Life As We Know It - Kenya

Three and a half years ago, I was blessed to have the opportunity to go to Kenya (despite Hannah not wanting me to go). Since then, I've had a special place in my heart and prayers for Kenya in general, and for our partners there. I even used Project Kenya as a means to help kids in Allendale think outside themselves.

Grace Church has been sending teams to Kenya throughout the year. Sometimes these are teaching trips, where leaders can train Kenyan pastors and other church leaders. Other times the trips are for medical teams.

It was encouraging to read the recent article on the Grace Church Pastor's Blog, with insights from some of the members on the most recent medical trip. Some of my favorite parts:
  • "I was able to see how important it is to visually demonstrate the Gospel, and how people are more receptive to the Gospel when it is connected to their physical needs being met at the same time."
  • "There was something really powerful that happened Easter Sunday at Koinonia Baptist Church.  I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing (and I hate to cry!). We worshipped with the Kenyans. . . . It was a beautiful moment in which two cultures were joined in worshipping the Lord. It really felt like a small glimpse of Heaven, when there will be many more than just two cultures joined together, bowing together, confessing together our love for the Lord."
  • "If you are reading this and have been deciding whether or not to take the plunge and step outside of your comfort zone by becoming involved in missions, be it foreign or domestic, do not ignore that call. God has great plans for you and will reveal himself to you in ways that you never thought possible. You may not even like what He is revealing to you initially. But He will use it to draw you closer to Him, and the reward of that far supersedes any discomfort you may encounter along the way."
  • "I pray that I will carry with me the trust that I had while in Kenya. I pray that I would live my life with the sort of reckless abandon and freedom that only a child of God can fully know. I pray that I will be able to live in the moment, for every moment that God chooses to give me."

To learn more about being how God is using Grace Church in Kenya, see the Culturally Engaged website.

Poll Results: What Style of Feed

At the beginning of this month, I changed how automatic feeds were received by you the readers. I went from a partial feed (which required you to click through to see the full article) to a full feed. While this may mean fewer hits on the blog in the short-term, I had hoped that it would make it easier for the readers to keep up with what I write about.

Based on the poll I did, where I asked your preference on the length of the feed, I will keep sending the entire articles via email and RSS feeds. This setup was chosen by a 5-to-1 margin.

Thanks for everyone who took the poll! There will be another one later this week about summer vacation!

Staying Connected

image courtesy of ElvertBarnes via flickr
We have an innate need for community. In the Trinity, God gives us the perfect model of what this should look like. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are always in unity, despite their different roles.

Our need for community must primarily be met by the Lord who created and redeemed us. Blaise Pascal wrote that man "tries in vain to fill [his cravings] with everything around him, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object, in other words, by God himself."

Human relationships are not meant to fulfill us, and are powerless to do so outside of the context of gospel. 

Nevertheless, community is important, and we have experienced this as we have struggled with isolation. In the past 15 years, 99% of my community (with peers, mentors, and those I’ve mentored) has come through Grace Church. But now with us in Allendale, many of these relationships have understandably changed.

These changes haven’t just affected me, but my wife and children as well. In fact, caring family and friends repeatedly ask us how our children are doing with these changes, and they really have been doing well. They are at a great phase of life where they can adjust to and enjoy this mission for our family. But we also need to make sure that we work diligently to help them feel security, stability, and familiarity in this transition.

One thing that has been beneficial is continuing to follow and teach what they would have been learning in their programming. I’m thankful that the Children’s Ministry of Grace Church publishes their curriculum outline; now on Sunday evenings, I read them what they would have learned. Though it may not be as thorough as what they would have had in their church small groups, I can tailor it to who they are and what I feel they need. No matter where we live, we need to help our children in their spiritual formation. They need us to continually lead them toward Christ.

We also can download and print their take-homes. We do the S’moreCards together, and then they do their ROAD Bible study through the week (see the website, and look under Elementary). This routine is what we had done when we lived in Greenville, and has helped them stay connected to our “home” church.

We have mostly attended Vision Ministries worship services (under the teaching of Pastor Joe Mole), as this is the church that Grace has been working with. But we can also get the teaching from Grace each weekend. Whereas audio versions have been available for some time now, Joanna and I are both thankful that the videos of the teaching are now available (see the Resources-Teaching page). It’s better for us to watch the teacher, instead of just listening (where we tend to be more easily distracted). Here is one example of this recorded teaching:

And if you want to stay connected to us (besides what’s on this blog), you can sign up for our bi-monthly electronic newsletter, by checking out this post.

So thankful for family, friends, and a church (and for awesome technology) that help us stay connected!

Passing on Your Faith

What does it look like to pass on our faith to our children? Of course we must teach them with our words, but there has to be more. Children see right through a shallow and empty faith; they might reject their parents' "faith" in the short-term, but more definitely when they leave the home.

Read the full article here

Related Links:

More of What I'm Learning from Joe Mole

I benefit immensely from getting together with Pastor Joe Mole. Our fellowship has been an important source of community for me. We started getting together by eating lunch at Clara's. And he once cooked me breakfast at his home (it was amazing for me to watch him cook 5 things at once, while also preaching to and teaching me for 40 minutes). But mostly, we've gone to Hardee's for breakfast.

One thing we realized is the importance of us to be out in public eating together. Last month, as we ate our bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits, we became acutely aware that we were being watched. Halfway into our meal, it became obvious that others (men and women, black and white) were observing us like we were in a fish tank. We both knew what it was -- people could not figure out what this young white guy and older black guy were doing and talking about. (Though I haven't seen much overt racism here, interracial friendships are mostly superficial.) And how much more confused they must have been when we HUGGED as we said good-bye! We agree that it is good that people see us in fellowship.

I learn a lot from him, about this area and about what it looks like to follow Christ and lead my family. He gave me the analogy of Pouring in Good, Clear Water, that helped me focus on the positive things that are happening. And during one of our meals, we discussed ideas that led me to write about Why Christians Should Serve Outside of the Church.

