Just before Christmas, Benedictine University did a survey of former Catholics and lapsed Catholics to find out why they had stopped attending Mass and to ask what they could do to bring them back. I was already planning this series when I found out about the survey, but it made me think a
“. . . God wants to make your life easier. He wants to assist you, to promote you, to give you advantages. He wants you to have preferential treatment.” Joel Osteen—Your Best Life Now This quote is an example of a concept known as “prosperity gospel.” There are several variations on the theme,
Finally, THIS is the happy ending. God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us. I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry. That night, as the church emptied, I hit
“You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Some of us are blessed with great relationships with our
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV) This is one of the more misunderstood passages in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want to get the desires of his or her heart? Who has ever watched an Aladdin movie without
PRAISE AND PRAYER God must come first, because He is first. When you put God first in your life, you are not doing Him a favor; you are doing yourself one. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What
Imagine you’re at a funeral on a cloudy day. Then the sun comes out from behind a cloud. Now if you are a scientific, buttoned-down, fact-based kind of a person, the first thing you would say is that the sun didn’t move–the cloud did. You could give a meteorological explanation of prevailing winds, condensation,
Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong. A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil. (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee
God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible. Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story. Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because
THE PRIZE So to sum up from the previous six posts, the most effective solution to Christianity’s PR problem is for the individuals within the church to live lives of service. We PRaise our God, PRotect our spouse’s hearts, PRovide for our children, PRactice grace with our extended families and PRove to
God, create a pure heart in me, and renew a right attitude within me. Do not cast me from your presence; do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and let a willing attitude control me. Psalm 51:10-12 (ISV)
The goal of the Christian life is not to be better than anyone else, but to be better people today than we were yesterday. When people interact with us, all they see of our lives is a snapshot. So if they have repeated interactions with us, they expect to see actions that are consistent with what we profess to believe.
Of course, being human, we have our bad days, just like anybody else. So what’s the trick to maintaining consistency? What can we do to help our spiritual progression stay on track?
Luke 6:45 reminds us:
Good people do good things because of the good in their hearts. Bad people do bad things because of the evil in their hearts. Your words show what is in your heart. (CEV)
By our words and our actions, we show the world what is really in our hearts. Therefore, it follows that if our words and actions are causing problems in our relationships, then we need to focus on the internal.
The excerpt at the top of this post is from Psalm 51. King David wrote this after having been busted for committing adultery with Bathsheba. If you know the rest of that story, there was a lot more than illicit sex going on there. David actually had her husband KILLED so he could get with her.
Chances are good that no one reading this is guilty of a crime that heinous (at least I HOPE not!). The point, however, is that God allows us to approach Him for forgiveness no matter how dark our sins are.
Even more importantly, notice that David is asking God to create a pure heart in him. This is not something we can do ourselves. The word “pure” is frequently translated “clean” in this passage. This is a reference to ceremonial cleanliness according to Jewish law. They had numerous rituals for making their bodies ceremonially clean, but there is nothing they, or we, could do to clean up a filthy heart.
How great is the news, then, that God actually WANTS to clean us up from the inside out, rather than just throw us out with the trash. He knows that we need pure hearts to make our words and actions pure so that we can be useful to the world in which He has placed us.
Those of you that are Truthseekers, do you remember what it felt like when you first reported for duty in God’s work? Did it feel like you were totally on fire to live out your mission? Do you still feel that way today? Maybe, but probably not.
Life has a way of dragging us down. We get distracted and weighed down by the cares of this world, and we lose our single-mindedness of purpose. If we aren’t careful, we can spiral downward into depression because of our ineffectiveness in bringing change to the world.
But we know that there is work that God has planned for us specifically to do. We also know that we need to finish what we start. What we forget is that God never intended for us to do all these things on our own.
IF we remember to ask Him, God will straighten us out, give us the right attitude and give us the strength we need each day for the work ahead of us. As we train ourselves to rely on God to guide us internally, the world will notice the difference in our words and actions.
So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. Deuteronomy 31:6 (NLT)
The world can be a scary place, no matter what stage of life you’re in. We’re all afraid of different things, and we all have our own ways of dealing with that fear.
One thing we all have in common, though, is a need for courage. Courage is the character trait that allows us to take on things that are bigger than we are. It comes from knowing that we have access to a power that is stronger than whatever it is we are facing. For this reason, the key to being courageous is making sure that we know and rely upon that power.
It all comes down to trust. It is one thing to believe that God can fight the battles that are beyond our strength. But do you trust that He will? Do you trust Him enough to keep moving forward even when it seems like a risky thing to do?
