Our Disconnected Families


I promise to write the final part of my series on Christian Education, but that final is long, involved, and taxing. It’s coming along, though.

Wanted to write a brief observation of what I witnessed this weekend. It’s sad, but it’s also critical for us to expose.

Saturday, my son and I attended an enrichment program for gifted children. The program is wonderful, and my son enjoys it immensely.

We broke for lunch and ate in the mini-cafeteria area. At the tables around ours were groups of dads with their sons and daughters sharing a lunch.

I use that word sharing with trepidation, because not much personal interaction occurred.

At one table, the dad got out lunch, then pulled out his MacBook and proceeded to spend the entire lunch absorbed in the Internet or some other computer-based distraction. His son ate his meal in silence.

At another table, a dad got a cell phone call and spent most of the meal talking to someone distant—rather than the young person immediately before him.

At the table beside ours, the daughter told her dad she loved him. He didn’t respond—too absorbed in his book.

I didn’t have a cell phone with me. I don’t have a laptop computer. My book stayed closed. My son and I talked about life over lunch.

This does not make me Superdad. I’m always Clark Kent. More often than not, I’m clumsy with this or that. I make mistakes with alarming regularity.

But at least I’m present in the moment.

What are we doing to ourselves and to our families? How did we get so distracted?

The dad on the laptop really bugged me, and I felt like saying something to him. But I didn’t. He might have responded, “Yeah, well who made you Superdad?”

That I tolerated the dad on the cell phone a bit more says something about what we’ve come to accept as normal. I hope I never become too normal, though.

And the dad so engrossed in his book? I watched that daughter’s response to the ignoring of her simple affirmation of love. She pulled her coat over her head and retreated into her nylon and polyfill cave. It’s not hard to imagine what might go down in her life as she ages and goes searching for someone, anyone, to say, “I love you, too, darlin’.”

I keep wondering what we’re doing to ourselves. It’s not like any of those dads had no choice. No, they selected their priorities.

How sad that in America 2010, we have so much, yet our much often becomes the building materials for the next generation’s hell.

{Note: I wanted an image for this post that showed a dad ignoring his child while he toyed with some electronic device . Sadly, many stock photos of such a scene exist. I say sadly not because I would have to pay to use that image but because so many pro photographers have seen fit to document such a scene.}

Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

From the Mental Vine


I’ve got several topics in me that I may never get out in full, so I’m going to post some abbreviated versions today rather than let them rot on the mental vine.

Christian Ghettos

In the wake of the International Christian Retail Show (which, by the name alone, sounds like something Jesus would’ve driven out of the Temple with a whip of His own making), several bloggers have given their impressions of the event.

What amazes me in the aftermath is the ghetto mentality on display in those recaps. The charismatics ooh and aah over the charismatic books and authors, the Reformed over their camp’s books and authors, the Baptists over theirs—and on and on.

When I was at Wheaton College, I tried with all my might to convince some of those young whippersnappers to bust out of their denominational ghettos and see how the rest of Christianity lives. It won’t kill the Episcopalian to attend an Assemblies of God service. The Free Will Baptist won’t spontaneously combust by checking out what the high-church Presbyterians are doing. The Covenant Church fellow might see how his counterpart in the Ukranian Orthodox Church worships and come away renewed.

But no, such a request bordered on heresy. Or crossed it, depending on how much starch one had in one’s undies. And back in the early ’90s when I attended, Wheaton could’ve passed for a starch factory.

To see that same paranoia from adults at the ICRS just drives me nuts. Folks, break out of the ghetto! Pick up a book favored by some other denomination and—before you start with the criticism—see if God speaks at all from within the pages. Because I believe that people who dwell in a ghetto never experience the beauty of all God has laid out for us. You can still love your particular denomination, but bring in something precious from elsewhere and watch how God will breathe life back into your ghetto. It’ll change your life and the lives of those around you, I promise.

Power Pop

Being a musician, I deeply appreciate a well-turned song. I’m an extreme sucker for power pop done well. Think huge hooks, anthemic themes, and suitability for cruising the carefree highway with the top down and the volume cranked up.

I don’t follow any contemporary Christian music groups anymore. Most of my faves are relics from the ’80s and early ’90s. I’ve bought one freshly-released Christian music CD in the last five years.

But I’ve got to say this: Newsboys possess this remarkable ability to totally nail power pop. Repeatedly. In a variety of styles. Like clockwork. That’s a rare skill.

The other day while running errands, I turned on the radio and heard this techno instrumental break that reminded me immediately of New Order (not the kind of music one hears on Christian radio) and I said right there, “Newsboys. Must be a new single.” And it was: “Something Beautiful.”

The synth part on the chorus? Simple to the point of stupidity, but absolutely pure genius. (Reminds me a bit of the lead guitar line in The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”) I also love the abbreviated-bridge lyric construction in the verses. That’s the kind of chance too few artists take in Christian music today. As a drummer, I’m repeatedly bored to tears by the same beat used in song after song on Christian radio, but to hear a disco drum machine beat—ah, refreshing in a way some may never understand.

I dare you not to get up and dance to “Something Beautiful.” I just love a song filled with life, don’t you? What are your favorites?

And Now For Something Completely Different—And Heartbreakingly Sad

I don’t know why, but I have a total fascination with vanishings. Individuals, planes, boats, villages, and troops that go missing capture my attention. I read about a classic vanishing like the crew of the Mary Celeste and I’m riveted. I’ve always been a “What If?” kind of person, and vanishings afford tons of what ifs. When I see missing person posters, I can’t help myself, I have to read them. These are people’s husbands, wives, daughters and sons. They’re neighbors, friends. And they’re gone. Just gone.

Most end in tragedy. You read enough outcomes and you understand why women out alone cast that furtive, over-the-shoulder glance, eyes wide and frightened. I see too many of those stories anymore. And the number of blogs dedicated to someone gone missing keeps growing.

Mary Byrne Smith, pastor’s wife, kindergarten teacher, and mother of two, vanished from a Beth Moore conference back in March. A few days ago, they found her.

But hers isn’t the story of a shallow grave in a remote forest. No, her story is far more tragic. Though I’m not a sensationalist, I heartily encourage you to read it.

I’m not here to judge Mary Smith. What I’m here to judge is the system we Americans uphold that creates people like her. I see her smiling face in that FoxNews update and I wonder how it all went wrong.

Six weeks ago, I posted some sobering stats concerning ministers and their wives. Our inability to accept them as fellow laborers for Christ creates pressures few of us outside the ministry understand.

I remember last year when I first heard of the Winkler case in Tennessee. Minister’s wife shoots him dead and flees with her daughters. It’s terrible, but I thought what many thought: molestation. Turns out the reason was check kiting and money scams. And not by the minister.

I hate this trend. And I do think it’s a trend. I fully understand that people sin, and pastor’s wives are people, too. But something’s wrong and we in the Church need to wake up and find a way to fix what appears to be an increasingly dire situation in the homes of many families in the ministry.

Please pray for your pastor and his family. They need our covering.

Have a blessed weekend.