More About Hospitality

In yesterday’s post, I described my first two homes away from home, here in Allendale County. Those folks who have taken me in have been God-sends, but we knew that our family would need a place of our own.


Not Your Typical Southern Grandma
The first time I met Camille Nairn, we were at someone’s house, and both of us wanted coffee. When I asked for cream in mine, she looked at me and said, “You are weak.” I knew right then that I would like her.



Keep reading on the Mission: Allendale blog.

Homes Away From Home

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . . Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)

As most of you know, I have been working in Allendale County since the middle of January. In my interview (on a Wednesday), I was told that they would make a decision by Friday, and the job would start that Monday. I knew it would be quick start date, but I was caught completely off-guard by how fast this was moving. “I need . . . some . . . time,” I stammered. “Like, to find a place to live.”

We knew that it would take some time to get our family moved down, so I needed a temporary place to stay on Monday through Thursday nights. I was commuting almost every weekend (besides a short but much-needed mini-vacation and when a college mission trip was going on).

God has provided some awesome places and people to meet our need.


Keep reading on the Mission: Allendale blog.

A Response to Comments on "How Do We Know That God Is Real?"

image courtesy of duchesssa via sxc.hu
It was quite a firestorm last week. I re-posted an article that I had written a year earlier, when my son Elijah asked me, "How do we know that God is real?" I made the decision (maybe not the best one?) to post a link to this on a site where I figured it would get a little bit of a negative response. I underestimated.

Over 2000 views and almost 60 comments in the first few hours. Whereas it started on this particular site (reddit.com), I think it spread elsewhere. Page views kept trickling in over the next few days. Whoa, Nelly!

Like I said, maybe made a mistake by stirring up the hornets nest. I did not have the time to respond to comments as they came in, nor was that the intention of the post. But, part of me smiled knowing that there are certain buttons that you can press to bring about a response. I probably need to learn to be more of a peacemaker, huh?

Here are a few things that I learned from the comments and feedback I received, whether on the blog, email, Facebook, or verbally:
  1. I enjoy comments. If you have something to say, whether supportive or not, please say it. I always look forward to keeping the conversation going.
  2. I do enjoy comments that are civilly and thoughtfully presented. Some of the comments, even from an opposite perspective, I appreciated. Many self-proclaimed atheists presented logical arguments, and a few were upset at how other atheists conducted themselves.
  3. I don't enjoy mindless or profane comments. I had to remove a few that were unrelated babble or that were outright nasty.
  4. The purpose of the post was NOT apologetics. I did not intend to give a full evidential support about Creationism and the Resurrection. Give me some credit! Some commenters took a line or two, and assumed that was as deep as my thinking has gone. Trust me -- I am skeptical to the bone, and not afraid to question and say, "No." It was with much, much, much skepticism that I began to explore the claims of Christianity over 16 years ago.
  5. The purpose of the post was to illustrate how I talk with my kids. Dialogue (not just me "preaching") and questions are a great way for my growing kids to learn. I love that Elijah thinks of things like this, and that he feels comfortable asking me. This has come about through years of conversations and the grace of God, helping him feel safe with me.
  6. I want my kids to learn how to think. It's interesting the number of comments that referred to me being "abusive" or "deceiving" or "immoral" to my son. The whole point of the conversation was actually to encourage him to ask questions. I have never told him to "just believe blindly." I just shared why I believe. 
  7. My child's faith is not in my hands. In this case, I agree with the comments that I need to let my son make his own decision about God. I have to realize that Elijah's faith is really between him and God. Of course, my role as a Christian father is to encourage him in his faith, and to lead him in the path of truth, but ultimately I cannot control his spirituality. But I do trust in a loving and gracious Savior, and I pray for mercy on my kids' souls.

I did find this comment regarding my post on a separate site (not in my original link). It is from a strong atheist, and I appreciate his or her honesty and civility in these excerpts:
"This dad even mentions in the story that he wants his son to believe in God for his own reasons, and that one day he will have to believe in God for himself. This is EXACTLY what we want Christian parents to be like. This is a father who isn't angry his son is questioning at a young age, this is a show of tolerance in the most basic form we can hope for in a religious family (especially one willing to visit a Creationist Museum).
"I've noticed that a lot of people [on this forum] act like born-again Christians, finding a need to preach to every person who express their beliefs in public form, and not doing so in a polite way that implies a discussion or debate. . . .

"I also think the wording here implies that he expects his son to believe in his Christian beliefs later in life, but he's also not blindly telling his son "God just does exist, why would you not believe that?" and making him read scripture. He's explaining his own personal beliefs using opinion and hoping that his son understands where he's coming from. . . .

"My argument isn't even that this man is RIGHT, the fact that this story was tolerant in terms of Christian families was just a note. My argument is that we bandwagon against religion on [this forum] in the same way that religious people bandwagon against other religions."

Likewise, I am especially appreciative of words that are both encouraging and supportive. Comment #60 or so on the original post was from a Christ-follower, and included the Bible reference Matthew 5:11-12:
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Finally, I re-posted a particularly good rebuttal of many of the comments. It was a comment itself on the original article, but I thought it was worth highlighting.