The answer to that question depends on the answer to this one. Do you believe that God wants you to succeed? I’m not talking about the Joel Osteen “I’m-believing-God-for-a-new-Mercedes” kind of success. I mean do you really believe that God DOESN’T want you to fail at life? Do you believe that He knows what’s best for you and has a plan to help you stay on track for that?
If you do, then you have either learned or are in the process of learning that obedience is the quickest path to success. This means that you pray about major decisions, and even the minor ones. Now I don’t know that it’s necessary to ask God if I should order Sprite or Root Beer at the local diner, but I wouldn’t, for example, buy a car without praying for a green light from above.
If you have established and cultivated this kind of a relationship with God, then you have also learned that fear and faith can not occupy the same mind at the same time. So when we say we “lack courage” or that “our courage has failed us,” what we really mean is that we have not been putting our faith to good use. Here is one way to make sure that doesn’t happen (or at least happens less often).
Practice trusting God with the little things. Ask Him questions about things you could typically handle by yourself and see if He leads you in a different direction. Maybe start with “Which route should I take to work today?” or “Should I get gas now or wait to fill up later?” Simple routine stuff that you do all the time that doesn’t really require “divine intervention.”
The point of this exercise is not for the Holy Spirit to save you 3 cents a gallon. It is to form the habit of trusting by essentially turning your life into a big game of follow the leader. If you trust that God won’t lead you where His grace and power won’t keep you, then you’ll keep following until it becomes second nature.
Forming courageous habits is particularly important for parents. Not only do our kids look to us as an example when they’re young, but someday they’ll be grown and won’t look to us for leadership anymore. We need to do our part to make sure they have courage of their own to lean upon when they run into their own problems. So what can we do now, those of us that still have kids at home?
- Remind your kids of God’s faithfulness. Keep track of His answers to your prayers and tell those stories often.
- Train your kids to seek out other godly mentors besides you. They will probably always want to come to you first, but you won’t always be around. Your kids need to know that they have some control over feelings of isolation, a control that they can carry into adulthood.
- Teach them obedience. The Bible is full of examples of God giving specific instructions, such as in the verse at the top of this post. The Bible is just as full of examples of what can happen when you don’t follow those instructions. Although obedience requires surrender, there is power in this surrender, because you are setting yourself up to succeed by keeping in step with God’s plan for you.
- Practice integrity by saying what you mean, meaning what you say and finishing what you start. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Trust me on this—if you fail on this one, your kids will pounce on it and use it against you at every opportunity. The result of that will not win you many spouse points either.
Fear happens. Fear of failure happens a lot. Please don’t beat yourself up when it happens to you, as though the fear of failure were a failure in itself. Don’t worry about what other people are going to think of you if you screw up. Anyone who would think badly of you for making a mistake isn’t somebody you ought to be concerned about impressing anyway.
Be strong and courageous. Follow God even if nobody is following you. Acknowledge that your hands are sweaty and that you feel sick to your stomach and move forward anyway. Not everything in life is easy or fun, but with God on your team, ALL things are possible.
Hold on to loyal love and don’t let go, and be faithful to all that you’ve been taught. Let your life be shaped by integrity, with truth written upon your heart. That’s how you will find favor and understanding with both God and men—you will gain the reputation of living life well. Proverbs 3:3-4 (TPT)
In Part 3, we learned that one way to win the respect of others is to mind our own business and show appreciation. Here’s another one—being faithful.
Probably the most common way we use the word “faithful” today is in the context of a relationship. When we are “faithful” to a significant other, it is a sign of focus and commitment.
The original Hebrew word emeth, rendered “faithful” in the verse above has much more depth. It means sturdy, stable and trustworthy. Something you can depend on without thinking twice. In the King James Version, emeth is most frequently translated as “truth,” so you can see why it’s a favorite word of mine!
The word signifies things that are firmly established as being right. To apply this word to a person would be to describe them as reliable, sincere, and one who clings to the Truth. And as we proclaim God as the source and embodiment of all Truth, it stands to reason then that a faithful person is reflecting the image of a faithful God.
We like it when we can rely on people, don’t we? It sure takes a lot of stress out of life when you know you can count on someone.
Sometimes, though, it seems that we may not put as much energy as we should into being that kind of person. If faithfulness is a sure way to win respect, then a sure way to lose it is hypocrisy.
