PLAYGROUND FAITH In a Toys R’nt Us World

PLAYGROUND FAITH  In a Toys R’nt Us World

Our church took a step of faith this month, spending about $10,000 on a new playground that should serve us for another twenty years. But the faith had nothing to do with raising money. Being a frugal bunch, we had been setting aside funds for capital improvements for years. No, the faith had to do with spending it on play-equipment in the first place. The way things are going in America, playgrounds could become a thing of the past, relics of the baby-boom gone bust.

Consider the trends: Seventy-year-old icon of childhood, Toys R Us, just closed all 800 stores, blaming the Amazon insurgency along with Wal-Mart and Target for its market decline. They were also over-leveraged, but the root of the problem is declining demand. “Most of our end-customers are newborns and children,” they said in a statement, “and, as a result, our revenue are dependent on the birthrates in countries where we operate. In recent years, many countries’ birthrates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase.”[1]

Bottom-line, men and women aren’t getting married as often or as young as they used to. When they do they aren’t having as many babies, if they have any at all. Breakpoint’s John Stonestreet reports that the U.S. fertility rate is near 1.77 children per woman, or below the replacement rate necessary to sustain our population at current levels.[2] Children are expensive to have and costly to raise, we reason, and that’s true. But the more we treasure our treasure the less we value life.

The roots of this lie in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the advent of “the pill,” when we divorced sex from marriage and devalued children in the process. But it has greater ramifications than the closing of a toy store chain. The supply of young workers that keep an economy growing and social programs funded declines as the population grays and demand for social services increases. Financial crises loom as this population mega-shift occurs.

But there’s more to it than that. Having children pleases God and drives spiritual growth.

From the Genesis mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” to Jesus’s command to “let the little children come to me,” the Bible is a pro-children book. “Children are a reward from God … a crown to the aged,” wrote Solomon.[3] Ask any grandparent and you will hear “Amen!”

Raising children from diapers to diplomas is the most demanding thing anyone can do, and the most spiritually rewarding. Kids expose our selfishness and call out service: will I buy that new boat or put money aside for braces? Volunteer to coach soccer or stay in bed on Saturday mornings? Children also challenge our moral inconsistencies: “Daddy, should you really be driving that fast … on the way to church?” Most uncomfortably, children reveal our character flaws just by sharing our DNA. It’s humbling to realize that those little ones who “look just like Daddy!” also share his penchant for show-boating, self-pity, arrogance, and mendacity.

Finally—and this is only a partial list—children teach us total dependence on God. Ask any parent who has ever said, “My child will never (fill-in-the-blank),” and they will tell you that there is only one God and we aren’t him. We have no ability whatsoever to control outcomes in the lives of our little ones. God created them, gave them free will, and allows them to use it. Sooner or later—and the sooner the better—we release them to him and pray, trusting when they fall that he will raise them up, and rejoicing when they succeed.

So, building playgrounds is an act of faith. But having babies is even greater. May God bless us all with more of both.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/15/toys-r-uss-baby-problem-is-everybodys-baby-problem/

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/breakpoint-toys-r-us-to-close-down/

[3] Psalm 127:3 & Proverbs 17:6

KEEPING A CHILDLIKE SPIRIT

Like children the world over they chased each other around the building after the adults had finished their serious church stuff, squealing with delight. “Easy, now,” I said, trying not to raise my voice or come across too strong. “You guys slow it down a bit, use your inside voices.” I flashed back to the tiled floors and wooden pews of my childhood church, remembering the lightness of spirit, the careless joy of pursuit and escape in a building that felt like home. (The tile was great for sliding under those pews)! That’s what church should feel like for children and I didn’t want to spoil it by being a grumpy old man.

Where does that lightness go? Is it inevitable that our spirits will sag with our waistlines? Must we grow heavy with age?

No. Just as exercise and a good diet can help us stay fit, the spiritual discipline of confession keeps our spirits free of excess baggage. But also like dieting and exercise, confession has gotten a bad rap, an undeserved reputation as something only masochists enjoy, and mercy like something we must leverage from God.

Neither is true. “Confession is not primarily something God has us do because he needs it. God is not clutching tightly to his mercy, as if we have to pry it from his fingers like a child’s last cookie. We need to confess in order to heal and be changed.”[1]

What are the keys to this kind of healing? How to maintain that lightness of spirit? David gave us two clues in the fifty-first Psalm. First, he takes ownership of his sin, and second, he remembers that God is the one we most offend.[2]

I have sinned…”

Most commentators associate this confession with his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband.[3] David doesn’t rationalize. He doesn’t justify himself. He doesn’t deny it or cover it up. He doesn’t say, “Joab misunderstood my orders!” Or “Bathsheba’s marriage was already over anyway. I mean, look, Uriah wouldn’t even go see her when he was in town! That proves the marriage was over!”  David owns it.  “I have done it. I’m responsible.”

The first step to being free from the soul sinking power of sin is taking responsibility for it, refusing to justify or rationalize it away. The first step is to say, “I am the man. I have sinned.”

“…against the LORD.”

The second thing David does is recognize the person whom he has most deeply offended. “I have sinned against the LORD.”

Hey, wait a minute, didn’t David sin against a whole bunch of people? Bathsheba, Uriah, his family, etc.? How is it that you are leaving them out of this confession?

Yes, he did. Yet the one who has endured the greatest insult is the giver of all good things.  When we sin, we sin against God. We sin in our bodies against the architect of anatomy. We sin in our minds against the builder of brains. We sin in our speech against the maker of mouths, the Logos, the Word of Truth. We sin in our ethics against the Spirit of righteousness. We sin in our souls against the giver of life. We sin not only against other human beings, but against what it means to be fully human – a being formed to reflect God himself. We are at odds not only with other humans, but with the meaning of humanness.

That is why if we really want to keep a childlike spirit we need to confess to the Maker of children. Then and only then can we be synchronized with the source of freedom, peace, and joy.

What is life like for us when we do that? Psalm 32, also one of David’s, explains it. The joylessness is gone, replaced by a rich appreciation of all that life is and all it has to offer. The lightness is back with gladness and expectation of more joy in the presence of God. The songs once sung in heartless ritual now resonate down in the soul. The prayers that once felt like they bounced off a brass sky now ring down the halls of heaven like the shouts of a child playing in a giant cathedral that feels like home.

[1] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, P. 129

[2] See Psalm 51:3-4.

[3] See 2 Samuel 11.

THE CAT’S IN THE CRADLE

Three little towheaded girls tossed me back two decades last Sunday. I was waiting my turn at Dairy Queen while their mom patiently absorbed and sorted through their excited chatter to find just the right treats. The other graying men standing near me were all smiles, utterly charmed by these beautiful innocents who couldn’t have been more than four or five years old.

My three daughters, all grown-up now and making lives of their own, came rushing back to me just as charming and sweet–full of happiness and curiosity as little girls. My heart gave a lurch as I yearned for just one more of those long gone days.

But life and time doesn’t work like that, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to encourage you younger dads and moms to enjoy those fleeting moments with your kids. I know you need the encouragement because I know the pressures you face and how easily they distract you.

Children require nurturing in every way. Every day is one of learning, testing, trying, and needing, so very much needing your attention. “But there were planes to catch and bills to pay, he learned to walk while I was away,” to borrow from Harry Chapin’s poignant hit, “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” It is all too easy to let the pressures of providing, the stress of disciplining, and the other demands of life rob you of the joy of the moment, the excitement of the ice cream shop, the thrill of the zoo, and the silliness suffused in the life of a child.

Don’t miss those minutes, moms and dads. Don’t let your preoccupation with your boss, your business, your spouse, or yourself distract you from the tangible joys that are already yours in the lives of your children. Give thanks for every minute that they are home, for the time will come, and all too soon, when childhood waves goodbye.

As the mom and her girls turned away from the counter, treats in hand, our eyes met and I smiled, “I had three just like that. They are beautiful.” She just beamed, God bless her. And God bless you too, moms and dads, as you nurture your kids. Thanks for sharing them with us.

WELCOME TO THE MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY

Andrée Seu Peterson, commenting in the April 30 edition of World Magazine on the Strange Sympathies of voters who supported Donald Trump over Ted Cruz because Cruz was “pompous,” wrote, “If Cruz is rejected and Trump accepted on the grounds of pompousness, then we are truly living at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

Well, welcome to the Mad Hatter’s. Cruz is out, Trump is in, and there is no one left to keep him from winning the Republican presidential nomination.

No one predicted this, and no one can predict the outcome of the November elections, but some veteran reporters are beginning to believe that Trump can, in spite of polls to the contrary, beat Clinton in a national referendum. Ben Carson believes that 2016 is, “the year of the outsider,” and if the anger in the electorate over healthcare, immigration, the economy, homeland security, and the political status quo is what I think it is he, and they, are right.

I’ve been carefully watching, and actively participating in our nation’s politics for thirty-six years, and I’ve never been so disappointed with our options. But they tell us more about ourselves than anything else. We have repeatedly chosen style over substance, corruption over character, provocation over peacemaking, and the tyranny of the few over the freedom of the many. We have become a nation so obsessed with sexual license that we rip up religious freedom with spiritual fervor, and snooze through sales of aborted baby parts. We are such committed materialists that we care not about national bankruptcy as long as cheap dollars keep coming.

We used to be a Christian culture. We are a Casino culture now.

How are Christ’s followers to respond? I’m not about to suggest who you should vote for, but I will remind you of one thing: all politics is downstream of culture. If we want to improve our political leadership we have to improve ourselves. No earthly king can achieve through policy or force what Christ can accomplish in the hearts of men and women if his people will obey him. He is our King and his agenda has always been the same: “Love your neighbor as yourself and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

American culture has been in an historic slide ever since I was born. We were never perfect. There will never be a perfect culture outside of Eden. But if we measure ourselves by the stability of two-parent families, by educational achievement, by economic opportunity, by crime rates and imprisonment, by drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease, by the number of children born to unwed mothers, and by many other metrics, we are a culture in decline.

Some of us have been politically opposing that slide for 30-40 years. It hasn’t helped. But we’ve learned something. Oppose the dominant culture, criticize and critique it, and you may be crushed. You certainly won’t fix anything. Build a better culture and, “the world will beat a path to your door.”

It is time for the followers of Christ to stop complaining and start building. We need to concentrate on being the Church, the pillar and support of the truth, in the world, and on creating good culture.

PARENTING ISN’T FOR SISSIES

Parenting isn’t for sissies. If you don’t believe it just ask anyone who’s managed to raise even one child to productive, responsible, God-fearing, adulthood and we will show you our scars.

Children also make you fat. Yes, I know, you think it’s the donuts in your diet, but I can prove it. I’ve gained seventy pounds since I got married and had kids.

Just kidding! But seriously, parenting is one of the most demanding and rewarding things anyone can do. It is also a task for which many find themselves unprepared. Children have a way of revealing how selfish and ignorant we are. Their needs seem endless when our energy is exhausted. Their development demands wisdom when we are at wit’s end.

With that in mind I want to offer some encouragement as well as a resource for wisdom along the parenting way.

Begin with the Bible
Considering the critical nature of parenting, that whole “hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” thing, the Bible has very little to say about it. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” comes to mind, as does “raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.” But the rest of the Bible’s specific advice on parenting can be summed up with, “Children obey your parents and fathers don’t exasperate them.”

The bigger picture the Bible paints, however, is the more important one. Children bear the image of God and as such have huge potential for good, but they also inherit the sinful nature of Adam, and while they aren’t exactly little animals, they aren’t little angels either. Every child is human, and everything the Bible says about restoring the image of God in humans and restraining the evil inherent in our nature applies.

Apply Basic Principles
Experienced parents know that there is no magic formula for raising the perfect child, but a few basic principles proved themselves to us over the years.

First, use common sense. Some parents are so afraid that one mistake will permanently damage their children that they fail to do the obvious. Children, and I include teens in this, aren’t yet adults. If a rule seems obvious to you but doesn’t to them, never fear to impose it. They will get over it, they won’t hate you forever, and they may even thank you later.

Second, let them make decisions, take risks, and fail! It makes them stronger when they realize that failure isn’t fatal and risk reaps reward. The biggest mistake parents make is smothering their children, doing everything possible to prevent failure and its associated pain. But overprotecting a child is like overprotecting a plant. It stifles development.

Third, tell them no, and don’t be afraid to enforce your no with discipline. The fastest way to fill your child with insecurity and anger is to fail to discipline them when they are wrong. The insecurity comes because for a child, the lack of boundaries, the lack of restraint on their impulses, is destabilizing. The anger comes when they reap the consequences of an undisciplined life and realize that you didn’t love them enough to reign in their rebellion. Love must be tough.

Fourth, encourage relentlessly. We need to be like the momma dog with a litter of pups I read about. She gave them six licks of loving encouragement for every disciplinary swipe of the paw. Learn to catch your kids doing something right and affirm it. Let your affirmations outnumber your corrections six-to-one. This is especially important for dads.

Fifth, keep calm and carry on. Kids, especially teens, pass through developmental phases faster than they outgrow shoes. Never let a fleeting adolescent furor produce a parental meltdown. Your calm in the midst of their storm will provide the anchorage they need to ride it out.

Get Expert Help
Those five principles will carry you a long way, but if you find you need more I recommend child psychologist, and syndicated columnist John Rosemond. There are many others of course, but I read his column every week and find his parenting wisdom to be without peer. Find him at http://www.johnrosemond.com.

NO TIME TO KILL

There’s no time to kill between the cradle and the grave
Father time still takes a toll on every minute that we save
Legal tender’s never gonna change the number on your days
The highest cost of livin’s dyin that’s what everybody pays
So have it spent before you get the bill, there’s no time to kill
Clint Black

Everyone’s time is terminal. 86,400 seconds a day, 315,000 seconds a year, and who knows how many years, but no one gets more minutes in a day, no one gets more hours in a year than anyone else. And no one lives forever. Time is the great equalizer.

Clint isn’t the first person to write so cleverly and accurately about time. King Solomon did the same with poetry that captures the essence of life in brilliant brevity. His song still sings three thousand years after it was composed.

Eccl. 3:1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Beautiful isn’t it? But let’s think about it practically.

Some of us are so over-booked that we never have time to do the things essential to the good life, to plant, to heal, to laugh, and to dance. Some of us never give ourselves time to mourn and weep over things that had to be torn down, and yes, over things that had to die. We do not give ourselves time to reflect on the important things and in consequence we live shallow lives, searching the internet for stuff to fill the space between us an eternity.

Let’s get off that hellish highway shall we? Life goes by too fast to let the good things go. Do you still have kids at home? Take time with them. Are you married? Set aside time for your mate. Do you believe in the Kingdom of God? Make a plan for how you will invest your time in building it this year.

Remember Solomon’s words as you set your clocks forward this Saturday, and while you’re at it, remember Clint’s too:

If you don’t look ahead nobody will; there’s no time to kill.
CB

 

PRO LIFE SUMMARY 2

“A woman has the right to determine what happens to her own body.”

“The pro-life view is religiously based, and religion shouldn’t have anything to do with public policy.”

Ever heard those statements and wondered how to respond?

This Friday, January 22nd marks the 43rd anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Since then over 58 million babies have been killed by abortionists in America alone.

This scourge can be stopped, but not by staying silent about it. The tech-savvy millennial generation is already inclined to think outside the box of pro-abortion arguments handed down to them from 1970’s liberals. We need to continue to feed their skepticism with truth. The more confident we are as we talk with friends and family, especially the millennial generation, the more likely they will be to end it.

Here then is part 2 of the article Why Pro Life? by Stonestreet and Klusendorf. Find the link to the whole document, titled 21 DAYS OF PRAYER FOR LIFE, here at http://www.colsoncenter.org.

Watch for the summary TAKE AWAY TRUTHS at the end. DS.

WHY PRO LIFE? A SUMMARY part 2
By Scott Klusendorf and John Stonestreet

Reason #3: Logic Affirms Life
Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life or you don’t.

Pro-life Christians contend that although humans differ in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature that bears the image of their Creator. Humans have value simply because they are human.

Secular critics like David Boonin provide a radically different perspective: Although you are identical to the embryo you once were, it does not follow you had the same right to life then as you do now. For Boonin, being human is nothing special:

On my desk in my office where most of this book was written and revised, there are several pictures of my son, Eli. In one, he is gleefully dancing on the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, the cool ocean breeze wreaking havoc with his wispy hair. In a second, he is tentatively seated in the grass in his grandparents’ backyard, still working to master the feat of sitting up on his own. In a third, he is only a few weeks old, clinging firmly to the arms that are holding him and still wearing the tiny hat for preserving body heat that he wore home from the hospital. Though all of the remarkable changes that these pictures preserve, he remains unmistakably the same little boy. In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. This picture was taken…24 weeks before he was born.

The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head titled back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.

But here’s Boonin’s problem: If humans only have value because of some characteristic they possess in varying degrees, those with more of it have greater rights than those with less. Human equality is a myth.

Pro-life Christians have a better explanation for human equality. Our value is grounded in our common human nature, not a degreed property like self-awareness that none of us share equally and may come and go in the course of our lifetimes. When did you get that human nature? You got it the moment you began to exist—conception.

Reason #4: Our Founding Documents Affirm Life
Pro-lifers are often told the pro-life view is “religious,” and religious ideas should not determine public policy. But this is merely a dismissal rather than a refutation.

As Francis J. Beckwith points out, arguments are true or false, valid or invalid. Calling an argument “religious” is a category mistake on a par with asking, “How tall is the number five?”

Also, nowhere in the constitution does it say that believers are prohibited from bringing their ideas to the public square and arguing for them like everyone else. It’s one thing to say the state should not establish a church. It’s quite another to disenfranchise believers from participating in their own government. Some of our country’s most important documents – like The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – have their roots in the biblical concept of the imago dei. If prolifers are irrational and unconstitutional for grounding basic human rights in the concept of a transcendent creator, these important historical documents—all of which advanced our national understanding of equality—are irrational and unconstitutional as well. If God doesn’t exist, where do human rights come from? If they come only from the State, the same government that grants rights can take them away. If human rights are to be absolute, they must come from a source higher than the State. That’s what the authors of our founding documents believed: that every human being is “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” The first of these rights is the right to life.

TWO TAKEAWAY TRUTHS:
“A woman has the right to determine what happens to her own body.”
“True. But she doesn’t have the right to determine what happens to someone else’s body. I am the same genetic person I was in my mother’s womb, and so are you. Should you have the right to end my life because I’m inconvenient to you? Should I have the right to end yours?”

“The pro-life view is religiously based, and religion shouldn’t have anything to do with public policy.”
“False. Calling an argument “religious” is a category mistake on a par with asking, “How tall is the number five?” Some of our country’s most important documents – like The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – have their roots in the biblical concept of the imago dei.