Related Links:

Baptisms and Testimonies from Easter Weekend

We worshiped this past weekend on Saturday night, partly to rest on Sunday, and partly because we knew 9 of the 10 people who were baptized at that service (see photos here). For the entire weekend, there were 44 people who were baptized at Grace Church. I love that we can watch and listen to testimonies from all these folks on our Pastors Blog.

But I love even more being able to praise our Lord for how He has worked in each of their lives, like He worked in mine. Here are some excerpts of how the gospel is changing their lives:

I understand that I'm a sinner and that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
He [Jesus] loves me even though I sin.
I know that I'm a sinner, and that God is the only one that can save me from my sins.
Last summer, I realized really how sinful I was and that I really wanted Christ to be a big part of me.
It is only because His grace and mercy . . . that we can even come close to getting into Heaven.
In my mind, I wasn't a Christian unless I kept those rules. I spent much of life trying to figure out how I can bend those rules and still be a Christian. Or I'd break those rules and think, "Oh, no. I'm no longer a Christian."
It [baptism] doesn't really have anything to do with me, but it is about Christ and what He has done for me.
There's just nothing I can do to change my life. . . . I was extremely broken and thought I had it all together. I was good and I was leading a good life. I realized that it was all a facade.
From that point on, it became a long process of Him chipping at my heart.
I want to be baptized because that's what Jesus did, and I want to be like Him.
I want to be baptized because of what Jesus Christ has done for me, and I want to follow Him, and I want everyone to know it.
I want to be baptized to show that I've died to sin, and raised to a new life in the Holy Spirit.
God has continued to forgive me. . . I know that God's forgiveness will always be there.
I want to be baptized because God is working in my life. . . . I'm not living for me anymore; I'm living for Christ.
God is the only one that can save me from my brokenness and fulfill my deepest needs.

Here is a video of some of the testimonies, but check out the Grace Pastors Blog for all the videos:


Be You

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart."  
Jeremiah 1:5

The Change I Made
I moved from Union, NJ to Swansea, SC in the summer before my 6th grade year. Actually, to say that I lived in Swansea would be an overstatement. I lived 4 miles outside of this two-stoplight town. We were in Lexington County, but our property ended where Calhoun County started, and we were less than a mile (as the buzzard flies) from Orangeburg County.

image courtesy of Bubbels via sxc.hu
From a town next to Union you could see into New York City. On our 10+ acres in Swansea, you could see pine trees and fields. And pine trees. And fields. And snakes (in the years we lived there, we killed a rattlesnake, copperhead, and cottonmouth on our property).

Moving down right before middle school meant adjustments. Nearly every day the temperature reached 100 degrees, and the closest pool was over 40 minutes away. “Next door neighbors” (besides stray dogs, toads, and those dang snakes) were about  a mile away. No place to ride my skateboard except a small concrete slab where a trailer used to rest.

And people talked funny. Really funny. But I figured they said the same about me. So when school started I did the one thing I could. I changed.

I changed, just a little, just to fit in. I talked a little differently, acted a little differently. There was nothing innately wrong with trying to fit it in, except that it just wasn’t me. After a few months of working hard to fit in, I realized it wasn’t worth the effort.


Another Boy’s Change
image courtesy of Sweet Trade via flickr
Fast forward 24 years. When we opened the particular after school program where I work on January 31, we had one Caucasian boy who came regularly. Add the two Hispanic children, and that made a grand total of 3 non-African-American children in our program. (So on my kids’ first day at the Club, we DOUBLED the number of non-African-American attendees!)

This boy, let’s call him Mark, was always the first to arrive, having come from the local private school. Mark came in ready to do his homework and showed respect to everyone. I was also pleased to see how well he was accepted by the other kids (as opposed to another Caucasian boy who came only once, until – as I found out later – another boy told him, “We can’t be friends because you’re white and I’m black.”)

Mark did great connecting with other kids in sports and activities for a few weeks. But then I started noticing some changes in his behaviors and speech. Nothing really horrible, but it just wasn’t him. It hit me that it was the same thing I had experienced two decades earlier.

I pulled Mark aside one day, and brought this up. I told him that he was a great kid and nothing was wrong, but cautioned him about getting caught up trying to please others. I explained that I had been through the same situation when I was his age. He needed to just be himself.

It seemed to sink in, as over the next week, he was back to his regular self. Unfortunately, due to some personal issues, his parents needed to pull him out of the program.


Is Change Bad?
To be clear, changing who we are is not innately wrong. In fact, the apostle Paul explained how he “became all things to all men” (I Corinthians 9:19-23). The core issue, like all Gospel-related issues, is the motivation. We need to examine our hearts, and as parents and leaders, help children learn to examine their heart motives. Are we doing it for the glory of God, or to please others and to desire them to accept me?

For a child who is struggling to fit in, I would try to help her see that God made her exactly like He wanted her to be. There are over 6 billion people in the world, and God made each of them unique. To want to look differently could be (not always, but often) going against His divine will.

This was the same general message I recently had for a girl at the club, who has visible scars from a severe burn when she was younger. Another child was making fun of her for getting burned (like she could have helped it!), and it made her distraught. I tried to reassure her that she was absolutely special and that I was so glad that I got to know her.

When we feel alone and out of place, the solution isn't to fix our environment. Read this excerpt on Stuff Christians Like:
“Ultimately, God doesn’t just replace our solutions with new solutions from him. He replaces them with him. He knows that if he gave us a new list of action items, we’d worship that instead. When pushed into a corner, when darkened by stress and turmoil, we would seek comfort in our printed out list of instructions, instead of the instructor.

"So instead he offers us a savior instead of a solution. He offers us a relationship, not a routine. Full of mystery, full of creativity, and yes, sometimes full of frustration.”

God doesn't so much want our comfort as He wants our worship. Maybe the hardships we have -- even when we feel different, alone, and wrong -- are tools that He can use to draw us to Himself. Don't so much seek to change our environment, as much as seek to worship Him more.


Related Link:

Should We Require Bible Reading for Our Kids?

The Tension 
I recently read a good article from Ordinary Pastor (Erik Raymond), called Is Mandated Bible Reading Healthy for Kids? This is a common question, especially among evangelical Christian parents. In this question is a tension between the need to disciple and train, versus being too stringent and legalistic. Not requiring Bible reading can lead to spiritual ignorance, while over-demanding it can lead to discouragement.


A Few Challenges
One common challenge is the age range between kids. This author has children spanning from 20 months to 16 years. Another friend of ours with 5 children (teens down to preschool) has come to the conclusion that they basically have 2 groups of children for which to do family devotions. We “only” have three children, but our older two (ages 9 and 7) are definitely at a much deeper level than our 4 year old.

Another challenge is time. Leading your children in spiritual formation, including Bible reading, will require a commitment. (Confession: that I fail at this far too often.) Whether it’s time in the morning, at dinner, or before bed is not the main issue; the key is just to do something.


Ideas
Once you realize the need to teach your children the Bible, and have committed time to do this, you are probably wondering what you should do. The author of the article referenced above uses a mixture of family Bible reading, catechisms, and personal devotion and journaling time.

With my older kids, they do their 3-day-a-week Bible reading plan from the bookmarks (see this page, and look under Elementary) they get in Camp Grace, using the ROAD method. It is usually pretty basic, but I am so thankful that they are learning how things that I didn’t until I was 12-15 years older than they are. Sometimes at night, we read a passage of Scripture; currently we are slowly making our way through the Sermon on the Mount (you can read about how it has connected with our lives, as we seek to be salt and light). 

With Sender, I often get him to draw a picture of a Bible story in his own notebook, and then at night (or afternoon nap time) we’ll use a story book Bible. Often Joanna reads to him, sometimes I do, and sometimes Hannah or Elijah will. It’s a great opportunity for them to take spiritual ownership.

In the past, we have used Family Night material from Heritage Builders; we probably went through 8 or 10 different books in total. More recently, I have used Big Truths for Young Hearts, which I highly recommend as a resource if you have kids from mid-elementary through teenage years.

As you can see, there are lots of options. Again, just do something.


Objections and Warnings
Will mandating Bible reading discourage children? Well, it could, of course. But we must remember that we parents are responsible to expose our children to as much Bible as possible. And this is not just about knowing Bible stories, but how it connects with their real lives.

Another motivation from Erik Raymond is his desire to proclaim that their “home is going to reflect traditional Christian values and practices.” This does not make those who live there Christians. But parents must not be ashamed or fearful to proclaim God’s word.

We must always be attentive that we are not producing mere moralists. Children need to be reminded that Bible reading is not a way to earn God’s favor, but is a way to respond to His unmerited love by seeking Him. “The answer to this [tendency for mechanical obedience] is the continual restating of the gospel by the parents.”


Conclusion
No matter what the ages of our kids, we need to teach them to read and study God’s word. No matter what time of day or how long we have, the responsibility is ours. But we also need to have the mindset that over time, the ownership must be transferred to our kids. God has to be working in their heart.

As I wrote in EOL: The Splint and Spiritual Disciplines, disciplines such as Bible study provide a means (but not the power) for God to work in a person's soul.


Related Links:

Easter Memories

Here are four things that made our Easter weekend enjoyable and meaningful:
  1. Worship at Grace Church on Saturday night. Great teaching from Luke 24, saw 10 people follow Jesus in baptism. We knew 9 of those folks (6 kids and 3 adults), and went to a celebration party for 3 of them afterward.
  2. Cut grass on Sunday morning. Not typical Easter behavior, but it was well overdue. I'm sure my neighbors appreciated it. Then, right before lunch, took the kids to the store to by some discounted chocolate bunnies.
  3. Watched Joanna and kids make "Resurrection Rolls" (see picture above). Marshmallow (representing Jesus), butter (oils), cinnamon and sugar (the embalming spices), and dough (burial cloth). Put in oven (tomb) for a few minutes, and the rolls are empty inside. Apparently, our friends the Osborns had the same idea (and she gives more detailed instructions).
  4. Elijah showed me his Easter scenes made from Legos. He got this idea from seeing pictures from some friends on Facebook, plus a site about Bible stories with Legos. Love his mind!

Jesus (front left) and Barabbas before Pilate. Crowd behind them.

Jesus being tortured.

On the cross. Colorful cross.

    The empty tomb, with the angel standing over it.

    All together.

    What was special about your Easter? 


    Related Links:

      Spring Break in Allendale

      We have had one full week in Allendale as a family. Now it's spring break in Allendale, so we are back in the Upstate. We'll spend the week with dentist appointments for the kids, more packing, meetings, HOG Day on Saturday, and relaxing. But last month, a group of young men and women spent their spring breaks in a much different way.

      Really? These were the best roofers we could find?
      In March, about two dozen college students (mostly from Grace Church, in Greenville, SC) came down to Allendale for a mission trip during their spring break. They did yard work, painted, worked with young kids, and more. It was our church’s first mission trip solely for college students, and it was a success, not so much for the work that was done, but for the relationships that were made.

      I was glad that I got to hang out with them, and particularly enjoyed the last night. One of the adult leaders, Jason McCall, shared from Philippians 2. He pointed out that Paul did not find joy in prison. He took joy with him, no matter where he went. This truth was a great reminder for me, that I can have joy in Allendale, if it is rooted in Christ and His church.
       
      During this final night, Jason had the students share some of their superlatives about their time in Allendale. Here is a sampling of what was said:
      • Most memorable. “Meeting all the kids at [the after school program], from the well-behaved to all the troubled ones. They might not respect all the time, but they accept and want to be with all the leaders, even the new ones.” This was a great observation. Even times when I’m in schools and talk to children I don’t know, I’ve never heard a child ignore me, even though I was a stranger asking them to do something.
      • Biggest Take Away. “Every little thing you do affects people.” It’s about continually pouring in good, clear water.
      • Appreciate the Most. “How good my teachers and parents have been to encourage me in education. These kids don’t regularly have that.”
      • Most Shocking. “The reading, math, and discipline problems in school. But I also met people that have passion and hope to turn things around.”
      • How Can You Be More of a Living Sacrifice. “Give yourself away (whether painting a house or working with kids) and stay faithful to the end, even when it’s not in your main gift set.”

      It was encouraging to hear all of these things. Then, I was asked what God has been teaching me. In the previous couple of days, God had impressed a couple of terms on my mind:
      • Isolating. My personality allows for me to survive being alone, but it’s still really hard. But God is showing me that above all, I really just need HIM. When I had the chance to clear my head and process this more, I learned that I was never really alone; God was drawing me to Him.
      • Sacrifice. I echoed some of the other students that I am called to just be used up, even when it’s hard. It is God’s story, not mine. We are called to stand firm in what God has called us to.

      Gotta' give them credit. They did great (working with pros).
      My family was blessed by these college students. My kids got to see a model of what it looks like to be a teenager who grasps the idea that life is about worshiping and serving Christ. These students could have been doing a lot more fun things than spending half their spring break in Allendale, SC.

      In 10-15 years, when Hannah, Elijah, and Sender are in college, I want them to think back and remember the example they saw in these students, so they could be encouraged to give their lives away for the sake of God’s kingdom.


      Related Link:

      Week 1 In Allendale

      From left to right: Mason, Sender, Elijah, Dan, Wes, Marvin
      It has been a good first week for our family in Allendale. We had some great friends help Joanna move stuff down last weekend. Plus some guys who were already down here helped prepare the house for the move in, like moving furniture, scrubbing baseboards and blinds, and vacuuming. So thankful for the body of Christ!

      We've known for the last few months that the transition would be difficult, from both a physical and an emotional standpoint. Physically, we (especially Joanna) have worked hard to get the family packed up and moved. Emotionally, it was hard to be apart for 13 weeks(!), and it is hard to leave so many great friends and an incredible church.

      As far as the after school program where I work, we need to be gearing up for the summer at this time. But as far as our family, we want to get settled in before the summer. We have new carpet, interior painting, and a refrigerator (all courtesy of folks from Grace Church). We are not yet completely moved, and we are trying to figure out when and how to get the rest of what we need down here. We have some furniture in our rental house from the owner (I'll talk more about our place next week), but we took this week to figure out what we need and don't need.

      Not only has it been great for Joanna and I to be together during the week, but I love that the kids at after school see us working together for the same purpose. The vast majority of them do not have parents who are unified, or even live together.

      All three kids have enjoyed their time at home (including sharing a bedroom), around town, and in the program. Hannah has met some girls, and we are trying to see if any of the 4th grade girls want to join her (and Joanna) at Grace Church's Elementary Camp. Not only would it be a chance to build and solidify friendships, but it would be a great opportunity for a child from here to visit a new part of the state.

      Elijah has had an enjoyable time, much better than his rough first day. He has connected with some other boys, played soccer, and showed off his paper airplane making skills.

      Kids of all ages at the after school program constantly ask and look for Sender. He is like our fun-loving mascot.

      We are glad to be back in the upstate for over a week, including Easter (with friends at Grace getting baptized) and HOG Day (with folks from Allendale coming up to pitch in). Besides a couple of meetings, we are looking forward to some downtime and a little more "civilization" (like Chick-fil-A, Target, and Woodruff Road traffic).