A hypocrite is, at the heart, a pretender. A hypocrite shows you one face while being someone else underneath. If a person makes a habit of being this way, it won’t take long for the word to get out. A hypocrite is untrustworthy, because you never know what to expect from such a person. One thing you won’t expect is truth and faithfulness.
There is no room for hypocrisy in the Church. As Paul advised to the Colossians:
Don’t lie to each other. You’ve gotten rid of the person you used to be and the life you used to live, and you’ve become a new person. This new person is continually renewed in knowledge to be like its Creator. Colossians 3:9-10 (GW)
If you have professed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, none of the bad stuff you did before that counts against you, but there’s a catch. You can’t go back and do that stuff anymore. (Of course, if your conversion is genuine, you won’t want to anyway, so it’s all good.) But God created you in His image, and if you have accepted His invitation, you have become eternally adopted into His family. Since God is the source of all love and the essence of all Truth, that means you have His faithfulness in your DNA.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. God created you to do the work He had planned for you, but He also gives you the strength and endurance to perform this work faithfully. When you follow through with that, it pleases God to see His plan working itself out in your life.
And as an extra added bonus, other people will notice not only the work you’re doing, but also the manner in which you do it. They will see your sincerity and know that you are someone they can trust.
(Some days this is easier than others, however. Come back for Part 6—Courage.)
Who do you think you are?
I’m not asking that in the sense that you usually hear it. Usually this is a rhetorical question reserved for somebody who is getting WAY out of line.
But seriously, who DO you think you are? What kind of adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
Unfortunately, the words many people would think of are not flattering. “Depressed.” “Worthless.” “Insignificant.” “Damaged goods.” “Failure.” “Unlovable.”
This matters, because how we see ourselves is a major factor in determining how we interact with others. People who have a low self-image are not likely to engage in a healthy way, if at all, with the world around them.
Self-image is a complex thing. It is the sum total of every attitude we have ever had about ourselves, but also everything we have ever HEARD about ourselves. Some people are just jerks that like to pick on us and beat down our self-image. Sometimes, however, we suffer long-term consequences for something we actually did do.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, may I offer you some encouragement, courtesy of St. Paul?
And his fullness fills you, even though you were once like corpses, dead in your sins and offenses. It wasn’t that long ago that you lived in the religion, customs, and values of this world, obeying the dark ruler of the earthly realm who fills the atmosphere with his authority, and works diligently in the hearts of those who are disobedient to the truth of God. The corruption that was in us from birth was expressed through the deeds and desires of our self – life. We lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated, living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath like everyone else.
But God still loved us with such great love. He is so rich in compassion and mercy. Even when we were dead and doomed in our many sins, he united us into the very life of Christ and saved us by his wonderful grace! He raised us up with Christ the exalted One, and we ascended with him into the glorious perfection and authority of the heavenly realm, for we are now co-seated as one with Christ!
Throughout the coming ages we will be the visible display of the infinite, limitless riches of his grace and kindness, which was showered upon us in Jesus Christ. For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.
We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it! Ephesians 2:1-10 (TPT)
Our worth does not come from what we have done (or failed to do) or from anyone’s opinion of us. We have value simply because we were created in the image of the One who is the most worthy of all. We didn’t have to clean ourselves up or check of a list of criteria or accomplishments to be “good enough” to live this life. Rather, we have this life to live because we are already counted as good enough by the only One who matters!
We were made in the image of the all-sufficient God; therefore, what we have in our hands will always be sufficient for the tasks ahead of us. Because when we were created, so was all of the work that God had planned out for our entire lives. We are all wired to be proficient at and passionate about certain things. And although we do have the free will to choose whether or not we want to walk on this path that has been so scrupulously marked out for us, it always seems to go better for us when we do.
Will we get off the path from time to time? Of course we will. We’re humans; we do that. Remember, though, that the value of your life is not determined by how many times you screw up. There are no “D-” children of God. Life is pass/fail, and the pass is irrevocable, because the One giving the grade rigged the coursework in our favor. All you have to do is show up for class.
I think the reason so many of us (myself included) see ourselves as failures is because our definition of “success” is all whackety. We live in a world that is constantly judging our performance, so naturally, we do that to ourselves as well. It seems we’re always trying to measure up to something.
Can we please help each other get over this?
I’m going to repeat myself here, because I need to hear it again too. We don’t EVER need to worry about being good enough, because we were designed to be good enough to do the work that we were designed to do.
At the end of our lives, there are no bonus points for climbing the corporate ladder. No other human will be giving testimony at the Judgment Seat of God that will determine whether or not we make the cut. God is only going to ask us about two things: What we did with Jesus, and what we did with the gifts He gave us.