And we have been attending his church, Vision Ministries, for most of this past month. Though the service is quite a bit longer than we're used to, we've always felt loved and welcomed there. Here are some notes that I have written from his sermons:
  • Genesis 32:22-32. The perfect place, even in a struggle, is wherever God is. God's purpose isn't to change the place, but to change the person.
  • Philippians 3:13-14. I need to take myself out of the picture; only by the cross do I get the crown.
  • Genesis 1:26-27. God has a purpose for each of us, and it is best accomplished in the family, with a man and woman unified. This was great for us, as our family has been On a Mission.
  • Deuteronomy 8:10. If I stop blessing God, He might take away the food (blessing me), to get my attention back to Him.

Looking forward to learning much more from him!

Related Link:

Engaging the Culture With a Haircut

I had been cutting my own hair for about 15 years. Nothing fancy -- just a pair of clippers and a #1 guard. I am not all that concerned about fashion, and it shows. But with a new pair of clippers every few years, I've spent less than $75 on haircuts during that time. Any women out there that can beat that? Or men, for that matter?

Of course, Joanna is wonderful to trim around my neck and check for missed spots, and then to clean up the mess I make on the floor. But as we looked at living in Allendale, I figured that getting a haircut at a barber shop might be the way to go. For one, it will save us the hassle of cutting and cleaning up, and second, it could be a good way to be a part of the community here. If you never lived in a small town, you may not understand this.

I learned that the dad of one of the girls in the after school program cuts hair. So, last week, I asked him if I could stop by. "Sure," he replied.

Yesterday, I made plans to visit the barber shop, called "Nubian Image." Not only have I not paid for a haircut in 15 years, but I assure you when I did it was not at a place called Nubian Image.

As a confirmation (maybe) that this was what I was supposed to be doing, I read an article called Asking Questions, where author Jon Acuff uses a haircut appointment as a chance to engage someone in conversation. It was a great reminder that my time for a haircut is not about me; it is about others, and ultimately about Jesus. Acuff writes,
"Sometimes we think going overseas is the only way to be a missionary. Sometimes we overlook the people we’re surrounded by all day. Sometimes we’re afraid to witness to people or share our faith because we’re think we’ll do it wrong. But sometimes, the girl cutting your hair isn’t tired because she partied all night. Sometimes the stranger you meet has a story to share, if, you’ll take the time to ask a question."

So, I asked my barber some questions, like: Did you grow up here? (He was actually born near where I was from, in northern New Jersey). Did you hear that they are cutting a barbering program in the high school? Why do you think that is? Nothing deep, but a good time just connecting.

Also, this has coincided perfectly with the current sermon series at Grace Church (that we can follow via the website), about engaging the culture on a personal level.

Now, when each of these haircuts costs $12 (Zoinks!), I may need to get some clippers and go back to cutting my hair sometimes. But I also don't want to miss this opportunity to be a part of the community that God has us in.

And though we may often feel alone and isolated, we know that God is with us and that this adventure is not about us, but about the the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Related Link:

Reminder: Subscription Poll

If you haven't done so, please take the quick poll to the right, about the style of automatic feeds that you prefer (see this post for more details).

Not getting automatic updates on the blog? You are missing out. Become a subscriber today!

Special Needs: Managing or Ministering?

We have several boys in the after school program that are diagnosed with specific special needs. One boy has high-functioning autism, and another is in a special education class in his school. And as I've said before, a handful have ADHD.

I'm thankful for the leaders I got to work with over the years at Grace Church, who worked diligently to minister to families who have children with special needs. I learned so much from them, not just terminology and information, but I saw them sacrificially serve these families.

In working with these children in our program, I was reminded of a couple of articles written by Amy Fenton Lee, of The Inclusive Church. I got to know her through a mutual friend, and she once came up for a special needs training event that we did. From that meeting, she produced a couple of articles that I still refer back to, to help me get re-oriented to a ministry mindset.
  1. Special Needs: Managed or Ministered To?  The title of this article came from a comment that a friend and fellow parent made, "Parents of children with special needs don't want to be managed. They want to be ministered to."
  2. Special Needs Training for Church Greeters  This is a summary of the training event we did, where a staff member interviewed both volunteer leaders and parents who have children with special needs.

These articles reminded me of a couple of things as I interact with families who are a part of the after school program:
  1. I need to be intentional to reach out to families here who have children with special needs. Yes, I need to manage the needs of the child, but I need to do it out of a desire to lovingly minister to them, not just check off a box.
  2. I need to be intentional to ensure that all staff and volunteers are equipped to minister to these families.

On the other side, if you have a child with special needs, here is another article that Amy wrote, about how you can help the church (or other ministry organization) prepare for your child's visit.

Related Links:

    Date Nights & Devotions

    Like Tim Challies and his wife, we are not the best at date nights. While we know friends who make it a point to have a date every week, we never could sustain that. But for years, we were pretty good at going on dates twice per month, and getting away by ourselves at least once per year.

    Of course, us being together only on weekends for 13 weeks put a hurt on our dating life. But we knew it was only for a season that we would have this sense of isolation, and we made do. And we were thankful for the opportunity to have a wedding in Charleston this past weekend, that included a dinner cruise for a reception! (Our daughter, Hannah, was very disappointed that she couldn't join us.)

    In his recent article, Date Nights & Devotions, reminds us the reason why we date -- to enjoy time together, not just to accumulate knowledge about the other person. And he connects this with the purpose behind our devotional time with God. He writes,

    "What if the point of devotions is less about learning about God and more about spending time with God? What if it’s less about Bible study and more about building relational intimacy? What would change about our devotions if instead of trying to learn about God, we focused instead on spending time with God, time spent hearing from him through his Word and speaking to him through prayer? If this is the case it doesn’t much matter what we remember at the end of it because the joy has been in the moment, the value has been in the time spent together. The joy of dating isn’t in the aftermath but in the moment. And I think the same can be true with our devotions."