      Related Link:

      Six-Month Update: Top Posts

      image courtesy of xenxen via sxc.hu
      On Monday, this blog will be exactly 6 months old. Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me along the way. I've learned over the past few years that writing is a good outlet for me, and from feedback I've gotten, some of these posts have been helpful to others. Here are the most popular posts since we started.
      1. How Do We Know That God Is Real?  Something I had written before, with minor edits. I made the decision to post this on a place where I figured it wouldn't be popular. I underestimated the response. I allowed all but the most profane comments, which I plan to respond to with another post next week.
      2. What If My Child Doesn't Want to Go to Church?  A common question for church-going families.
      3. Why First Time Moms Lose Their Minds  A hilarious video, that's funny because it's so often true.
      4. Where Am I?  The first post about our mission to Allendale.
      5. Questions for a Santa Family -- Part 1  An interview of some friends.
      6. Why Public School -- Part 1  An interview of another couple, about being missional with their decision to have their children in public school.
      7. Biblical Parent vs Gospel Parenting  The difference is important.
      8. The Inerrant, Infallible, Inspired Word of God . . . Or Not?  At the time (until #1), this generated the longest and deepest conversation in the comments.
      9. Response to "A Case for Homeschooling"  Engaged a controversial topic, picked up some followers.

      I'm trying to not be emotionally-scarred that one-third of these top posts were material that I didn't come up with myself. But I am really proud that this could be a forum for different voices to be heard, such as in the multiple interviews that we have done. Also, talking about touchy and controversial seems to be natural for me, whether on this blog or in real life.

      Don't forget to check out the pages for Top Parenting Concerns and Mission:Allendale, if you are interested in those topics.

      Thanks to everyone who has read, subscribed to, and shared posts. I also want to give a shout out to some personal sites that lead to the most traffic on my blog (in order of the number of referrals):
      1. Ministry-to-Children 
      2. Kelley Smith Style
      3. Growing Kids Ministry
      4. The Pitts Family

      Think I left off someone to recognize or your favorite post? Let me know in the comments.

      When the Grinch Grows a Heart

      “I will have mercy on who I want to have mercy, 
      and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  
      Exodus 33:19

      Most of these kids at the after school program where I work deserve to be punished, written up, and suspended. Their behavior is often distracting (at the least) and destructive (to their peers and the facilities). And if I am good at anything, it is cracking down and enforcing rules.

      But when I take time to listen to the stories of the kids, it breaks my heart.

      Read more on Mission: Allendale

      Recommended: Big Truths for Young Hearts

      Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of GodI struggled with reading the first 30% or so of Big Truths for Young Hearts. I was expecting a family devotional, similar to the Family Nights series that I talk about here, in which I would be given a verse, some words to read to my kids, and then an activity to do.

      But this book was so much better.

      More than just another family devotional, Big Truths for Young Hearts explains profound theological truths on a level that an average parent could understand, and then teach to his or her school-age child. Each morning, I would read a three-page section to myself, and then during one of our meals during the day, I would summarize it for my family.  

      I don’t know what I enjoyed most:
      1. Learning theology on a level I could comprehend.
      2. Exposing my children to important theology.
      3. My children thinking I am the world’s greatest scholar.

      I’ll take option #4, which is “All of the above.”

      I wrote extensively about this book on the Grace Church Children’s Ministry Blog, but go ahead and order your copy today.


      Has anyone else used this book to teach your kids? What did you think?

      What Kids See

      A friend of mine who works in an after school program reminded me that we need to imagine programming from the kids' perspectives. We have to understand where they are coming from, and how they have been trained (actively or passively) to behave in certain situations.

      We all know that kids tend to have great imaginations. According to some recent research in the UK, children under the age of 13 really do see things differently than adults do. We could go into the psychological basis of this, but today I'd just rather focus on humorous side, such as with these pictures.





      Osborn Mission

      One of the best parts of our mission to Allendale is that we can better understand and pray for missionaries. Of course, our path is far easier than most, but it is still nice to be able to empathize with others' struggles.

      I mean, we think that we are taking a "different way" by moving our family to Allendale, SC, but it is nothing compared to our friends Joseph and Elizabeth Osborn. For years now, they have been working on moving to Papua New Guinea, and will hope to make the move this summer, along with their three cute kids.

      They feel called to preach the gospel, translate the Bible, and plant a church, to a people group who has no access to God's word. You can read more about their mission on their website, Mission Osborn, and watch the video below.



      We are so excited for them, and hope you are, too! If you are wondering why it's important to send folks to unreached people groups, Kenny Conley justifies why he's a missions snob -- namely, that only 2% of missionaries and 1% of missions giving goes towards the 1.6 billion people who have no access to a Christian witness.


      Related Link:

      Nature vs Nurture: Women & STEM

      I studied chemistry at Furman University. As you can imagine, I got to know a bunch of talented people, both men and women who were much smarter than I was. It was while I was there that I first began hearing about initiatives to encourage more women to enter fields related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Sounded like a good plan to me, especially considering that only one of my tenured chemistry professors was female.

