Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Items related to the spiritual formation of dads and the spiritually formative influence dads have on their kids

Hey Church! Stop Holding Your Breath

I’ve heard stories about children who hold their breath to get what they want. Thankfully none of my kids have ever done this, so I’ve never seen it happen. But my wife has.

She used to babysit for two boys the youngest of which would cry to get what he wanted. He’d cry so much, that he wouldn’t take the time to breathe. So when he decided that what he wanted was more important than air, he would turn blue and pass out for a few seconds then wake having forgotten what he wanted.

As a dad of 4, soon to be 5, the practical side of me doesn’t think that’s a bad trade off. Let my kid pass out if it gets him through throwing a fit? Sure! But then, it’s probably not very good for his brain if he’s deprived of oxygen. As I think it through, I’m very sure his mother wouldn’t believe it’s good either.

So I officially advocate for breathing. We must breathe. Glad that’s settled.

Believers in Christ are no different. The Church, Christ’s body, must breathe. But as rule, it appears America’s model for the Church is that it inhales “Christian stuff” but exhales far less items of redemptive value.

Let me tell you what I mean.

Christian retail distribution and online sales are a 4.63 billion dollar a year business.[1] The majority of these are items are produced so that Christians can purchase and use them to learn more about God, Jesus Christ and His Church. The Church’s #2 “thing we do” next to Sunday worship, is Bible Study. These are not bad things right?

However, they are bad if all our consuming leads to nothing. No life-change, no other lives changed as a result.

Jesus’ Church is on the earth for one purpose and it isn’t to study the Bible in perpetuity, read popular theological books, enjoy Thomas Kinkade or to feel self-actualized. The Church’s purpose is to accurately represent Christ to the world and share the truth of Jesus so the world can be saved.

If all we do as Christians is receive Sunday sermons, study the Bible and buy “Christian stuff”, we are in serious danger of turning blue and passing out.

So what should we do? Exhale. And then inhale, and then exhale some more. Feels more healthy already doesn’t it?

Pour it out. Pay it forward. Give some back. Deny yourself, pick up your cross, follow Him. However you’d like to say it. Do not become a warehouse for information or stuff. But use all that God has breathed into you to breathe out to others. This doesn’t just mean Bible information or theology, but effort, comfort, peace, kindness, joy and gentleness. All of it.

If you’ve received salvation from God in Christ, then you must return that salvation to the world on behalf of the One who gave it to you. May we hold each other to this standard as we struggle onward.

If you’d like an opportunity to “breathe out”, the Schuyler County (Illinois) Ministerial Association(SCMA) has scheduled this year’s “Together for Rushville” community service workday for Saturday October 3rd. Please find the event on Facebook.

[1] Phillip J. Clements and Sharon Nolt, Christian Retail Industry Research, (New York, NY: Cathedral Publishing Group, 2008)

The Crisis of Fatherhood

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5 (ESV)

In 2003, the Idaho Observer cited statistics in an article that said children from fatherless homes account for[1]:

  • 63% of youth suicides. (Source: US Dept. of Health & Human Services, Bureau of the Census).
  • 71% of pregnant teenagers. (Source: US Dept. of Health & Human Services)
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children.
  • 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988)
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders. (Source: Center for Disease Control).
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger. (Source: Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol. 14, p. 403-26, 1978).
  • 71% of all high school dropouts. (Source: National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools).
  • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers. (Source: Rainbows for all God’s Children).
  • 85% of all youths sitting in prisons. (Source: Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992).

These statistics terrify me. They are so stunning and disheartening that instead of having my eyes opened by them I just want to close my eyes, my ears and my mind. I want to pretend they aren’t true; that I cannot feel the truth of them all around me.

I believe many of us feel the same way. We cannot feel the sharp certainty of these statistics without feeling the hopelessness of being part of them. How many of us are single parents? How many of us live at the center of raising children without fathers or have been raised fatherless ourselves?

So many of us want to say it doesn’t matter. While the fatherhood crisis continues in the world we do not want it to become a personal crisis of fatherhood. We want to say the presence of trustworthy, tender, strong and real adult men in the life of children just isn’t that important. We say this especially when men engage in the reproductive process, but run away from real fatherhood. Many of us find assurance in the quotes and quips of our culture like, “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of little children.”[2] Yet, isn’t God a Father? Isn’t he a good Dad that gives good gifts to His kids? It’s too serious a set of circumstances for us to bear if just a handful of these statistics are true. So we look for alleviation by closing our eyes.

I’ve recently overcome the arc of denial in this area. God is calling me to see the truth; to lean in and to react. I want you to know that I personally feel and have felt the weight of fatherlessness and fatherhood in my life. I have four mind-blowing children that I don’t deserve. They are 24 hour a day source of joy and fear because I am their dad. I am less than ideal for all of them, yet God, in His grace, in His fatherhood, gave them to my wife and me.

I am sure you feel that same way; less than ideal, less than equal to the task. When we turn our eyes to the raging fire of fatherlessness in our world, that feeling magnifies as we see all that is happening. We see the single moms struggling, courageously, to raise their children well. We see broken-hearted and lost children, acting out and searching because men haven’t contributed selflessly into their lives.

Whatever we see in this crisis and no matter how this makes us feel, I believe we are called by God to overcome fear, lean in and respond. Where the ideal is lacking, God’s grace abounds.[3] While we aren’t the answer, we are called to answer. If you are ready to see and respond to the fatherhood crisis, here are some resources that may help:

The Mentoring Project:

www.thementoringproject.org

The National Fatherhood Initiative:

www.fatherhood.org

The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse:

www.fatherhood.gov

The National Center for Fathering:

www.fathers.com

[1] Cited in “The Future: Set Adrift on a Sea of Fatherless Children,” Idaho Observer, July 2003.

[2] William Makepeace Thackeray, taken from brainyquote.com.

[3] Matt Chandler, from the Village Church sermon series, “A Beautiful Design”.

Is There Struggle in Our Struggle?

“We’re from America, we don’t struggle,” my friend looked me in the eye, “Now people in developing countries, they struggle.”

I could tell he was serious. He’d just returned from his first medical mission in a developing nation. He’d worked with scattered pockets of people who were ravaged by what we call “easily-treatable” diseases in the US.

And he said again, “We don’t know what real struggle is, our tomorrow is known, we’ll go to work, eat lunch, go to the doctor if we need to. Tell me how are we struggling? We aren’t!”

The look of offense set in my face and I could tell he knew his statement had teeth. He was right. I knew what I’d be doing the next day, the next week and, for some things, we had plans six months down the road. I had no questions about provision in my tomorrow, except “Does my son have football practice?” and “How will we get dinner done for my family between work and my wife’s prayer dessert?”

He had my attention. We finished our conversation with him telling me all that happened during the mission trip. As we talked I felt more and more guilt about my life here compared to life “over there”.

That conversation with my friend happened 5 years ago. While the loud volume of guilt for being American has been turned down by the speed of American life, one thing has stayed with me. If Americans don’t struggle, if I cannot claim struggle, then why do I still feel like life is so hard?

I had to do something about this guilt.

I thought maybe life only feels hard because of my obvious lack of perspective. So I tried to gain perspective by learning more about and being around “unfortunate people”. Learned much, but the guilt stayed.

Then I thought the pampered life I lead has made me soft to what’s really hard to endure. So I began eliminating what’s “unneeded” from my life. No frills, no stockpiling stuff, no useless entertainment or tech distractions. Life became simpler, but the guilt stayed.

Then I decided that I am too unconnected with people. That had to be the source of my insensibility. So I planned to live closely with people, get to know them, see their struggle and then maybe I’d begin to appreciate my lack of having any difficulty in life. I knew people more deeply, but the guilt stayed.

I even went on two mission trips to Haiti. Good work was done, the Gospel was preached; but the guilt stayed.

No matter what I did. The guilt was still present. Nothing washed it out. How could I dare to feel like life is a struggle when so many have so much less than I do? Then, by God’s grace, the truth of it hit me.

My grandfather says that, “Guilt never produced anything.” And he’s right. Guilt is conviction of wrong-doing that moves into your life, puts it’s feet on your couch and starts getting mail. It is the specter who makes sure we feel bad enough not to even try to change.

Guilt has a way of being a liar because it can be attached to anything. Ever been around someone who apologizes for every little thing? They apologize constantly because for one reason or another they attach guilt to things they have no responsibility or control over. This elevates the guilty person and the object of guilt to a place where life isn’t living.

American guilt for what America possesses is attached to the lie that the human condition in “Stuff-ville” is better than the human condition anywhere else. Like unnecessary guilt in regard to anything, it elevates Americans and our life-style as the standard of living. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Humans struggle, therefore American humans struggle. We struggle to keep our children over-provided for, our politics civilized and our affluence at such a high rate and energy that heart disease or diabetes are bigger killers than cholera or malaria in the US. I believe this says something not about our lack of perspective, our pampered life-style or our lack of connection. It says something about people in general. Even though we have it all, we still cannot understand how we aren’t satisfied, so we go for more; and it’s literally killing us.

To me that makes us impoverished.

Not financially, not materially, not medically or civilly. Mother Teresa called it poverty of the Spirit; a poverty of the soul. Much like the Church at Laodicea in Revelation:

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17(NIV)

And because of this, Americans struggle.

The people in Haiti have proven to me that humans can live on exceedingly little and still have God-given joy while Americans can live on exceedingly much and be miserable.

But the converse is also true.

I’ve met Haitians who see all we have and want the American life so badly that they’ll become miserable in their own country trying to get it. And I’ve met Americans whose guilt from affluence has compelled them to become resident missionaries in developing countries. (never a good idea, read this) Then they return after a time, dejected and confused because the guilt is still there and the struggle is still present.

No matter who you are and where you live, all humans struggle; it’s part of being alive.

This is just the bad news, to hear the good news, click here

%d bloggers like this: