Monday, November 4, 2013

Have you ever just stood in the Rain?

Have you ever just stood in the Rain?

 I stood in the rain this morning. I’m not really sure why. It was dreary and rainy all morning. I was sitting out on my front porch reading my Bible and sipping a cup of hot cocoa when it started really raining. I mean raining hard. I put my Bible in my chair and walked out into the middle of the yard and just stood there. It was raining and I just stood there. I'm sure if my neighbors had seen me they would have thought me crazy. I could make this super spiritual and say I was thanking God for the rain or the provision, but that would be a lie. I simply wasn't thinking about anything nor did I have any purpose for standing in the rain. It was cold and the rain drops were large and beautiful.

 And I just stood there.

 And I smiled.

 I used to play in the rain a lot as a child. And I loved it. I remember going outside in those stupid yellow rubber boots and a yellow plastic rain coat. Running around splashing in the puddles and spinning in circles trying to catch raindrops in my mouth. There was something fantastic about the lack of control you had when it rained. You had no control over how wet you got; you just stand there and let nature do its thing. And I would always just stand there in the rain, with a huge smile plastered on my face.

 One day I grew up though and rain became more of an inconvenience. It cancelled baseball games. It made it harder to drive. It ruined plans with friends.

 So, I stopped standing in the rain. In fact, I started to resent it.

 Some days I hate being a "grown-up", and for countless reasons. You have to do... well...grown up stuff! However, I think the most important thing that we lose as we age is our ability to accept chaos. Chaos is beautiful, Chaos is part of life. Instead, when chaos happens and something we don’t want gets in the way of our plans, we get angry.

When I was young, I would run outside when I heard thunder and saw rain. Now I worry more about how it’s going to affect traffic or if it's going to slow my day down. But today, today just I stood in the rain with the same enjoyment and reckless abandon that I had when I was eight. My rain jacket has been replaced with a button up collared shirt, my rubber boots with work boots, and my umbrella with a backpack full of a computer, papers, planners, and notes from meetings. But there is still a childish essence to life that I refuse to give up.

When was the last time you really did something that your eight-year-old self would have liked? When was the last time you played on a jungle gym? When was the last time you decided to go swinging or build a fort in the back yard? When was the last time you decided to play in the mud, throw water balloons at people, or lay in the floor with crayons and a coloring book watching cartoons?

 Well, I can tell you what I did.

 I stood in the rain. And I wasn’t worried about how it would affect my health. I wasn't worried about what my neighbors would think. I wasn’t worried about how it was soaking my clothes. I wasn’t worried about how it was messing up my hair.

 I just stood in the rain.

 And I Smiled.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Elephants Gone Wild!!! A Parenting Resource.

Tonight, one of our students reposted a video of a young girl on Facebook. The caption posted above the video read "If I get 1000 likes, I'll take it all off!" I didn't watch the video. I didn't have to watch it to know I wouldn't like it. I am tired of seeing this junk. I am tired of seeing our teen-age girls sexually exploited and I have a bone to pick with young, socially conservative Americans, and I know it’s something that will get under your skin. Just sit tight, though, and hear me out, because the elephant in our tidy little room is starting to tear things up. It’s time we acknowledge his existence, and maybe even call in some animal movers to take him back to the zoo.

If you attend Shepherd's Valley or have heard me speak on the subject of dating, this post will not come as a shock to you. It is no secret that I view dating the way our culture pursues it as practice for divorce and do not approve of the practice. Let me explain why I feel that way.

 I have been given opportunities to speak into the lives of young adults for over 16 years now. I can count on my fingers the kids I know from the many who have come across my path whose parents have never been divorced. I’ve witnessed reactions of genuine surprise and envy from students who hear that my parents are still together and have been married for over 40 years or that Rachel and I have been together for over 17 years, and we still love each other. Not only do we love each other, we actually like each other and enjoy each others presence. In any given conversation with groups of teenagers, I can expect to hear continual references to step-parents, step-siblings, and half-siblings. Divorce is a way of life in America today – albeit one that has taken its toll in the lives of the young people that will make up the next generation.