      But then I had a bigger question: Is there really a need to encourage more women to pursue STEM? And if so, why haven't more women done so?

      Was it an issue of nurture, where our culture and environment discourages, or at least fails to encourage, young women to pursue math and science? Or was it mere nature, where the male and female brains are, in general, hard-wired differently? Or was it a mix of nature and nurture?


      Nurture
      image courtesy of vierdrie via sxc.hu
      In our culture and history, I would agree that men have had better opportunities to pursue careers in STEM, whether in government, industry, or education. And without sufficient role models, it is difficult for the next generation of girls to pursue those endeavors. I am thankful for people who are trailblazers, those who are willing to forge ahead not for their own gain, but to make a well-worn path for others to follow.

      If we "stack the deck" solely in favor of boys pursuing science, we may miss out on some great talent and contributions. This could be seen in the balance of employment and promotions along gender lines, as well as how topics are presented. As shown in one study in Europe, the context of the topic studied helps determine the level of interest for girls and boys. That is, when discussing the science of cosmetics, girls tend to be more interested; boys are more interested in rockets. Just a stereotype? Maybe, but interesting nonetheless.


      Nature
      Could it be true that a big factor is that men and women are made differently? As a biochemistry major, I was fascinated to learn about how our body is programmed to produce all kinds of chemicals from the DNA in each cell. And even more amazing is that the males and females only differ by only 1 chromosome (a specific structure containing DNA).


      Source: Access Excellence
      See the image to the left? That is the image of the 23 pairs of chromosomes in a human male. A human female has two X chromosomes, instead of an X and Y. But that slight difference means a lot in terms of anatomy and hormones. In particular, the two most common gender-associated hormones are testosterone and estrogen. Both males and females have both of these, but men have much more of the former and females more of the latter. It was long-doubted, but recent evidence shows that these hormones have a significant effect on brain function.

      So, since gender (determined by the 23rd chromosome) affects hormone activity, and since hormone activity affects the brain, it would seem logical that gender can play a role in how are brains are hard-wired towards specific talents and strengths.

      Even when I was in college I wondered, "What if boys and girls were, in general, better at different topics? What if boys were naturally better at topics like math and science?" Of course, I usually kept my mouth shut, especially considering how many female classmates and friends I had.


      Nature + Nurture (With Caution)
      It is evident that both nature and nurture affect the opportunities for success in STEM-related fields, or any other, for that matter. We need to make sure we allow for and encourage success in any field, whether it's girls pursuing science, or boys pursuing the arts.

      However, I am worried about how strong this "encouragement" can often be, and maybe unnecessary. I saw data in a chemistry journal years ago that showed that there are more women than men who are graduating with chemistry degrees. But even more, are we (as parents, educators, and culture) pushing young women into a field that they might not be best wired up for?

      I saw this a lot of Furman, a school full of passionate and stressed-out overachievers, where it is more common to study on a Saturday than to attend a home football game. I saw students (especially female science majors) bear this weight of feeling like they had to succeed in their majors, for the sake of what was expected of them.

      Joanna, valedictorian of her high school class, started out school as an engineering major (like just about everyone else from Clemson), but switched during her first year. While she could have done well as an engineer, she realized that was not the core of who she was, and she knew that the sacrifices it would require would not be worth it in the long-run.


      What do you think? Is this an issue of nature versus nurture? Do we need to do more or less to encourage girls to pursue STEM-related fields?


      *** PS -- If you haven't done it, please take the poll, as I described here.

      Related Links:

      How Do We Know That God Is Real?

      This post originally appeared on the Grace Church Children's Ministry Blog. I thought it was worth publishing here, with some minor edits. I hope you enjoy!

      Last summer we took a vacation to see some family in the Midwest. We used this  opportunity to visit some attractions that we had some free passes to (and yet we still wind up spending nearly $50 at each place on small lunches and rides). We went to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, where we enjoyed great exhibits, a planetarium show, a nature walk, and hand-feeding a camel. On the trip home, we stopped at the Knoxville Zoo for a day (it's free admission with the Friends of Zoo membership). It's a great zoo, with camel rides, a great kids area, and a nice variety of animals. It was a great time, despite what it cost us in time, money, and energy; after all, sometimes you just need to make the vacation happen.

      My favorite part of the trip was when we were walking through the Creation Museum, learning about and discussing history from a biblical perspective. At one point, my always-analytical son Elijah (age 6 at the time) asked, "Dad, how do we know that God is real?" I paused and asked him, "Do you think God is real?" He replied, "Yes, but only because you say He's real." What a great, honest answer, and it reminded me of how much he looks up to me, and how much I need to set the spiritual and leadership tone in our house. 

