Easter Is No Joke

At our church Easter egg hunt one of my little Awana buddies found an empty egg. When he opened it up and saw that it was empty, he said “Hey, who’s making jokes?” I knelt down and told him how when we did Easter egg hunts for our kids we always left one of the eggs empty. I explained that the empty egg symbolizes the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead and was no longer in the tomb. Through all of this, he listens as politely as a five year old needing a candy fix can possibly listen and then looked at me and said, “I still think someone’s making jokes.” So, laughing, I did the only thing I could – I gave him some candy!

As cute as that little guy’s response was, it wasn’t that much different from that of the first visitors to Jesus’ tomb. Even though Jesus had told them repeatedly that he was going to raise from the dead, they were apparently expecting to find a dead man in that tomb. As Mary arrived to find the empty tomb and then ran to find Peter and John, their collective actions reveal not belief but fear. I can just imagine them looking in, shaking their heads, and saying “who’s making jokes?” Even for those who had been closest to Jesus, it was too hard to believe that he had truly risen from the dead – at least at first.

It wasn’t until they saw him that they truly believed. That personal encounter with Jesus made all the difference for them. Rather than condemn their doubt Jesus commended their belief. He also commended all of those who would never see him physically but would choose to believe in him anyway. That includes you and I. For any of us who choose to believe, the resurrection is no joke. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t a delusion. It is the promise of forgiveness. It is the promise of a savior. It is hope, joy, and peace. It is the key to life eternal and to abundant life right now. If you do not know him, then believe in him today. If you believe in him then live for him today. Because Easter is no joke – in fact it makes all the difference in the world.

 

 

photo by Zirguezi (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Save Lexi

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“Save Lexi” has been the mantra since sometime Monday afternoon when my internet and social media feeds became inundated with reports of little Lexi being removed from the home of foster parents Rusty and Summer Page. This type of incident is obviously controversial and emotions on both sides of the issue are running high. I, along with many others, was initially filled with disbelief and anger as I heard reports of a distraught little girl being ripped from her family. However, as I have spent time reading and investigating the facts over the past few days I have come to some conclusions that I think we should all consider as we react to this story. In no particular order, allow me to offer the following items as food for thought:

  • We don’t know all the facts. The ease of access to abundant information through social media, blogs and online news sites provides an illusion of closeness to the incident. We come to feel as if we know the parties involved and that we truly know all the facts necessary to form an opinion. The truth, however, is that most of us in the general public do not really know enough to form the kind of adamant and emotional opinions that I see all over social media. In this case, the “facts” presented by the foster family and by the representatives of her native American tribe seem to be irreconcilable. They each make an excellent case based on stated facts that seem contradictory. Most of us will never know exactly what the facts are and we should therefore be cautious about formulating a specific opinion, especially one we are willing to fight over.
  • The situation is sad. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, it is right to be sad for this little girl and for all of those who are and have been a part of her life. Whether or not she should be kept in the foster home, we should be sad for those who have grown close to her and cared for her and have now lost her. Regardless of whether or not she is returned to blood relatives, we should feel sad for a little girl who has spent much of her childhood separated from those that should have been there to care for her. Everything about this unfortunate situation is sad and we don’t have to turn anyone into a monster to feel sympathy for those who are involved.
  • Children don’t always know what is best for themselves. One argument being presented as evidence that this little girl should be left in foster care is that she wants to be there and screamed and cried when she was taken away. While that certainly tugs on the heartstrings, it is far from proof that she should be left in that home. Consequently, I have seen the same response from my own children upon being removed from Chuck E. Cheese or being told to go to bed. Children don’t always know what is best and it is unhelpful to manipulate their emotions for our own purposes.
  • Native Americans have a right to be suspicious of government. Unfortunately, history tells a story of American government repeatedly lying to and taking advantage of Native Americans to the benefit of government and the detriment of native individuals. I have absolutely no idea whether this plays into the facts of this case or not, but it is certainly worth mentioning that historically our American government has not done so well in looking after native American children. As we support Lexi and feel sadness for her foster family, we must be careful not to diminish the efforts of Native American tribes and organizations to preserve a heritage and culture that has historically been neglected and even attacked. Even if you believe they may have gotten it wrong in this particular case, do not ignore the fact that this and many other minority groups in our nation are at great risk.
  • Government intervention in the family is a necessary evil. I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with either of those words (necessary or evil), but I think they best represent what I want to communicate. On the surface, I balk at the idea that the government has any say in what is best for a child. When I see “the state” place or remove a child, it generally frustrates me. I believe that God has ordained the family to care for children and for the church to assist the family in that endeavor. In ideal circumstances, that system works just fine. However, there are unfortunate situations where there seems to be no viable, healthy alternative to the government being involved in determining the child’s welfare. After all, God also ordained government to administer justice and in an ideal world, we would all trust the government to do what is right and only intervene when necessary. But that is where the evil comes in, I think. We are afraid (justifiably so in some cases) that the government will intervene in situations where it is unnecessary and therefore usurp parental authority. We must defend the rights of families, fight for the welfare of children and encourage and support family friendly policies and officials in our government.
  • This is indicative of a larger problem. As I have said repeatedly in this article, I do not pretend to have enough information to know what is best for Lexi. However, I feel sad for her and pray for her and trust that God will somehow use this difficult situation to expose and begin to solve a larger problem. What exactly is that larger problem? It is this: the American family as a social entity is broken. I know that there are good and healthy families out there, but overall it is apparent that the family unit is under attack and is largely broken. According to one report, it seems that something less than half of all children in our country live in a traditional family (two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage.) Over 40% of children are born outside of marriage and almost 35% of children live with a single parent. I know that there are many good people that find themselves in these situations, but it is certainly not the ideal for a child. In any case, these numbers should help us see that situations like Lexi’s are going to become the norm if we do not begin to support and defend the family.

