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Give Thanks!

The famous scholar, Matthew Henry, wrote these words in his journal after being robbed of his wallet, “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”  Have you ever wondered how some people can be so thankful regardless of their situation?  I know I have!

To be quite honest, I’ve always been a “the glass is half empty” kind of guy.  I don’t like this bent of mine, but because of this hard wiring I notice those thankful types of people.  I’ll never forget one man I met while going through Navy SEAL training.  We were a few days into the miserable rigors of Hellweek (a grueling test over 5 ½ days where only 4 cumulative hours of sleep are given) and he always had a smile on his face and was thankful every minute during this miserable week.  I never asked him why he was so thankful, but his joyful attitude was noticed by all and very contagious.

The older I grow, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving.  As a Christian, I believe this holiday celebrates a virtue followers of Christ are to embody—thankfulness! In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  How do these verses become reality in a person’s life?  I think perspective is everything as it relates to thankfulness.

God desires you to be joyful and to give thanks!  In thinking about this it seems that thankfulness is the antidote to discouragement and ultimately produces joy in a person’s life.  There’s an old hymn titled Count Your Blessings.  The refrain instructs the hearer to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God hath done!”  There is great power in simply naming things one is thankful for because it forces the individual to back up and take the larger picture into perspective.

Whenever a wave of discouragement comes in my family, we play the “Thankful Game” with each other.  What is this game?  I’m glad you asked.  We simply work our way through the alphabet giving thanks for something that starts with each letter. For example, I would say, “A – I am thankful for my wife Anna.  B – I am thankful for the Bible.  C – I am thankful for chocolate covered doughnuts at Petersons, etc, etc.”  I know it sounds silly, but it never ceases to amaze me how much better we feel after intentionally giving thanks for the many ways in which God has blessed us.

God has blessed us each tremendously whether we acknowledge it or not.  My prayer is that we each would cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts.  I’m convinced that as we express our thankfulness our joy will increase.  Ultimately God is pleased with our spirit of thankfulness and others are blessed.  Albert Barnes, a theologian from the 1800’s, once said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”  Regardless of your present situation, what are your thankful for today?

Why I’m optimistic for the future of Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel, a ministry and movement I’ve had the privilege of both growing up in and serving with for more than 20 years, is now facing the most significant transitional changes that it has in all the time I’ve been associated with it. With the passing of Pastor Chuck Smith a week ago, the changes will [now] be far more apparent, but they have actually been going on for the better part of the last two years.

Just over a year ago, the internal leadership structure of the Calvary Chapel changed with the creation of the Calvary Chapel Association, and as of yesterday, Pastor Brian Brodersen was chosen to be Pastor Chuck’s successor as the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. While it remains to be seen what this change at Costa Mesa will mean for the larger Association, I find myself very optimistic about the future of Calvary Chapel. Why?

First, Pastor Brian is (in my humble opinion) the right man, at the right time. He has faithfully served as an associate/assistant to Pastor Chuck for the last thirteen years. In addition to his faithfulness to Pastor Chuck and CCCM, Brian has a genuine passion for foreign missions and a clear commitment to the younger generation of leaders coming up in CC. In my experience—primarily at conferences domestically and abroad, and on occasion at Costa Mesa—Brian has proven to be one of the most approachable senior leaders I’ve encountered in Calvary. He takes the time to be available to those seeking counsel and prayer, and has thus proven himself a pastor, not only to the members of CCCM, but [also] to the missionaries and pastors of the greater Calvary Movement.

The second reason that I am optimistic grows out of an observation I had from outside of Calvary this week.

This week Exponential held its first West Coast Conference in Orange County. I had the privilege of meeting with some of the Exponential and Leadership Network leaders to discuss church planting and the Calvary Church Planting Network prior to the conference; and then I’ve tuned in (online) to several of the sessions throughout the week.