I need to pause here to note that the questions come in that order for a reason. Because if you haven’t done anything with Jesus, the rest of this doesn’t matter. You can’t do the work God predestined you to do if you are not even aware of (or are in denial of) the Truth that God actually did do that. The thing is, we can’t do any of this on our own. God doesn’t just provide the calling for our lives, but also the strength to live it out. If we aren’t in a state of total trust and reliance upon that strength, then we are doomed to failure.
But wait a minute, aren’t there lots of successful people in this world who don’t believe in God? Again I ask, how are you defining success? If you’re talking about worldly things like money and status, then sure, I guess. But as the King of the Piedmont Blues, Cootie Stark, once sang, “I never saw no U-Haul behind no hearse.”
Sure, we can make money and get the corner office, the big house, and all that. But are we ever satisfied with our own efforts? Solomon was one of the richest kings who ever lived, but this is his observation:
If you love money, you will never be satisfied; if you long to be rich, you will never get all you want. It is useless. Ecclesiastes 5:10 (GNT)
It is true that our identity is inextricably bound to our work. It’s supposed to be that way, but we tend to look at this truth from the wrong angle. Our work doesn’t determine who we are. Who we are—who we REALLY are—determines our work.
So maybe when we meet people for the first time, instead of asking the typical guy question, “So what do you do?” maybe we should be asking, “Who do you think you are?” Well, maybe not, but you get the idea, right?
So, Truthseeker, who DO you think you are? Or better still, who do you KNOW you are? Because that will determine what you do.
If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get? Even sinners love the people who love them. If you do good only to those who do good to you, what praise should you get? Even sinners do that! If you lend things to people, always hoping to get something back, what praise should you get? Even sinners lend to other sinners so that they can get back the same amount! But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back. Then you will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God, because he is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin. Show mercy, just as your Father shows mercy. (Luke 6:32-36 NCV)
Many people believe in the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yet, it seems that many folks are waiting to be done unto before they do any doing.
In the passage above, Jesus is advocating a totally different strategy—mercy. Mercy is not concerned with everyone behaving properly or with showing favoritism toward those who do.
As Christians, we are called to set ourselves apart by being merciful as our Father is merciful. So what does that look like?
Romans 5:8 says, “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t wait for us to get in line to meet His standard (which is impossible anyway). He didn’t ask, or even consider, what we could do for Him. He went first.
This is probably the easiest way to define mercy—mercy goes first. Mercy looks to the needs of others, and sets about meeting them before considering anything else.
This doesn’t come naturally to most of us. In our culture, we’re used to “getting what we paid for.” If we are going to exchange our money, time or talent, we generally expect to get something in return. For this reason, it seems natural for us to think about how we’re going to be paid back before we make an investment.
The thing is the people who are the most in need of mercy tend to be the ones who CAN’T pay you back. But they CAN pay your mercy forward.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you relied on someone else’s mercy, knowing you wouldn’t be able to reciprocate? You might have felt gratitude at first, but later, the sense of indebtedness might have made you feel guilty.
Don’t go there. There’s a better way. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do for the person who helped you out, think instead of what you ARE able to do for someone else who is in a more desperate situation than you are. There’s always someone.
Here’s the catch, though. The person most in need of your mercy might be someone you don’t like.
This is where the “love your enemies” bit comes in. Jesus never asked us to LIKE our enemies. Remember though that agape love is not a feeling; it is an action. As such, it is perfectly possible to show mercy toward someone who has been adversarial to us, even if there’s still a part of us that wants to push them down the stairs.
But here’s the part we all need to remember. We were just as adversarial to God when He chased us down. He continues to bless us, even when we don’t thank Him. So if we are endeavoring to be “sons of the Most High,” we shouldn’t be standing around waiting for thanks either. It feels nice to be appreciated, but remember, this is not the goal of mercy.
This is mercy–to listen with compassion to the people who annoy you the most in order to learn what their greatest burden is, then to speak only that which will help relieve them of that burden, and if that is not possible, to remain silent and allow God to do His work in them, rather than burden them further with opinions and judgment.
And that is what God offers to us all day, every day. Think about that for a second. How does it make you feel to know that you don’t ever have to put on a fake face for God to receive His mercy?
Now how does it make you feel to know that you have the power to make somebody else feel a little bit of that? So go do it. And focus more on the “you’re welcome” than the “thank you.
The Lord always does right and wants justice done. Everyone who does right will see his face. (Psalm 11:7 CEV)
Way back in 2012, we defined justice as “getting what you deserve.”
However, from the quote above, we can see that the Bible has more than one definition of justice, depending on the translation. It wouldn’t make sense to interpret that God wants to see everyone get what they deserve, when His Word clearly states that, “He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9b GW).”
Instead, what the verse is saying is that the Lord does right, so that everyone who does what He does, having been created in His own image, will get to be with Him. With this context, we can see that “justice” is referring to righteous deeds.
Now we also have established that salvation is by grace alone, and that through faith. Our righteous deeds do not save us; rather, they are the evidence of our salvation. Our making the decision to follow God and join Him in His work is what leads us to a state of righteousness.
Taking that into consideration, we can see that there is no separation between “being saved” and acting justly. Doing justice (acting righteously) is the evidence of our salvation, because we are reflecting the image of the One who created us, the One who always does what is just.
Justice and Righteousness
Abraham is a perfect example of how this plays out. Back when Abraham was still “Abram,” God made him a promise regarding his abundance of descendants, which Abram believed, even though he had no logical reason to do so. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
This example is frequently cited when people explain salvation by faith, but there is more going on here. Abram’s act of faith entered him into a covenant with God. God bound Himself with a promise because Abram fulfilled his part of the covenant, which was to believe and conform to God’s plan. Therefore, the “righteousness” with which he was “credited” is something like a legal standing. Abram isn’t just a good guy; he has a distinct position because of his act of faith.
In other words, he did the right thing, and it had a good result. His salvation was through God’s grace, but it was also an act of justice. Abram got what he deserved, because he did what God expected him to do.
The prophet Micah, in chapter 6 of the book bearing his name, asks rhetorically what must be done to get God’s attention and earn His forgiveness. Then he answers his own question, saying:
The Lord has shown you what is good. He has told you what he requires of you. You must act with justice. You must love to show mercy. And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God. Micah 6:8 NIRV
The key word in that quote is “act.” God wants us to do justice, not just think happy thoughts about it. And how do we do that?
The simplest way is to stop thinking of ourselves first. God wants us to think of Him first, because of who He is. Next, as written in Philippians 2:4, He wants us to “look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.”
Doing this can be temporarily inconvenient, but it will yield great rewards.
(For more on the “show mercy” bit, come back for part 2.)
Do you hear me
Do you care
Do you hear me
Do you care
My lips are moving and the sound’s coming out
The words are audible but I have my doubts
That you realize what has been said
You look at me as if you’re in a daze
It’s like the feeling at the end of the page
When you realize you don’t know what you just read. . .
Media overload bombarding you with action
It’s getting near impossible to cause distraction
Someone answer me before I pull out the plug
What are words for when no one listens anymore
What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it’s no use talking at all
“Words” Missing Persons—1982
That song was released 35 years ago, before there were such things as the Internet or cell phones. Needless to say, things haven’t gotten any better.
In Part 5, we discussed the paradox of technology that to be totally connected in the 21st century is to be totally oblivious to the real world. Here’s another paradox. We have more ways to communicate instantly than we ever have before, yet we are losing the ability to communicate effectively day by day.
In 1984, George Orwell painted a picture of government control via the progressive destruction of the English language. By instituting Newspeak as the official language, vocabulary was systematically broken down to its most basic elements with each new edition of the dictionary becoming smaller and smaller.
Today, instead of 1984, we have The Emoji Movie, a cinematic abomination whose philosophy (if you can call it that) is summed up in one character’s quote, “Words aren’t cool.”
Consider the implications of this statement for a moment. Words are an expression of thoughts. The more profound the thought, the more words it takes to convey it. As a writer, I am keenly aware of this.
Sending emojis by text instead of speaking face to face, or heaven forbid, writing a letter, dilutes meaningful communication in a similar manner as Newspeak. Instead of connecting with another human’s mind through verbal communication, the goal now seems to be to get your point across (if you have one) with as little effort in as little space as possible.
Now I’m all for efficiency, in communication as well as other things, but this is going overboard. You don’t have to write a book when a sentence will do, but you do need to write a sentence when a sentence is needed. If a person can’t even write a coherent sentence, how would they expect to be taken seriously by anyone with intelligence?
There’s room here for a lengthy rant about spelling and grammar, but that’s not where I’m going with this (not today anyway). My concern is more about words themselves.
Because if words aren’t cool, then how much uncooler is The Word?