However you feel about Lexi’s situation, you likely feel the way you do because you feel strongly that family is important. In fact the family is not only important, it is a vital part of any society. The family unit is God’s primary plan for providing children with the moral, ethical, and theological training necessary to become productive members of society. As we observe these difficult and controversial situations around us, I pray that we avoid the urge to jump in emotionally and uninformed to take sides.

Rather than allowing these tragedies to cause division, hate, and bitterness we should unify to make sure that children in our churches and our communities are safe, loved, and cared for. Promote and support the family every chance you get. Get involved in organizations that support and strengthen the family. Support community programs that provide solid education and counseling for families.

And most importantly, pray! Pray for the family unit to be strengthened in our society. Pray for specific families you know. Pray for the ones that are struggling and pray for the ones that you think are doing okay. Pray for our leaders who are making decisions that affect the family. And in the midst of all the commotion this week, please pray for Lexi. Pray for her foster family and the family she is being placed with now. Pray that she is loved and cared for by someone and pray for all the other little boys and girls who are in similar situations every day. Children are a gift to us from God himself and we need to do all that we can to love and protect them.

Though the theme of the week has been “Save Lexi”, it is my hope that Lexi’s story will bring awareness to the plight of hundreds of thousands of other children that also need to be saved and will awake within us a desire to do something about it.

 

 

photo by Eric Ward [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Peyton Manning for President!

“God bless all of you and God bless football.” With thosePeyton_Manning_Broncos_2012 simple yet unforgetable words, Peyton Manning said goodbye to the game he loved. As I watched his press conference, I was as impressed by him in that moment as I was watching him play for the last 20 years.

I’ve never been a fan of any team that Peyton Manning was playing for, but I’ve always been a fan of his – primarily because he has always seemed like such a good guy. He seemed to possess a rare ability to be both a celebrity and a humble, regular guy at the same time and that is exactly how he came across as he addressed his fans and the media on Monday. He was humble, kind, gracious and self-deprecating. In a moment that was all about him, he still took opportunity to praise others and share the credit. He even offered appreciation for some of his harshest critics and opponents.

As he finished speaking and I returned to the regular events of my day, a thought hit me out of the blue. “I wish he was running for president.” I know nothing of his political views and I certainly don’t think that being a star athlete makes you the right person to lead our nation. I don’t even actually wish he was the president. I just wish that politicians conducted themselves a little more like him and it leaves me terribly disappointed in the candidates we currently have running from both sides of the political aisle.