    Take time to read and meditate on his post. It will encourage you in your marriage, and in your relationship with the Lord. Also, be sure to check out his follow up article, Pursuing Relationship.

    Expectations, Rules, and What We're About

    Moses (by Rembrandt)
    When Hannah was about 4 or 5, we were dealing with some issue about her behavior. (I can't remember what it was, so that should tell you how important it was.) We were sitting around the table and talking, trying to get to the root of the matter, when she excitedly came up with an idea. "I know," she exclaimed, "Let's make a rule about this!"

    What Hannah said cut right to me. I like to see things in black and white, and whatever is gray confuses and frustrates my world. Few people or organizations like a procedure better than I do. But God is showing me that so much of life cannot be put in a box. I'm not saying that we need to let things be chaotic, but that my heart needs to trust in the Spirit, not in my own comfort and security.

    I knew enough to explain to Hannah then that we cannot have a rule for every situation in our family. We have to have guiding principles that fall under two main categories: honoring God and loving others. Jesus said that these are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:26-40).

    When we opened the after school program in Allendale, I knew that we needed to have clear expectations and rules. We needed to have a common "law" as a foundation. Many of these ideas came from my experience in working with kids, my own parenting, children's ministry blogs, and ministries like The Frazee Dream Center.

    Our Strongest Contribution
    In our program, we focus on three main areas: Academic Success, Healthy Living, and Character Development. The last one is what we consider to be our unique and strongest contribution. Even if a child doesn't make the best grades, good character will get him far in life.

    Additionally, whereas Academics and Heath are what the child accomplishes for himself or herself,  Character is about how he or she treats others. We want to help these children realize that they can and should be blessings for others.

    The membership applications for the after school program includes a list of rules. Rules are needed for safety ("No fighting," "No weapons," etc) and efficiency ("Members are expected to participate in activities," "Members must be signed in and out each day," etc). But, these kids could not be expected to memorize a list of 12-15 rules, nor did I want them to think that if they kept those to the letter, then everything would be fine.

    We needed some general categories that we could always come back to. Also, I wanted to call them "expectations" instead of rules, knowing that they have rules all day long, and I didn't want them to feel like we were piling more on top. Here are the expectations that we came up with and communicated since day 1:
    1. Respect the Leaders.  Follow directions.
    2. Respect Each Other.  Including no fighting or profanity.
    3. Respect the Stuff.  Take care of what we have. It's ours!
    4. Respect Yourself.  Do your best.
    5. Smile and Have Fun!
    Obviously, the common theme that we want to teach these kids is respect. But we put in the last one, explaining that everyone cannot have fun if we don't do the other four things. These expectations have served as a great reference point for conversations with the kids in our program.

    But over the last few months, I have noticed that these expectations were often too vague for the kids to apply. I like the principles in the expectations, but we also need to have some clear rules for them. More specifically, during homework and instructional times their behaviors are often destructive and distracting, leading to unpleasant consequences, unless I show them mercy.

    I "borrowed" some rules for homework time from another source, but quickly realized that two of their three rules didn't apply to our situation. I had to remember that specific rules are not usually universal. But I reworked them and came up with these three:
    1. Be quiet.  Even if you don't have work to do or don't want to learn, others do. 
    2. Be seated.  Especially in the group I work with, we have a number of kids (some with ADHD) who like to wander, or run, around.
    3. Be patient.  During homework time, there may be 8-10 kids who need help with homework, but only 1 or 2 leaders. They need to wait until we can help them, or move on to another problem.
    Notice that even though we apply these rules during academic settings (one of our main areas), they are really about Character Development (our strongest contribution).

    What We're About
    I'm glad that we established some clear rules, but we know that for a long-term impact, we need to reach their hearts. So, this past week I came up with some things that they need to be on the inside. All those other expectations and rules they can follow externally, but we told them that it's what is on the inside that counts and will help them for their success over the next 20 years.

    Based on a suggestion from Joanna, we were able to put these in ABCD format:
    1. Always Forgive Quickly.  Instead of responding with anger, they need to let things go.
    2. Be Respectful.  This topic is covered in our expectations.
    3. Consider Others First.  They need to be generous and selfless.
    4. Desire Success.  We want them to have a hope of accomplishing great things.
    For the most part, we can "make" them obey and be seated (or face consequences), but we can't make them forgive, respect, be considerate, or desire success in their hearts. Those are their own choices.

    The Gospel Message
    I consider the program that I work in to be "morally-positive, spiritually-neutral." It's not that I cannot mention God (I have a few times), but I have to be cautious about when, why, and how.

    I think of my high school football coach, Robert Maddox, who I remember teaching us practical lessons from Jesus' parables and who always encouraged us to set our priorities in this order: God, family, school, and then football.

    Do I wish this was Christ-centered organization? In a lot of ways I do, as it would free us up to discuss certain topics. But there is also value in Christians serving outside of the church, in the culture. And there are a lot of ways that we can communicate biblical and gospel principles. For example:
    • When we talk about respecting leaders, we can bring up that the leaders sacrifice their time and energy for the kids' benefit. To respect and obey is to show trust.
    • When we remind them to take care of our facilities and equipment, we tell them that they have been given responsibility, and that they need to be trustworthy.
    • We tell them to forgive quickly when someone hurts them, just as they have been forgiven when they have hurt others.
    • We should consider others first, just as others have put us first.

    Whether it's in regards to parenting my own kids, or about training children in this after school program, I have a lot to learn in order to help them succeed. And I have a lot to learn in order to be able to have a Kingdom-level impact in the lives of kids. I have fallen short, and will continue to do so. But my weaknesses will show that Christ's grace is enough for me, and His power is perfected in my weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9).

    Christ's grace and power. That's what I'm about.