      I told him that he's right in that I believe in God, but that one day he would have to believe in God for himself, not because his Daddy believes in God. He again asked, "But can I know that He's real?" I told him the reasons that I believe in God:

      1. Creation.  It just makes sense that everything in the universe exists because there is a Creator. It all could not have happened by itself. As a former scientist (B.S. in Biochemistry, and M.S. in Organic Chemistry, and working as a chemist for almost 10 years), this is a topic that I have questioned and studied a lot, since I became a follower of Jesus at the age of 19.
      2. Jesus' Resurrection.  Historical evidence shows that Jesus' tomb was empty, and the best explanation is that He came back to life. When someone dies and comes back to life, I'm going to pay attention to everything He says. 
      3. My Experience.  I told Elijah that even if the proof of creation and the resurrection didn't point to God being real, I would still believe in God. I believe in Him based on everything He has done in my life, especially over the past 16 years. This last point is huge for me. As a scientist, I don't like to make decisions without empirical evidence, but I cannot deny the grace and power that He has shown in my life. 
      He seemed satisfied with my answers (though, honestly, I felt like I fumbled through it). I gave him a big hug, and praised him for asking such a great question. I pray that he would always be comfortable asking me questions like that.


      Note: Before reading the comments, you may want to read my response to the comments I received, which may help clarify some things.


      Related Links:

      Celebrating Passover as a Messianic Jew

      image courtesy of monove via sxc.hu
      My father-in-law has been giving me a hard time about the number of times I talk about me being Jewish on this blog. I do love the fact that I am Jewish, and saying that's why I am cheap. But we all know why he is giving me a hard time about promoting my heritage. He's jealous because he's just a Baptist.

      But what I appreciate most about my background is being able to pass it on to my kids, like what I wrote on another blog regarding teaching my kids about Yom Kippur. And tonight is the first night of Passover (and it continues for another week), although our celebration will be a lot more tame this year because of the hectic transition we are in as we move to Allendale.


      A Little Background
      I grew up in a semi-Jewish home. My grandfather was a conservative and religious Jew; my family was more "cultural." I went to Hebrew private school for 4 years, bar mitzvah, and all that, but didn't really believe in God. However, I did love the traditions we had, like at Passover and Hanukkah.


      My Passover Seders
      I did many Passover Seders (or, celebrations) in a non-Christian setting, whether growing up, or even when I was a Christ-follower and a part of the Jewish Student Association at Furman University. But it has been the dozen or so times that I've been a part of or helped lead a Messianic Passover Celebration that I been most moved in worship.

      With a Christ-oriented perspective, the meaning of the Passover has come alive. I have enjoyed doing Seders with family, with Small Groups, and in our church's Children's Ministry. You can read about last year's Seder on the Grace Children's Ministry Blog. We missed this year's (which was the 6th time our church has done it). Not only is this a great event for the kids to hear a clear gospel message in a meaningful way, but I had enjoyed teaching other leaders how to lead this presentation over the past few years.


      Key Points
      You might way to talk about this even with your kids, as it provides a great lead-in to Easter. You can find information out on the internet, or buy a book (like this or this). There are many variations, but be sure to keep these main points:
      • Bitter Herbs: symbolizing the bitterness of slavery (the Hebrews in Egypt, and us to sin)
      • Matzah: the unleavened bread that was made when the Hebrews left, and Jesus perfect body (leaven is a symbol for sin)
      • Lamb: to remember that God saved the Hebrews while judging the Egyptians, and that God poured out His wrath on Jesus instead of us

      "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace."  (Ephesians 1:7)

      Related Links:

        Amazing Musical Instrument

        Last week, at his homeschool co-op "Spring Gala," Elijah performed two pieces with his class -- he danced, plus he sang and played his homemade instrument. He used a wire coat hanger and bottle caps to make some sort of chime. Most of the bottle caps where either from the 5 or 6 beers that I drink per year, or from specialty fruit juices from his grandparents.

        If he had more time, I'm sure he could have made this:



        Related Link:

        Helping My Daughter in Her Adventure

        Hannah is definitely her mother’s daughter. Part of this is the physical resemblance, which actually goes at least four generations – from Hannah, to Joanna, to Joanna’s mom, to her mother. And part of this is their spirit of adventure and service.

        Hannah & Sender at the top of Table Rock (October 2010)
        Hannah loves being outside. She’s like a duck, undisturbed by cold and wet weather if she has company. One recent Christmas, she and a neighborhood friend were outside on Christmas afternoon, zooming around on their inline skates. This was in drizzling 40-degree weather.

        And she loves doing service projects (which you may not easily recognize if you notice the continual messiness of her room). But she was the hardest working kid I saw at HOG Day two years ago. For several hours, she cleared brush and branches, even using a machete at times (only a couple of close calls with her and another girl). Even when other kids and adults were wrapping up and resting, she kept loading branches onto a trailer. She loved it. 

        She is excited to paint walls, whether at HOG Day last year (she only painted on my head, by accident, one time) or in our new home Allendale. And she does a pretty good job.

        But the biggest type of service and mission is one that she has repeatedly talked to us about over the past few years. It came up again recently as we were talking about God’s plan for our lives.

        Hannah wants to travel overseas, from wanting to see the canals of Venice to a desire to serve as a missionary, perhaps in China. 