Think about that for a second. Two of the tenets of the Truth Mission Statement are that we strive to encourage people to discover the foundation of their beliefs and that we seek to train our youth in critical thinking and discipleship. Both of these require deep reflection and an ability to communicate. Erosion of language makes both endeavors impossible.
When I am around teenagers that suffer from depression, or even regular-sized doses of teenage angst, the common thread I hear from them is that they want to be heard. They feel that they are misunderstood and/or no one listens to them. Apparently, this is something that is common from generation to generation. What’s different today is that these kids who want to be heard aren’t able to express themselves in a meaningful way. And that’s assuming that anyone is even listening to them in the first place.
How do we overcome this and raise up a generation that not only knows how to think but how to express that thought proficiently? Don’t wait for the public school system to do its job. They have already done away with textbooks and given the kids tablets, laptops and YouTubes, so the kids can entertain themselves while the teacher plays solitaire or takes a nap.
The thing is, every time we put down our toys and pick up a book, we remember the pleasure that comes from reading, when our brain cells are roused and engaged. Some of us enjoy it more than others, of course, but it’s a very different feeling from the law-of-diminishing-dopamine that comes from being glued to a video screen.
And how much more refreshing is it when we read scripture? We were wired to respond to the Word, because as John explained at the beginning of his gospel, the Word is God. David wrote in Psalm 19:
The Law of the Lord is perfect, giving new strength to the soul. The Law He has made known is sure, making the child-like wise. The Laws of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The Word of the Lord is pure, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The Lord is always true and right in how He judges. The Word of the Lord is worth more than gold, even more than much fine gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey straight from the comb. And by them Your servant is told to be careful. In obeying them there is great reward. (Psalm 19: 7-11 NLV)
This is what it sounds like to be undistracted. A tall order in today’s society, but not impossible.
We have God’s Word, though, always available to us. It doesn’t change, and it’s written on a page, so that if we need to hear something again (and we all do), it’s right there for us. All the answers we need, even if we aren’t sure what the question is that we want to ask. This is the user’s manual for life.
But no one, kids or adults, can find answers if they won’t look for them. No one will ever know what the Word has for them if words aren’t cool.
I am hurt and lonely. Turn to me, and show me mercy. Free me from my troubles. Help me solve my problems. Look at my trials and troubles. Forgive me for all the sins I have done. Look at all the enemies I have. They hate me and want to hurt me. Protect me! Save me from them! I come to you for protection, so don’t let me be disappointed. You are good and do what is right. I trust you to protect me. (Psalm 25:16-21 ERV)
The words of King David ring true for many today, especially teenagers. It is so easy to feel isolated and alone at that age. In many cases, these kids actually ARE isolated and alone. Sometimes it’s in their own heads, and sometimes it’s external, as a result of normal social inclusion/exclusion rites, or worse, as a product of bullying.
I notice this especially with girls. Gossip and rumor-mongering are bad enough, but today’s technological advances have made hateful talk accelerate to light speed. Couple that with this generation’s reliance upon/addiction to their mobile devices and it becomes nearly impossible to get a positive thought in edgewise between all of the notifications.
So what’s a parent to do?
I believe that it all starts with integrity. Integrity and uprightness, or honesty, is all we have left when everything else is taken away. This is true for adults as well as teens. If we lose everything–our jobs, our loved ones, our material possessions–then what is left behind?
Who we are really behind all the masks, the social constructs, the rumors and the legends.
So who are we really? If you lost everything except your life today, what would you have left to rebuild your life upon?
If you are a person of integrity, that is, you say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say you are going to do and finish what you start, then you have all you need. Because you are a person that others can trust and rely upon, then trusting people will do that. If these are the kind of kids we want to have, then these are the kind of parents we need to be.
So our primary goal is to be the kind of parents whose children look to us as David looked to God in the above passage. Obviously, we are not perfect like God, but He created us in His image, which means that we have aspects of His character woven into our DNA.
When my children are up against it, I want them to know that they can look to me for help. I want them to know that I will forgive their mistakes and give them room to grow. They need to know that they have somewhere to turn when it seems like the world is crashing down on them. I don’t ever want to let them down. I want them to trust me to take care of them, even when they are older and don’t really need me to do that anymore.
But the only way I can be that kind of a father is to remember that I have a Father who does all of these things for me. And so do my kids. So it’s not really me I want them to trust, but God. His integrity is flawless and will go on forever. If I can point my kids to that, directly or through my own rudimentary example, then I will be giving them what they need to survive and overcome whatever comes their way.