    Related Link:

    Plug In to What's Important

    image courtesy of zitherica via
    I usually ignore things the first time someone tells me something. I think it's a combination of three things:
    1. My natural skepticism ("That can't be true.")
    2. My pride ("If it was true, I would have known it already.")
    3. Sensory overload ("I have too many people telling me things, so I'll just filter this one out.")
    For example, late last fall, as we were considering moving to Allendale, a close friend who was walking with me through this decision cautioned that I needed to prepare for feeling alone and isolated. I nodded, but inwardly thought he was off-base. Last month, I went back to him to apologize.

    So, this past week when two articles in the same day came through my RSS feeds, about the same topic, I paid attention. Maybe God didn't want me to miss this one. The articles were both about how technology can distract us from what's much more important -- time with our children.

    Last week, I wrote a post about Living Out the Sabbath With My Family, so my mind was already thinking about how I need to do better "redeeming the time" (Ephesians 5:16). But as I mentioned in that post, one of the dangers of focusing on the idea of the Sabbath is thinking that it only applies to one day per week. In truth, we need to have a constant mentality of resting in God, and prioritizing our time.

    In Losing sight of the tweets that matter most, Jon Acuff helps me remember that I am parenting for the future. I don't need to get so caught up in the present use of technology, that I miss opportunities to strengthen my relationship with my children. "When my daughter is in college and some boy tries to convince her she's not unique, I want her to retweet the words of truth I spent her entire childhood telling her."

    In Guerrilla Parenting: Active time vs. Passive time, Sam Luce reminded me that my kids need my active time. One particular thing that hit close to home was the point about not talking on the phone when in the car with my kids. I try to take a kid or two when I run errands. But being in the car is also a good time to make some much-needed phone calls. I need to do better with this, since my kids need my active attention.

    From these articles, I was brought back to a book I read several years ago, but whose principles have stayed with me, Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide?Choosing to Cheat (Andy Stanley). The premise is that we'll always have to make choices of how we use our time. For most men, this tension is between family and work, but could also include hobbies and ministry. These areas are similar for women, but homemaking can also be an idol.

    You've probably heard the adage that at the end of life, no one ever regrets spending more time at work, or golfing, or cleaning, or watching TV. What we regret is not spending more quality and active time with family (and close friends).

    I resolve to plug more into to my family.

    Related Link:

    What Does It Look Like to Serve in Allendale?

    Emily (of Emily Clarke Studio) led a paint day
    We are so thankful for how Grace Church has made a path before us for ministry in Allendale. And we are so thankful that we can be a part of this. But maybe you want to serve here, too? If you do (whether it's for a few hours or a few days, or more), we'd love to help.

    Our primary focus is the after school program that we lead in. But if you want to serve in another area of ministry for the sake of Allendale, check out the Culturally Engaged website, and contact Jeff Randolph (or send me an email, and I'll pass it on to him).

    Read the rest of the post on the Mission: Allendale blog.

    Do We Need Evidence for God?

    I've been thinking about last month's post How Do We Know That God Is Real? -- including my response to many of the comments. More specifically, the comments by Rob and Vanessa have led to good meditation and reflection for me.

    Specifically, this line from Vanessa was very interesting, and challenging:
    "We can certainly use our evidence to SUPPORT our faith, but I think one would struggle if their faith was largely based on the historical evidence, since it can be refuted."

    She's right, and her words brought me back to an interesting season of life.

    Coming to and Wrestling with Faith
    I had spent the summer of 1995 investigating the claims of Christianity, coming at it with the skepticism of a scientist and an agnostic Jew. My life was going fine regarding friends, academics, and athletics, and I did not feel a need for Jesus. But, thanks to the Holy Spirit working through one particular guy who poured into me that summer, I came to see that the evidence pointed to Jesus' life, death, and (most importantly) resurrection. I had to accept the facts where they led.

    I started reading my Bible, praying, and got involved in a discipleship group. But towards the end of my sophomore year, I read some articles about the Jesus Seminar. Without going into details about what these "scholars" claimed, I'll just say that my faith was shaken to the core. After all, I came to faith primarily because I saw the evidences about the Resurrection of Jesus, and here were "experts" saying it never happened. Now, I was left confused.

    This confusion lead to doubt and apathy, and lasted for a few weeks. I stopped seeking God, and backed out of the discipleship group. I stopped praying before meals, which was noticed by at least one friend, but I blew off her caring inquiries. I wasn't quite ready to give up on it all, but I was caught in a quagmire of questions.

    But before the end of the year, in May of 1996, I was in a certain situation where I knew I had to fish or cut bait. God smacked me inside my brain with this thought: "Make a choice of what you really want. Follow me, or don't. But quit toeing the line."

    In the moment, I believe I could have made either choice. But I know that the Spirit pulled me toward Jesus, and I'm so grateful that He did.

    Cleverness Does Not Convict
    The reason I say all this is to agree with Vanessa's point, as quoted above. While early on in my walk with God, I thought that I could convince anyone to become a Christian by reasoning with them. I tried this with my Jewish grandparents, as I sent them a handwritten, seven-page letter explaining my faith. That sort of blew up in my face, but we salvaged our relationship (especially with my conservative grandfather) with a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

    I learned that cleverness does not convict. Conviction only comes by the Spirit of God, whether before or after coming to faith in Jesus.

    "I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God."
    (I Corinthians 2:5)

    The Gospel Message
    God has changed my life, including giving me joy and hope that I never had before. But we must remember the gospel, the meaning of the death of Christ. The gospel message does not focus on a lack of joy and peace; it focuses on sin. After all, whereas you can have joy and peace while you are unsaved, only the gospel can do anything about your sin.

    In that moment in May 1996, when I had to choose, I knew that whether I had 100% evidence or not wasn't important. What I needed to do is determine if I would follow what I believed was true. And it's the same for me today. I need to be "all in" for Jesus, or "all out."

    Let us heed Jesus' words to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:16):

    "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

    Related Link:

    Recommended: Hints on Child Training

    At first, I was hesitant to read a parenting book which was originally published in 1890. I arrogantly assumed that Hints on Child Training could not speak to family life in the 21st century, at least, not for my family.

    I was wrong.

    Core parenting principles transcend decades and centuries. Author H.C. Trumbull, great-grandfather of Elisabeth Elliot, combines a Biblical foundation with his personal experience, along with insight from practical educators, to give us Hints on Child Training, a resource that will help shape your parenting.

    Topics include:
    • Will-training (not will-breaking)
    • Training a child in self-control
    • Training a child’s faith
    • The value of table talk
    • Dealing tenderly with a child’s fears

    Don’t let another century pass by before you buy this book!

    Related Link:

    ADHD and Emotional Self-Control

    image courtesy of Michael Jacksonfan via flickr
    Five boys can make all the difference. No, I'm not talking about the five in the picture to the right. I'm talking about five boys that I work with each week in the after school program in Allendale.

    When Marvin Love started working regularly with this program, it gave us the chance to shift around some responsibilities. Since he prefers the older kids, and is really good with them, he took over the 4th - 8th grade group where I had been leading. That allowed me to focus more time on the 2nd and 3rd graders.

    This was much-needed since this class had already gone through a number of volunteer leaders. I am no expert on childhood and education, but I knew I could at least add some time and energy to this group of kids.

    What I saw immediately was that their energy put mine to shame. Their voices rapidly increased in volume, as they clamored for attention. They ignored directions, even after I repeated myself multiple times.

    But two things soon became clear to me:
    1. These kids are not that different than mine.
    2. The "they" that caused the most problems were only part of the class, and the worst has been a group of 5 or 6 boys, out of a total class size of about 25.
    As I've been working with this group for about two months now, it's amazing the difference in how things go depending on whether those boys are there. And it's rarely just one or 2 of them there; it's pretty much all or nothing.

    But I've been learning that their behavior is only part of the issue. In fact, God reminds me that that their external actions merely reflect an internal reality. Much of this, of course, is related to the spiritual condition of their hearts, as I am sure that most of this group are unregenerate.

    I am also seeing that a lot of this is due to emotional and physiological issues.  A few of these boys will melt into tears when I pull them aside to discuss their behavior (like this boy who struggled with his emotions). Even more, when I obtained report cards from the schools, I learned that one of these boys (whose temperament can change in an instant from lovable to wanting to fight) is in a special education class.

    I also learned that one other boy in that class has ADHD, and when his medicine is wearing off at the end of the day, it can get bad. (Although I'm excited to say that he earned our class's "Youth of the Week" award last week.) In truth, probably a few kids in there (and a few in the other groups) have ADHD, and at least half have emotional self-control issues.

    It was interesting to read that there seems to be a connection between ADHD and emotional self-control, especially that this can run in families (and everyone seems to be related down here). While the connection is clear, it has not yet been determined if one issue causes the other. But the real-life implications are serious. "Individuals with ADHD who also display emotional overreaction have a reduced quality of life and difficulties with personal relationships and social success."

    I know that we cannot fix anything in the short-term, but we can't just excuse the behavior. One day, after a boy in the oldest class (who has ADHD) was jumping off of tables and bookshelves, I told his mom, "I understand that he cannot always control his behavior. But we have to work with him over the next few years to teach him how. While he can get away with jumping off tables when he is 10, he has to learn that he can't still do that when he's 18."

    Related Link:

    Winner of a Meal in Allendale

    Thanks for everyone who entered this contest, and props to the Buckinghams for being sharp enough to have both spouses submit an entry.

    Looks like the most popular choice for an eatery was Clara's. I think I'll go there today. Or Flavor. I need to find out what their hours are so I can take Joanna there. Please don't say, "Why don't you look it up online?" If you say that, you obviously haven't spent much time in Allendale.

    But the winner of the free meal is . . . . .  Cristin Henry, with a dinner at Big G's BBQ.

    I promise it was a random draw, and not because she was in our Community Group for the past couple of years. And not because we once made her babysit our kids in 90 degree weather when our AC was broken. And not because she helped our family move stuff down here in mid-April.

    Cristin - let us know when you want to come down. By the way, Big G's is only open Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays.

    Looking forward to hanging out with you, and anyone else who wants to travel down here.

    Frustrated With School Work

    image courtesy of Karla Cruz via Picasa

    I know that it is late in the school year to be noticing and discussing issues with school, but we have noticed this situation with our kids recently (actually, all year), having to address it multiple times over the past few weeks. Maybe this scene seem familiar to you:
    Child [frustrated]: I can't do this!
    Adult: OK. Let me help you.
    Child: But I can't! It's too hard.
    Adult: Let's look at it.
    Child: No! I can't DO IT!!

    You may experience this if you are a teacher, or if you are a parent helping your child with home work. Or, as with home schoolers like us, the parent is the teacher, and this is just one of a handful of times in a day that the parent and child clash. My poor wife.

    How do we engage the child in this situation? Part of me just wants to tell the child to stop whining and toughen up and just get the work done. To a large extent, I can make my child get the work done that she needs to. But as parents, we need to make sure we go beyond behavior, and get to the heart.

    What is the heart issue here? I think there are two issues, both related to the core sin of pride -- independence and idolatry.

    We know that kids like to prove themselves capable. They are proud about what they can accomplish on their own. Yes, we should encourage them in learning new things, but there is a danger in going too far. We need to be cautious about teaching the child to trust in his own abilities.

    We need to remember (and teach) that the Lord is the giver of all gifts and abilities. Additionally, God created us to live in community. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we see that the Spirit gives different gifts for the purpose of unity (see chapter 12). If everyone could do everything, we wouldn't need each other. God's purpose in the church (and in the family) is that of interdependence, not independence. This can also be seen in Deuteronomy 15:11, where God explicitly says that there will be poor people in the promised land, and He wanted the rich to have a way to connect with them. As with wealth, God uses gifts to bring about and maintain unity among His people.

    When your child resists help, it is not just a cute show of leadership and maturity. We explain it to our kids that they are "putting up a wall." The teacher (or Mommy or Daddy) is trying to bless them by engaging them, and the child is refusing to accept the help. By resisting a loving, God-ordained authority, the child is actually resisting God. That is pride.

    I am all for helping our children learn and use their gifts. But I am concerned about the arrogance that this can breed if we leaders are not actively training them through this process.

    When my kids get frustrated because they they either don't understand the assignment or because they try it and get it wrong, it is a wake-up call to me. I see myself all in them. Like me, they desire perfection. God wants us to do our best, but He never demands perfection in amoral situations.

    One of the expectations we have for the children at the after school program is "Respect Yourself: Do Your Best." And as I teach this to my own kids as well, it's easy to remember the first part of Colossians 3:23 -- "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart." That part of the verse is a clear directive. But stop there and you miss the reason that we should try our best:

    "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (vv. 23-24)

    The motivation of the Christian life is not to "do better" and is not to work by our own efforts. The core motivation must be to please our Lord and Savior.

    When we get frustrated by our own imperfection, our idolatry is exposed. We are either worshiping our gifts (instead of worshiping the One who gave us those gifts), or we are worshiping others and seeking to gain their approval (instead of the approval of the One who died for us).

    Point Them to the Gospel
    So, when my child (and yours) gets frustrated by their own imperfection, we need to point them to the gospel. We need to remind them that Christ died for the entire body of Christ, and sent the Spirit to keep the unity that we have through the Cross (Ephesians 4). God wants us to depend on Him first, and also to receive love and help from those that He sends in our lives.

    My child's grades, efforts, and behaviors are visible, so it's easy for me to focus on those. However, what's more important is her heart. There is a spiritual battle for her heart and soul. The external behaviors are merely tools that help me discern what's in her heart.

    We need to remind our kids (and remember for ourselves) that our purpose must be to honor God in all that we do. The goal is not perfection. The goal is to find rest in Jesus (Matthew 11:28). Since we have peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1-2), why should we strive for worldly perfection?

    Related Link:

    Contest Reminder -- Pick Your Meal!

    Don't forget that tomorrow is the last day to vote on where you would like to eat in Allendale. Remember, you have over a year to use this reward, and you never know when you might be in the area. After all, even 9 months ago Allendale wasn't on our radar to even visit, and now we live here.

    Go and leave a comment. Your stomach will be glad you did.

    Morning Sickness Is Good!

    "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
    II Corinthians 1:3-4

    image courtesy of bbaunach via flickr
    Not all women have severe morning sickness. Not all babies spit up a lot. Not all babies fall behind the growth charts. But we had these situations. And I say it was for good.

    Of course it’s easy me to say that it was good, since Joanna bore most of the burden (and all of the morning sickness). When she was pregnant with Hannah, I just thought morning sickness was just some weird thing in her mind (guys: don’t tell her that this is what you think; it won’t go well). When she was pregnant with Elijah, it meant that Hannah and I went out to dinner 3 or 4 days a week. In fact, when she was pregnant with each of our boys, Joanna had morning sickness right through my birthday, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. No big celebrations those years.

    All our kids spit up a lot, but Hannah was the worst. Days were common where she would leave over a dozen burp cloths completely soaked in a single day. Not just a little messed up, but saturated with her spit up.

    Hannah fell off the growth charts between 4 and 6 months old. We didn’t know any better. She was not a big crier, Joanna was breastfeeding, and this was our first child, so we had nothing to compare too. I think she gained 5 ounces in those two months. Joanna also had to work really hard to keep up with nursing the boys.

    Morning sickness. Spitting up. Struggle to breastfeed. All these things wore us out.

    But all these things were for good.

    They aren’t good so that we could wear them as a red badge of courage. (Well, maybe not red, but whatever color was eaten last, but more pungent and curdled.) We don’t want to go around bragging about how hard we had it, even if because we know lots of folks who have had it much worse.

    The reason we can celebrate these things is so that we can bring comfort and empathy to someone who is struggling with the same thing.

    When another young couple experiences the same struggles, we probably cannot solve their problems. But we can say, “You know, we’ve been there. And it sucks. It wore us out, and I know it must be wearing you out.”

    As a guy, I would much rather fix someone else’s problems (guys: here is another free hint – our wives usually just want us to listen and seek to understand). But sometimes, God just has us in a situation to connect with someone else’s pain, to help them bear that burden without fixing it.

    Without minimizing their struggle, we can remind them that this is just a season that will pass, and that one day the God of comfort will use them to comfort others in the same situation (see the verse above). We are here to bear one another’s burdens.

    Even more, we can use trials like this to worship Jesus. How? By remembering (and reminding each other) that Jesus knows our weaknesses and struggles (Hebrews 4:15). He took on humanity, and endured what we endure. And He endured it to an extreme that we couldn’t imagine, so that He could receive all glory.

    Share with the rest of us in the comments: What was the hardest part of your pregnancy or having a young child?

    "For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort."
    II Corinthians 1:5-7

    Related Link:

    Fairfax Friday: You Are Not Alone

    It's not a reference to the Michael Jackson song.

    It could be worse, I could have made a reference to Tiffany's I Think We're Alone Now.

    This post is about isolation that I experienced as my family transitioned to Allendale.

    Read more on Mission: Allendale . . . .

    Living Out the Sabbath With My Family

    "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." 
    Exodus 20:8.

    image courtesy of kevin via Picasa
    I don’t do well keeping the Sabbath. This fact may seem odd, especially considering that I am Jewish. Exodus 20:8 should be a big deal to me; it’s one of the Big 10, after all. And it should at least be a good excuse to spend a day doing nothing. But I’m not good at resting, whether for my sake or for the bigger purpose of worshiping God.

    Challenges to Keeping the Sabbath
    Maybe part of the problem is trying to figure out how to define the Sabbath. One of the first theological debates that Joanna and I had in our marriage is what day of the week is the Sabbath. Most churches use the term Sabbath as Sunday, whereas the Bible always means Sabbath to be Saturday. I think it’s more accurate to call Sunday “the Lord’s Day.” (By the way, I win about 60% of theological arguments with Joanna; 70% if I get to pick the topic. However, for anything related to practical living, she is right 94.5% of the time.)