The theme for Exponential West has been DiscipleShift, and while the sessions from pastors such as Miles McPherson, Larry Osborne, Rick Warren, Robert Coleman, and many others have, been substantive, I have found it interesting that much of what is being presented as the new discipleship paradigm in American Christianity, has been standard Calvary Chapel practice for 40+ years. No, it has never been branded, packaged and promoted by Calvary, but for more than 40 years, it has been our practice. Thus, Calvary Chapel is, in a number of ways, still ahead of the curve and continuing to reshape American Protestantism. And, if Calvary can maintain the consistency of simply teaching the Word of God simply, loving God, loving others and making disciples, it will do so for many years to come.

Border_crossing_sign_Connell

Misericordia Por Favor

Those illegal aliens are driving me…

How did you answer that question?  I have a rant that’s been brewing in me for a while.  I really don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I have some things that I feel need to be said from a biblical perspective.  I also think this post may get me into some hot water, but that’s okay.  I am a patriot of this country, but my allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.

I feel that racism is growing in my part of the United States towards Hispanics.  From my perspective it seems that the majority of Hispanics are viewed as being illegal regardless of their actual status in the United States.  I’m not sure that the things I hear and the attitudes felt towards Hispanics is glorifying to Christ.

I understand that this is a complex situation.  Don’t let your mind run wild.  I am not speaking of those trying to enter our country to do us harm.  Citizen or not, we must defend and protect the innocent from evildoers.  Period.  The irony is the terrorists who have done us harm in recent years have all been here legally, but I digress.

Yes, I agree that laws should be obeyed and honored.  We see this throughout the Bible.  We have a difficult political and financial situation on our hands.  I have no intention on trying to resolve these problems in this blog.  I resist bringing up the history of how we obtained California or how we treated the Native Americans securing our land.  I don’t have the answers, but I do believe there are two issues here: 1) How should this situation be handled politically with laws?  2) How we as individuals should treat other human beings.  This, in large part, is the part that has been bugging me.

How should a Christian respond to this difficult situation?  I like what our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I believe this statement applies to all humans regardless of their citizenship.  Quite frankly, the illegal immigrants that I have met are extremely hard working and are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I don’t blame them and I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.  It pains me to hear Christians speaking poorly towards these people just trying to survive.

One passage that has planted itself in my heart is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD you God.”  Interesting passage as it relates to this subject.

One complaint I hear often relates to immigrants and the medical system.  First, I would encourage you to go to a community health clinic.  View the conditions and care they are receiving.  Hardly world class treatment and certainly not better than any American citizen would receive.  I like traveling.  I like experiencing other cultures.  I’ve never been really hurt in another country, but I certainly hope that I would receive the care I needed because I am a human and not based on my citizenship.  I hope that we as a people would care for other people in need to the best of our ability, yet sadly, in our nation people seem to care more about animals than people.

My prayer is that we who follow Christ would be a merciful people.  For it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a ton of mercy from God.  May we come to see people as God sees them (2 Cor. 5:16-21).

spheres

Sphere’s of Gospel Sovereignty

Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch Prime Minister of the 19th Century, developed a concept known as Sphere’s of Sovereignty. The idea is that different principalities hold different authorities in different areas in different ways. Last week in our Sunday gathering we were considering the Great Commission as presented by Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18-20). Jesus says to his disciples in this passage, “ALL authority is given to me.” This would have seemed a radical statement to make to a group of marginalised peasants out in the sticks of the Roman Empire. But it’s true.

We live in a society that has authorities in different spheres. People go to work under their employer’s authority. They live in a nation under government authority. They live life in familial structures, in contexts of social authority. We are all dominated by authority structures and these are not a bad thing. Authority is God-given, but some authorities over-step their mandate. There is an authority that reigns supreme. All these domains of authority exist within the realm of Christ’s authority. It all belongs to Jesus. Kuyper, in speaking about spheres of authority says this, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!'”