However, while I could certainly write extensively on my experience with the negative effects of divorce on children and on society at large, I actually want to address something else entirely.  I have concerns about the number one way that our culture chooses to perpetuate the cancer of broken marriages and failed relationships– underage dating. You can follow them on Facebook – the failed attempts at love, I mean. Somebody is always changing their status from “in a relationship” to “single.” Unfortunately, a huge number of these disappointed lovers are too young to be legally married. I wonder sometimes if I am the only one who winces to hear a thirteen-year old speak with cavalier abandon of his or her “ex?”

Since when is it considered healthy and acceptable for underage people to be in “relationships?” Just what do parents and educators expect to be the result of the romantic conquests of these middle-school children and young high school students? The results I’ve witnessed personally are beyond disturbing; they are downright sinister, and have caused me to question whether or not those who claim to champion marital fidelity and family values are paying any attention at all to the standards we are passing on to our children.

 The trouble with underage dating is that it presents an entirely faulty view of what interaction with the opposite gender should be about. Rather than placing emphasis on building one strong relationship with one person at a stage of life when a marital commitment is feasible, dating encourages young people to pour their energies into consistently seducing other young people at a time when neither of them are capable of making any long-term commitments. Their “relationships” are destined to fail from the get-go because they are founded on unhealthy perceptions of love and not backed by any real necessity to stick it out.

The beauty of marriage, as it was intended to be, is that it teaches two people of opposite genders to learn to work through incompatibilities and give of themselves. In the same way, the great ugliness of dating as it is practiced by our culture and portrayed by our media, is that it teaches two people of opposite genders to be selfish by giving them an easy “out” when things don’t go according to their initial feelings. I believe it is fair to say that this form of dating is a training manual for divorce, because it encourages young people to grow accustomed to giving their hearts away and then taking them back.

Sadly, parents who should know better continue to display shocking naïveté regarding the absurd practices of driving their twelve year olds out on a “date,” or purchasing provocative clothing for their sixteen-year-olds, or sympathizing with their broken-hearted fourteen-year-olds by assuring them that they’ll “find someone better.”

 “They’re just having fun,” they’ll tell me, rolling their eyes at what they consider to be my tightly wound principles and unfair approach to teen-age dating. I implore you to go visit with some of the volunteers at the Cleburne Pregnancy Center or the Hope Mansion in Cedar Hill (or any crisis pregnancy center for that matter) where they witness every day the ruined lives and broken dreams that “fun” has left with our teens.

Another defense often offered for the ridiculous habit of underage dating is that the kids are “just learning how to relate to the opposite sex.” It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out that what they’re really learning is how to recover quickly from a break-up and set their sights on another gorgeous and equally hormonal person. The culture of dating is a culture of hunger and unsatisfied eyes that are always looking around for affirmation via someone or something else. But perhaps the most ludicrous and most willfully naïve assertion is that “relationships” between young teens are “not really about sex.” Just what do we think such relationships are about between people too young to be interested in any of the other things (family, stability, home-making, etc. ) that come out of  a romantic involvement with the opposite gender? Contrary to such half-baked assurances, it is all about sex for these young people. Whenever they forget that, the pop-culture is quick to remind them of it. In the media, girls are unfailingly presented as having value to boys only in proportion to their physique and their manner of flaunting it. Boys are presented as bestial and incapable of responsibility.

Overwhelmingly, this is the primary message being offered to our kids by the movies, magazines, music artists, and commercials directed at their age group. It is inexcusably irrational for us to suppose that their relationships with one another are untainted by the stereotypes that surround them. If the situation is so straightforward, why is there not a greater resistance to this cultural trend that trivializes relationships and produces jaded and cynical people who have already been through the warm fuzzies of love and are ready to settle for mere physical gratification by the age of eighteen?