    And part of the problem is deciding what counts as work. When I played football for Swansea High School, the weight room was open three days a week during the summer – Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I liked working out on Sundays, because it was typically a day where I didn’t have anything else going on (being a non-Christian, I didn’t even go to church services). I’ll never forget a younger teammate being shocked that I liked working out “on the Sabbath.” But I liked lifting weights and exercising. If I enjoy something, shouldn’t that count as rest?

    Another part of the problem is how I can use Scripture to trump Scripture. I pick the verses that best suit my needs. In this case, I use passages like Mark 2:23 – 3:6. Jesus’ disciples gathered food, and He healed a crippled man, all on the Sabbath. The religious leaders looked at this with shock and frustration. I look at this as my excuse to do what I want to. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” See that? The Sabbath can’t control me; I am saved by Jesus, through faith, not by keeping religious rules. Bring on the work!

    Obviously, selectively using scripture like this brings confusion to the issue, not clarity. Like Jon Acuff, I tend to flirt with the Sabbath. I might get convicted about it and keep the Sabbath for a short while. But soon, as always, I give up.

    Sabbath Is About Worship
    I think most Christians, myself included, are missing out on the blessings of the Sabbath. We miss out because we forget that the real issue is to worship and bring glory to God in all areas of our lives, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The core idea is that I need to be willing to trust God with my time, even a whole day (or more), being willing to not get things done.

    And when I return to work, and see how overwhelmed I am with how far behind I got, that is the opportunity to continue to worship, to say to God, “I will not get all this done, but that’s OK. You are the God who provided my salvation. And my position as Your child has nothing to do with what I accomplish today. I thank You for Your love and grace. I will work diligently with all my heart. But I will do this as a response of worship, not out of my need to prove myself to be self-competent, so others will think good things about me.”

    A Great Model
    He’ll hate me doing this, but I want to brag on my brother. I think he does a great job leading his family in resting on the Lord’s Day. They have certain traditions regarding meals and activities, but what I appreciate most is that I know these aren’t traditions done for the sake of keeping traditions. Their traditions are instruments to help them know, experience, and worship God more fully. Their three boys (including one on the way) are blessed to grow up in this home.

    Maybe Something We'll Try
    Now that we have moved to Allendale, this may be a good time to set a new and better course for our family. We have talked about taking Sunday afternoons (or maybe some Saturdays) to do something special as a family. We can rotate who picks what we'll do, so everyone gets some ownership in this. We might go to a nearby town (like Hampton or Barnwell) for food and shopping, or go a little further away (like Beaufort, Aiken, or even Savannah), or even stay home to play games together. Feel free to keep me accountable to lead my family in this.

    Further Reading
    To read more about the Sabbath, here are a few resources:

    This last link has some good closing words:
    "We must leave time for slow afternoons, for evening meals where we pray together and share our faith and struggles, for Sunday mornings of shared worship. God ordains Sabbath for our good and for His glory."

    Do you have any other recommended books or links about the Sabbath?

    Poll: Getting Automatic Feeds

    image courtesy of arroclint via
    Last week I changed how readers receive feeds, which are automatic notifications when the blog is updated. These feeds can come via a daily email, or immediate with a RSS feed (such as through Google Reader, which is what I use to get updates from other blogs and websites).

    Did you notice what the change is? If you subscribed to updates, you used to be just see a portion of each post, but now you get the full article. What do you think of the change? Let me know by taking the poll to the right.

    If you are not getting automatic feeds, you should go ahead and sign up. You can easily subscribe to the blog by email or RSS updates.

    **Note that if sign up for email updates but you don't get a confirmation email, please try again or let me know that you're having a problem via email. Either your email system caught it in spam (which I've noticed a lot for Yahoo or Hotmail users), or you mistyped your email address.

    Happy reading.

    What My 4-Year Old Son Has Been Praising God For

    Drinking milk with a Twizzler
    Our youngest child, Sender, really enjoys praying. He always asks to pray at meals, and if someone else prays, he likes to "tag on" extra prayers at the end. At age 4, he is at that great stage where his prayers are sweet and sincere.

    Here are the most common things that he's been thanking God for lately:
    • Jesus dying on the cross
    • Food
    • That we get to see Daddy 
    • Peace
    • Sleep
    • Making the world that we get to live in

    All are very important things, and all are gifts from our Lord.

    Related Links:

    Debating Is Good for Kids

    It's one thing to learn facts. It's a whole other to learn to think. This is true for our children, for the after school program where I work, and even for my small knowledge of and experience with Kenya (where, for decades, people were taught to not think for themselves, whether by missionaries or by the government).

    Keep reading on Mission: Allendale . . . .

    13 Reasons My Wife Had a Great Mother's Day

    How many ways did I make this Mother's Day special for Joanna?
    The famous Cooter at his festival.
    1. In Allendale. That should be enough.
    2. It was a day after the Cooter Festival.
    3. Pulling out of our driveway, we saw buzzards feasting on a dead raccoon.
    Read the rest of the list on the Mission: Allendale blog.

      200th Post

      That's right, in just over six months, we have reached 200 blog posts (over 12,000 visits!). To celebrate, I want to give something away. With our recent move to Allendale, we can make this interesting. I will treat you and your family to a meal at any of the fine establishments here.  

      Just leave a comment with which restaurant you would like best. I will choose the winner at random.

      Not planning on coming down anytime soon? Don't worry. I'll even give you until May 31, 2012 to use your "coupon," so go ahead and leave a comment (make sure you leave your name and/or a way for me to contact you).

      Here's a list of all the places that I've eaten in Allendale:
      • Clara's. Great fried chicken. 'Nuff said.
      • Big G's Barbecue. I tried a pork rind here. Once. I'll take banana pudding instead.
      • Taste N See. Good lunch, and great breakfast. Homecooked-style.
      • Flavor. Similar to Clara's and Taste N See. Have only been there once, but it was good.
      • Hardees. I was so excited when they started providing Splenda for my coffee!
      • Golden Dragon. I really don't know if this is the name of the Chinese restaurant in Fairfax. But it sounds like a good name. Went once. Service was slow, but food was piping hot.
      • Subway. For 13 weeks, this is how I was my lone source of healthy vegetables, and my best WiFi spot.

      Alright, let's hear where you want to eat! This contest expires Sunday May 15, 2011, at midnight.


      Saw these great posts from Tyler Stanton and Kevin Keigley. It's about a trip they took with their sons. They bring two different perspectives, so be sure to read both. Here's the bullet points from each:

      Tyler Stanton:
      1. Have a son.
      2. Choose the right destination.
      3. Double-check GPS.
      4. Create a (moderate) countdown.
      5. Make several irrational purchases prior to departure.
      6. Choose a perfect name.
      7. Make frequent pit stops.
      8. Eat where you can't with Mom.
      9. Have an obscene amount of fun.
      10. Buy something unnecessary from gift shop.
      11. Tell the tale.

      Kevin Keigley:
      1. Need to have a son or two.
      2. Have a destination planned.
      3. Bring a plastic barrel of cheese balls.
      4. Have an obscene amount of fun.
      5. Tell the tale.

      I definitely need to do stuff like this with my sons. Any dads up for a road trip adventure? As I've said before, sometimes we need to make the vacation happen.

      3 Basic Problems in Allendale: Poor Education, Teenage Pregnancy, and Disconnected Dads

      No, these are NOT the problems
      Let me start by clarifying what I mean by "3 Basic Problems in Allendale."
      • 3: There are not just three things that are problems, but these are common here.
      • Basic: These are not core issues. I'm still processing through what the deeper issues are. These basic ones are a good place to start for you to understand this culture.
      • Problems: I don't want to give the impression that everything is bad in Allendale, since I've already said that we shouldn't only focus on the negative statistics.
      • Allendale: Not everyone has these problems, and these are not unique to this area. But there is a pronounced prevalence and depth of these issues here.

      That being said, in my time here I've seen that there are three areas that need to be addressed in order to have a long-term hope for change in this community: Education, Teenage Pregnancy, and Disconnected Dads.

      Read the full article on Mission: Allendale.

      More About "How Do We Know That God Is Real?"

      A couple of weeks ago, I re-posted an old article I wrote, about Elijah asking me, "How do we know that God is real?" Because of a dubious choice I made to post it on a particular website, I got a slew of comments (mostly negative) within a few hours.

      The following week, I posted a response to these comments last week, re-explaining the purpose of my post, plus sharing my thoughts on the comments I received.

      One particular comment was from a friend of mine. You might have missed it, so I wanted to republish it as it's own post, as it was full of logic, support, and vulnerability. I don't exactly have his permission to do this, but as they say, it's easier to ask for forgiveness . . .

      Here it goes:

      Wow, lots of activity here over what Joey wrote. I enjoy a good debate over the important things of life as much as anyone. However, notice that the point of Joey's blog isn't necessarily apologetics but parenting. Here the two topics have intersected a bit but this really isn't the best forum for debating atheism vs. Christianity.

      So I waited a few days to post this so as not to provoke the reddit visitors to a debate. I hope for the next few points to be for any of Joey's typical readers who might have read through these comments. If you'd like to debate those finer points then I'd welcome you to a few links below to hash this out in a more suitable venue.

      1) There is lots of internal and external evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Here are two links for anyone interested in what that looks like.

      2) Even though Joey was not raised a Christian, believing something just because of the culture you were raised in doesn't mean it's not true. A source of information doesn't necessarily correlate with it's veracity. If I read from some tea leaves that Barack Obama was currently president of the USA that statement would still be true even though my methods were suspect.

      3) Evolution doesn't disprove Jesus' resurrection or that the universe had a creator. Just ask the Pope.

      4) The "battle between science and religion" is a made up one that gets a lot of play because people a drawn to conflict. Plenty of devout theists have been pioneering scientists. Newton, Pascal, Lemaitre, Mendel, Collins, Pasteur, etc…

      5) Along the same lines, there is no scientific proof that we should only accept scientific proof. Logic, reason, math, history, morality, etc…. all contain truth that is unaccessible by science.

      6) Joey's kids have not been ruined by religious indoctrination. He left a safe corporate job to serve a church and now he's left that steady environment to serve the poorest and most hopeless people in the state. Teaching kids to take care of the most vulnerable people in society is the right thing to do.

      Lastly, if any atheists have made it this far I am sorry to the extent that the church has (and it certainly has) let you honestly believe that the straw man "Xianity" you hate so much is real. We are fallen and imperfect people and need your patience and forgiveness. If it helps I don't believe the god you've rallied against here is real either.

      I would love to hear any other thoughts and comments you might have.

      Related Link:

      Results from Poll: Favorite Subject in School

      Last month I asked what your favorite subject was in school. I gave 8 options to pick from, and divided it up by gender. I was happy to have 179 people take this survey (82 guys, 97 ladies). I mentioned that part of the reason for this poll was as an introduction to a handful of posts that I plan to write on the subject of education, starting with one about Women & STEM.

      Here are the top favorite subjects for each gender. It was interesting to have so much similarity in the order, although the percentages differed.

      Favorite subjects for males:
      1. Science (50%)
      2. Math (18%)
      3. History / Social Studies (15%)
      4. Art / Music / Drama (7%)
      5. English (4%)
      6. (tie) Health / PE (1%)
      7. (tie) Foreign Language (1%)
      8. (tie) Economics / Government (1%)

      Favorite subjects for females:
      1. Science (35%)
      2. Math (18%)
      3. History / Social Studies (15%)
      4. English (11%)
      5. Art / Music / Drama (9%)
      6. Health / PE (6%)
      7. Foreign Language (4%)
      8. Economics / Government (0%)

      (Note that percentages do not add up to 100% due to rounding.)