Gospel Spheres

The fact of the matter is Jesus trumps all authority claims. The work place assumes authority that says, “you can’t mention Christ here.” Families assume authority that say, “Christ doesn’t have dominion over the skeletal closets, and familial practices.” Governments assume authority which says, “There is no place for your God here.” Society assumes authority that says, “Don’t talk about faith, that’s a private matter.” Religiously assumed authority says, “Every faith is equally valid, your faith is no more valid than mine.” But there is an over-riding all-legitimate authority. Jesus says, “All authority is given to me… Go…”

The Great Commission is about responding to a higher sphere of authority. Paul was subdued by political authority being placed in chains, but he said the gospel is not chained (2 Timothy 2:9).

GOSPEL Fears

There are other spheres of authority though. These are the spheres of our idols and fears. Sometimes, it is the unnamed things that wield the true weight of authority in our lives. The authority of approval says, “If you tell me about Jesus, I will no longer accept you.” The authority of comfort says, “To make disciples of Christ is work, and you will no longer be able to maintain your comforts.” The authority of control says, “If I make it clear that I’m a Christ-follower, I will no longer be able to control people.” The authority of superiority says, “This person doesn’t deserve to hear the gospel. I do not want to see them as my equal.” What fear or idol is assuming the authority in our lives and the lives of our church families? These are forces to be reckoned with. But here’s the answer. Jesus has all authority over every sphere. He is Lord of all.

The Great Commission is responding to Jesus’ All-authority, over all peoples, to obey all Jesus’ commands, recognising his empowering presence at all times and in all places.

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Gospel Conflict

Conflict and the Gospel go together. You might think this is an odd pairing, but it’s an inescapable truth.  I recently read an article by Winston Smith entitiled, “Getting the Big Picture of Relationships.”* This gospel conflict was highlighted by this article. Pastorally, I found this concept extremely helpful.

Conflict began in Genesis 3 when humanity sins against the Creator. There is a promise of an ultimate conflict in Genesis 3:15, where Jesus would go to battle against the devil and though he would be bruised, the devil would be defeated. Winston points out that conflict exists because of sin, which we all know. He also points out that the gospel enters into conflict for reconciliation. Sin makes conflict unavoidable. We cannot get away from it being in a broken world. Conflict exists between us and God, between one another, and within each one of us.

It is important then to view God’s activity in conflict. Jesus came and endured hostility from sinners (Hebrews 12:3), but also with the Father (Isaiah 53:10), in order to bring about our redemption. As Jesus is the ultimate display of love, we see that love will enter into conflict. Some love conflict, and so they look for opportunity to enter conflict wrongly. Some love the absence of conflict and avoid it at all costs. The gospel calls us to love God and thus be willing to fight against sin for God’s glory, and to love our neighbour, bringing us into godly conflict against sin with others for their good (Matthew 22:36-40).

Such conflict as Winston puts it “is a God ordained opportunity to participate in the triumph of God over sin. Biblically speaking, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of sin. Until sin is completely destroyed, there will be conflict, not as a curse on man, but as a curse on Satan. It is a promise of redemption and a sign of God’s grace that Adam and his descendants are to be instrumental in the destruction of evil.”

Here in the U.K., the culture is an anti-conflict culture, which means anything goes. But conflict motivated by love and a desire for God’s glory and people’s joy is redemptively waging war on sin.

So let us love our Lord, and love our congregations.

*The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 22, Number 3, Spring 2004 (Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, 2004).

leadership

The Necessity of Pastoral Leadership

The role of pastor-teacher, especially that of lead pastor-teacher, is one in which a number of spiritual gifts are in operation.

The gift of the word of wisdom is essential, that the pastor might give a word in season in difficult situations (Isaiah 50:4). Prophecy is essential, that the pastor might speak edification and exhortation and comfort to men (1 Corinthians 14:3). Evangelism is helpful, especially for the church planter. Teaching is an obvious need, as the pastor is commanded to feed Christ’s sheep with the whole counsel of God (John 21:17; Acts 20:27). And so on…

But of all the spiritual gifts that a pastor may have, leading is right near the top of the list. The pastor who has strong abilities to tend and teach God’s people will do fine, but without the gift of leadership the church may get stuck in its numerical growth … perhaps at the 75 number that represents the size of the average American congregation; or perhaps at the 200 number that is typical of the size at which many churches remain fixed. [I’ll not be entering a discussion about the ideal size of a church. The ideal size of a specific church is determined by several factors. That discussion is too broad for the purposes of this blog.]

In my experience working with churches and pastors, I have observed that churches that have been able to create a culture of equipping and releasing legitimate ministry and responsibility have been able to exceed these numbers. The churches that remain small or stuck have not been able to create such a culture.

Sometimes churches are stuck because of the desire of the people. Some are not willing to be part of a church that is too large, as they feel uncomfortable. So if it grows past a certain point, they leave for smaller pastures. At other times churches are stuck because of the pastor. He may be uncomfortable pastoring where he does not know everyone personally. Or perhaps he is so engaged on doing the ministry that he neglects the training of others do to significant ministry. I’ve seen pastors that do it all—they clean, they mow, they teach, they sing, they counsel, they bookkeep, etc. Such pastors have something in common; their churches are always small.

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father in law Jethro gave Moses sound advice after observing him doing ministry all by himself. Jethro counseled Moses to find able men with strong character, and to delegate the responsibility of the ministry to them according to their abilities. This thrust Moses into another kind of leadership which not only saved his life but also made life much better for the entire congregation.

In the book of Acts, important ministry was thrust upon the apostles when the Greek speaking widows were being slighted in the daily distribution of food. Wisely, the apostles did not yield to the temptation of doing this ministry themselves. Instead, they oversaw a Spirit-led process of identifying and releasing seven men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom that would be responsible for the matter. The apostles were exercising leadership by such an action, and were able to be faithful to their God-given priorities of the ministry of the Word of God and prayer. The result was that the church grew by leaps and bounds.

I’m going to include an excerpt from the CCPN church planting manual that speaks very well to the issue of the priority of pastoral leadership. It is Jesus’ desire that His pastors do ministry His way. Hopefully this will encourage some to make adjustments that may prove helpful in the growing of His church.

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Leading: able to cast vision, mobilize, inspire and build systems. It seems axiomatic that lead pastors be able to lead (1 Cor.12:28). Leaders must know where God is leading them (vision) and be able to persuade others to follow them. C. Peter Wagner describes leadership as, “The spiritual ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God’s purposes for the future and to communicate these goals in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work to accomplish those goals for the glory of God.”

Are you able to communicate and strategize effectively? Although pastoral care is important it may not be  the primary role of the pastor of the church, at least not if the church is going to grow numerically. In that case, the more important roles include casting vision, developing leaders, teaching, prayer and making disciples.

Chuck Swindoll observes that the key is inspiring influence, “Those who do the best job of management – those most successful as leaders – use their influence to inspire others to follow, to work harder, to sacrifice, if necessary.” When godliness and great vision are combined in the same person, that individual exerts great influence over others.

The average pastor can care for only about 75 people (the average size of a U.S. church). So, for the church to grow beyond that level requires the pastor to learn to effectively lead by establishing administration, organization, systems, delegating & intentionally mentoring others to lead (as in Exodus 18 and Acts 6).

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable leader?

Teaching: effectively communicate the truth of the text, in context with cultural relevance, and be able to refute false doctrine since it threatens people’s relationship with God. Preliminarily, recognize that this is the threshold qualification for a pastor-elder (1 Tim.3). Our movement emphasizes expositional Bible teaching, verse by verse through books of the Bible (Is. 28:10). Consider the example of Ezra, he prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord (studied), and to do it (applied the Word in his own life), and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (note: he did not try to teach until after he studied and sought to live it; Ezra 7:10).

Also, we need to distinguish teaching from a dynamic personality or oratory skills. In other words, you may be able to draw a crowd but might not be teaching the Word of God. James provides a sober warning that those who assume the role of teacher will be headed to a stricter standard (higher judgment) regarding the soundness of the doctrine they expound (Ja. 3:1). Do you have the gift to teach and are you diligent to stir-up that gift? In other words, do you apply diligent effort to grow as a Bible teacher? Do you devote yourself to the study of the Word and seek to grow as a communicator of the truth? Have you studied systematic theology? Do you spend “quantity time” observing and interpreting the text before trying to apply the text to people’s lives? Are people growing in their understanding of God as a result of your teaching? Does anyone want to hear what you have to say? While numbers are not the litmus test of teaching success if you are unable to attract people you may not have the gift.

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable teacher?

Shepherding: pastors will give an account to God for how they cared for the spiritual well-being of those they were entrusted to care for (Heb.13:17). You need to love people and be diligent to care for the flock – don’t view the people as your audience but love them like Jesus who was moved with compassion (Mk.6:34). Care for people because Jesus loves them & gave His life for them (Ac. 20:28). Protect them from wolves who attempt to draw them from Christ to themselves, & remember the Sheep belong to Jesus (Ac. 20:29). Learn to listen well or else you won’t discover how people are doing. I confess, that I need to remember to listen better, to be patient with people, and to avoid jumping to conclusions. When I listen better I’m a more effective shepherd.

God will set shepherds over His people who will care for them in place of worthless self- focused shepherds who desert the sheep (Jer. 23:4, Zech.11:15-17, Jn.10:12-13). Being a shepherd requires you to see people as individuals with needs instead of a multitude (Mk. 6). A shepherd is on mission to seek and save that which is lost (Lu.19:10).

A pastor’s perspective (from pastor Bruce Zachary): in my “early years” as a church planter I confused being a shepherd, in other words loving people, with wanting to care for every perceived need. It tended to create unhealthy dependency upon me, rather than God, and I tended to like being needed. Nevertheless, it was unhealthy for the church and for me on various levels. Furthermore, this dynamic is prevalent in small churches under 150 adults. Therefore, I suggest that you focus on leading and teaching as priorities and then being a shepherd.

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Miles Wide

Last week I traveled to the East Coast as a representative of the Calvary Church Planting Network at a Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference in Florida.  In so doing I was honestly amazed by the scope of the Calvary Chapel family of churches.  Walking onto the campus at Calvary Merritt Island was — quite honestly — like walking into a room full of strangers.  Although southern hospitality was truly on display, I [personally] knew only about 6 people at the conference, and 3 of them were representing ministries from my church.  This was a totally foreign experience for me, as every conference I attend on the West Coast is like a family reunion.  In fact, I’d say that the primary reason I attend such conferences is to interact and fellowship with brothers I do not get a chance to see often.  Those are wonderfully refreshing times.  The South East Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference was a refreshing time too, but in a different way.

I was genuinely refreshed by the breadth of Calvary Chapel.  There are hundreds and hundreds of Calvary churches throughout the nation (and the world), many, if not most of them are very small community fellowships.  Their pastors are down-to-earth normal guys who stepped into the ministry as unlikely candidates for pastoral work.  Their backgrounds typically have more to do with manual labor than ministry training, but by God’s grace and the work of the His Spirit, these men have become shepherds of God-seekers who are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior.

I was also struck by the importance of reaching out to those who may not know anyone or are significantly disconnected from others, with like DNA, in ministry.  In San Diego County (where I serve as a pastor) there are upwards of 50 Calvary Chapel’s.  Fellowship with others in the work is not just a phone-call away, but a 5 or 10 minute drive away too.

While there I met Pastor Fred, from Calvary Chapel Okeechobee.  He and his wife started the church and when looking for a house in Okeechobee they happened upon an old church with a parsonage that was right in their price range.  So, they bought a home and with it a meeting place for the church that [literally] is their home.  They serve in a community with more cows than people, or so they said.  I’m sure it’s true too.  It’s there on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee — a lake you cannot swim in cause the gators would get you.  I had no idea there was such a place as Okeechobee, or a Calvary there, but there is; and I’m sure there are hundreds of other Okeechobee’s and Pastor Fred’s in Calvary.  They’ll probably never speak at a conference, and probably wouldn’t want to if they were asked asked, but they are faithfully serving and laying down their lives for Christ’s Bride.

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.

– Hebrews 6:10

Food for Thought

I was flipping through an old book on my bookshelf the other day and stumbled upon this section dealing with maintaining a middle-ground position on divisive theological points.  Personally I appreciate such a humble orthodoxy.

Some people object because they feel that I gloss over certain passages of Scripture, and they’re correct. But glossing over controversial issues is often deliberate because there are usually two sides. And I have found that it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division.

 

A classic example is the problem in our understanding of the Scriptures that refer to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Bible actually teaches both, but in our human understanding they’re mutually exclusive. People who become divisive on this issue claim that we can’t believe both, because if you carry the sovereignty of God to an extreme, it eliminates the responsibility of man. Likewise, if you carry the responsibilities of man to the extreme, it eliminates the sovereignty of God. This mistake is made when a person takes the doctrine and carries it out to its logical conclusion. Using human logic and carrying divine sovereignty out to its logical conclusion leaves man with no choices.

 

So, how are we to deal with rightly dividing the Word on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man? We need to believe both of them through faith, because I can’t keep them in balance by my understanding. I don’t understand how they come together. But I do believe them both. I believe that God is sovereign, and I also believe that I’m responsible and that God holds me responsible for the choices that I make. I simply trust God that both assertions of Scripture are true.

 

 

Don’t get polarized. Don’t let the people get polarized. The minute you do, you’ve lost half your congregation because people are split pretty evenly on this issue. So if you take a polarized position you’ll lose half of your congregation. Do you really want to lose 50% of your congregation?

 

– Chuck Smith

looking forward

Looking Forward…

The New Year.

New years are a gift from God. They allow us to separate one section of life from another.

In that separation, we evaluate what has been, and we anticipate what may be. We also put behind us that which we cannot change, while remembering acts of God’s faithfulness that made the year what it was. There is significant spiritual and emotional benefit that comes from such reflection. As we have walked with the Lord in faith, we will have grown in appreciation of the ways of God, and in love with His unchanging character.

New years also give us a very welcome and predictable new start. I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but I always am glad for the hope and anticipation that each new year brings. Personal change can and will occur. Opportunities to significantly serve the Lord do and will arise. Our ultimate salvation will be nearer for us than when we first believed.

New years also remind me that life, in essence, is daily. I often think of the Lord Jesus, sent by His Father on a mission which lasted 33 years. The overall plan was clear to Him … the Father had prepared a body for Him, a body of complete sacrifice. He would live sinlessly, be the Anointed One, would suffer and die; and then rise out of death into life. He would ascend back to His Father in heaven. All that was clear. The day to day plan was communicated to Him in times of communion with the Father, according to Isaiah 50:4. For Jesus, life was daily. Life is also daily for us … Matthew 6:34.

I could not have predicted most of the events of 2012 on December 31, 2011. Neither will be able to predict most of the events of 2013. But that is no worry, the Lord knows the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Jesus has called us to a life of trust, a life of faith. He has called us to believe what we believe.

I have no New Year’s resolution, but there are two things I would love to see happen in my life in 2013. I want to pray more than in 2012.

I also want to drink more water.

Blessed New Year to each of you. May God bless us all, every one.

A Sobering Look Inward as a Parent

The tragedy from last Friday in Newtown is still bouncing around my mind. When I saw images of the children I literally lost my breath. It’s unexplainable and so sobering. We have seen tragedies like this at college and high school campuses but never something like this at an elementary campus with children so young. It provoked emotion in our nation that  hasn’t been seen in awhile. My heart and prayers go out to this community because it will be a long recovery.

Events like these always spark a debate nationally over things like gun control and mental health. I am not going to wade into that. What I would like to discuss is the personal level of this event.

On Friday I was spending the day with my wife down in Santa Barbara while my children were in school. No sooner had I arrived downtown that my phone started blowing up with texts, tweets, and emails about this event. It was hard to get an understanding because we weren’t near a TV but we got the kist of what was going on. You could almost feel the mood switch on State Street from jovial rushed holiday spirit to one of sobering reality.

When I got home they were reporting on the shooter and his family. They described his troubled youth, withdrawal from school, and his very quiet but brilliant nature. They were associating him with previous shooters at places like Columbine. As a person who has been in ministry close to twenty years and worked with youth for over half of that I recognized this type of kid immediately. What the news described as mental illness resides in millions of teens today. Sadly many young adults feel the way this young man feel but almost all of them don’t act on it. Many harbor thoughts of doing harm to people who have hurt them but never follow through.

I am of the belief that this could’ve been prevented. I am not talking about counseling or even intervention. The seeds of this behavior are planted early. Let me explain. You often see the beginnings of this type of behavior early on. Left on it’s own it only manifests itself. There are some things that can trigger it later in life, like in this situation the divorce of parents, but often you see the acting out of the child from the early stages.

This results a lot from the behavior of the parents. What I am about to say is probably controversial and even offensive but needs to be said. There is a lot of selfishness in parenting today that produces a lot of acting out by children. Let me give you an example. Tuesday night I was at my son’s basketball game. There are several players on the team that are behavioral challenges. The coach spends as much time chasing after these boys as he does coaching the team. On Tuesday the team was on the floor playing and these three boys were on the bench. They decided they were bored so they left and wandered into the lobby. The coach had to chase after them. The funny thing that all three parents were sitting right by the entrance to the lobby and didn’t stop them. Shocked? It’s really becoming the norm in youth sports.

There was a mother who was totally disinterested and by her body language didn’t want to be there. There was the mother who had her nose in her phone and wasn’t aware of anything going on. Finally there was the mother who had a glaze over her eyes and had checked out. There wasn’t one father present.

I think these three are perfect examples of why children are turning out the way they do. Whether it be disinterest, distraction, or disengagement all point to a parent that is more interested in themselves than anything else. I am not naive, parenting is the hardest work anyone will ever do. It totally wipes you out and never stops requiring more. I think that is what catches many of these parents off guard. For some reason they think they can go on living like they did before they had children. You Can’t.

Parenting takes everything you have and then some. If you don’t rely on the grace and power of God you aren’t going to make it. That said there are some things need to be done by parents that only parents can do. I want to suggest three:

  1. Discipline: What I mean by discipline is not punishment but consistency. I heard a great definition of discipline the other day; “Discipline is the consistency of actions and values over a long period of time.” Children need that kind of discipline. They need constant reinforcement of action and values to produce consistency. That means that they go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the right time every morning. They complete their school work and show up to commitments on time. Actions like these produce discipline that produces improvement.
  2. Behavior Modeling: Every child that I see who could fall into the dangerous category has behavioral issues. By this I mean that they tend to be shy and reserved. This is normal in most children but can be improved. They do this by watching their parents talk with adults and when they interact with adults they are made to respond. If an adult greets your child make them respond in a polite and respectful way. Shyness can be an excuse that many deviant behaviors are rationalized.
  3. Expectations: I am blown away at the lack of standards children have today. Hold your children to expectations. This may mean behavior, academics, sports, relationships. Parents are becoming more and more weary of confrontation with their children and so let them do whatever they want. When my children are playing a sport we have certain expectations of how they should play. It has nothing to do with stats but with effort. We have the same expectations with how they deal with their peers and adults. If you fall before these expectations we are going to tell them. Children are always testing to see what they can get away with. As parents we have to maintain a level of expectations with our children. They may resist but every rebellious soul resists what is right. We have to be that standard bearer in our children’s lives.