed that they don’t even bother to make a list!

Nothing will invigorate your pastor more than seeing you coming alongside him and doing ministry with him or in his stead. Ask what hospital visits you can make for the church. (And if someone besides your pastor comes to see you in the hospital, accept it as loving ministry from your church. Don’t selfishly complain that your pastor didn’t come.) Volunteer to check on absentee members. If you see facility issues, address them – without brining them before your already over-worked pastor.

Churches that create a shared ministry will almost always have a more vibrant pulpit ministry. When you share the load of ministry, you create hours in the week that your pastor can use to study and pray. Trust me here – nothing will make your church come to life more than regular Gospel-saturated, prayed-over, Holy Spirit-inspired preaching! Most pastors are not trying to deliver bad sermons. They are simply doing the best they can to meet the demands of ministry and sermon preparation is shunted to the side.

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month.  Your pastor needs to be appreciated.  Buy him the coffee mug or the restaurant gift certificate. Those things are deeply appreciated. But go further this year. Consider creating a culture in your church where your pastor can be himself, show up faithfully for church, and do ministry with your pastor. I guarantee that these three things will hit the mark of encouraging your pastor!

Banned: why Christian organizations are being expelled from college

 

Banned

It happened last year at Vanderbilt University.  Bowdoin College followed suit this summer.  And now Cal State University and its 23 campuses have de-recognized Christian organizations.

Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students, has shunned InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group with 860 chapters in the United States.  At Vanderbilt, more than a dozen religious groups, including evangelicals and Catholics alike, lost their official standing with the university.   Small Bowdoin College (located in Maine) has de-recognized its lone Christian organization.

The consequences for evangelical groups that lose their official standing with a university vary by institution.  Students are still allowed to meet informally on campus.  However, in most cases they lose access to free or low-cost university space for official meetings and, more importantly, they are denied access to standard on-campus recruiting tools like activities fairs and bulletin boards.  Their non-student leaders lose security access to the campus and the organizations can no longer use the universities’ names in any way.  In some ways, losing official standing on campus is like a death sentence.

These three universities only represent the tip of the iceberg so far as this issue is concerned.  At the heart of the matter is the tension between religious expression and anti-discrimination laws.  Mike Uhlencamp, director of public affairs for the California State University system said, “For an organization to be recognized, they must sign a general nondiscrimination policy.  We have engaged with (InterVarsity) for the better part of a year and informed them they would have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement.  They have not.”

While signing a general nondiscrimination policy may sound like a great idea, it ultimately unravels the fabric of what it means to be a Christian organization.  Christianity, at its core, is a creedal belief system.  Even conservative Christians who reject the Creeds of the early church would recognize the Bible as their creed.  Simply put, Christianity is a belief system.  That belief system is built upon shared convictions.  Those convictions must, on at least a basic level, be articulated to be shared.  What colleges and universities are asking Christian organizations to do is to sign a statement allowing anyone, including those who deny their core beliefs, to be eligible for both participants and leadership.

From the perspective of the Christian organizations’ standpoint, the issue doesn’t so much revolve around the idea of divergent beliefs among participants.  As the New York Times reported, “The evangelical groups say they . . . welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths.  But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith – in most cases an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.”  Zackary Shur, a recent graduate of Bowdoin College and the former leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship makes the point clearly when he says, “It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard.”

Can you feel the tension between religious expression and the anti-discrimination spirit of the age?  Essentially, those in decision-making positions have deemed that, in order for a Christian organization to be both compliant with anti-discrimination laws and in good standing with the university, it must cease to uphold the convictions that make it a Christian organization.  The only way for Christian organizations to have a future is to cease to be Christian organizations.  Wow.

Alec Hill, president of InterVaristy has responded well:  “It’s absurd.  The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Tish Harrison Warren was the head of InterVarsity at Vanderbilt University.  She was shocked to find that her organization was placed on probation last year.  She met privately with campus administrators seeking an amicable solution.  Her fantastic article, The Wrong Kind of Christian which ran on August 27, 2014 in Christianity Today is eye-opening.  She writes,

The word discrimination began to be used – a lot – specifically in regard to creedal requirements.  It was lobbed like a grenade to end all argument.  Administrators compared Christian students to 1960s segregationists.  I once mustered courage to ask them if they truly thought it was fair to equate racial prejudice with asking Bible study leaders to affirm the Resurrection.  The vice chancellor replied, “Creedal discrimination is still discrimination.”

Universities have been thought of as places of free thought, where students come to compare ideas and to seek out truth.  Colleges are supposed to be places where young people discover learning and open themselves up to new ideas.  All ideas are welcome.  Except Christianity.