 While we may proclaim the virtues of pre-marital abstinence and fidelity, our actions don’t line up with our words. We behave as though we expect our young people to embrace or at least abide by the values we preach to them, all the while continuing to direct them in lifestyle choices that foster the opposite principles and attitudes. And we wonder why 95% of Americans admitted to having premarital sex in 2006? Or why it was estimated that nearly 50% of all US marriages end in divorce? Or why 4 in 10 children are born to unwed mothers? It’s time for us to wake up and make the connections between the dating scene and the deterioration of the stable American family.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Silence and Solitude

Practicing solitude with silence is a very important spiritual discipline for people today. In our busy, noisy world we need to “unhook” and get away in order to be alone and be ourselves with our Lord. How often do you get away by yourself? How often do you allow yourself to be "unavailable" to those around you. We find in many places in scripture where people went off by themselves. Elijah went to Beersheba and left his servant there and then traveled alone into the wilderness, Jesus often went to lonely places to pray. All over scripture we see people getting alone to pray.

Jesus began his public ministry with 40 days of withdrawal into the desert wilderness to fast and pray in solitude and silence. He was alone, hungry, hot and thirsty, surrounded by wild animals, and tested by Satan. We read this and we feel sorry for Jesus, thinking he was so depleted as to barely survive! But the truth of Jesus’ fast is that the Father, the Scriptures, and ministering angels strengthened Jesus! His time alone with God and quietly focused only on him empowered him to resist Satan’s temptations (which came at the end of the 40 days) and it focused and prepared him for his public ministry. Interspersed throughout Jesus’ ministry of preaching, healing, and discipling we see him withdraw from the crowds again and again – often getting up very early to do so – in order to be quiet and alone with the Father (e.g., Luke 5:15-16, Mark 1:35, 3:13, 6:31, 46). Jesus taught his disciples to follow his prayer practice. “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to [the twelve apostles], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:31-32).

Paul knew very well the importance of silence and solitude. For instance, after his encounter with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, he spent three days in solitude and silence for prayer and fasting (Acts 9:9). Then after being ministered to by Ananias and visiting with the disciples he withdrew for three years in the isolation of the Arabian desert to learn from Christ (Galatians 1:15-16).

So Silence and Solitude are obviously important, but what are they? Solitude and silence are disciplines of abstinence to help us learn to engage more deeply with the Lord and become more like him in daily life. Solitude and silence make space — space in our souls and space in our lives — for God to do a deep work inside of us and through us in our interactions with others. It’s a training that may be difficult, especially at first, but will probably be the most beneficial thing you will ever do. The normal way to practice solitude and silence is get alone with God in a quiet place for some hours or days. Perhaps you take a walk through the woods, ride a horse across open fields, or sit beside a lake or a creek. Or a quiet spot in a park or your backyard may work well. Even a secluded chair inside your house may work — as long as all your communication and media devices are turned off! And you are totally tuned into God. This is not time for you to pray a laundry list of items, as a matter of fact the only prayer you need to say is "Speak lord, your servant is listening." The point of your time in solitude and silence is to do nothing and don’t try to make anything happen.

Do nothing.

Don’t try to make anything happen.

In solitude and silence you’re learning to stop doing, stop producing, stop pleasing people, stop entertaining yourself, stop obsessing — stop doing anything except to simply be yourself before God and be found by him. 

Fortunately, we don’t need to become monks living in private huts in the desert to practice the disciplines of solitude and silence!  We can apply the way of the Desert Fathers in the context of the lives we’re living. The obvious way to do this is in daily devotions in the Scriptures. Less obvious is to find quiet interludes during the day to focus our minds on God. A great way to do this is to devote fifteen minutes or more to recalling a favorite scripture and meditate on it. And most people spend time alone driving in the car to work or running errands and this is a great opportunity for solitude and silence if you turn off the radio, CD player, and iPod in order to listen to God. And it’s immensely valuable to periodically set aside a day or longer for a retreat with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at a quiet place that you can be left alone for long periods of time. Think of this as spending time alone with Jesus, doing something that you want to do with your Best Friend, something that will renew your soul!

Before you begin a time of extended solitude and silence you need to make arrangements with your family or others that you live with. Help them understand what God is calling you to do. Negotiate a time that works best for them. If a loved one will be picking up some of your responsibilities for you be sure to give thanks for this and to return the favor.