Again, I know nothing of them as people and I’m not even talking about the political and social views they claim to represent. I’m just talking about the public persona that they have each chosen to put out there for us to see. Though some are better than others, this crop of political hopefuls all fail the “nice guy” test. With each debate and rally we are subjected to lies, slander, arrogance, hate and bullying.

Though there are certain positions I support, there are no individuals running with the class and decency that I see in the public persona of someone like Peyton Manning. It is sad that among the individuals running for the highest office in our land and the most powerful position in the world we cannot find grace, humility and kindness.

When it comes to politics, I’m not all that involved and there is no particular candidate that I support or endorse. However, generally speaking, I’d love it if the next president could be a lot less politician and a little more Peyton Manning.

As there is nothing I can do about the individual character of these particular men and women, I settle for urging all who will listen to value these virtues once again. In your own interactions with others be sure to practice kindness and humility. Be a gracious and pleasant person. In the public arena, honor and reward those individuals who are kind, gracious, and humble.

I know that the world we live in currently seems to reward the bully and that nice guys finish last, but I for one am convinced that the right moral, social and political views will not be enough to turn our country around without a return to civility and class. As a follower of Jesus, I will even say that the right religious views will fail to make a difference if we do not pair those views with a practical love that manifests itself in kindness, humility and common courtesy. Let’s all take a page from Peyton Manning’s playbook and do our part to class up America’s public image a little bit.

Photo by Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20546207

 

I Didn’t Hear You!

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As is the case with many parents, I never cease to be amazed by my children’s extraordinary talent for selective hearing. By way of example, let me describe a regular occurrence in my house. I frequently walk into a room where my children are and communicate some instructions to them such as the following: “I need you to get this room picked up, put on your socks and shoes, and get in the van.” After offering these simple instructions, I go about my business. Inevitably I return a few minutes later to find that nothing was done. Almost without fail, the excuse I am given is, “I didn’t hear you.”

Technically speaking this isn’t true. I know they can hear me because I have been blessed with healthy children, none of whom suffer from hearing loss. I also know I am close enough when I speak to them that my voice can be heard. However, it is true that they did not hear in a way that made a difference in their behavior.

You know what my children do hear, though? From anywhere in the house, they will hear you open a piece of candy or bag of chips. I can sneak down to the basement, jack up the music and open that bag so carefully and quietly – and they will still hear it and come running. That’s because they hear what they value and it affects their behavior!

As frustrating as this might be for me as a parent, I am realizing that on a spiritual level I can often be guilty of the very same thing. God has given me His Word and He wants me to hear it and respond to it in a way that has an impact on my life.

I encourage you to consider the relationship you have with God’s Word, the Bible. You must value God’s Word and allow it to impact your behavior. This type of relationship to God’s word requires discipline and must be cultivated. If you want to revitalize your personal interaction with the Bible, than consider taking these steps to increase the value you place on God’s Word.

  • Fall in love with the author. This may seem trite, but the reason the Bible is so special is because it is from God. It is communication from our loving Father. Stop studying it for information and begin listening to the voice of God from its pages. Look for God in His Word and be amazed again at His glory and wonder. If the Bible’s impact on your life is fading, than perhaps your love for God is as well.
  • Read with prayer. If you want God’s Word to make an impact in your life and not just fill your brain, than you need to approach it in the power of the Spirit. This means prayer. Pray before during and after you read God’s Word. Ask God to teach you and change you. Intentionally submit yourself to the Spirit’s teaching through prayer.
  • Meditate on the message. You cannot assume a brief and casual interaction with the Word will change you. Spend some time thinking about what God was saying and what you should do about it.
  • Make changes. Perhaps the simplest way to let God’s Word change you is to begin to make changes in your life that will align you with the truth you encounter. As the Spirit works on your heart from within, you can begin to shape your behavior from without.

As a genuine believer, don’t just hear the Word; consume it in a way that leaves you different. Make it personal. Examine your attitudes and actions in the light of its truth and be willing to make changes. If regular interaction with God’s Word is not changing you, then there is a problem. I challenge you today, get into the Word and prayerfully ask God to use it to transform your life. Trust me, you don’t want to stand before God and say, “I didn’t hear you.”