        Maybe this started in her from when she was only a toddler and I went to Nicaragua for 8 days. And maybe it grew even more when she had to wrestle with me going to Kenya. And I’m sure this is inherited from Joanna, who has the same spirit of adventure, including living in England for almost a half a year. Joanna also went to on a Grace Church-sponsored mission trip last spring, suffering in the Bahamas (no, really, it was hard work, and the 2 zillion bug bites she got is not what you hear about from your travel agent).

        But whatever example God let us be, I know that her spirit to travel and serve on a mission trip is ultimately about the Holy Spirit guiding her, and giving her gifts and personalities that are to be used to bless others.

        God will use her, and I will cheer her on.
        This passion in her has been encouraging for me to see, as I’ve prayed for her since she was a baby that she would be “a giver of grace” ("Hannah" is the Hebrew word for "grace"). God is at work in her heart, to help her be a instrument of the gospel.

        So, now I am trying to figure out how to get her out of the country. Since we know that God speaks to her, my role is to help her discern how God wants to be glorified in her life.

        I'm glad that I can trust God to direct her life, because I just found out that her latest dream is to have a pizza restaurant. Well, maybe part of her training will be that trip to Venice.


        Related Links:

        Take This Job And . . .

        image courtesy of jon gos via flickr
        I want to be out of this job.

        You heard me. I want out of this role as director of an after school program (you probably know what it is, but there is current discussion on whether I'm allowed to use the name of this organization on this blog).

        Do I sound like a disgruntled employee? Or do I sound like I’m already worn out? Or maybe I’m just crazy to be giving up on a job in this environment of high unemployment.

        I should probably clarify.

        I love my job, particularly that I get to work with kids. I am blessed to have had this opportunity to help re-launch this program (after being dormant due to funding issues for about 18 months). This job has been challenging to say the least, having to get at least 100 children signed up, plus get volunteers, plus get the building ready. Oh, and we’ve had to figure out what to do with all these children for up to 4 hours every day after school. God has shown me more of who He is and who I am in the past few months.  

        But I don’t want this job forever. While this job is a good fit and it came at just the right time (in God’s perspective), I would like to transfer this role over to someone else within the next few years. I have no idea what that next step would be for me. But the big reason I want to be out of it is that I hope to be able to equip someone from this community to serve in this role. Nothing wrong with hiring folks from the outside, but how much better would it be to create a culture where we are developing our own leaders from within?  

        I am glad to be here, and we want to be a part of what God is doing in Allendale. But we are not just thinking of what we can accomplish over the next few months, or even the next few years. We are thinking of the next 20-30 years. One day, we hope this community produces and gives more than it consumes and receives. We hope that Allendale says, “We love you and we want to stay connected with you, but we don’t need your help anymore. In fact, can you help us figure out what other counties we can send folks to, in order to do long-term ministry? We have been blessed and equipped, and we are ready to give to others.”

        That’s our real job here. Not to make programming happen for 100 kids, but to build relationships and to build into others, for the sake of long-term change. And we are so thankful that God is letting us be a part of it.


        Related Link:

        HOG Day 2011

        Our family has enjoyed serving in Greenville's HOG (Hands On Greenville) Day the past couple of years. Grace Church got involved with this as a way to engage the culture, to have a positive impact on our city. This event is the largest single volunteer day in South Carolina each year; last year over 5000 volunteers each gave up 3+ hours of their time. It is estimated that this single day had an economic impact of about $500,000.

        This year, there a plans for a group of folks from Allendale to come up to serve during HOG Day, on April 30. Last month, people from the Upstate (including adults and college students from Grace Church) served in an Allendale work day. We believe that just as Greenville has resources to offer Allendale, people in Allendale have resources that can Greenville. We looking forward to serving alongside new friends from Allendale!

        You can learn more about HOG Day 2011 on the Culturally-Engaged website. And watch the video below from last year's experience:


        The Meaning of the Death of Christ

        If you asked kids in church (and even most adults) "What is the meaning of the death of Christ?", I am sure you would get a variety of answers. My bet would be that some of the most common answers would be along the lines of "To show God's love," and "To give me an example of how to love others."

        Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical TruthOf course, these are true, we must remember that these are outflows of the core truths of the gospel. I was reminded of this while reading Basic Theology. Author Charles Ryrie gives four truths about what Jesus' death accomplished:
        1. Substitution  for sinners.
        2. Redemption in relation to sin.
        3. Reconciliation in relation to man.
        4. Propitiation in relation to God.
        That is, Jesus took my place in taking on God's wrath towards my sins. In doing this, He allowed me to be reconciled to God, through faith.

        We need to remember that "God loves me" is not the central message of the Bible. The Bible, and the message of the gospel message, is not about my story, but God's. It points to His glory, not mine. I am an effect, not the goal, of His work.

        Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to DieFor further reading and worship, I highly recommend Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. In this book, Piper gives the purposes (not the reasons) for sending Jesus to die. Each section is only two pages long, but will help you delve into deeper thought, worship, and discussion. It would be a great resource to use as a devotional (personal or family) after Easter, to continue to meditate on what He did at the Cross.

        As parents and church leaders, use the next week leading up to Easter weekend, to remind your kids that Christ's life, death, and resurrection is about Him. It is only through His acts that we have the opportunity to live for and with Him forever.


        Related Link: