Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I have a theory about piñatas:

I have a theory about piñatas:

It was a man who invented the first piñata,
but it was his wife who filled it with candy.

What’s a piñata?  Here’s a quick definition:
Hispanic -  a decorated papier-mâché container of candy or small gifts that is hung and is hit and broken open by a blindfolded person.

If you’ve ever watched America’s Funniest Videos, then you are familiar with piñatas.  What makes them exciting for the children is candy (flavored sugar)!  What makes them exciting for the adults is the same sense of danger in skydiving or bungee jumping.  When the children unleash their blindfolded fury on the unsuspecting piñata, this sense of dread is replaced by either the explosion of candy raining from above, or the explosion of pain in some adult who was not paying close enough attention.

Sometimes, life is like that.  Some days you’re on the giving end of the stick and some days you’re on the receiving end.  Sometimes life comes at us in a fury of blows.

My favorite instructor once stated, “Life is neither neat, nor fair.  But, life is good and worth the living.”  This is true.

The question then, is this:  when life is messy and unfair, or even scary and painful - when life hits you unexpectedly, and then hits you again – what comes out of you?  Is it sweet? Uplifting? Honoring?  Or, does it tend to be harsh? Abrasive? Insulting?  When you are overly stressed (and that is almost everyone at some point), do your words and actions and attitudes build people up or tear them down?

I am convinced that our actions reveal our beliefs.  In other words, our beliefs are revealed in our actions.  What will our actions and attitudes teach our children about handling the pressures of life?  How will our children learn to handle relational friction by watching our example?  What will we model as the correct way to handle the problems in life? 

Do we talk about forgiveness?  That’s good.  Then, do we walk the talk - putting our advice into action?  That is very good!  When our children see us live the example of what we teach them, they see our words put into action.  We teach by saying do as I say, and here is how you do it.

They will see that when life is messy and unfair, or even scary and painful - when life hits you unexpectedly, and then hits you again – what comes out of you can be sweet… uplifting… even honoring to God and others.  They will learn that words and actions and attitudes can build people up instead of tearing them down.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do you travel alone?

I believe that we walk through many valleys in life.  Some are pleasantly trying, and some are terrifyingly dark and painful.  Some are valleys of our own choosing; some, of our own making.  Sometimes we follow the crowd into valleys, and some valleys we stumble into blindly.  Sometimes, we travel alone.  However we get there, our lives are marked by these trials – these valleys.

 Ya know, there’s a funny thing about valleys.  Valleys are not a place you go to, valleys are a place you go through.  A valley is a tunnel with no roof.  You enter at one end, travel all the way through and out the other side.

Scripture is clear that if you choose to do so, God will let you go through these trials alone (Luke 15; Romans 1).  When we choose to do so, God gives us over to do whatever shameful things our hearts desire – He let’s us go.  We will travel alone…  alone and lonely.  Facing whatever harm awaits, we will face it alone.  Facing the evils which lurk in the shadows, we will face them alone.  Having told God, “I don’t want You.  I’ll do this by myself.” He will honor our choice and let us go… alone and lonely.

On the other hand, Scripture is equally clear that we can choose to walk with God, and we will never walk alone.
“Yes, even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid of anything, because You are with me.  You have a walking stick with which to guide and one with which to help.  These comfort me.”  Psalm 23.4 (NLV)

We can reach up and take God’s hand, and walk with Him – side by side.  He will guide us through the valley.  He will guard us from the evil in the shadows and protect us from that which would harm us.

Make no mistake.  You come to God on His terms, or you do not come to God.  He does not negotiate.  He does not make deals.  He makes an offer.  He offers a free gift, and He offers it, “as is”… take it or leave it.

And when, finally, you come to the final valley – that dark valley of the shadow of death – God will allow you to take Him by the hand.  He will take you into that valley… all the way through… out the other side and on to home…

 …and you will have nothing to fear, for He is with you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

IMPULSE BUY:  something a shopper buys on impulse, having had no previous intention of doing so.

There’s a reason the stores put so many items near the register.  Having seen them, we will want them.  Often, that is all the motivation we will need to purchase something.  The stores’ hope is that this will become a habit.

Your children also notice these items.  And, if it becomes a pattern on your part to purchase something to pacify your child, then this behavior will be reinforced for both of you.  Your child got what he wanted.  And you got a reprieve from a potential tantrum.

What your child has learned is this:  if I make a threat of undesirable behavior, Dad or Mom will give me what I want!

Let’s face reality, we are all selfish, lazy critters.  Wouldn’t we all prefer to have whatever we want, whenever we want it?  Wouldn’t we all like to call the shots in our life without having to submit to anyone or anything else?  Of course we would.  The Bible calls this sin and it’s just as true for your wonderful child as it is for that wonderful person in your mirror.

For example, your child will learn that when he can wear Mom or Dad down enough, then they will give in.  Or, if he gives them the choice between what he wants to do and some worse behavior, Dad and Mom will usually give him what he wants – “choosing the lesser of two evils”.

Why do parents give in?  Well, there’s a variety of reasons.  We love our children and we want to “make them happy”.  But, I think if we truly examined why we give in so easily, I think we’d say because it pays off in the short-term – no more whining which means relief for my headache.

The “impulse buy” approach to parenting functions for the short-term.  So, what’s the problem?  When this is our default pattern, then we are not parenting.  Contrariwise, our children are in charge.  When children are permitted to be in charge, then the family is not functioning properly.  This is called a dysfunctional family.  

Let me illustrate why.  A truck can pull a trailer down the highway at 70 mph quite easily, because it is designed to work that way.  The truck leads the trailer and determines every aspect of speed and direction.  That truck can even push that trailer in reverse at low speeds, but this is more difficult.  Now, if that truck attempts to push that trailer in reverse at 70 mph, then there will be severe damage to the trailer and truck both, because it was never intended to work that way.  The trailer is not capable of leading the truck.  

In the same way, families which permit the children to be in charge were never intended to work that way, and there will be severe damage to the family as a whole, as well as to each individual.

This is part of why Scripture commands us:
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22.6).

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Exodus 20.12).

“Fathers, bring up [your children] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6.4).

 The word we translate as discipline in Ephesians 6.4 is an active verb, and is defined as follows:

1) the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and
) It also includes the training and care of the body
2) whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, esp. by correcting mistakes and curbing passions
2a) instruction which aims at increasing virtue
2b) chastisement, chastening, (of the evils with which God visits men for their amendment)

Therefore, if we, as parents, will be obedient to these verses, then we will cultivate our child(ren)s' hearts and minds through commands, rebukes, reprimands and punishments, to correct mistakes and curb their passions for the purpose of training and education to increase virtue.  In other words, we will actively discourage their own sinful desires by clear instruction and boundaries.  When they defy those instructions and cross those boundaries, then that is when the rebukes, reprimands and punishments come into play.  

The other half of this training and education involves encouraging virtuous behaviors and attitudes.  Accept and reward what you want to see again.  Refuse to accept what you do not want to see again.  Then, put a price tag on that unacceptable behavior and make it higher than the child is willing to pay.

Here's the bottom line.  The parent is to maintain control at all times, never relinquishing control to the child(ren).  However, the parent must balance this control with love for the child.  I call this style of parenting, "The Benevolent Dictator."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

my 2 cents worth...

It’s often been said that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  It bothers me that there is some truth to this saying.  But, if truth be told more fully, there’s a reason for that green grass.  The grass is greener on your neighbor’s side of the fence because that is where the septic tank is buried… and you don’t want any part of that!

Here’s the full reality.  The grass will be greenest where you choose to water it.  Please allow me to translate this statement.  For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up His life for her to make her holy and clean… He did this to present her… as a glorious church… holy and without fault.

This means that, as husbands, we are to use our strengths to meet her needs.  Men, we are to pour out who we are to build her up.  We are to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others, considering others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2.3-4).  In short, you are to treat her like she is the queen of your life.  That’s watering the grass in your own yard.  Men, you do this and no man will be able to compare with you.

For wives, yield to your husbands, as you do to the Lord… As the church yields to Christ, so you wives should yield to your husbands.  If the word yield or submit is abrasive to you, then fasten your seatbelt.  But, know this.  This is one of my wife’s favorite verses, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

The Greek word translated as “yield” in this verse is more fully defined below:

New Testament Greek Definition:
1) to arrange under, to subordinate
2) to subject, put in subjection
3) to subject one's self, obey
4) to submit to one's control
5) to yield to one's admonition or advice
6) to obey, be subject

It is a Greek military term meaning, "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader".  In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".

It is in the middle voice which indicates:  the subject performing an action upon himself (reflexive action) or for his own benefit.

It is in the imperative mood, which corresponds to the English imperative, and expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding.  Thus, Scripture’s phrase, "wives, yield to your husbands" (Ephesians 5.22) is not at all an "invitation," but an absolute command requiring full obedience on the part of all hearers.

Yes, I know that some of you have already chosen to be offended.  Well, dig down deep and grasp for some courage to finish reading.  It won’t hurt, and might even be helpful.

As I’ve already stated, this is one of my wife’s favorite verses.  Here’s why:  yielding, subjection, obeying, all means that while I love her in the same ways that Christ loved the Church, she gets to complete the picture.  She gets to honor me like the Church is to honor our Lord.  This does not mean that she worships me.  But, it does mean that through her love and devotion, she builds me up.  She also takes her strengths to meet my needs.  In short, you are to treat him like he is the king of your life.

That’s watering the grass in your own yard.  Ladies, you do this and no woman will be able to compare with you.  If they do manage to catch his eye, he will quickly realize that is where the septic tank is buried… and he won’t want any part of that!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

911 or Marriage Tune-up?

One of my favorite tools to recommend to couples, either married or engaged, is a marriage conference.  It is like a mini-vacation or a mini-honeymoon.  Or, it can also be a hospital or Emergency Room.  Or it can be an intervention.

We went to our 1st marriage conference when we were still newlyweds.  It was like a mini-honeymoon and strong emotions abounded.  We had no problems, no difficulties.  Everything was wonderful and we soaked up some amazing advice from couples who were decades ahead of us.  They learned it all the hard way and were giving it to us so we could learn it the easy way.  Certainly, we would be a shining example to inspire other couples over the years with the beauty of what marriage was intended to be.  And, we even prayed that this would be the case.

We went to our 2nd marriage conference when we were married about 15 years.  It was like a mini-intervention and strong emotions abounded.  We did have some problems, some difficulties.  Everything was not as wonderful as we wanted it to be, and we soaked up some amazing advice from couples who were decades ahead of us.  They learned it all the hard way and we were, too.  We were still wanting to be a shining example to inspire other couples over the years with the beauty of what marriage was intended to be.  But, now we were having to overcome our own immaturity, our own selfishness, our own pride.

God grabbed hold of me as I walked through the door, stood me in front of a mirror, and showed me parts of myself that I did not want to see.  In fact, I had been deliberately avoiding those ugly parts of my life for some time.  I was so immature, self-centered and bull-headed.  I repented and sought forgiveness from God.  Then, I sought forgiveness from my wife.  When we returned home, I also sought forgiveness from our children.

After God ‘took me to the woodshed’, the rest of the marriage conference was like a mini-honeymoon and strong emotions abounded.  We had learned to drag our problems into the light so we could change them together.  Life was wonderful because we had learned how to weather storms together.  We soaked up some amazing advice from couples who were decades ahead of us.  They learned it all the hard way and were teaching us how to do the same.  If we relied on God, the inventor of marriage, we could be a shining example to inspire other couples over the years with the beauty of what marriage was intended to be.  And, we continue to pray that this would be the case.

The 2 marriage conferences I recommend in particular are:

·        Love and Respect Conference:  http://loveandrespect.com/conference-preview/

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vote? or Opinion?

With this warning in mind, if you choose to be offended by the opinions I express, I am sorry that I just stepped on your toes, but I think the Lord was aiming for your heart.

Wow, where to begin!  The problem is that too many people are confused about what they have and what they do not have.  The reason is that most do not have what they think they have.  In other words, what they have is not what they think it is.

Whew, now that I’ve cleared that up so well, let me explain what I’m talking about by illustrating.  One particularly frazzled parent came to me with her child following leisurely behind her.  It was clear that the child had no intention of doing what Mom wanted, or at least, not how Mom wanted it done.  Translation:  the child is in charge.  This is too much responsibility for a preschooler.  (Let me be clear:  it is too much responsibility for any minor.)

Once Mom poured out her frustration and exasperation through her tears, I asked for permission to speak with her child.  Then, I addressed the child under the table and coaxed him to come out and talk with me.  I leaned over, eye to eye and said, “I need to ask you to forgive me, because we have confused you.  We have allowed you to believe that you have something called a vote.  What you have is called an opinion, but you do not have a vote.  Here’s what that means:  you get to listen to your teachers, and you get to obey your teachers.  The adults will make all of the decisions for you, so you won’t have to make any more decisions about what you want to do here.  You get to participate in the class activities, and you get to enjoy yourself.  How does that sound to you?”

The metamorphosis was dramatic.  This little boy gradually stood up straight and permitted a smile to spread across his whole face.  It was sort of like a flower turning and expanding to meet the sunrise.  Then, he said, “Really?!”  And, when I assured him that it was true, the boy began to jump around with joy-filled excitement and ask his Mom if he could go back to his classroom right now.
Parents must never surrender control to any child!  The children are not the parent.  The parent is the parent.  {Let me know if I get to be too confusing.}  No child should have a vote unless the parent(s) decide that the child will have a vote.  And, the parents can always out-vote the child(ren), but the child(ren) are not permitted the power to out-vote the parent(s). 

If this sounds dishonoring to the child(ren), then here is the balance.  As the children grow older, I say something like this:  “Your Mom and I have a decision to make concerning you, and we want your opinion.”  Then, when the youngster communicates his desires or preferences, I say again, “Alright, thanks for letting us know how you feel about it.  We will keep it in mind as we make our decision.”

Imagine a bridge with no side rails.  Would you still travel over that bridge at 70 mph nearest the side?  No, you would travel much slower and as close to the middle of the bridge as possible.  Clearly, the rails do restrict our travel, by preventing us from plummeting off of the bridge.  But, they do not inhibit us.  Contrariwise, they provide a safe boundary which permits is to thrive and excel!

If boundaries are absent from the child’s life, including parental authority, then the child is forced to adjust in unhealthy ways.  In essence, the child becomes responsible for his own well-being.  That's what being in charge means here!  But, when the child is confident that his parent(s) will make the necessary decisions to provide safe boundaries, then that child will have the freedom to thrive and excel!

The rest of the story is that, in simple things such as:  ice cream flavors, which movie to see, which game we play for family nights, etc., we let the children decide.  However, they never get to decide things like:  relational boundaries, physical boundaries, curfews, etc.  God gave them parents to make those decisions for them.  It is part of keeping them safe, even from themselves.  

Let me summarize all of this:  
  • Children do not have something called a vote.  What they have is called an opinion.  They have a voice, but no vote.  Here's the catch:  their voice doesn't count until they give their obedience.  No obedience = no voice.
  • Parents have a vote.  Their voice is their vote.  The parent is the ultimate authority in the home.  They are in charge = responsible for the family's well-being.  Think:  Benevolent Dictator.
Parents, do not forget that as the children grow older, say something like this:  “Your Mom and I have a decision to make concerning you, and we want your opinion.”  Then, when the youngster communicates his desires or preferences, say again, “Alright, thanks for letting us know how you feel about it.  We will keep it in mind as we make our decision.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Do you need a do-over?

Sometimes I need a do-over.  Life is neither neat, nor fair, and sometimes it simply gets heavier than I can carry.  I need to wipe the slate clean, start over, reset… I need a do-over.

The Bible tells us, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59.1-2).

Being a guy, my first reaction is, “Hey, I can fix this!  If it’s bad that has caused this problem, then I’ll do good to fix it.”

But, the Bible also tells us, “We are all infected and impure with sin.  When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.  Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64.6).  And, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9.22).

Guess what.  I cannot fix this.  My sins have separated me from God, and I am helpless to change that.  So, I do my “sin list”.  It is the thing I hate to do more than anything else, but it must be done.  I start by sitting down with a pad of paper and a pen – no phones, no people, no distractions, no interruptions.  Then, I begin, “Father, I have sinned against you.  What have I allowed to come between us?  What have I put in Your place in my life?  What have I pursued instead of You?”

Varied things, specific things will flood my mind – faster than I’m able to put on paper.  But, I do put them on paper.  I record my sins on paper as God lists them in my mind as a Judge would list charges against the accused... and I know that I am guilty.  Each charge hits me like a tidal wave, crushing me with a shuddering crash.

Then, “Ok, Lord, what else?”  And, the process begins again...  and, again… and again… as many times as it takes until there is nothing left undone.  When my list, my sin list, is complete, I begin to confess it – one item at a time – to God.  Agreeing with Him about the putrid nature of my own sin, and begging Him to please forgive me, I pour my soul out before Him.  I collapse at His feet like a small child who knows that he has disappointed Dad and broken His heart.

And then, I am ashamed

…of all that I allowed to come between my Lord and I…

…of all that I wrongly put into His rightful place in my life…

…of all that I wholeheartedly chased after…

…of all that I did to neglect and reject the God who loves me so much that
He would rather die than live without me…

I place my list of confessed sins in the BBQ pit and pray, “Lord, I am ashamed of all that this list represents.  I want to hide it from You, but I know that You desire every bit of me – including the bad and the ugly.  So, here it is.  I present this most unworthy gift as an act of obedience to You.”

And then, I light the 4 corners of the paper.  In my mind’s eye, what I observe next is that God scoops up that list and crumbles it up in flames… and it is gone.  It will never return.  It’s vanished.

It’s gone and I’m forgiven (1 John 1.9).  And, it feels as if I dropped a telephone pole from across my shoulders to the ground.  And then, I drop, too.  I am little more than a puddle of jelly.  I’ve got nothing left.  I am spent.

And then God…                     (Matthew 11.28)

… scoops me up in His gentle hands and wraps His strong arms around me…

… loves me up close and whispers to me:
“Thank you”…
“Of course I forgive you”…
“I’ve missed you, too”…
“I wondered how long you would carry that load”
“Welcome home”

I need to leave nothing undone.  So now, I have a 2nd list.  It's a list of people I’ve sinned against.  I need to confess my sins and seek their forgiveness, too.

Do you need a do-over?

Sometimes I need a do-over.  Life is neither neat, nor fair, and sometimes it simply gets heavier than I can carry.  I need to wipe the slate clean, start over, reset… I need a do-over.

I guess it’s time to repent and seek forgiveness again.